On Being Perfectly Blind

“Good walking leaves no tracks
good talking contains no flaws
good counting counts no beads
good closing locks no locks
and yet it can’t be opened
good tying ties no knots
and yet it can’t be undone
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
and the bad learn from the good
not honoring their teachers
or cherishing their students
the wise alone are perfectly blind
this is called peering into the distance”

(Taoteching, verse 27, translation by Red Pine)

LU TUNG-PIN says, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are good at walking find the Way within themselves, not somewhere outside. When they talk, they choose their words. When they count, they don’t go beyond one. When they close, they close themselves to desire and protect their spirit. When they tie, they secure their mind.”

TE-CH’ING says, “Sages move through the world with an empty self and accept the way things are. Hence, they leave no tracks. They do not insist that their ideas are right and accept the words of others. Hence, they reveal no flaws. They do not care about life and death, much less profit and loss. Hence, they count no beads. They do not set traps, yet nothing escapes them. Hence, they use no locks. They are not kind, yet everyone flocks to them. Hence, they tie no knots.”

WANG PI says, “These five tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The salvation of sages does not involve salvation, for if someone is saved, someone is abandoned. Hence, sages do not save anyone at all. And because they do not save anyone, they do not abandon anyone. To ‘cloak’ means to use an outer garment to cover an inner garment. If the work of salvation becomes apparent, and people see it, it cannot be called good. Only when it is hidden is it good.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The good always cloak their light.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “The good are like water. Free of impurity and without effort on their part, they show people their true likeness. Thus, they instruct the bad. But unless students can forget the teacher, their vision will be obscured.”

SU CH’E says, “Sages do not care about teaching. Hence, they do not love their students. And the world does not care about learning. Hence, people do not honor their teachers. Sages not only forget the world, they make the world forget them.”

Last week in verse 24, Lao-tzu said, some things are simply bad. In today’s verse he lists some things that are good. And the good things in today’s verse are good in the same way the bad things, in verse 24, are simply bad. It is objective good and bad, not subjective good and bad that Lao-tzu is talking about. As the objective “bad” meant doing what is “unnatural,” the objective “good” is doing what is “natural.” It is following your original nature.

What is this original nature? Lu Tung-pin says it is our nature before our parents were born. In other words, it precedes our existence. That means our original nature doesn’t need us to do anything. Doing anything would be going beyond our original nature.

Notice how Lao-tzu describes good walking, good talking, good counting, good closing, and good tying. It leaves no evidence of you having been there. He says sages are good at saving others. But given the criteria for good “anything,” sages don’t try to save anyone; therefore, they abandon no one. Nor, do they abandon anything of use.

This, Lao-tzu calls “cloaking the light,” which results in “perfect blindness.” It takes perfect blindness not to see the myriad ways to intervene, to interfere; and, overcome with desire, to force things in an attempt to control them. Perfect blindness enables you to acquiesce to, or accept, the way things are. As Te-ch’ing says, sages move through the world with an empty self. That empty self, perfectly blind, doesn’t dare to act, instead simply letting things be.

Lao-tzu calls this “peering into the distance,” which is a wonderful phrase given they are perfectly blind. What do they see as they peer into the distance?

I would think they see the end from the beginning. All the unintended consequences of intervention are readily apparent to the perfectly blind. They see beyond the outward, and indeed, aren’t swayed by outward circumstances. Their focus is inward, on the roots, rather than the leaves and twigs.

And by their example, the good instruct the bad, and the bad learn from the good.

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