Of Crouching Tigers and Hidden Dragons

“Heavy is the root of the light
still is the master of restlessness
thus a lord might travel all day
but never far from his own 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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 learning 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-CHUNG 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.”

The heavy is what is on the inside, the light is external. When our minds are on what is external, it makes us restless; but, through stillness, we can master it. Regardless of your outward circumstances, always remain calm and aloof. Never let go of your root.

Something to Imitate

“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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 ogf 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 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.”

RED PINE notes, “The character for “ruler” 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.”

Wu Ch’eng says that “nebulous” means complete and indivisible, and it does; but first, it is subtle and elusive, dwelling apart and unconstrained. Lao-tzu invites us to imagine it. Cloudy, misty, hazy, murky. Without any form, and without any limits. This he calls the Tao; but, he admits it is nameless. And, he only describes it because he is compelled. It is great. What a description! It is great. The greatest of the four great powers.

In the past, I have felt a bit overwhelmed with trying to imitate the Tao. How can I do this? Perhaps, some of my readers are thinking the very same thing. But, we don’t have to despair. You don’t have to bite off more than you can chew. We don’t have to imitate the Tao. Let Heaven do that. And, we don’t have to imitate Heaven. Let Earth do that. Humankind only has to imitate the Earth. As Ho-shang Kung says, “Be peaceful and pliant.” Just do what it is in your nature to do. And do it effortlessly. There is no need to try to force this thing. There is no need to exhaust yourself. Don’t fuss. Relax. Breathe. Let things come and go. Just like Earth does. If you give others something to imitate, that is a good thing. But don’t try to make that happen. Only let it.

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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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.”

Some things are simply bad. Lao-tzu doesn’t mean that in the subjective sense, but the objective. These things aren’t subject to change. To stand on tiptoe to try to increase your height, to extend your feet in order to try to increase your pace or straddle two sides, you can do these things for a short time, but you can’t do them for long. That wouldn’t be natural. And, being unnatural is simply bad. The same is true for those who consider themselves, display themselves, flatter themselves, or parade themselves. Those who are content with themselves don’t make a show of themselves. Those who cultivate the Tao within themselves are like travelers who shun too much food or a tiring pace, they shun that which is unnatural.

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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 concludes, “Success, failure, both lead to the Way. But the path of failure is shorter.”

I used to be one of those who liked to argue. I remember meeting a friend of a friend, and her assessment of me after just a short time, “He certainly is opinionated.” While I don’t think she meant it as a compliment, at the time I took it as a badge of honor I loved to wear. I had an opinion about everything. My opinions were strong. And, I loved to argue with anyone, well just about everyone, since my opinions have never been mainstream.

Here, one of my favorite quotes of Mark Twain, I really took to heart, comes to mind: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Well, no need for pausing and reflecting, thought I; for I am never in agreement with majority opinion.

I was much younger, then. And, I have mellowed a bit with age, no doubt. Oh, I am still just as opinionated as ever. But, I am not nearly as likely to share my opinions so abrasively. You can only hear another quote I heard frequently so many times, before you start to get the message. This one is of unknown origin: “Opinions are like belly buttons. We all have them, I don’t need to see yours.”

Okay, I admit I hung around in rather chaste circles back in the day. I think the origin of that quote had another choice word for belly button. But, the point remains. My opinions were not always welcome.

Maybe I am not being entirely honest with myself. Maybe it isn’t really age which has mellowed me. Maybe age just coincided with my learning from the old Master, Lao-tzu.

It isn’t natural to want to argue all the time. Wind and rain know their limits, how much more should we? In whatever you do, be one with it. Be one with it? That means accepting that things come and go. And, there isn’t any real difference between success and failure. So, what is the point of arguing?

I am a whole lot more likely now, to be hailed as open-minded. Because I am not nearly so pushy, and ready to hear from all sides, without interfering.

That is not me patting myself on the back for my open-mindedness. It is simply me acknowledging that I no longer resist my natural waxing and waning. And, I have especially come to appreciate the waning.

