To Have No Enemy?

“In warfare there is a saying
rather than a host
better to be a guest
rather than advance an inch
better to retreat a foot
this means to form no ranks
to put on no armor
to brandish no weapons
to repulse no enemy
no fate is worse than to have no enemy
to have no enemy is to lose one’s treasure
thus when opponents are evenly matched
the remorseful one prevails”

(Taoteching, verse 69, translation by Red Pine)

WANG CHEN says, “In warfare, we say the one who mobilizes first is the host and the one who responds is the guest. Sages only go to war when they have no choice. Hence, they are the guest.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “This was a saying of ancient military strategists.” If so, they remain unnamed. Sun-tzu, meanwhile, calls the invading force the k’o (guest) (Suntzu Pingfu: 2.20).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “According to the Tao of warfare, we should avoid being the first to mobilize troops, and we should go to war only after receiving Heaven’s blessing.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The host resists, and the guest agrees. The host toils, and the guest relaxes. One advances with pride, while the other retreats in humility. One advances with action, while the other retreats in quiet. Those who meet resistance with agreement, toil with relaxation, pride with humility, and action with stillness have no enemy. Wherever they go, they conquer.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In warfare, sages leave no tracks. They advance by retreating.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who go to war form themselves into ranks, equip themselves with weapons, and advance against the enemy. But when sages go to war, they act as if there were no ranks, there were no armor, there were no weapons, and as if there were no enemies.”

SUN-TZU says, “Generals who advance with no thought of fame, who retreat with no fear of punishment, who think only of protecting their country and helping their king are the treasure of the realm” (Suntzu Pingfa: 10.24).

SU CH’E says, “Sages regard compassion as their treasure. To treat killing lightly would be to lose the reason for compassion.”

TE CH’ING says, “When opponents are evenly matched and neither is superior, the winner is hard to determine. But whichever one is remorseful and compassionate will win. For the Way of Heaven is to love life and to help those who are compassionate to overcome their enemies.”

WANG PI says, “Those who are remorseful sympathize with their opponents. They try not to gain an advantage but to avoid injury. Hence, they always win.”

WANG P’ANG says, “To be remorseful is to be compassionate. Those who are compassionate are able to be courageous. Thus, they triumph.”

LIN HSI-YI says, “Those who attack with drums and cheer the advent of war are not remorseful. They are remorseful who do not consider warfare a pleasure but an occasion for mourning. In this verse, warfare is only a metaphor for the Tao.”

LAO-TZU says, “When you kill another / honor him with your tears / when the battle is won / treat it as a wake” (Taoteching: 31).

And RED PINE explains the troubling lines 10 and 11 “no fate is worse than to have no enemy / to have no enemy is to lose one’s treasure” by saying, “The import…would seem to be that without an enemy, we would have no recipient of our compassion and thus no reason to practice it.”

I was surprised and troubled upon reading lines 10 and 11 of Red Pine’s translation of today’s verse for the first time. And, even subsequent times. I am much more familiar with the standard editions of this verse (treat enemies lightly); as it is used in both Stephen Mitchell’s and Robert Brookes’ translations. But, I think my own prejudices, in favor of not wanting any enemies, made me think Lao-tzu would agree with me that having an enemy is the greatest of misfortunes. Red Pine’s translation may grow on me, in time. I admit to still experiencing a bit of a shock every time I read through the verse, though. Perhaps, it is a good dose of reality for me. Having no enemy might seem preferable, but the importance of practicing compassion should not be underestimated. If we had no enemy, who would there be upon whom to practice compassion? And, that is definitely the meaning of the last line of the verse. “Remorseful” means the one showing compassion.

The Virtue of Nonaggression

“In ancient times
the perfect officer wasn’t armed
the perfect warrior wasn’t angry
the perfect victor wasn’t hostile
the perfect commander acted humble
this is the virtue of nonaggression
this is using the strength of others
this is uniting with Heaven
which was the ancient end”

(Taoteching, verse 68, translation by Red Pine)

CHIAO HUNG says, “In ancient times, officers went into battle in chariots. They were dressed in mail, and there were three to a vehicle: one on the left armed with a bow, one on the right armed with a spear, and one in the middle in charge of the reins, the flag, and the drum. Below and arrayed around every chariot were seventy-two foot soldiers.”

