“The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers
is because it has mastered being lower
thus it can govern a hundred rivers
hence if sages would be above the people
they should speak as if they were below them
if they would be in front
they should act as if they were behind them
thus when sages are above
the people aren’t burdened
when they are in front
the people aren’t obstructed
the world never wearies
of pushing sages forward
and because they don’t struggle
no one can struggle against them”
(Taoteching, verse 66, translation by Red Pine)
YEN TSUN says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”
TE-CH’ING says, “All rivers flow toward the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for sages, to which the world turns because they are selfless.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “When sages possess the kingdom, they speak of themselves as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished’ or ‘inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.’ Thus, in their speech, they place themselves below others. They do not act unless they are forced. They do not respond unless they are pushed. They do not rise unless they have no choice. Thus, in their actions, they place themselves behind others.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When sages rule over the people, they don’t oppress those below with their position. Thus, the people uphold them and don’t think of them as a burden. When sages stand before them, they don’t blind them with their glory. Thus, the people love them as parents and harbor no resentment. Sages are kind and loving and treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”
SU CH’E says, “Sages don’t try to be above or in front of others. But when they find themselves below or behind others, the Tao can’t help but lift them up and push them forward.”
YANG HSIUNG says, “Those who hold themselves back are advanced by others. Those who lower themselves are lifted up by others” (Fayen: 7).
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The people aren’t burdened when sages are above them, because the people aren’t aware they have a ruler. And the people aren’t obstructed when sages are before them, because sages aren’t aware the people are their charges.”
WANG CHEN says, “Through humility sages gain the approval of the people. Once they gain their approval, they gain their tireless support. And once they gain their tireless support, struggling over rank naturally comes to an end.”
Why is life a struggle, and does it have to be?
Today’s verse offers the Way to bring an end to struggling.
It is, of course, easy to put this all on our rulers. If they weren’t struggling to be in front and above others, others wouldn’t be struggling against them.
That is true. And, we could end the lesson right there. But, somehow, I think there must be another lesson, here, for the rest of us; when we know full well that our rulers’ attitudes aren’t going to be changing any time soon.
It was once I came to this realization, that there wasn’t a thing I could do to change others, that I finally was able to find true contentment in cultivating the Tao in myself.
It isn’t about others. It wouldn’t matter whether our rulers were to have a sudden epiphany, and amend their ways. It isn’t even about my followers. Just so you know, I am not maintaining this blog for your benefit. Oh, I would like for you to benefit, as I have. But, that is just the point. It is for my own benefit that I maintain this blog. It is for my own benefit that I live my life. It is for my own benefit that I have stopped struggling. And, while I fully expect that others will benefit from me not struggling, that isn’t the end for me. The end for me, is me.
If that sounds even a bit selfish to you, I won’t argue with you. What need have I to struggle? I know my reality. And my reality is that I am content to be behind and below. Even when I find myself in front, I am content to be behind. Even when I am above, I am content to be below. And, it isn’t about putting others in front or above, either. It is in simply living my own life. And knowing that by living my own life simply and contentedly, I am being an example, without ever trying to be, for others.
Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:
YANG HSIUNG (53 B.C.-A.D. 18). Gifted philosopher and writer of courtly odes. Known for his view that man is neither good nor bad by nature but wholly subject to his environment. A number of his odes are preserved in the literary anthology known as the Wenhsuan. The Fayen contains his philosophical maxims.