The Antidote for Restlessness

“Heavy is the root of light
still is the master of restless
thus a lord might travel all day
but never far from his supplies
even in a guarded camp
his manner is calm and aloof
why would the lord of ten thousand chariots
treat himself lighter than his kingdom
too light he loses his base
too restless he loses command”

(Taoteching, verse 26, translation by Red Pine)

HAN FEI says, “‘Heavy’ means to be in control of oneself. ‘Still’ means not to leave one’s place. Those who are heavy control those who are light. Those who are still direct those who are restless.”

WANG PI says, “Something light cannot support something heavy. Something small cannot hold down something large.”

CONFUCIUS says, “A gentleman without weight is not held in awe, and his leaning is not secure” (Lunyu: 1.8).

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Roots are heavy, while flowers and leaves are light. The light wither, while the heavy survive. ‘Still’ means tranquil, and ‘restless’ means excited. Excitement is subject to birth and death. Tranquility endures. Hence, the still rule the restless.”

TE-CH’ING says, “‘Heavy’ refers to the body. ‘Light’ refers to what is external to the body; success and fame, wealth and honor. ‘Still’ refers to our nature. ‘Restless’ refers to our emotions. People forget their body and chase external things. They forget their nature and follow their emotions. Sages aren’t like this. Even though they travel all day, they don’t leave what sustains them.”

KUAN-TZU says, “Those who move lose their place. Those who stay still are content” (quoted by Chiao Hung).

WU CH’ENG says, “When a lord travels for pleasure, he rides in a passenger carriage. When a lord travels to battle, he rides in a war chariot. Both of these are light. And behind these come the heavier baggage carts. Even though a lord might travel fifty kilometers a day in a passenger carriage or thirty kilometers a day in a war chariot, he does not hurry so far ahead that he loses sight of the baggage carts behind him.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “‘Supplies’ means the precious commodities with which we maintain ourselves and without which we cannot exist for a second.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “A lord who is not heavy is not respected. A plant’s leaves and flowers are light. Hence, they are blown about by the wind. And its roots are heavy. Hence, it lives long. A lord who is not still loses his power. A dragon is still. Hence, it is able to constantly transform itself. A tiger is restless. Hence it dies young.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Traditionally, the Son of Heaven’s fief included one million neighborhoods with a tax revenue of 640,000 ounces of silver, one million cavalry horses, and ten thousand war chariots. Hence, he was called ‘lord of ten thousand chariots.’”

SU CH’E says, “If the ruler is light, his ministers know he cannot be relied upon. If the ministers are restless, the ruler knows their minds are bent on profit.”

Can you see it? Can you feel it? People are antsy, restless. They know things are out of sorts, but they can’t quite put their finger on the root cause, or understand exactly what it would take to fix what ails us.

In today’s verse, Lao-tzu says you might travel all day, but never go far from your supplies. That is in direct contrast to what we see happening in the world today. People are flitting about, moved by restlessness, having lost touch with their base, their roots. The antidote isn’t more activity, it is stillness. We aren’t practicing self-control. And we wonder why we aren’t in control.

Perhaps we are more interested in controlling others, our focus is outside of ourselves. We let external circumstances agitate us. We need to detach ourselves from external things. Be still. Be calm and aloof. Let it be. Let them be. Calm your mind. Calm your body. This is the antidote.

The Great Imitates

“Imagine a nebulous thing
here before Heaven and Earth
subtle and elusive
dwelling apart and unconstrained
it could be the mother of us all
not knowing its name
I call it the Tao
forced to describe it
I describe it as great
great means ever-flowing
ever-flowing means far-reaching
far-reaching means returning
the Tao is great
Heaven is great
Earth is great
the ruler is also great
the realm contains Four Greats
of which the ruler is but one
Humankind imitates Earth
Earth imitates Heaven
Heaven imitates the Tao
and the Tao imitates itself”

(Taoteching, verse 25, translation by Red Pine)

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Nebulous’ means complete and indivisible.”

SU CH’E says, “The Tao is neither pure nor muddy, high nor low, past nor future, good nor bad. Its body is a nebulous whole. In Humankind it becomes our nature. It doesn’t know it exists, and yet it endures forever. And within it are created Heaven and Earth.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “It dwells apart but does not dwell apart. It goes everywhere but does not go anywhere. It’s the mother of the world, but it’s not the mother of the world.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The Tao does not have a name of its own. We force names upon it. But we cannot find anything real in them. We would do better returning to the root from which we all began.”

Standing beside a stream, CONFUCIUS sighed, “To be ever-flowing like this, not stopping day or night!” (Lunyu: 9.16).

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Although we say it’s far-reaching, it never gets far from itself. Hence, we say it’s returning.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao is great because there is nothing it does not encompass. Heaven is great because there is nothing it does not cover. Earth is great because there is nothing it does not support. And the king is great because there is nothing he does not govern. Humankind should imitate Earth and be peaceful and pliant, plant and harvest its grains, dig and discover its springs, work without exhaustion and succeed without fuss. As for Earth imitating Heaven, Heaven is still and immutable. It gives without seeking a reward. It nourishes all creatures and takes nothing for itself. As for Heaven imitating the Tao, the Tao is silent and does not speak. It directs breath and essence unseen, and thus all things come to be. As for the Tao imitating itself, the nature of the Tao is to be itself. It does not imitate anything else.”