SUN-TZU says, “A ruler must not mobilize his armies in anger. A general must not engage the enemy in wrath. Anger can turn to joy, and wrath can turn to gladness. But once a state is destroyed, it cannot be restored. And once a person is dead, he cannot be reborn” (Suntzu Pingfa: 12.18-21). Sun-tzu also says, “To win every battle is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence is to conquer without fighting” (3.2).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who honor the Way and Virtue are not fond of weapons. They keep hatred from their hearts. They eliminate disaster before it arises. They are angered by nothing. They use kindness among neighbors and virtue among strangers. They conquer their enemies without fighting and command through humility.”

LIEH-TZU says, “Those who govern others with worthiness never win them over. Those who serve others with worthiness never fail to gain their support.” (Liehtzu: 6.3).

WANG CHEN says, “You must first win others’ hearts before you can command them.”

KUMARAJIVA says,, “Empty your body and mind. No one can fight against nothing.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Even though our wisdom and power might surpass that of others, we should act as if we possessed neither. By making ourselves lower than others, we can use their wisdom and power as our own. Thus, we can win without taking up arms, without getting angry, and without making enemies. By using the virtue of nonaggression and the power of others, we are like Heaven, which overcomes without fighting and which reaches its goal without moving.”

TZU-SSU says, “Wide and deep, they are able to support others. High and bright, they are able to protect others. Those who are wide and deep unite with earth. Those who are high and bright unite with Heaven.” (Chungyung: 26.4-5).

TE-CH’ING says, “Heaven is yang and Earth is yin. But if Heaven and Earth remain stationary, everything stops, and nothing comes into existence. Only when yang descends and yin rises does everything flourish. Thus, Heaven’s position is to be above, but its function is to descend. When sages are above the people, and their hearts are below, we call this uniting with Heaven. This was the polestar of ancient rulers.”

Armed, angry and hostile, I can’t think of a more perfect portent of disaster to follow.

And, it is also an apt description of the police state many of us believe we are living in today. When I read Lao-tzu’s description of ancient times, of the perfect officer not being armed, well, it immediately evoked comparison with our own police officers, armed with the latest military-grade weaponry. When I see repeated instances of officers pulling people over for routine traffic violations, and within seconds discharging their weapon in, what at least appeared to be, a total disregard for the innocents within the same vehicle, it has me pining for those ancient times, where they acted humble, where the virtue of nonaggression was practiced.

Okay, I must admit, I have some serious doubts that this “ancient time” of which Lao-tzu refers isn’t mythological. It didn’t take place, actually; but it sure made for great story-telling. And, we should, in spite of its lack of authenticity, aspire to it. Then again, there had to be something to venerate, to initiate the veneration of their ancestors. That would be using the strength of others, wouldn’t it?

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

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

Great But Useless

“The world calls me great
great but useless
it’s because I am great I am useless
if I were of use
I would have remained small
but I possess three treasures
I treasure and uphold
first is compassion
second is austerity
third is reluctance to excel
because I’m compassionate
I can be valiant
because I’m austere
I can be extravagant
because I’m reluctant to excel
I can be chief of all tools
if I renounced compassion for valor
austerity for extravagance
humility for superiority
I would die
but compassion wins every battle
and outlasts every attack
what Heaven creates
let compassion protect”

(Taoteching, verse 67, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Lao-tzu says the world calls his virtue ‘great.’ But if his virtue were great in name alone, it would bring him harm. Hence, he acts foolish and useless. He doesn’t distinguish or differentiate. Nor does he demean others or glorify himself.”

WANG PI says, “To be useful is to lose the means to be great.”

SU CH’E says, “The world honors daring, exalts ostentation, and emphasizes progress. What the sage treasures is patience, frugality, and humility, all of which the world considers useless.”

