“The Tao is creation’s sanctuary
treasured by the good
it keeps the bad alive
beautiful words might be the price
noble deeds might be the gift
how can we abandon
people who are bad
thus when emperors are enthroned
or ministers installed
though there be great disks of jade
followed by teams of horses
they don’t rival one who sits
and offers up this Way
the ancients thus esteemed it
for did they not proclaim
who seeks thereby obtains
who errs thereby escapes
thus the world esteems it”
(Taoteching, verse 62, translation by Red Pine)
THE HSISHENGCHING says, “The Tao is the sanctuary of the deepest depth and the source of empty nothingness.”
WU CH’ENG says, “‘Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called ‘the sanctuary,’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”
SU CH’E says, “All we see of things is their exterior, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence, Lao-tzu says the good treasure it, but the foolish don’t find it. Then again, who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t abandon people. People abandon the Tao.”
WANG PI says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.”
TE-CH’ING says, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our nature is the same. How, then, can we abandon anyone?”
LAO-TZU says, “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 / the bad learn from the good” (Taoteching: 27).
WANG P’ANG says, “Jade disks and fine horses are used to attract talented people to the government. But a government that finds talented people yet does not implement the Tao is not followed by its subjects.”
CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG says, “In ancient times, the less valuable presents came first. Hence, jade disks preceded horses.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “Better than disks of jade followed by teams of horses would be one good word or one good deed to keep people from losing sight of the good.”
LU NUNG-SHIH says, “If words and deeds can be offered to others, how much more the Tao.”
WANG AN-SHIH says, “There is nothing that is not the Tao. When good people seek it, they are able to find it. When bad people seek it, they are able to avoid punishment.”
We finished up last week with a verse where Lao-tzu compared a great state to a watershed, to the confluence of the world. Yes, he was talking about the need for humility. But more importantly, he was talking about how closely we proximate ourselves to the Tao, that great body of water.
In today’s verse he begins by calling the Tao creation’s sanctuary. It isn’t surprising, to me, then, that all of creation had their origins in water.
Water is a sanctuary for us. We don’t want to be too far from it. There is a reason most of the world’s population dwells close to a great body of water. Even those of us who live farther inland have springs, lakes, and rivers we have close to our dwellings.
And the Tao is like this. Thus, it is treasured by the good, and it keeps the bad alive. Now, some of us might be questioning why we would want to keep the bad alive. So, in today’s verse, Lao-tzu poses a rhetorical question designed to get us to question exactly why we wouldn’t want to keep the bad alive: How can we abandon people who are bad?
How can we abandon people who are bad? What does it cost us? Lao-tzu teaches, “Beautiful words might be the price. Noble deeds might be the gift.” Thus, there is both a price, and a gift, in not abandoning people who are bad.
Is it too high a price? But what of the gift? Those who seek obtain, and those who err escape. Thus, the world esteems this Tao.
Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:
HSISHENGCHING (BOOK OF THE WESTERN ASCENSION). Taoist work apparently composed during the first centuries of the Christian era. It is one of several texts that recount Lao-tzu’s reappearance in India following his transmission of the Taoteching to Yin Hsi.