The Way of a Long and Lasting Life

“In governing people and caring for Heaven
nothing surpasses economy
economy means planning ahead
planning ahead means accumulating virtue
accumulating virtue means overcoming all
overcoming all means knowing no limit
knowing no limit means guarding the realm
and guarding the realm’s mother means living long
which means deep roots and a solid trunk
the Way of a long and lasting life”

(Taoteching, verse 59, translation by Red Pine)

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Outside, we govern others. Inside, we care for Heaven. In both, nothing surpasses economy. Those who are economical are economical in everything. They are watchful within and on guard without. Only if we are still, does virtue have a place to collect.”

MENCIUS says, “The way we care for Heaven is by guarding our mind and nourishing our nature” (Mencius: 7A.1).

WANG TAO says, “‘Caring for Heaven’ means preserving what one receives from Heaven. It means cultivating oneself.”

Linking this with the previous verse, SU CH’E says, “Economy is the reason the edges of sages don’t cut, their points don’t pierce, their lines don’t extend, and their lights don’t blind. Economy means possessing without using.”

WANG PI says, “Economy means farming. Farmers cultivate their fields by weeding out different species and concentrating on one. They don’t worry about pulling out the withered and diseased. They pull out the causes of withering and disease. Above, they accept the will of Heaven. Below, they nourish others.”

HAN FEI says, “Most people use their mind recklessly. Recklessness means waste, and waste means exhaustion. Sages use their mind calmly. Calmness means carefulness, and carefulness means economy. Economy is an art born of an understanding of the Tao. Those who know how to govern others calm their thoughts. Those who know how to care for Heaven clear their opening. When their thoughts are calm, old virtue remains within. When their openings are clear, new breath enters from without.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Someone whose virtue knows no limits can guard the gods of the realm and bring happiness to the people.”

THE LICHI says, “Those who guard the realm are ever careful” (27).

LI JUNG says, “When rulers maintain the Tao, their countries are at peace. When they fail to maintain the Tao, their countries are in chaos. Their countries are the offspring. The Tao is their mother.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The realm here is a metaphor for the body. Breath is the body’s mother. Breath that has no limit can preserve the body. Those who fill themselves with breath can conquer the world and remain unharmed. Breath rises from below as if from the roots of a tree. By nourishing the roots, the roots grow deep. Breath flourishes above just as the trunk of a tree does. By nourishing the trunk, the trunk becomes firm. Thus, the tree doesn’t wither.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “The roots are in the dark, and the trunk is in the light. The roots refer to life, and the trunk refers to nature. What nothing can fathom is deep. Only life can match this. What nothing can topple is firm. Only nature can match this.”

The Way of a long and lasting life. What is it? Well, Lao-tzu teaches, “In governing people and caring for Heaven, nothing surpasses economy.” Be economical in everything you do. Don’t do things to excess. Practice moderation in all things.

Economy means planning ahead. It means taking the time to consider the consequences, both those you may intend and those you don’t. What is going to happen if I do such and such? Not just what I want to happen, but what might happen, as a consequence. Maybe I would be better off to wait and see how things play out. Maybe intervening isn’t such a good policy after all.

This planning ahead, Lao-tzu teaches, means accumulating virtue. Why is this the Way to accumulate Virtue? For the very reason that the principle of non-action, of not-doing, not interfering, not intervening, not using force in an effort to control, is virtuous. Virtue is going with the natural flow, letting things run their course. Things arise, they come; and things go. Let them. Let them be. This is Virtue. And by practicing this virtue, you accumulate more virtue.

Accumulating virtue means overcoming all. But, how is is that we overcome anything when we don’t seek to overcome, if we just let things be? Ah, my friends, it is through this not trying to overcome, that we do in fact overcome. Those who try to overcome, fail. Time, and time again, they fail. Even when they succeed, their success soon turns to failure. This is simply the Way things are. But when you don’t try to succeed, you never fail.

Overcoming all means knowing no limit. How can this be? Because those who practice this virtue of economy, of moderation in all things, transcend the boundaries of life and death. And having transcended these boundaries, you know no limits.

Knowing no limit means guarding the realm. And guarding the realm brings us back to the art of governing Lao-tzu has been talking about for several verses, now. It is what he was talking about as he opened today’s verse saying, “In governing people…nothing surpasses economy.” If you want to govern your realm (in other words, your body) effectively, nothing surpasses this practice of moderation.

And you will live long, having deep roots and a solid trunk. How else does one expect to live long and prosper?

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