When This Disappears, That Appears

“When the Great Way disappears
we meet kindness and justice
when reason appears
we meet great deceit
when the six relations fail
we meet obedience and love
when the country is in chaos
we meet upright officials”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 18, translation by Red Pine)

Connecting this with the previous verse, WEI YUAN says, “What people love and praise are kindness and justice. What people fear is reason. And what people despise is deceit.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “It isn’t the Great Way that leaves Humankind and goes into hiding. it’s Humankind that leaves the Great way and replaces it with kindness and justice.”

SU CH’E says, “When the Great Way flourishes, kindness and justice are at work. But people don’t realize it. Only after the great Way disappears, do kindness and justice become visible.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “The Way hides in formlessness. Names arise from discontent. When the Way hides in formlessness, there isn’t any difference between great or small. When names arise from discontent, we get distinctions such as kindness, justice, reason, and so forth.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When the kingdom enjoys peace, no one thinks about kindness, and the people are free of desire. When the Great Way prevails, kindness and justice vanish, just as the stars fade when the sun appears.”

MENCIUS says, “Kindness means dwelling in peace. Justice means taking the right road” (Mencius: 4A.10).

TE CH’ING says, “Reason is what the sage uses to order the kingdom. It includes the arts, measurements, and laws. In the High Ages, people were innocent, and these were unknown. In the Middle Ages, people began to indulge their feelings, and rulers responded with reason. And once reason appeared, the people responded with deceit.”

WANG PI says, “The six relations are between father and son, elder and younger brothers, husband and wife. When these six relations are harmonious, the country governs itself, and there is no need for obedience, love, or honesty.”

WANG P’ANG says, “During a virtuous age, obedience and love are considered normal. Hence, no one is called obedient or loving. Nowadays, when someone is obedient or loving, we praise them. This is because the six relations are no longer harmonious. Moreover, when peace prevails, everyone is honest. How can there be honest officials?

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “When the realm is at peace, loyalty and honesty are nowhere to be seen. Innocence and virtue appear when the realm is in chaos.”

LI JUNG says, “During the time of the sage emperors Fu Hsi and Shen Nung, there was no mention of officials. It was only during the time of the despots Chieh and Chou that we begin to hear of ministers such as Kuan Lung-feng and Pi Kan.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Shao Juo-yu assigns these four divisions to emperors, kings, the wise, and the talented.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “When springs dry up, fish find themselves in puddles, spraying water on each other to keep each other alive. Better to be in a river or lake and oblivious of one another” (Chuangtzu: 6.5).

In some copies, line 1 of today’s verse begins with ku (therefore). As I noted in my commentary on verse 17 this past Friday, many commentators have concluded that verse 17 and 18 may have been one once. This seems plausible to me, given that today’s verse does read like an explanation of the previous one. Then again, every verse is connected; and verse 19, which we will get to tomorrow will likewise continue this same thread.

But, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Let’s look back at the previous verse. As you may recall, verse 17 recounted how things had spiraled down since the time of the reigns of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors. That was some 4500 years ago. These legendary rulers exercised power so unobtrusively, the people hardly knew they were there.

But, no rulers since then have been so virtuous. As their virtue diminished, the country experienced decline. After leaving the Tao behind, rulers first governed with kindness and justice, and were loved and praised. But that didn’t last. Then, they tried reason, laws and punishments. That caused the people to fear them. Finally, they resorted to the use of force and deceit, leading to the people despising them.

One thing I have learned about history is that any lesson to be learned from it, the Chinese learned long before us.

And now, not just the country, but the whole world seems to be in chaos.

Note what Wang P’ang says about the six relations failing: “During a virtuous age, obedience and love are considered normal. Hence, no one is called obedient or loving. Nowadays, when someone is obedient or loving, we praise them. This is because the six relations are no longer harmonious. Moreover, when peace prevails, everyone is honest..”

And, Ch’eng Hsuan-ying adds, “When the realm is at peace, loyalty and honesty are nowhere to be seen. Innocence and virtue appear when the realm is in chaos.”

The six relations have failed. We are no longer living harmoniously. It once happened naturally. Now, try as we might, we can’t even manage to fake it.

There is simply no substitute for the Tao. And that is best illustrated by what Chuang-tzu said, “When springs dry up, fish find themselves in puddles, spraying water on each other to keep each other alive. Better to be in a river or lake and oblivious of one another.”

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