Who Seeks Obtains, Who Errs Escapes

“The Tao is creation’s sanctuary
treasured by the good
it keeps the bad alive
beautiful words might be the price
noble deeds might be the gift
how can we abandon
people who are bad
thus when emperors are enthroned
or ministers installed
though there be great disks of jade
followed by teams of horses
they don’t rival one who sits
and offers up this Way
the ancients thus esteemed it
for did they not proclaim
who seeks thereby obtains
who errs thereby escapes
thus the world esteems it”

(Taoteching, verse 62, translation by Red Pine)

THE HSISHENGCHING says, “The Tao is the sanctuary of the deepest depth and the source of empty nothingness.”

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called ‘the sanctuary,’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”

SU CH’E says, “All we see of things is their exterior, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence, Lao-tzu says the good treasure it, but the foolish don’t find it. Then again, who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t abandon people. People abandon the Tao.”

WANG PI says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.”

TE-CH’ING says, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our nature is the same. How, then, can we abandon anyone?”

LAO-TZU says, “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 / the bad learn from the good” (Taoteching: 27).

WANG P’ANG says, “Jade disks and fine horses are used to attract talented people to the government. But a government that finds talented people yet does not implement the Tao is not followed by its subjects.”

CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG says, “In ancient times, the less valuable presents came first. Hence, jade disks preceded horses.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Better than disks of jade followed by teams of horses would be one good word or or one good deed to keep people from losing sight of the good.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “If words and deeds can be offered to others, how much more the Tao.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “There is nothing that is not the Tao. When good people seek it, they are able to find it. When bad people seek it, they are able to avoid punishment.”

In my commentary on yesterday’s verse, I pondered the question of why we aren’t great anymore. I think today’s verse offers a little more insight into the reason. Lao-tzu asks, “How can we abandon the bad?” I think that was our watershed moment: Abandoning the bad. With only 5% of the world’s population we incarcerate 25% of the world’s incarcerated population. How could we do this? I think this is exactly what has certain high profile people kneeling rather than standing for the national anthem. A great injustice is being perpetrated, how can we stand for it? Now, I know what some people will say: Those people the police have brutalized weren’t exactly stellar citizens. Some of them did bad things. Some of them were bad. If they had just been good, if they had just followed orders, if only, if only… But, I hear Lao-tzu saying, “How can we abandon people who are bad?

If we were treating the Tao as our sanctuary, the good, treasuring it, would seek and obtain; and the bad, who erred, would escape alive.

Lao-tzu asks, “How can we abandon people who are bad?” I think it is obvious: It is because we have abandoned the Tao.

We have forgotten, but Te-ch’ing reminds us: “The Tao is in us all.” The Tao is all of creation’s sanctuary. It hasn’t abandoned us. It never would. “Good and bad might differ,” as Te-ch’ing says, but “our nature is the same.” That is what we need to remember.

Su Ch’e explains it so well. “All we see of things is their exterior.” That is how we justify abandoning the bad. But, we all have an inner sanctuary, the Tao, which nobody sees. If we would be wise, rather than foolish, we could find this inner sanctuary in even the bad. And, how could we abandon anyone, then?

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

HSISHENGCHING (BOOK OF THE WESTERN ASCENSION). Taoist work apparently composed during the first centuries of the Christian era. It is one of several texts that recount Lao-tzu’s reappearance in India following his transmission of the Taoteching to Yin Hsi.

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