“Good walking leaves no tracks
good talking contains no flaws
good counting counts no beads
good closing locks no locks
and yet it can’t be opened
good tying ties no knots
and yet it can’t be undone
sages are good at saving others
therefore they abandon no one
nor anything of use
this is called cloaking the light
thus the good instruct the bad
and the bad learn from the good
not honoring their teachers
or cherishing their students
the wise alone are perfectly blind
this is called peering into the distance”
(Taoteching, verse 27, translation by Red Pine)
LU TUNG-PIN says, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are good at walking find the Way within themselves, not somewhere outside. When they talk, they choose their words. When they count, they don’t go beyond one. When they close, they close themselves to desire and protect their spirit. When they tie, they secure their mind.”
TE-CH’ING says, “Sages move through the world with an empty self and accept the way things are. Hence, they leave no tracks. They do not insist that their ideas are right and accpet the wors of tohers. Hence, they reveal no flaws. They do not care about life and death, much less profit and loss. Hence, they count no beads. They do not set traps, yet nothing escapes them. Hence, they use no locks. They are not kind, yet everyone flocks to them. Hence, they tie no knots.”
WANG PI says, “These five tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.”
WU CH’ENG says, “The salvation of sages does not involve salvation, for if someone is saved, someone is abandoned. Hence, sages do not save anyone at all. And because they do not save anyone, they do not abandon anyone. To ‘cloak’ means to use an outer garment to cover an inner garment. If the work of salvation becomes apparent, and people see it, it cannot be called good. Only when it is hidden is it good.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The good always cloak their light.”
HSUAN-TSUNG says, “The good are like water. Free of impurity and without effort on their part, they show people their true likeness. Thus, they instruct the bad. But unless students can forget the teacher, their vision will be obscured.”
SU CH’E says, “Sages do not care about teaching. Hence, they do not love their students. And the world does not care about learning. Hence, people do not honor their teachers. Sages no only forget the world, they make the world forget them.”
Back in verse 24 Lao-tzu told us, “Some things are simply bad.” And since, there is this objective bad, there must also be an objective good, which is the theme of today’s verse. What is this good? It is, as Lu tung-pin says, our original nature. And just to underscore how original it is, he says it is our nature before our parents were born. That would seem to take anything we could say or do or be completely out of the equation. Indeed, it is before anything develops within us that we possess this goodness. And then he sums it up by saying, “Good” means natural. It isn’t anything we could contrive. It had to precede us. And, it has to be completely free of being affected by anything we could ever say or do or be.
This goodness is then perfect goodness. Where it walks, it leaves no tracks. When it talks, it contains no flaws. What it counts, it counts with no beads. What it closes, it locks with no locks. Yet, what it closes cannot be opened. What it ties, it ties with no knots. Yet, they can’t be undone.
As an aside, I have probably mentioned before I am fond of using an abacus, with its beads for counting, for teaching children math. And, one thing I learned quite quickly is that the abacus I have the children use, they only need to use for a time, just until they master it. Once they are “good” at counting with it, at adding and subtracting, the external abacus can be set aside. They have the abacus inside their minds to use for counting. An abacus without beads.
Now, going back to these five “good” ways of being, Wang Pi says, they “tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.” To refrain from acting, here, as always throughout the Taoteching, means to go with the flow, to act naturally, without effort. By relying on their nature, we return to our nature.
Sages save others by saving no one and abandoning no one. Even seeing the use in the useless. This might confound you, this cloaking of the light. But, Lao-tzu speaks of cloaking the light for a very good reason. Cloaking the light is necessary before we can peer into the distance. We need to be perfectly blind.
Being perfectly blind is to see nothing, and thus everything. The good instructing the bad, the bad learning from the good, the bad not honoring their teachers, and the good not cherishing their students.
That “not honoring” and “not cherishing” may have struck you as just plain wrong. But, before we discount it, let’s go back to this idea of perfect goodness, once again. This will explain the need to be perfectly blind. Lu Tung-pin said, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”
Honoring our teachers and cherishing our students is something we have contrived after that fact. Or, as Wang Pi refers to, it is relying on their form, rather than on their nature.
The good teach the bad, and the bad learn from the good; that is their nature. But, to rely on their nature, rather than on their form we need to refrain from acting, we need to cloak the light, we need to be perfectly blind to form. Only then will we able to peer into the distance.
Peering into the distance is our goal. It doesn’t mean seeing into the future, or even perceiving something far away. Peering into the distance, here, means seeing through the illusion to the Source behind everything that is and is not. It is seeing the way things are, so we can act accordingly, going with the flow, doing what comes naturally. Lao-tzu always “returns” to the need of returning. As he said in verse 25, “To be great means ever-flowing, ever-flowing means far-reaching, far-reaching means returning.” If we want to master self-rule, we need to be great. This is simply how to be great.