WANG PI says, “If Humankind does not turn its back on Earth, it brings peace to all. Hence it imitates Earth. If Earth does not turn its back on Heaven it supports all. Hence, it imitates Heaven. If Heaven does not turn its back on the Tao, it covers all. Hence, it imitates the Tao. And if the Tao does not turn its back on itself, it realizes its nature. Hence, it imitates itself.”

And RED PINE adds, “The character for ‘ruler’ (wang) shows three horizontal lines (Heaven, Humankind, Earth) connected by a single vertical line. Lao-tzu’s point is that the ruler, being only one of the four great powers of the world, should not be so presumptuous of his greatness, for he depends on the other three.”

In today’s verse, Lao-tzu asks us to imagine a nebulous thing. Wu Ch’eng says “nebulous” means complete and indivisible. And, I think, whether or not we can imagine this nebulous thing sets the course of our lives.

We have said it so many times before, the way of Humankind is not the Way of the Tao. The Tao is that nebulous thing we have been challenged to imagine. The way of Humankind can’t wrap its mind around something complete and indivisible. We, instead, want something that needs us to complete, something we can divide (and attempt to conquer).

Alas for us, for the Tao is subtle and elusive. It dwells apart and is unconstrained. Try as we might to constrain it, it cannot be constrained. Lao-tzu explains the struggle as both forcing names on the Unnameable (it could be the mother of us all), and forced descriptions of it (I describe it as great: great means ever-flowing, ever-flowing means far-reaching, far-reaching means returning). I think you can see the dilemma.

While we try to constrain the Tao, it is we who are constrained. And we just keep doing the same thing, though it has been proven time, and time again, that this way doesn’t work.

So, what to do? Well, we need to return to what he said at the beginning of the verse: Imagine a nebulous thing. And, having imagined it, stop trying to constrain it. Instead, we need to let go of that desire. If we are going to be great, and Humankind can be one of the four great powers, we need to practice imitating. In other words, go with the flow, rather than struggling against it. It is the way of Humankind to struggle against it. And we can see just how well that is working out for us. At least I hope my readers are seeing that. But it is only through seeing that, imagining a better Way, and practicing the virtue of following (imitating) it, that the course of our lives can be turned for good.

Some Things Are Simply Bad

“Those who tiptoe don’t stand
those who stride don’t walk
those who consider themselves don’t appear
those who display themselves don’t shine
those who flatter themselves achieve nothing
those who parade themselves don’t lead
travelers have a saying
too much food and a tiring pace
some things are simply bad
those who possess the Way thus shun them”

(Taoteching, verse 24, translation by Red Pine)

TE CH’ING says, “People raise themselves up on their tiptoes to see over the heads of others, but they cannot stand like this for long. People take longer strides to stay in front of others, but they cannot walk like this very far. Neither of these is natural.”

WU CH’ENG says, “To tiptoe is to lift the heels in order to increase one’s height. To stride is to extend the feet in order to increase one’s pace. A person can do this for a while but not for long. Likewise, those who consider themselves don’t appear for long. Those who display themselves don’t shine for long. Those who flatter themselves don’t succeed for long. And those who parade themselves don’t lead for long.”

SU CH’E says, “Anyone can stand or walk. But if those who are not content with standing tiptoe to extend their height or those who are not content with walking stride to increase their speed, their stance and their pace are sure to suffer. It’s the same with those who consider themselves, or display themselves, or flatter themselves, or parade themselves. It’s like eating or drinking. As soon as you’re full, stop. Overeating will make you ill. Or it’s like manual work. As soon as you’re done, quit. Overwork will only exhaust you.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Selfless and free of desire is the mind of the sage. Conniving and clever is the mind of the common person. Observing themselves, displaying themselves, flattering themselves, and parading themselves, they hasten their end, like someone who eats too much.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Those who cultivate the Tao yet still think about themselves are like people who overeat or overwork. Food should satisfy the hunger. Work should suit the task. Those who keep to the Way do only what is natural.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Why should Taoists avoid things? Doesn’t the Tao dwell in what others avoid? [see verse 8]. Taoists don’t avoid what others hate, namely humility and weakness. They only avoid what others fight over, namely flattery and ostentation. Hence, they avoid some things and not others. But they never fight.”

CHANG TAO-LING says, “Who follows the Way lives long. Who loses the Way dies early. This is the unbiased law of Heaven. It doesn’t depend on offerings or prayers.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Those who straddle two sides are unsure of the Way.” [In line two, k’ua (stride) can also mean “straddle”].

A couple verses back, Lao-tzu specifically urged us to not consider, display, flatter, or parade ourselves. And he repeats the admonition in today’s verse. Those who do these things, don’t appear, don’t shine, achieve nothing, and don’t lead. Why not? Because, while these might be the way of Humankind, it isn’t the Way. It just isn’t natural. Like standing on tiptoe to see over the heads of others. Or taking long strides to stay in front of others. What has Lao-tzu been teaching us with these verses this week? Things can’t last. We need to accept the natural waxing and waning.

And there is another thing that Lao-tzu teaches in today’s verse: Some things are simply bad. This may sound obvious to my readers. Or, some of you may have become so brainwashed by those who would tell you that everything is relative. There are no absolutes. There is nothing good, and nothing bad.

