I See This Not Succeeding, Therefore Avoid Extremes

“Trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can’t be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes they blow hot
sometimes they blow cold
sometimes they expand
sometimes they collapse
sages therefore avoid extremes
avoid extravagance
avoid excess”

(Taoteching, verse 29, translation by Red Pine)

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “We can’t control something as insignificant as a mustard see. How can we control something as big as the world?”

TE-CH’ING says, “Those who would govern the world should trust what is natural. The world cannot be controlled consciously. It is too big a thing. The world can only be governed by the spirit, not by human strength or intelligence.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Spiritual things respond to stillness. They cannot be controlled with force.”

LU-HUI-CH’ING says, “The world as a thing is a spiritual thing. Only the spiritual Tao can control a spiritual thing. Spiritual things don’t think or act. Trying to control them with force is not the Way.”

WANG CHEN says, “‘Force’ refers to the mobilization and deployment of troops. But the world’s spirit cannot be controlled with weapons.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Sages consider their body as transitory and the world as its temporary lodging. How can they rule what is not theirs and lose the true and everlasting Way?”

SU CH’E says, “The interchange of yin and yang, of high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. Sages know they cannot oppose things. They agree with whatever they meet. They eliminate extremes and thereby keep the world from harm.”

WU CH’ENG says, “How do those who gain control of the world keep the world from harm? Sages understand that things necessarily move between opposites but that there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, they keep them from withering and dying.”

WANG PI says, “Sages penetrate the nature and condition of others. Hence, they respond to them without force and follow them without effort. They eliminate whatever misleads or confuses others so that their minds become clear and each realizes their own nature.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Resting where you are eliminates extremes. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Sages get rid of extremes with kindness. They get rid of extravagance with simplicity. They get rid of excess with humility. By means of these three, sages govern the world.”

HSUEH HUI says, “What Lao-tzu means by ‘extremes,’ by ‘extravagance,’ and by ‘excess’ is not what people mean nowadays. Lao-tzu means whatever involves an increase in effort beyond what is easy.”

I am writing my commentary on today’s verse on the last day of 2017, when it posts we will be more than a week into 2018. As seems to always be the case with these verses written so very long ago, they only seem to become more relevant to our current times. I am thinking of US foreign policy in our world. Those who wish to govern us make grandiose promises which suggest they know the problems inherent in trying to govern the world with force, but one year later, we see that they still don’t understand.

But Lao-tzu did understand: I see this not succeeding. The world can’t be forced. To force it is to harm it. To control it is to lose it. How can they not see this? The reason is simple my friends. They aren’t perfectly blind. They see things to do, people to conquer. They see places to intervene. Things to interfere with. They want to be exert control. They need to exert control.

If only they understood… Sometimes things lead, sometimes they follow, sometimes they blow hot, sometimes they blow cold, sometimes they expand, sometimes they collapse. This is just the way things are. They can’t be avoided. Resistance really is futile.

So what can we do? Well, what do sages do? They avoid extremes. They avoid extravagance. They avoid excess. And Wang An-shih explains how they accomplish this. “Resting where you are (stillness) eliminates extremes. Treasuring simplicity eliminates extravagance. Being content with less eliminates excess.

I joke all the time with a friend of mine over how “lazy” I am. I avoid anything that involves an increase in effort beyond what is easy.

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