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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 dependson 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 no 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 strengths 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.”

And RED PINE concludes, “Lao-tzu’s path to wholeness is through incompleteness, but an incompleteness so incomplete that he is reduced to one thing.”

We tend to think the path to wholeness is through accumulation. The more full I am the fuller, I’ll be. But, having gone down that road, I can tell you more is never enough. Lao-tzu shows us a better way. How incomplete can you be? Can you hold on to just one thing? A few years back, I had my own epiphany, when I became as incomplete as I had ever been. It seemed as if I had lost everything. And, it took me a bit of time to realize that one thing I still had to hold on to. Looking back, I am thankful for that time of incompleteness; for it was then, I realized how complete I truly was. I had everything I needed. And, I could be content with that.

Red Pine introduces the following sage today:

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

Empty Virtue

“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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 it 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. 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.”

LIU CHING says, “Everything changes, and names are no exception. What was true in the past is false today. Only the Tao is constant.”

And, RED PINE adds, “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) [See yesterday’s verse where Lao-tzu prefers his mother’s tit] but follows his father (Te). The use of ‘father’ here was, I suggest, intended to balance the appearance of ‘mother’ in the previous verse.”

Waxing and waning, waning and waxing. It is the appearance of Empty Virtue. The Tao, itself, which Lao-tzu says nourishes him, is without form. It is only when it manifests as Te, Virtue, that it appears. If you want to follow the Tao, practice this virtue of emptiness. Letting things come and go, waxing and waning, waning and waxing, without interference.

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.

I Choose 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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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 its mother’s breast.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “People all seek 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.”

What has you all riled up? It is probably the very same thing that has everyone all riled up. Everyone is the same. Lao-tzu alone, chooses to differ. Can you still yourself? Can you choose to be different, too?

Get Rid of All Pretense

“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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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-TSING 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 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.”

Red Pine tries to sum it all up by saying, “Get rid of sayings, and people will be their own sages.” But, I am skeptical of that interpretation. I find Lao-tzu actually rather fond of sayings. He refers to them again and again. What are his “metaphors”, which Su Ch’e disparages, but more sayings? What I think Lao-tzu is teaching, here and throughout his Taoteching, is the need to get rid of all pretense, and return to our original nature. In his commentary, Chiao Hung, says it best. With each passing day we become more and more artificial, when we should be natural. Our wisdom, our reason, our kindness, our justice, our cleverness, and yes, even our profit – all these things are artificial, and merely pretense. To understand Lao-tzu, and his Tao, is to see just how artificial and inappropriate all these things are. Lao-tzu teaches us to throw them all away, and return to our true and original nature. That is, the undyed cloth and the uncarved wood.

Why the Need for Pretense?

“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”

-Lao-tzu-
(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).

The Tao is natural, spontaneous order in our world. But, we have forsaken the Tao, replacing it with forced order. The people need to be controlled. Kindness, justice, reason, obedience, love — all these things happened naturally, without any effort, without anyone having to so much as name them. Just as the stars are always present, even when the light of the Sun obscures them. But, we have obscured the Sun. And, then we add our own artificial lights to try to obscure the darkness. It is all pretense!

They Hardly Knew They Were There

“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”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 17, translation by Red Pine)

The Chinese of Lao-tzu’s day believed their greatest age of peace and harmony occurred during the reign 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 fro 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 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 says, “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.”

When I hear some people pining away for “the good old days” I know they are wishing again for the days when women and minorities knew their place (i.e. they were repressed). But, I find myself longing for “the good old days” too. It is just that my good old days go a lot further back, to ancient times, 2,000 years before Lao-tzu. Then, the people were governed with virtue. The people hardly knew their rulers were there. They left the people alone.

Ah, the good old days! It has largely been a great downhill slide since those ancient times. The rulers abandoned virtue, choosing instead to grasp for more power, and trying to control the people. The rest is history.

Call me an idealist, but “the good old days” is my standard for good governance. And, anything short of that ideal, I can’t abide.

Red Pine introduces the following additional sources with today’s verse:

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

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 Tai 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.