Even Lao-tzu has talked before about our subjective opinions of good and bad, saying there really isn’t a whole lot of difference between what is good and what is bad. And, by calling this good, this becomes bad.

But let’s not misunderstand Lao-tzu. Then, he was talking about the subjective. Today, he is talking about the objective. And there is objective good and bad. The Virtue, he has talked about previously, the te in Taoteching, is obviously good. And, some things are bad. Like not following the Tao. Or, like he notes in recalling the travelers’ saying, “Too much food and a tiring pace.”

If we are going to possess the Tao, we need to shun these bad things.

In Whatever You Do, Be One With It

“Whispered words are natural
a gale doesn’t last all morning
a squall doesn’t last all day
who creates these
Heaven and Earth
if Heaven and Earth can’t make things last
how much less can Humankind
thus in whatever you do
when you follow the Way be one with the Way
when you succeed be one with success
when you fail be one with failure
be one with success
for the Way succeeds too
be one with failure
for the Way fails too

(Taoteching, verse 23, translation by Red Pine)

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Whispered’ means not heard. ‘Whispered words’ mean no words. Those who reach the Tao forget about words and follow whatever is natural.”

WANG CHEN says, “Whispered words require less effort. Hence, they conform to the natural Way.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Something is natural when nothing can make it so, and nothing can make it not so.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “If the greatest forces wrought by Heaven and Earth cannot last, how can the works of Humankind?”

SU CH’E says, “The words of sages are faint, and their deeds are plain. But they are always natural. Hence, they can last and not be exhausted.”

TE-CH’ING says, “This verse explains how sages forget about words, embody the Tao, and change with the seasons. Elsewhere, Lao-tzu says, ‘Talking only wastes it / better to conserve the inside’ [verse 5]. Those who love to argue get farther from the Way. They aren’t natural. Only those whose words are whispered are natural. Lao-tzu uses wind and rainstorms as metaphors for the outbursts of those who love to argue. They can’t maintain such a disturbance and dissipation of breath very long. Because they don’t really believe in the Tao, their actions don’t accord with the Tao. They haven’t learned the secret of how to be one.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who pursue the Way are natural. Natural means free from success and hence free from failure. Such people don’t succeed and don’t fail but simply go along with the successes and failures of the age. Or if they do succeed or fail, their minds are not affected.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Those who pursue the Way are able to leave their selves behind. No self is the Way. Success. Failure. I don’t see how they differ.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are one with success enjoy succeeding. Those who are one with failure enjoy failing. Water is wet, and fire burns. This is their nature.”

And RED PINE adds, “Success, failure, both lead to the Way. But the path of failure is shorter.”

In yesterday’s verse, Lao-tzu told us to hold on to just one thing. And, one of the reasons for this, must be because things can’t last. Lao-tzu illustrates this for us in the first half of today’s verse where he explains that Heaven and Earth can’t make things last. It is so obvious! Yet, Humankind doesn’t seem to get it. That is why we try so hard to make things last.

We need to learn the lessons all of nature teach us. And today’s lesson is things can’t last. So stop trying to make them last. Instead, in whatever you do, follow the Way of nature. Be one with it. Be one with its successes, for you will succeed. And, be one with its failures, for you will fail.

I will admit that every time I read the last line of today’s verse, it makes me pause. Does the Way (the Tao) fail too? Am I okay with this? I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t bothered by this.

And, it isn’t because I don’t know it is true. It is because, being human, I want to always succeed. So, naturally, I want this Way I believe in to always succeed, too. But, here, I need to do a little pondering about what Lao-tzu actually means by success and failure.

He is talking, again about the Tao’s waxing and waning. The Tao waxes. But, it also wanes. And we are going to wax and wane, as well. We can’t always be waxing. And, if we thought about it just a little while, we would be quite content with waning, too. It is, after all the Way of all nature.

Becoming Whole Depends on This

“The incomplete become whole
the crooked become straight
the hollow become full
the worn-out become new
those with less become content
those with more become confused
sages therefore hold on to one thing
and use this to guide the world
not considering themselves they appear
not displaying themselves they shine
not flattering themselves they succeed
not parading themselves they lead
because they don’t compete
no one can compete against them
the ancients who said the incomplete become whole
came close indeed
becoming whole depends on this”

(Taoteching, verse 22, translation by Red Pine)

CHUANG-TZU says, “Lao-tzu said everyone else seeks happiness. He alone saw that to be incomplete was to become whole” (Chuangtzu: 33.5).

WU CH’ENG says, “By exploring one side to its limits, we eventually find all sides. By grasping one thing, we eventually encompass the whole. The caterpillar bends in order to straighten itself. A hollow in the ground fills with water. The renewal of spring depends on the withering of fall. By having less, it’s easy to have more. By having more, it’s easy to become confused.”

WANG PI says, “As with a tree, the more of it there is, the farther it is from its roots. The less of it there is, the closer it is to its roots. ‘More’ means more distant from what is real. ‘Less’ means closer.”

WEI YUAN says, “One is the extreme of less. But whoever uses this as the measure for the world always finds more.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Only those who find but one thing can act like this. Thus to have less means to be content. The reason most people cannot act like this is because they have not found one thing. Thus, to have too much means to be confused.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The reason sages are able to be chief of all creatures is because they hold on to one thing. Holding on to this one thing, they never leave the Tao. Hence, they do not observe themselves but rely instead on the vision of others. They do not talk about their own strength but rely instead on the strengths of others. They stand apart and do not compete. Hence, no one can compete against them.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Not observing themselves, they become whole. Not displaying themselves, they become upright. Not flattering themselves, they become complete. Not parading themselves, they become new.”

