“Favor and disgrace come with a warning
honor and disaster come with a body
why do favor and disgrace come with a warning
favor turns into disfavor
gaining it comes with a warning
losing it comes with a warning
thus do favor and disgrace come with a warning
and why do honor and disaster come with a body
the reason we have disaster
is because we have a body
if we didn’t have a body
we wouldn’t have disaster
thus those who honor their body more than the world
can be entrusted with the world
those who cherish body more than the world
can be encharged with the world”
(Taoteching, verse 13, translation by Red Pine)
WANG CHEN says, “People who are favored are honored. And because the are honored, they act proud. And because the act proud, they are hated. And because they are hated, they are disgraced. Hence, sages consider success as well as failure to be a warning.”
SU CH’E says, “The ancient sages worried about favor as much as disgrace, because they knew that favor is followed by disgrace. Other people think favor means to ascend and disgrace means to descend. But favor cannot be separated from disgrace. Disgrace results from favor.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who gain favor or honor should worry about being too high, sa if they were at the edge of a precipice. They should not flaunt their status or wealth. And those who lose favor and live in disgrace should worry more about disaster.”
LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Why does favor become disgrace and honor become disaster? Favor and honor are external things. They don’t belong to us. When we try to possess them, they turn into disgrace and disaster.”
SSU-MA KUANG says, “Normally a body means disaster. But if we honor and cherish it and follow the natural order in our dealings with others, and we don’t induge our desires, we can avoid disaster.”
HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “We all possess something good and noble that we don’t have to seek outside ourselves, something that the glory of power or position cannot compare with. People need only start with this and cultivate this without letting up. The ancients said, “Two or three years of hardship, ten thousand years of bliss.”
WANG P’ANG says, “It isn’t a matter of having no body but of guarding the source of life. Only those who refuse to trade themselves for something external are fit to receive the kingdom.”
WANG PI says, “Those who are affected by favor and disgrace or honor and disaster are not fit to receive the kingdom.”
TSENG-TZU says, “The superior person can be entrusted with an orphan or encharged with a state and be unmoved by a crisis” (Lunyu: 8.6).
RED PINE adds, “The first two lines are clearly a quote, and the last four lines are also found in Chuangtzu; 11.2, where they are used to praise the ruler whose self-cultivation doesn’t leave him time to meddle in the lives of his subjects. They also appear in Huainantzu: 12, where they are used to praise the ruler who values the lives of his people more than the territory in which they live.”
Robert Brookes’ translation of today’s verse is, I think, especially helpful:
“As yang bends toward yin honor turns into dishonor. Be wary of becoming bound up in yourself.
What does it mean that honor turns into dishonor? The need to maintain honor makes one dependent on praise, so the wise person avoids honor to begin with.
What does it mean to be wary of becoming bound up in yourself? You become focused on a limited sense of yourself. But if you are selfless, what misfortune can occur?
Therefore those whose actions accord with the Tao can be trusted with the greatest responsibility.”
As yang bends toward yin… Just picture the familiar yin-yang symbol. Yang bends in a curve toward yin, which bends in a curve toward yang.
Let this be a warning to you, favor and honor are merely external things. They don’t belong to us, and when we try to possess them, they will naturally turn into disgrace and disaster (Lu Nung-shih).
Just having a body leads to disaster. But, if we will cultivate the body, not trading what we are for what we think we can have, we can avoid disaster (Ssu-ma Kuang).
What Lao-tzu is asking of us, especially of those who wish to govern us, is to be unaffected by what is external to our body (Wang P’ang and Wang Pi).
Don’t let yourself form attachments to things which are only temporal, which come and go. External things. Be detached. Don’t form affections for things outside yourself. Cultivate the eternal and immortal Tao in you. Be so focused on your own inner workings you won’t have time to meddle in others’ affairs.
But shouldn’t we be wary of becoming bound up in ourselves, with all that focusing on what is internal? That is a reasonable question. I even asked it myself. But, here is where I take us back to that familiar yin-yang symbol, and what I noted before. Yang bends toward yin, yes. But yin also bends toward yang.
Our focus on the external is focusing on a limited sense of ourselves. Yang bends toward yin. But when we focus on what is internal, on yin, we open ourselves up to experience yang, as yin bends toward yang. Instead of being bound, be boundless.
Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:
TSENG-TZU (B. 505 B.C.). Disciple of Confucius and author of the Hsiaoching (Book of Piety). His views are also quoted at length in the Lunyu and the Tahsueh.