“Favor and disgrace come with a warning
honor and disaster come with a body
why do favor and disgrace come with a warning
favor turns into disfavor
gaining it comes with a warning
losing it comes with a warning
thus do favor and disgrace come with a warning
and why do honor and disaster come with a body
the reason we have disaster
is because we have a body
if we didn’t have a body
we wouldn’t have disaster
thus those who honor their body more than the world
can be entrusted with the world
those who cherish their body more than the world
can be encharged with the world”
(Taoteching, verse 13, translation by Red Pine)
WANG CHEN says, “People who are favored are honored. And because they are honored, they act proud. And because they act proud, they are hated. And because they are hated, they are disgraced. Hence, sages consider success as well as failure to be a warning.”
SU CH’E says, “The ancient sages worried about favor as much as disgrace, because they knew that favor is followed by disgrace. Other people think favor means to ascend and disgrace means to descend. But favor cannot be separated from disgrace. Disgrace results from favor.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who gain favor or honor should worry about being too high, as if they were at the edge of a precipice. They should not flaunt their status or wealth. And those who lose favor and live in disgrace should worry more about disaster.”
LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Why does favor become disgrace and honor become disaster? Favor and honor are external things. They don’t belong to us. When we try to possess them, they turn into disgrace and disaster.”
SSU-MA KUANG says, “Normally a body means disaster. But if we honor and cherish it and follow the natural order in our dealings with others, and we don’t indulge our desires, we can avoid disaster.”
HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “We all possess something good and noble that we don’t have to seek outside ourselves, something that the glory of power or position cannot compare with. People need only start with this and cultivate this without letting up. The ancients said, “Two or three years of hardship, ten thousand years of bliss.”
WANG P’ANG says, “It isn’t a matter of having no body but of guarding the source of life. Only those who refuse to trade themselves for something external are fit to receive the kingdom.”
WANG PI says, “Those who are affected by favor and disgrace or honor and disaster are not fit to receive the kingdom.”
TSENG-TZU says, “The superior person can be entrusted with an orphan or encharged with a state and be unmoved by a crisis” (Lunyu: 8.6).
RED PINE adds, “The first two lines are clearly a quote, and the last four lines are also found in Chuangtzu; 11.2, where they are used to praise the ruler whose self-cultivation doesn’t leave him time to meddle in the lives of his subjects. They also appear in Huainantzu: 12, where they are used to praise the ruler who values the lives of his people more than the territory in which they live.”
In yesterday’s verse, Lao-tzu said to pick this over that. This being what is internal (your stomach), and that being what is external (what your eyes and ears delude you into thinking). Today’s verse is just a continuation of that theme.
Favor and disgrace, honor and disaster, those are things that are external. Hence, they come with a warning. “Don’t concern yourself with those things.” And, continuing my theme from yesterday’s commentary, “Mind what’s on your own plate.”
You have a body. Yes, I know, it blows my mind too. But, the reason Lao-tzu shares that mind-blowing revelation with us is because, having a body, we should expect disaster when we don’t cultivate our bodies properly. That involves more than just eating your peas and carrots, by the way. What Lao-tzu is talking about goes much deeper than our physical bodies.
What he is wanting us to cultivate is inside our bodies. As opposed to those things external to our bodies. Don’t seek favor and honor, and you won’t suffer disgrace and disaster.
Lao-tzu is still dealing with our problem of selfness (see my commentary on verse 7). Don’t see yourself as distinct from everyone and everything else. Don’t be full of your self. Be self-less. By being empty, rather than full, you are cultivating something deep inside of you. Your greatest treasure.
Lao-tzu is talking about the source of life within us, the Tao. Honor it. Cherish it. Cultivate it. For it is only those who do so, who can be entrusted with any great position in the world.
Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:
TSENG-TZU (B. 505 B.C.). Disciple of Confucius and author of the Hsiaoching (Book of Piety). His views are also quoted at length in the Lunyu and the Tahsueh.