TZU-SSU says, “Only those who are perfectly honest can realize their nature and help others do the same. Next are those who are incomplete” (Chungyung; 22-23).

MENCIUS says, “We praise those who don’t calculate. We reproach those who try to be whole” (Mencius: 4A.21).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are able to practice being incomplete keep their physical body whole. Those who depend on their mother and father suffer no harm.” (Mother is Tao. Father is Te or Virtue).

And Red Pine adds, ‘Lao-tzu’s path to wholeness is through incompleteness, but an incompleteness so incomplete that he is reduced to one thing.”

We ended last week with Lao-tzu talking about the waxing and waning, waning and waxing of the Tao. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu reveals what I would call the great secret. If you want to become whole, you must first be content with being incomplete. By being content with being incomplete, first, you open yourself up to the Tao’s waxing and waning. And, by opening yourself to the waxing and waning of the Tao, you put yourself in a place to become whole.

This is the Way of the Tao. The crooked become straight. The hollow become full. And, the worn-out become new.

The way of Humankind has things completely upside down. We want more, always more. We are never content with less. But, the pathway to true contentment only comes from being incomplete. It is those with less who become content. Those with more are never content. They never have enough. They always want more. This can only result in confusion.

So, there it is. How to become whole. Content yourself with less. Lao-tzu said, just hold on to one thing. Let everything else go. What is that one thing? I don’t think it is anything material. Material things, after all, come and go. They would be impossible to hold on to.

If you are going to be content with holding on to just one thing, Lao-tzu has some guidance for you.

First, don’t consider yourself. Second, don’t display yourself. Third, don’t flatter yourself. And fourth, don’t parade yourself. The way of Humankind tries to appear, shine, succeed, and lead, by putting themselves first. Lao-tzu would have you understand that you will appear, shine, succeed and lead by putting yourself last.

Don’t compete with others! That is huge! Oh, how we love to compete. But, if you don’t compete, no one can compete against you. That is the summation of everything Lao-tzu is saying in today’s verse. Make that your one thing, and you will come out on top.

Yes, this is counter to the way of Humankind. As we have been saying for quite some time now, you are different, you are choosing to be different, and you will be alone. But becoming whole depends on this.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

TZU-SSU (D. 483 B.C.). Grandson of Confucius and author of the Chungyung.

By Means of This

“The appearance of Empty Virtue
this is what comes from the Tao
the Tao as a thing
waxes and wanes
it waxes and wanes
but inside is an image
it wanes and waxes
but inside is a creature
it’s distant and dark
but inside is an essence
an essence that is real
inside which is a heart
throughout the ages
its name hasn’t changed
so we might follow our fathers
how do we know what our fathers were like
by means of this”

(Taoteching, verse 21, translation by Red Pine)

WANG PI says, “Only when we take emptiness as our virtue can our actions accord with the Tao.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Sages have it. So does everyone else. But because others are selfish and attached, their virtue isn’t empty.”

HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “Emptiness and the Tao are indivisible. Those who seek the Tao cannot find it except through emptiness. But formless emptiness is of no use to those who cultivate the Tao.”

YEN LING-FENG says, “Virtue is the manifestation of the Way. The Way is what Virtue contains. Without the Way, Virtue would have no power. Without Virtue, the Way would have no appearance.”

SU CH’E says, “The Tao has no form. Only when it changes into Virtue does it have an appearance. Hence, Virtue is the Tao’s visual aspect. The Tao neither exists nor does not exist. Hence, we say it waxes and wanes, while it remains in the dark unseen.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The true Tao exists and yet does not exist. It does not exist and yet does not not exist. Lao-tzu says it waxes and wanes to stress that the Tao is not separate from things, and things are not separate from the Tao. Outside of the Tao, there are no things. And outside of things, there is no Tao.”

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Inside’ refers to Virtue. ‘Image’ refers to the breath of something before it is born. ‘Creature’ refers to the form of something after it is born. ‘Distant and dark’ refers to the utter invisibility of the Tao.”

CHANG TAO-LING says, “Essence is like water; the body is its embankment, and Virtue is its source. If the heart is not virtuous, or if there is no embankment, water disappears. The immortals of the past treasured their essence and lived, while people today lose their essence and die.”

WANG P’ANG says, “Essence is where life and the body come from. Lao-tzu calls it ‘real’ because once things become subject to human fabrication, they lose their reality.”

And RED PINE explains, “In China people trace their descent through their male parent. The male is visible, the female hidden. Lao-tzu is nourished by his mother (Tao) but follows his father (Te).”

The problem Lao-tzu has described for us, in the last several verses, is the Great Way (the Tao) has disappeared. His prescription for what ails us, getting rid of artifice, getting rid of pretense, getting rid of any extra thing – all these things which have replaced the Tao — serves one purpose for Lao-tzu: The reappearance of Empty Virtue, which comes from the Tao.

Lao-tzu has talked a lot about emptiness, before. So, it is something we have already covered, before. And, I don’t want to spend my commentary trying to reiterate what has already been said. What I would rather do is focus on what he is saying in today’s verse about Empty Virtue. Empty Virtue, is just that, empty. It doesn’t have any additions, no attachments, no desire. It is empty of artifice, pretense, anything that is extraneous to the Tao.