TE-CH’ING says, “‘Compassion’ means to embrace all creatures without reservation. ‘Austerity’ means not to exhaust what one already has. ‘Reluctance to excel’ means to drift through the world without opposing others.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Through compassion, we learn to be soft. When we are soft, we can overcome the hardest thing in the world. Thus, we can be valiant. Through austerity, we learn when to stop. When we know when to stop, we are always content. Thus, we can be extravagant. Through reluctance to excel, we are surpassed by no one. Thus, we can be chief of all tools. Valor, extravagance, and excellence are what everyone worries about. And because they worry, they are always on the verge of death.”

LIU SHIH-P’EI says, “To be chief of all tools means to be the chief official.” (For “chief of all tools,” see verse 28.)

CONFUCIUS says, “The gentleman is not a tool” (Lunyu: 2.12).

WU CH’ENG says, “Compassion is the chief of the three treasures. The last section only mentions compassion because it includes the other two. All people love a compassionate person as they do their own parents. How could anyone oppose their parents? Hence, those who attack or defend with compassion meet no opposition.”

MENCIUS says, “Those who are kind have no enemy under Heaven” (Mencius: 7B.3).

And RED PINE concludes, “To be a tool means to be limited. To have no limits means to be chief of all tools. Among compassion, austerity, and reluctance to excel, only compassion has no limits.”

What does it mean to be compassionate? It is greatness, but a greatness that is tied to uselessness. I will explain that a little further in just a bit, but first…

I apologize that I am writing this about two and a half weeks before it will post, because what I have to say about current affairs may no longer be in the news by the time this posts. As I am writing this, the whole nation is in an uproar because those mean, compassion-less Republicans are trying to gut Medicaid as they attempt to undo Obamacare.

I got notification today, on Facebook, of a link that two of my friends posted decrying this great injustice. One was by a “progressive” friend who posted it without comment. Apparently, she thought the article said everything that needed to be said. The other friend was Will Porter, one of my “libertarian” friends. I have posted articles by Will on Tumblr before. Will, had plenty to say. And, while I won’t quote him, he was spot on. Suffice it to say, my progressive friends think that the expansion of medicaid equals compassion. And anyone who disagrees with them? Well, they lack compassion. George W. Bush (remember him?) labeled himself a “compassionate” conservative, while expanding medicare to include prescription drug coverage. Get that? He wasn’t your ordinary everyday garden-variety of conservative, for he was compassionate.

So, you see, this does have a bit to do with our verse today. What does it mean to be compassionate? Is it what you do for others? Is it doing something? I immediately thought of a quote from, I believe Harry Browne, which I will paraphrase with apologies if Harry Browne’s quote is nothing like what I am saying. “The government likes to break your legs and then offer you ‘free’ crutches, and they call that compassion.”

Folks, that isn’t compassion. And, it certainly doesn’t jive with Lao-tzu’s definition of compassion, either. Lao-tzu’s compassion values uselessness over usefulness. And, he calls it great. To be useful is to be small. Compassion, the great kind, is tied to austerity and reluctance to excel. It is patient and humble. It doesn’t strive to be valiant, to do something great.

My “progressive” friends will no doubt balk at this. How could I be so heartless!?! But, it is because I really do care (that is some of what Will Porter said in response to the article) that I don’t dare act. It means the difference between being merely a “tool” and being the “chief of all tools.” That is something I want to master.

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

LIU SHIH-P’EI (1884-1940). Adds to the work of Wang Nien-sun and others in locating ancient usages of the Taoteching.

Because They Don’t Struggle

“The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers
is because it has mastered being lower
thus it can govern a hundred rivers
hence if sages would be above the people
they should speak as if they were below them
if they would be in front
they should act as if they were behind them
thus when sages are above
the people aren’t burdened
when they are in front
the people aren’t obstructed
the world never wearies
of pushing sages forward
and because they don’t struggle
no one can struggle against them”

(Taoteching, verse 66, translation by Red Pine)

YEN TSUN says, “Rivers don’t flow toward the sea because of its reputation or its power but because it does nothing and seeks nothing.”

