Things to Get Rid of, Things to Add

“Get rid of wisdom and reason
and people will live a hundred times better
get rid of kindness and justice
and people once more will love and obey
get rid of cleverness and profit
and thieves will cease to exist
but these three saying are incomplete
hence let these be added
display the undyed and preserve the uncarved
reduce self-interest and limit desires”

(Taoteching, verse 19, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Get rid of the works of wisdom and reason and return to the primeval. The symbols and letters created by the Five Emperors were not as effective ruling the kingdom as the simple knots used earlier by the Three Sovereigns.”

TE-CH’ING says, “This is what Chaung-tzu meant when he said, ‘Tigers and wolves are kind.’ Tigers and wolves possess innate love and obedience that don’t require instruction. How much more should Humankind, the most intelligent of creatures, possess these.”

WANG CHEN says, “Put an end to wisdom that leaves tracks and reason that deceives, and people will benefit greatly. Put an end to condescending kindness and treacherous justice, and relatives will come together on their own and will once more love and obey. Put an end to excessive cleverness and personal profit, and armies will no longer appear. And when armies no longer appear, thieves will cease to exist.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “These three only help us get rid of things. They don’t explain cultivation. Hence, they are incomplete.”

WANG PI says, “Wisdom and reason are the pinnacle of ability. Kindness and justice are the acme of behavior. Cleverness and profit are the height of practice. To tell us simply to get rid of them would be inappropriate and wouldn’t make sense without giving us something else. Hence, we are told to focus on the undyed and the uncarved.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “The ways of the world become daily more artificial. Hence, we have names like wisdom and reason, kindness and jusice, cleverness and profit. Those who understand the Tao see how artificial thse are and how inappropriate they are in ruling the world. They aren’t as good as getting people to focus their attention on undyed cloth and uncarved wood. By displaying what is undyed and preserving what is uncarved, our self-interest and desires wane. The undyed and the uncarved refer to our original nature.”

LIU CHING says, “‘Undyed’ means unstained by anything else and thus free of wisdom and reason. ‘Uncarved’ means complete in itself and thus free of kindness and justice. ‘Self-interest’ concerns oneself. And ‘desires’ concern others. As they diminish, so do cleverness and profit.”

SU CH’E says, “Confucius relied on kindness and justice, ritual and music to order the kingdom. Lao-tzu’s only concern was to open people’s minds, which he accomplished through the use of metaphor. Some people, though, have used his metaphors to create disorder, while no great problems have been caused y the followers of Confucius.”

And RED PINE adds, “Get rid of sayings, and people will be their own sages.”

We have been talking for the last couple of days about substitutes for the Tao. Substitutes like kindness and justice, and like wisdom and reason. These substitutes don’t seem so bad. What could possibly be bad about kindness and justice, wisdom and reason?

Well, they aren’t bad, in and of themselves. Be kind and just, and people will love you. Be wise and employ reason, and people will fear (respect) you. But, there is one reason they are bad. And, that is because they are used as substitutes for the Tao. Because they are an artificial means to an end which the whole world would be better off reaching through natural means.

I thought the quote attributed to Chuang-tzu, which Red Pine included in his commentary for yesterday’s verse, was quite poignant in illustrating this point. “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 ad oblivious of one another.”

We need to get back to the river or lake. How could we ever be content in our current state of being in small puddles?

In today’s chapter, Lao-tzu shows us the way out of the puddles and back to the river or lake.

Get rid of the substitutes! Throw them out! Be done with them!

Of course, this prescription is going to be met with resistance. The powers that be have devised a rather lucrative fish-spraying apparatus for puddle dwellers. Fish who aren’t content to stay in their puddles? That want to swim in a river or lake again? Don’t they care about their fellow fish? Not everyone can escape those puddles, you know. They should check their privilege! Everyone needs to contribute their fair share to the spraying.

I won’t go on with that little analogy. I am certain you get the point.

And, anyway, Lao-tzu is well aware that just abandoning the puddles isn’t enough. Something does need to be added.

If we are going to be back in the rivers and lakes, swimming again, we need a whole lot more water.

Water, being a metaphor for the Tao, of course. But the spring has dried up!

Well, what is much more likely is it has gotten a bit stopped up. If we dig a bit deeper, I bet we fill find a vast reservoir of untapped water there to be used.

That delving deeper is getting back to our original nature: The undyed and uncarved. It reduces self-interest and limits desires. Tomorrow, we will delve deeper.

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