This does come with a warning, however. The practice of Empty Virtue won’t earn you love and praise from others. On the other hand, you won’t be feared or despised by them, either. If you are a practitioner of Empty Virtue you can pretty much expect that people will hardly be aware you are even there.

That is just fine with me, for I am not looking to be noticed, or to be rewarded for doing what I know is the right thing. Quite frankly, I just want to be left alone, as I leave everybody else alone.

I think of Empty Virtue, pretty much, as minding my own business. Not interfering, not intervening, not forcing things, not trying to be in control.

I know, I know, with all the virtue-signaling going on in the world today, you might think my not signaling my virtue would raise a few eyebrows. But I haven’t found it to be so. I simply don’t call attention to the fact I am not virtue-signaling. And, it really isn’t surprising how unnoticed and ignored I can be. Anyone who doubts that probably has too high an estimation of themselves.

No, to be quite honest, the world doesn’t revolve around you, or me. When I don’t draw attention to myself, people don’t give me a second thought. And that is just the way I like it.

What was it Lao-tzu said in yesterday’s verse? He was alone. And, alone, isn’t a bad thing. I go out every morning, alone. Well before sunrise. Just walking in the darkness. It is my “me” time. The darkness, the emptiness, make those two hours a walking meditation. I see the waxing and waning of the moon; and, I see the waxing and waning of the Tao. Alone, in the dark, I see the essence of the Tao, the only thing that is real. It is by means of this that I empty my mind, and am renewed, day by day.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

YEN LING-FENG (B. 1910). Classical scholar and specialist in Taoteching studies. In addition to his own books on the subject, he republished most of the surviving commentaries in his monumental Wu-ch’iu-pei-chai lao-tzu chi-ch’eng, including a number of “lost” commentaries that he reconstructed from diverse sources. Lao-tzu chang-chu hsin-pien.

Choosing to Differ

“Get rid of learning and problems will vanish
yes and no
aren’t so far apart
lovely and ugly
aren’t so unalike
what others fear
we can’t help fear too
before the moon begins to wane
everyone is overjoyed
as if they were at the great Sacrifice
or climbing a tower in spring
I sit here and make no sign
like an infant that doesn’t smile
lost with no one to turn to
while others enjoy more
I alone seem deficient
with a mind like that of a fool
I’m so simple
others look bright
I alone seem dim
others are certain
I alone am confused
ebbing like the ocean
waxing without cease
everyone has a goal
I alone am dumb and backward
for I alone choose to differ
preferring still my mother’s tit”

(Taoteching, verse 20, translation by Red Pine)

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “When we give up the study of phenomena and understand the principle of noninterference, troubles come to an end and distress disappears.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “What passes for learning in the world never ends. For every truth found, two are lost. And while what we find brings joy, losses bring sorrow – sorrow that never ends.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Wei [yes] indicates agreement and k’o [no] disdain.

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Even though ‘yes’ and ‘no’ come from the same source, namely the mouth, ‘yes’ is the root of beauty, and ‘no’ is the root of ugliness. Before they appear, there is nothing beautiful or ugly and nothing to fear. But once they appear, if we don’t fear one or the other, disaster and harm are unavoidable.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “What others love, the sage also loves. What others fear, the sage fears, too. But where the sage differs is that while others don’t see anything outside their own minds, the mind of the sage wanders in the Tao.”

WANG P’ANG says, “Everything changes into its opposite. Beginning follows end without cease. But people think everything is either beautiful or ugly. How absurd! Only the sage knows that the ten thousand ages are the same, that nothing is gained or lost.”

SU CH’E says, “People all drown in what they love: the beauty of the Great Sacrifice, the happiness of climbing to a scenic viewpoint in spring. Only the sage sees into their illusory nature and remains unmoved. People chase things and forget about the Tao, while the sage clings to the Tao and ignores everything else, just as an infant only nurses at it mother’s breast.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “People all see external things, while sages alone nourish themselves on internal breath. Breath is the mother, and spirit is the child. The harmony of mother and child is the key to nourishing life.”

And, RED PINE adds, “Another verse in which Lao-tzu chooses the crescent moon, while others choose the full moon. In ancient China, emperors marked the return of swallows to their capitals in spring with the Great Sacrifice to the Supreme Intermediary, while people of all ranks climbed towers or hiked into the hills to view the countryside in bloom and to celebrate the first full moon.”

I can identify with Lao-tzu. I suspect that many of my followers do, as well. The things we have been talking about for the last several days, now, the diagnosis of our problem, and the prescription for healing – these are way outside the mainstream of allowable opinion. Lao-tzu doesn’t just differ from everyone else, he chooses to differ from everyone else. That means he is alone. How many times does he say, “I alone”? I counted at least five times in this verse.

And, let me tell you, I am alone, too. As, I am sure, you are. Don’t worry about it. It is completely natural to be alone when you choose to think differently, to act differently. It isn’t how to win friends. To seem deficient. To be simple. To seem dim. To be confused about what all the uproar is about anyway. Everyone has a goal. I alone am dumb and backward.

This isn’t self-pity, or self-loathing, on Lao-tzu’s part. And it certainly isn’t on my own part. I have chosen to be different. And I can’t be like everyone else ever again.