TE-CH’ING says, “All rivers flow toward the sea, regardless of whether they are muddy or clear. And the sea is able to contain them all because it is adept at staying below them. This is a metaphor for sages, to which the world turns because they are selfless.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “When sages possess the kingdom, they speak of themselves as ‘orphaned, widowed, and impoverished’ or inheritor of the country’s shame and misfortune.” Thus, in their speech, they place themselves below others. They do not act unless they are forced. They do not respond unless they are pushed. They do not rise unless they have no choice. Thus, in their actions, they place themselves behind others.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When sages rule over the people, they don’t oppress those below with their position. Thus, the people uphold them and don’t think of them as a burden. When sages stand before them, they don’t blind them with their glory. Thus, the people love them as parents and harbor no resentment. Sages are kind and loving and treat the people as if they were their children. Thus, the whole world wants them for their leaders. The people never grow tired of them because sages don’t struggle against them. Everyone struggles against something. But no one struggles against those who don’t struggle against anything.”

SU CH’E says, “Sages don’t try to be above or in front of others. But when they find themselves below or behind others, the Tao can’t help but lift them up and push them forward.”

YANG HSIUNG says, “Those who hold themselves back are advanced by others. Those who lower themselves are lifted up by others” (Fayen: 7).

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The people aren’t burdened when sages are above them, because the people aren’t aware they have a ruler. And the people aren’t obstructed when sages are before them, because sages aren’t aware the people are their charges.”

WANG CHEN says, “Through humility sages gain the approval of the people. Once they gain their approval, they gain their tireless support. And once they gain their tireless support, struggling over rank naturally comes to an end.”

Stop struggling! Struggling, here, means the effort exerted by those who strive to place themselves above and before others. And, as long as you struggle, there will always be someone struggling against you. That’s just how things work. On the other hand, if you don’t struggle, no one can struggle against you. Lao-tzu, of course, turns to the metaphor of water, again to illustrate the point. I have always focused on the sea as an example of humility. But, as I was reading through the verse, today, I also realized the same humility being exemplified by the rivers. The sea doesn’t struggle, and neither do the rivers. They, too, are seeking that lower place. And, that is what makes the sea what it is, the place to which all the rivers flow.

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

YANG HSIUNG (53 B.C.-A.D. 18). Gifted philosopher and writer of courtly odes. Known for his view that man is neither good nor bad by nature but wholly subject to his environment. A number of his odes are preserved in the literary anthology known as the Wenhsuan. The Fayen contains his philosophical maxims.

Who Understands the Difference?

“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
is the terror 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 far
goes the other way
until it reaches perfect harmony”

(Taoteching, verse 65, translation by Red Pine)

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.”

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).

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.”

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 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 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.”

Today’s verse is certainly easy to misunderstand. Wu Ch’eng, in his commentary on the verse, explains just how this has been done. Let’s be clear, here. By “keep people in the dark,” Lao-tzu doesn’t mean to keep them ignorant. He is extolling Dark Virtue, here. We tend to think rather highly of enlightenment. But, as Chuang-tzu says, knowledge has its drawbacks. “The world’s troubles,” are “due to the love of knowledge.” But, ruling “with knowledge” or “without knowledge,” who knows the difference? The difference is key to our understanding. Are we going to trust nature or force things? We want to cultivate the self, and through that cultivation, govern our whole world. But finding the key requires Dark Virtue. Going deep. Going Far. Going the other way. Until we reach perfect harmony.

Red Pine introduces the following sages with today’s verse

LIU CHUNG-P’ING (FL.1060). Official and member of Wang An-shih’s reform clique.

LIN HSI-YI (FL.1234-1260). Scholar-offical who produced commentaries to a number of classics. His commentary on the Taoteching is noted for its clarity.

They Dare Not Act

“It’s easy to rule while it’s peaceful
it’s easy to plan for before it appears
it’s easy to break while it’s fragile
it’s easy to disperse while it’s small
act before anything exists
govern before anyone rebels
a giant tree grows from the tiniest shoot
a great tower rises from a basket of dirt
a thousand-mile journey begins at your feet
but to act is to fail
to control is to lose
sages therefore don’t act
thus they don’t fail
they don’t control
thus they don’t lose
when people pursue a task
failure occurs near the end
care at the end as well as the start
means an end to failure
sages thus seek what no one else seeks
they don’t prize hard-to-get goods
they study what no one else studies
they turn to what others pass by
to help all things remain natural
they dare not act”

(Taoteching, verse 64, translation by Red Pine)

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “We should act before anything exists, while things are peaceful and latent. We should govern before anyone rebels, while they are weak and few. But to act before anything exists means to act without acting. To govern before anyone rebels means to govern without governing.”

