I See This Not Succeeding, Therefore Avoid Extremes

“Trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can’t be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes they blow hot
sometimes they blow cold
sometimes they expand
sometimes they collapse
sages therefore avoid extremes
avoid extravagance
avoid excess”

(Taoteching, verse 29, translation by Red Pine)

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “We can’t control something as insignificant as a mustard see. How can we control something as big as the world?”

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who would govern the world should trust what is natural. The world cannot be controlled consciously. It is too big a thing. The world can only be governed by the spirit, not by human strength or intelligence.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Spiritual things respond to stillness. They cannot be controlled with force.”

LU-HUI-CH’ING says, “The world as a thing is a spiritual thing. Only the spiritual tao can control a spiritual thing. Spiritual things don’t think or act. Trying to control them with force is not the Way.”

WANG CHEN says, “‘Force’ refers to the mobilization and deployment of troops. But world’s spirit cannot be controlled with weapons.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Sages consider their body as transitory and the world as its temporary loding. How can they rule what is not theirs and lose the true and everlasting Way?”

SU CH’E says, “The interchange of yin and yang, of high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. Sages know they cannot oppose things. They agree with whatever they meet. They eliminate extremes and thereby keep the world from harm.”

WU CH’ENG says, “How do those who gain control of the world keep the world from harm? Sages understand that things necessarily move between opposites but that there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, they keep them from withering and dying.”

WANG PI says, “Sages penetrate the nature and condition of others. Hence, they respond to them without force and follow them without effort. They eliminate whatever misleads or confuses others so that their minds become clear and each realizes their own nature.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Resting where you are eliminates extremes. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Sages get rid of extremes with kindness. They get rid of extravagance with simplicity. They get rid of excess with humility. By means of these three, sages govern the world.”

HSUEH HUI says, “What Lao-tzu means by ‘extremes,’ by ‘extravagance,’ and by ‘excess’ is not what people mean nowadays. Lao-tzu means whatever involves an increase in effort beyond what is easy.”

In yesterday’s verse, Lao-tzu laid the foundation for being the world’s guide. In today’s verse, he calls it governing the world. And once again, he stresses the importance of not trying to force it, in an attempt to control it.

I haven’t done this in awhile, but I so love Stephen Mitchell’s translation of today’s verse, I think I should include it in its entirety now:

“Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done. / The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it. / There is a time for being ahead, a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, a time for being in danger. / The Master sees things as they are, without trying to control them. She lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle.”

The world is sacred… That word “sacred” is such a powerful word. And much better, I think, than the word “spiritual” Red Pine uses.

Trying to improve the world, that is the stated purpose of those who govern us, is it not? But trying to force it? I see this not succeeding. It can’t be forced. It can’t be controlled. Every attempt to do so can only result in dire consequences. Namely, just the opposite of the stated purpose.

Recognize yang and hold on to yin. That was how Lao-tzu put it in yesterday’s verse. There is a time for being yang; but, for the sake of our Immortal Virtue, there is also a time for being yin.

See things as they are and don’t try to control them: Sometimes things lead. Sometimes they follow. Sometimes they blow hot. Sometimes they blow cold. Sometimes they expand. Sometimes they collapse.

Therefore, avoid extremes, avoid extravagance, avoid excess. If you can avoid these three things, I see you succeeding.

But how do you avoid them?

You avoid them with their opposites. For every yang there is a yin, hold on to it.

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