Once I came to a certain realization. You know this for yourself, I am sure. I realized artificial “learning” had to go. And problems vanished. I realized yes and no weren’t so far apart. Think about that for just a moment. Just think of how much our social media is rife with arguments over yes and no. What is lovely and what is ugly? I realized just how alike they are.

Now, I am human, just like you, and even Lao-tzu. I understand fear. And, I can’t help but fear, too. But, I just can’t get all worked up over it any longer. I have a friend who I meet weekly; and we have tea, while discussing all the problems of the world. I almost always tell him, “I can’t do anything about it, so what is it to me? I am just going to live my life in such a way that I am as little affected by it as is humanly possible.”

It is simple, really. I am a fool. Not getting overjoyed, or overly anxious, about anything. Nope! I just sit here at my mother’s tit. Slurp. Slurp. Yum. This is contentment.

Things to Get Rid Of, Things to Add

“Get rid of wisdom and reason
and people will live a hundred times better
get rid of kindness and justice
and people once more will love and obey
get rid of cleverness and profit
and thieves will cease to exist
but these three sayings are incomplete
hence let these be added
display the undyed and preserve the uncarved
reduce self-interest and limit desires”

(Taoteching, verse 19, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Get rid of the works of wisdom and reason and return to the primeval. The symbols and letters created by the Five Emperors were not as effective in ruling the kingdom as the simple knots used earlier by the Three Sovereigns.”

TE-CH’ING says, “This is what Chuang-tzu meant when he said, ‘Tigers and wolves are kind.’ Tigers and wolves possess innate love and obedience that don’t require instruction. How much more should Humankind, the most intelligent of creatures, possess these.”

WANG CHEN says, “Put an end to wisdom that leaves tracks and reason that deceives, and people will benefit greatly. Put an end to condescending kindness and treacherous justice, and relatives will come together on their own and will once more love and obey. Put an end to excessive cleverness and personal profit, and armies will no longer appear. And when armies no longer appear, thieves will cease to exist.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “These three only help us get rid of things. They don’t explain cultivation. Hence, they are incomplete.”

WANG PI says, “Wisdom and reason are the pinnacle of ability. Kindness and justice are the acme of behavior. Cleverness and profit are the height of practice. To tell us simply to get rid of them would be inappropriate and wouldn’t make sense without giving us something else. Hence, we are told to focus on the undyed and the uncarved.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “The ways of the world become daily more artificial. Hence, we have names like wisdom and reason, kindness and justice, cleverness and profit. Those who understand the Tao see how artificial these are and how inappropriate they are in ruling the world. They aren’t as good as getting people to focus their attention on undyed cloth and uncarved wood. By displaying what is undyed and preserving what is uncarved, our self-interest and desires wane. The undyed and the uncarved refer to our original nature.”

LIU CHING says, “‘Undyed’ means unstained by anything else and thus free of wisdom and reason. ‘Uncarved’ means complete in itself and thus free of kindness and justice. ‘Self-interest’ concerns oneself. And ‘desires’ concern others. As they diminish, so do cleverness and profit.”

SU CH’E says, “Confucius relied on kindness and justice, ritual and music to order the kingdom. Lao-tzu’s only concern was to open people’s minds, which he accomplished through the use of metaphor. Some people, though, have used his metaphors to create disorder, while no great problems have been caused by the followers of Confucius.”

And RED PINE adds, “Get rid of sayings, and people will be their own sages.”

Oh Su Ch’e, what is that you say, Su Ch’e? Su Ch’e is concerned that maybe Lao-tzu goes a bit far. He prefers Confucius’ order, to Lao-tzu’s disorder. But, as I was saying in yesterday’s commentary, I think chaos can serve a greater purpose. As Red Pine says in his commentary, “Get rid of sayings (what Confucius is most famous for), and people will be their own sages.” I can already hear the naysayers: “But people can’t be trusted.” I think that was Su Ch’e’s fear.

Folks, this is serious. And, believe me, I am taking it seriously. And I want you to, too. I don’t want chaos anymore than the rest of you. Disorder is so untidy. It will be ugly. Things are going to be bad. But, do we have a choice? Honestly, I don’t think so.

So many things to get rid of. Anything artificial. That is really all the problems in the world wrapped up in one word. There is too much that is artificial. We keep manufacturing more of the artificial each and every day. And I hope you are understanding what I am meaning by artificial, here. I am talking about our kindness and justice, our love and obedience, our cleverness and profit. None of these things are natural. They aren’t honest. We aren’t being honest with ourselves. So, we are deceiving ourselves.

We need to stop that. We need to throw all of the artificial away. They were only fit for the dung pile, anyway.

But what are going to replace them with? Well, of course, someone was going to ask that. That is what us anarchists are always hit with. Anytime we argue in favor of getting the government out of the “meddling in our business” business, someone says, “But, what are you going to replace it with?”

And, if we anarchists are on our game, we will be honest and say, “Why, of course, this is incomplete. There will be much to add.”

Lao-tzu does, too!

So, what do we replace the artificial with? The natural, of course. Leave behind self-interest and desires, go back to your original nature.

Is That What It’s Going to Take?

