“True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true
the good aren’t eloquent
the eloquent aren’t good
the wise aren’t learned
the learned aren’t wise
sages accumulate nothing
but the more they do for others
the greater their existence
the more they give to others
the greater their abundance
the Way of Heaven
is to help without harming
the Way of the Sage
is to act without struggling”
(Taoteching, verse 81, translation by Red Pine)
HUANG-TI says, “There’s a word for everything. Words that are harmful we say aren’t true” (Chingfa: 2).
TE-CH’ING says, “At the beginning of this book, Lao-tzu says the Tao can’t be put into words. But are its 5,000-odd characters not words? Lao-tzu waits until the last verse to explain this. He tells us that though the Tao itself includes no words, by means of words it can be revealed – but only by words that come from the heart.”
SU CH’E says, “What is true is real but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t beautiful. What is beautiful is pleasing to look at but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t true. Those who focus on goodness don’t try to be eloquent. And those who focus on eloquence aren’t good. Those who have one thing that links everything together have no need of learning. Those who keep learning don’t understand the Tao. The sage holds on to the one and accumulates nothing.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “True words are simple and not beautiful. The good cultivate the Tao, not the arts. The wise know the Tao, not information. Sages accumulate virtue, not wealth. They give their wealth to the poor and use their virtue to teach the unwise. And like the sun or moon, they never stop shining.”
CHUANG-TZU says, “When Lao Tan and Yin Hsi heard of people who considered accumulation as deficiency, they were delighted” (Chuangtzu: 33.5). Lao Tan was Lao-tzu’s name, and Yin Hsi was the man to whom he transmitted the Taoteching.
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “People only worry that their own existence and abudnance are insufficient. They don’t realize that helping and giving to others doe them no harm but benefits themselves instead.”
TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “The wealth that comes from giving generously is inexhaustible. The power that arises from not accumulating is boundless.”
WU CH’ENG says, “Help is the opposite of harm. Wherever there is help, there must be harm. But when Heaven helps, it doesn’t harm, because it helps without helping. Action is the start of struggle. Wherever there is action, there must be struggle. But when sages act, they don’t struggle, because they act without acting.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “The previous 5,000 words all explain ‘the Tao of not accumulating,’ what Buddhists call ‘non-attachment.’ Those who empty their mind on the last two lines will grasp most of Lao-tzu’s text.”
WANG CHEN says, “The last line summarizes the entire 5,000 words of the previous eighty verses. It doesn’t focus on action or inaction but simply on action that doesn’t involve struggle.”
And RED PINE concludes, “At the beginning and at the end of the Taoteching, Lao-tzu reminds us not to become attached to the words. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea.”
Well, we have come to the end of another cycle through the Taoteching. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu has a few final thoughts to pass along to us. Really, it is just a summary of his teachings to us.
Don’t be deceived by the beautiful and eloquent. External things aren’t always a reflection of internal reality. Sometimes they are the exact opposite. Also, wisdom and learning, while not necessarily mutually exclusive, don’t necessarily coincide, either. One comes from looking on the inside, the other is based on the external.
True wealth doesn’t come from accumulating things. Sages, for instance, accumulate nothing. They understand that the more they do for others, the greater their existence will be. The more they give to others, the greater their abundance.
The Way of Heaven, the Tao we have been talking about for eighty-one verses now, helps without harming. And the Way of Sages, this is those who practice the Way of Heaven, is to act without struggling.
I think that is a fitting ending to Lao-tzu’s great work. Life doesn’t have to be a struggle. You can be content.
It has often been noted that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. And, while we haven’t always traveled in a straight line in our journey through the Taoteching, I can tell you that the shortest path to true contentment is to stop struggling.
Words, words, words… So many words. And Red Pine reminds us to not become attached to the words. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea. I am going to pour myself one right now. I will be back again, tomorrow, to begin this journey (again) with you, beginning with verse one. See you then!