The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.
When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.
If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Who Understands the Difference?
With today’s chapter, we finish off another week, and I think it is quite appropriate to end the week by highlighting the importance of moderation. Why we are so prone to extremes may always remain something of a mystery of me. And, even Lao Tzu’s teachings can be taken to an extreme, pretty much missing, by a long shot, the whole point of his teachings. As a case in point, I am drawn to quote from Red Pine’s translation, with its ensuing commentaries by sages from the last 20 centuries.
“The ancient masters of the Way
tried not to enlighten
but to keep people in the dark
what makes people hard to rule
is their knowledge
who rules the realm with knowledge
is the terror of the realm
who rules without knowledge
is the paragon of the realm
who understands the difference
is one who finds the key
knowing how to find the key
is what we call Dark Virtue
Dark Virtue goes deep
goes the other way
until it reaches perfect harmony”
WU CH’ENG says, “”To make the people more natural, the ancient sages did not try to make the people more knowledgeable but to make them less knowledgeable. This radical doctrine was later misused by the First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty, who burned all the books [in 213 B.C.] to make the people ignorant.”
Of course it would be a ruler who would take Lao Tzu’s teaching to an extreme. But this fool completely misunderstood Lao Tzu’s teachings. Lao Tzu wasn’t advocating keeping people ignorant. He was merely stating the obvious. The more we think we know, presuming, the more trouble we we will get into. The First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty is a case in point. Chuang Tzu, who came along after Lao Tzu, didn’t take Lao Tzu’s teachings to an extreme, but to their natural conclusion, being, arguably, the first anarchist. Let’s take a look at what Chuang Tzu has to say about Lao Tzu’s teaching on not knowing.
CHUANG-TZU says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (Chuangtzu: 10:4).
Don’t fail to grasp Chuang Tzu’s conclusion. It isn’t knowledge, but the love of it, which is the cause of the world’s troubles. This reminds me of an often misquoted verse in the Bible. Though it is often said, money is the root of all evil, what the Bible actually says is that it is the love of it, which is the root of all kinds of evil. It is our love of external things, be they money, or as in the case of today’s chapter, knowledge which gets us into trouble. That love, and its requisite passion drives us to intervene where we never should have presumed to intervene. Non-intervention remains the best course of action. Hence the need for moderation in all things.
WANG PI says, “When you rouse the people with sophistry, treacherous thoughts arise. When you counter their deceptions with more sophistry, the people see through your tricks and avoid them. Thus, they become secretive and devious.”
Ah, now we are starting to get to the heart of the problem. Sophistry begets sophistry begets even more sophistry. It becomes an endless chain. Understand what sophistry is: Arguments which sound plausible, yet they are fallacious. Sound familiar? The more things change, the more they stay the same.
LIU CHUNG-P’ING says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to Humankind. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to Humankind force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence, their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here (says Red Pine) is indebted to Chuangtzu: 19.2 and Mencius: 4B.26.
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘Difference’ refers to ‘with knowledge’ and without knowledge.’ Once you know that knowledge spreads evil and lack of knowledge spreads virtue, you understand the key to cultivating the self and governing the realm. Once you understand the key, you share the same virtue as Heaven. And Heaven is dark. Those who possess Dark Virtue are so deep they can’t be fathomed, so distant they can’t be reached, and always do the opposite of others. They give to others, while others think only of themselves.”
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Because it is so deep, you can’t hear it or see it. Because it is so distant, you can’t talk about it or reach it. Dark Virtue differs from everything else. But it agrees with the Tao.
SU CH’E says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value is knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always harmonious.”
LIN HSI-YI says, “‘Perfect harmony’ means whatever is natural.”
The only question which remains is who understands the difference, the difference between with knowledge and without knowledge, between knowledge and virtue, between extremes and moderation, between intervention and non-intervention.