“When the Great Way disappears
we meet kindness and justice
when reason appears
we meet great deceit
when the six relations fail
we meet obedience and love
when the country is in chaos
we meet upright officials”

(Taoteching, verse 18, translation by Red Pine)

Connecting this with the previous verse, WEI YUAN says, “What people love and praise are kindness and justice. What people fear is reason. And what people despise is deceit.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “It isn’t the Great Way that leaves Humankind and goes into hiding. it’s Humankind that leaves the Great Way and replaces it with kindness and justice.”

SU CH’E says, “When the Great Way flourishes, kindness and justice are at work. But people don’t realize it. Only after the Great Way disappears, do kindness and justice become visible.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “The Way hides in formlessness. Names arise from discontent. When the Way hides in formlessness, there isn’t any difference between great or small. When names arise from discontent, we get distinctions such as kindness, justice, reason, and so forth.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When the kingdom enjoys peace, no one thinks about kindness, and the people are free of desire. When the Great Way prevails, kindness and justice vanish, just as the stars fade when the sun appears.”

MENCIUS says, “Kindness means dwelling in peace. Justice means taking the right road” (Mencius: 4A.10).

TE CH’ING says, “Reason is what the sage uses to order the kingdom. It includes the arts, measurements, and laws. In the High Ages, people were innocent, and these were unknown. In the Middle Ages, people began to indulge their feelings, and rulers responded with reason. And once reason appeared, the people responded with deceit.”

WANG PI says, “The six relations are between father and son, elder and younger brothers, husband and wife. When these six relations are harmonious, the country governs itself, and there is no need for obedience, love, or honesty.”

WANG P’ANG says, “During a virtuous age, obedience and love are considered normal. Hence, no one is called obedient or loving. Nowadays, when someone is obedient or loving, we praise them. This is because the six relations are no longer harmonious. Moreover, when peace prevails, everyone is honest. How can there be honest officials?

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “When the realm is at peace, loyalty and honesty are nowhere to be seen. Innocence and virtue appear when the realm is in chaos.”

LI JUNG says, “During the time of the sage emperors Fu Hsi and Shen Nung, there was no mention of officials. It was only during the time of the despots Chieh and Chou that we begin to hear of ministers such as Kuan Lung-feng and Pi Kan.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Shao Juo-yu assigns these four divisions to emperors, kings, the wise, and the talented.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “When springs dry up, fish find themselves in puddles, spraying water on each other to keep each other alive. Better to be in a river or lake and oblivious of one another” (Chuangtzu: 6.5).

I like old Chuang-tzu. Maybe as much as I like Lao-tzu. I have been reading the essential writings of Chuang-tzu, and boy oh boy is he funny. I think of him as an ancient Mark Twain. But, Chuang-tzu can be harder to understand at times.

Still, his commentary today isn’t hard to understand at all. It would be better to be oblivious of one another. But I think finding ourselves in those puddles, spraying water on each other to survive, might just serve some greater purpose.

Today’s verse is obviously a continuation of yesterday’s. Lao-tzu is talking about the same thing. The ever diminishing virtue in our rulers is identified as the Great Way, that has disappeared. And what has replaced it, what have our rulers tried to fit in its place? Kindness. Justice. Reason. Deceit.

The six relations have failed. Refer to the various commentators, today, for an understanding of those. I am still holding out for what I said I wanted in yesterday’s commentary. I want some damn honesty in our rulers. I am tired of dishonesty prevailing. Aren’t you?

I said, I think finding ourselves in puddles, spraying water on each other to survive, might just serve some greater purpose. And what might that be?

I get my inspiration from the last two lines of today’s verse. “When the country is in chaos, we meet upright officials.” I am going to be optimistic enough to believe these “upright” officials are truly upright. In other words, honest.

Is that what it is going to take? Our country in chaos? Some might argue we are already in chaos. I would counter, this is only the beginning of chaos; and I fear, as well as hope, that this is only the beginning. Things are going to get a whole lot worse, before we can ever expect them to get better.

But, will it be worth it? If we were to actually get upright officials, I would have to say, yes.

When Honesty Fails, Dishonesty Prevails

“During the High Ages people knew they were there
then people loved and praised them
then they feared them
finally they despised them
when honesty fails
dishonesty prevails
hesitate and weigh your words
when their work succeeds
let people think they did it”

(Taoteching, verse 17, translation by Red Pine)

RED PINE begins the commentary by pointing out, “The Chinese of Lao-tzu’s day believed their greatest age of peace and harmony occurred during the reigns of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, or 2,000 years earlier. These legendary rulers exercised power so unobtrusively, the people hardly knew they were there, as we hear in a song handed down from that distant age: ‘Sunup I rise / sundown I rest / I dig a well to drink / I plow fields to eat / the emperor’s might / what is it to me?’ (Kushihyuan: 1).”

THE LICHI says, “During the High Ages people esteemed virtue. Then they worked for rewards” (1).

LU HSI-SHENG says, “The virtuous lords of ancient times initiated no actions and left no traces. Hence, the people knew they were there and that was all. When their virtue diminished, they ruled with kindness and justice, and the people loved and praised them. When their kindness and justice no longer controlled people’s hearts, they governed with laws and punishments, and the people feared them. When their laws and punishments no longer controlled people’s minds, they acted with force and deceit, and the people despised them.”

