“The reason people are hungry
is that those above levy so many taxes
this is why they are hungry
the reason people are hard to rule
is that those above are so forceful
this I why they are hard to rule
the reason people think little of death
is that those above think so much of life
this is why they think little of death
meanwhile those who do nothing to live
are more esteemed than those who live life”
(Taoteching, verse 75, translation by Red Pine)
DUKE AI approached YU JUO: “The year is one of famine, and my revenue are wanting. What am I to do?” Yu Juo replied, “Return to the 10 percent rate of taxation.” Duke Ai said, “But I cannot get by on 20 percent. How will I survive on 10 percent?” Yu Juo replied, “When the people don’t want, why should the ruler want When the people want, why should the ruler not want?” (Lunyu: 12.9).
WANG PI says, “The people hide and disorder prevails because of those above, not because of those below. The people follow those above.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “If those above take too much, those below will be impoverished. If those above use too much force, those below will rebel. This is a matter of course. When people think their own life is more important, and they disregard the live of other, why should other not treat death lightly? Sages don’t think about life unless they are forced to.”
TE CH’ING says, “Robbers and thieves arise from hunger and cold. If people are hungry and have no means to live, they have no choice but to steal. When people steal, it’s because those above force them. They force people to turn to stealing and then try to rule with clevernes and laws. But the more laws they make, the more thieve appear. Even the threat of the executioner’s ax doesn’t frighten them. And the reason people aren’t frightened by death is that those above are so concerned with life.”
SU CH’E says, “When those above use force to lead the people, the people respond with force. Thus do complications multiply and the people become hard to rule.”
WANG CHEN says, “‘Forceful’ refers to the ruler’s love of might and arms. But once arms prevail, disorder is certain.”
HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “The reason people cannot live out their allotted year and are sentenced to death in midlife is that they think so much of life. Meanwhile, those who do nothing to stay alive are able to lengthen their lives” (Huainantzu: 7).
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Only those who do nothing to stay alive, who aren’t moved by titles or sinecures, who aren’t affected by wealth or advantages, who refuse to serve the emperor or run errand for lesser lords – they alone are more esteemed than those who love life.”
YEN TSUN says, “The Natural Way always turns things upside down. What ha no body lives. What has a body dies. To be alive and to seek advantages is the beginning of death. Not to be alive and to get rid of advantages is the beginning of life. Those who don’t work to live live long.”
WANG TAO says, “The meaning of the last two lines is: If I didn’t have this body of mine, what worries would I have?”
WANG P’ANG says, “If you understand only one of these three, you can understand the other two.”
Today’s is another of my favorites, for its libertarian theme. It puts the responsibility squarely on those above when it comes to the reason people are hungry, the reason people are hard to rule, and the reason people think little of death.
I actually think this verse is one we have every reason to expect anyone who wants to rule to have to prove they understand, before they ever are entrusted with ruling people.
What is the lesson they (and all the rest of us) should understand?
There are too many taxes, too many regulations, that is why people are hungry, the reason people are hard to rule. It would be easy, if those above thought less of themselves. If living, for them, wasn’t always about accumulating more, more. More wealth, more power. When they don’t get what they want, as if they don’t already have too much already, they just apply even more force, paying little heed to the people below them. The lives of the people don’t matter. It is, therefore, no wonder that people think so little of death. When their lives are made unnecessarily hard, why fear death?
We are constantly being told we should live to work for them. Oh, they don’t come right out and say that. That would require honesty on their part. What they tell us instead is just the opposite, “Don’t live to work, work to live.” This is genius! They try to shame us for not wanting to work (for them) by trying to convince us we don’t deserve to live if we don’t work (for them). This is a real measure of just how much contempt they feel for the people they rule. But, it works, somewhat. They even have a good number of people convinced they should join in with the shaming. “Why should my taxes go to support people who won’t work?” Do they really think taxes are being used for the common welfare of the people? The only people benefiting from taxes is those above. It is only enriching them. It is the same with the endless parade of regulations they mire us with. Only those above benefit from all these regulations.
But what if we didn’t choose to play their little game any longer? What if we didn’t live to work or work to live? What if we did nothing to live? Lao-tzu said, those who make this their practice are more esteemed. And, Yen Tsun, nailed it in his commentary on today’s verse. “Those who don’t work to live live long.”
RED PINE introduces the following with today’s verse:
DUKE AI (FL. 5TH C. B.C.). Ruler of the state of Lu and interlocutor of Lunyu 12:9.
YU JUO (FL. 5TH C. B.C.). Disciple of Confucius known for hi resemblance to the sage as well as for his love of antiquity. After Confucius’ death, many of his disciples wanted to render to Yu Juo the same observances that had conferred on Confucius. But this was opposed by Tseng-tzu.