Recognizing That, Hold On to This

“Recognize the male
but hold on to the female
and be the world’s maid
being the world’s maid
don’t lose your Immortal Virtue
not losing your Immortal Virtue
be a newborn child again
recognize the pure
but hold on to the base
and be the world’s valley
being the world’s valley
be filled with Immortal Virtue
being filled with Immortal Virtue
be a block of wood again
recognize the white
but hold on to the black
and be the world’s guide
don’t stray from your Immortal Virtue
not straying from your Immortal Virtue
be without limits again
a block of wood can be split to make tools
sages make it their chief official
a master tailor doesn’t cut”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 28, translation by Red Pine)

TE-CH’ING says, “To recognize the Way is hard. Once you recognize it, holding on to it is even harder. But only by holding on to it can you advance on the Way.”

MENCIUS says, “The great person does not lose their child heart” (Mencius: 4B.12).

WANG TAO says, “Sages recognize ‘that’ but hold on to ‘this.’ ‘Male’ and ‘female’ mean hard and soft. ‘Pure’ and ‘base’ mean noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ mean light and dark. Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft, noble does not come from noble but from humble, and light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the Way. Soft, humble, and dark are the primary forms and closer to the Way. Hence, sages return to the original: a block of wood. A block of wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into a block of wood. Sages are like blocks of wood, not tools. They are the chief officials and not functionaries.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “What has no limits is the Tao.”

CONFUCIUS says, “A great person is not a tool” (Lunyu; 2.12).

CHANG TAO-LING says, “To make tools is to lose sight of the Way.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Before a block of wood is split, it can take any shape. But once split, it cannot be round if it is square or straight if it is curved. Lao-tzu tells us to avoid being split. Once we are split, we can never return to our original state.”

PAO-TING says, “When I began butchering, I used my eyes. Now I use my spirit instead and follow the natural lines” (Chuangtzu: 3.2).

WANG P’ANG says, “Those who use the Tao to tailor leave no seams.”

We ended last week with Lao-tzu talking about perfect goodness. And Lu Tung-pin in his commentary said, this goodness refers to our original nature. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu returns to talking about the good. He now calls it Immortal Virtue. And, the subject of today’s verse is returning to our original nature.

We accomplish this by recognizing that that draws us away from our original nature, while holding on to what anchors us to it.

Wang Tao says, “Sages recognize ‘that’ but hold on to ‘this.’ ‘Male’ and ‘female’ mean hard and soft. ‘Pure’ and ‘base’ mean noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ mean light and dark. Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft, noble does not come from noble but from humble, and light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the Way. Soft, humble, and dark are the primary forms and closer to the Way. Hence, sages return to the original: a block of wood. A block of wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into a block of wood. Sages are like blocks of wood, not tools. They are chief officials and not functionaries.”

Recognize yang but hold on to yin would be another way of saying it. But let’s be clear here. To recognize yang isn’t some casual, and brief, encounter; noticing it, and then trying to forget about it. Yang isn’t something to be avoided under any circumstances. Yin needs yang as much as yang needs yin. It is yang to the exclusion of yin that Lao-tzu is warning against. Yang tends to dominate. It is its nature. Recognize that, and hold on to yin.

Yielding, not dominating, is the Way back to your original nature. Be the world’s maid. And being the world’s maid you won’t lose your Immortal Virtue. And, not losing your Immortal Virtue you will be a newborn child again. We may think being a newborn child again is returning to our original nature. But remember what Lu Tung-pin said about our original nature, yesterday. “It was our nature before our parents were born.”

We still have a ways to go.

In order for us to be a block of wood again we need to be the world’s valley, filled with Immortal Virtue. For, it is only in being filled with it we can return to being a block of wood.

Then, and only then, we can be the world’s guide, not straying from our Immortal Virtue.

If we can do this, not straying from our Immortal Virtue, we will be without limits again. Like a block of wood which can be fashioned into anything. There are no limits. Like a master tailor or master butcher. You can be a master anything.

But, I want to return to the importance of yin in all of this. It can’t be forced. Yang won’t do. You must yield to it, every step of the Way.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

PAO-TING, the knife-wielding cook of Chuangtzu: 3.2.

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