MENCIUS says, “When the ruler views his ministers as his hands and feet, they regard him as their heart and soul. When he views them as dirt and weeds, they regard him as an enemy and a thief” (Mencius: 4B.3).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The mistake of loving and praising, fearing and despising does not rest with the people but with those above. The reason the people turn to love and praise or fear and hate is because those above cannot be trusted. And when trust disappears, chaos appears.”

HUANG YUAN-CHI “What we do to cultivate ourselves is what we do to govern the world. And among the arts we cultivate, the most subtle of all is honesty, which is the beginning and end of cultivation. When we embrace the truth, the world enjoys peace. When we turn our backs on the truth, the world suffers. From the time of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors, this has never varied.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When those above treat those below with dishonesty, those below respond with deceit.”

WANG PI says, “Where there are words, there is a response. Thus, the sage hesitates.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The reason sages don’t speak or act is so they can bestow their blessings in secret and so people can live their lives in peace. And when their work succeeds and people’s lives go well, people think that is just the way it is supposed to be. They don’t realize it was made possible by those on high.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “As long as the people think they did it themselves, they have no reason to love or praise anyone.”

I don’t think I am asking too much. And I don’t think it is unreasonable to want it. All I want is to be governed like those good old days, those High Ages, that Lao-tzu talks about in the first line of today’s verse. “The people hardly knew they were there.” It was because those legendary rulers, as Red Pine says in his commentary, exercised power so unobtrusively.

Am I pining away for the good old days? Maybe I am. But at least these good old days are something I feel justified in pining over.

Still, I have this thing nagging at me. This need to be content with the way things are. What I want and what I have maybe two very different things. And, maybe, just maybe, I should just play the hand that has been dealt to me.

I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t know. Lao-tzu does a fine job of presenting the history. How things devolved over time. And our various commentators explain it all very well.

Over time the virtue of rulers diminished. They stopped being so unobtrusive in exercising their power. It began subtly. Much like the proverbial frog in a pot of water which is slowly being brought to a boil.

They ruled with kindness and justice. This earned them love and praise. But their kindness and justice weren’t virtues. Understand, their virtue had already diminished. They had an ulterior motive for ruling with kindness and justice, and that would only be their modus operandi for as long as they realized their purpose. And we know what that purpose was – to control the people’s hearts.

And when kindness and justice failed to serve its purpose, the rulers’ virtue diminished further. That is when the rulers instituted laws and punishments. It was as if the rulers thought, “If the people can’t be controlled by their affection for us, then making them fear us is the logical next step. If we can’t control their hearts, we will control their minds.” And maybe that did work for a time. The people certainly did fear them.

But, to whatever extent and for however long it might have worked, their laws and punishments (becoming more and more numerous) ultimately failed to achieve the desired results. I think at that point the rulers got lost in their impatience and simply turned up the heat on the frog to the max. Their virtue diminished to a point that they acted with force and deceit, with the unintended (but thoroughly predictable) outcome – the people despised them.

That may or may not be a very accurate picture of Chinese, or world history, when it comes to governments. I think it is more accurate than inaccurate, though. It is a nice, neat synopsis of the way things have been.

But what about the way things are? Well, I think we have some kind of blend going on. Some rulers are loved and praised, some are feared, and some are despised. But, in every case, their virtue has been greatly diminished. How do I know that? Because each and every one of them, without any exceptions I have seen or heard of, don’t exercise their power unobtrusively.

It all goes back to what I said I wanted in the beginning of my commentary. I still don’t think I am asking too much. And, I still don’t think it is unreasonable to ask for it. I want some damn honesty. Our rulers aren’t being honest with us. They aren’t even being honest with themselves. And, as Lao-tzu says in today’s verse, “When honesty fails, dishonesty prevails.”

Dishonesty prevails. It has been prevailing for as far back as I can go in history. I know how difficult it can be to get an accurate picture of history out of the history books; because, in all the great conflicts, it was the winners who compiled the historical record. And might made right. Though might is never (well, hardly ever) right. They haven’t been honest with us. They aren’t being honest with us. And, I really hate to break it to you, they aren’t very likely to start being honest with us, in the foreseeable future.

Dishonesty prevails. And there is really only one way to combat that.

Hesitate, and weigh your words. Put those words on the scale. Am I being honest? Really? Or, am I still being dishonest? Let me stop and consider this for a moment. A long moment. Is it really so important that I control their hearts and minds? Wouldn’t it be better, far better, if I left them alone, if I let them be? Could I be less obtrusive in governing?

Like I said earlier, I don’t know. I really don’t know. After reading that last paragraph, I am beginning to think I am expecting a whole lot more honesty, than I can honestly expect. So, maybe I am asking too much. Maybe it is unreasonable.

To expect anyone in power to let the people think they did all the work by themselves, without our rulers wanting to take all the credit for themselves?

Well, a fellow can dream, can’t he?

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

KUSHIHYUAN. Anthology of pre-T’ang dynasty poetry compiled by Shen Te-ch’ien (1673-1769) and published in 1719.

The LICHI (BOOK OF RITES). Anthology of Confucian writings, including the Chungyung and the Tahsueh. It was first put together around the second century B.C. and was further edited by Tao Te and his cousin during the following century.

MENCIUS (390-305 B.C.). Ranked with Confucius and Hsun-tzu as the foremost teachers of the philosophy known as Confucianism. He studied with Confucius’ grandson Tzu-ssu. The work that bears his name records his conversations with his disciples and various rulers of his day.