“True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true
the good aren’t eloquent
the eloquent aren’t good
the wise aren’t learned
the learned aren’t wise
sages accumulate nothing
but the more they do for others
the greater their existence
the more they give to others
the greater their abundance
the Way of Heaven
is to help without harming
the Way of the Sage
is to act without struggling”
(Taoteching, verse 81, translation by Red Pine)
HUANG-TI says, “There’s a word for everything. Words that are harmful we say aren’t true” (Chingfa: 2).
TE-CH’ING says, “At the beginning of this book, Lao-tzu says the Tao can’t be put into words. But are its 5,000-odd characters not words? Lao-tzu waits until the last verse to explain this. He tells us that though the Tao itself includes no words, by means of words it can be revealed – but only by words that come from the heart.”
SU CH’E says, “What is true is real but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t beautiful. What is beautiful is pleasing to look at but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t true. Those who focus on goodness don’t try to be eloquent. And those who focus on eloquence aren’t good. Those who have one thing that links everything together have no need of learning. Those who keep learning don’t understand the Tao. The sage holds on to the one and accumulates nothing.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “True words are simple and not beautiful. The good cultivate the Tao, not the arts. The wise know the Tao, not information. Sages accumulate virtue, not wealth. They give their wealth to the poor and use their virtue to teach the unwise. And like the sun or moon, they never stop shining.”
CHUANG-TZU says, “When Lao Tan and Yin Hsi heard of people who considered accumulation as deficiency, they were delighted” (Chuangtzu: 33.5). Lao Tan was Lao-tzu’s name, and Yin Hsi was the man to whom he transmitted the Taoteching.
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “People only worry that their own existence and abundance are insufficient. They don’t realize that helping and giving to others does them no harm but benefits themselves instead.”
TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “The wealth that comes from giving generously is inexhaustible. The power that arises from not accumulating is boundless.”
WU CH’ENG says, “Help is the opposite of harm. Wherever there is help, there must be harm. But when Heaven helps, it doesn’t harm, because it helps without helping. Action is the start of struggle. Wherever there is action, there must be struggle. But when sages act, they don’t struggle, because they act without acting.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “The previous 5,000 words all explain ‘the Tao of not accumulating,’ what Buddhists call ‘nonattachment.’ Those who empty their mind on the last two lines will grasp most of Lao-tzu’s text.”
WANG CHEN says, “The last line summarizes the entire 5,000 words of the previous eighty verses. It doesn’t focus on action or inaction but simply on action that doesn’t involve struggle.”
And RED PINE concludes the commentary by saying, “At the beginning and at the end of the Taoteching, Lao-tzu reminds us not to become attached to the words. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea.”
What lessons might we glean from this concluding verse? Perhaps, we might consider whether our priorities are what they should be. Truth or beauty? Goodness or eloquence? Being wise or being learned? And, what’s with our need to accumulate things? What are we doing for others? What more could we give? If we would follow the Way we would master the art of helping without harming. And, saving the most important one for last, if we could understand that the central tenet of philosophical Taoism wei wu wei isn’t a choice between action and inaction but of acting without struggling.
Don’t take life so seriously. You worry too much. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea.
We have come to the end of yet another cycle through the Taoteching. I never cease to be amazed at how quickly these 81 days fly by. And, I can hardly wait to begin with verse 1 again, tomorrow. I find myself understanding, more, with each time I go through it with you all. And, it is because I believe I am understanding things so much better that I am always delighted to begin the journey again. I hope you all are enjoying the journey with me.
Join me tomorrow, I will be using Red Pine’s translation again, with all of these wonderful sages inspiring me with their commentaries. I wonder what new insights to be shared are in store.