SU CH’E says, “To act before anything exists comes first. To govern before anyone rebels comes next.”

KUAN-TZU says, “Know where success and failure lie, then act” (Kuantzu: 47).

HUAI-NAN-TZU says, “A needle creates a tapestry. A basket of earth makes a wall. Success and failure begin from something small” (Huainantzu: 16).

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “From a sprout, the small becomes great. From a basket of earth, the low becomes high. From here, the near becomes far. But trees are cut down, towers are toppled, and journeys end. Everything we do eventually results in failure. Everything we control is eventually lost. But if we act before anything exists, how can we fail? If we govern before anyone rebels, how can we lose?”

WANG P’ANG says, “Everything has its course. When the time is right, it arrives. But people are blind to this truth and work to speed things up. They try to help Heaven and end up ruining things just as they near completion.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Others seek the ornamental. Sages seek the simple. Others seek form. Sages seek Virtue. Others study facts and skills. Sages study what is natural. Others learn how to govern the world. Sages learn how to govern themselves and how to uphold the truth of the Way.”

HAN FEI says, “The wise don’t fill their lessons with words or their shelves with books. The world may pass them by, but rulers turn to them when they want to learn what no one else learns.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The sage seeks without seeking and studies without studying. For the truth of all things lies not in acting but in doing what is natural. By not acting, the sage shares in the naturalness of all things.”

To dare not to act, to only do what is natural, that is the practice of the Tao.

I recently acquired and started reading, “Laissez Faire and the General-Welfare State: A study of Conflict in American Thought, 1865-1901,” by Sidney Fine. It is a scholarly work of about 400 pages, and I have only gotten about 10% of the way in, but Sidney Fine has already informed his readers that laissez faire, while perfectly suited for an agrarian society, was wholly inadequate for an industrial one. Its “negative state,” one that took a hands-off approach to governing, one that (*gasp) approached anarchism, could not possibly promote the general welfare in the new industrial society. Acting without acting? Doing without doing? These ideas just couldn’t cut it. And only the most ardent believers in laissez faire, here Fine refers to Herbert Spencer and his scientific philosophy of social darwinism, would dare not to act, to let things run their course naturally, to wait for evolution to sort things out. I admit I am not as familiar with Herbert Spencer as I would like to be. But the more disparaging of Herbert Spencer’s philosophy, as I am reading Fine to be, the more I am inclined to like it. Fine does admit, again and again, that laissez faire was never actually fully tried. Governments were meddling well before 1865 in the United States, as elsewhere. And, the majority of those who were advocating for laissez faire were all too willing to make exceptions to allow for meddling. That, I am inclined to conclude, is the reason laissez faire fell by the wayside as the dominant economic philosophy. Its advocates gave away too much. If only they had been all in, like Spencer….Like Lao-tzu.

Once you have acceded to the role of the State in promoting the general welfare, it inevitably leads to the State providing for the general welfare. Once you start doing things, there is never an end to the things you must do. Doing nothing, though it is anathema to those who seek power, is the only way to ensure that all things remain natural.

Great or Small, Many or Few

“Act without acting
work without working
understand without understanding
great or small many or few
repay each wrong with virtue
plan for the hard while it’s easy
deal with the great while it’s small
the world’s hardest task begins easy
the world’s greatest goal begins small
sages therefore never act great
they thus achieve great goals
who quickly agrees is seldom trusted
who thinks things easy finds them hard
sages therefore think everything hard
and thus find nothing hard”

(Taoteching, verse 63, translation by Red Pine)

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “To act without acting means to do only what is natural. To work without working means to avoid trouble by preparing in advance. To understand without understanding means to understand the meaning of the Tao through meditation.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “When we act without acting, we don’t exhaust ourselves. When we work without working, we don’t trouble others. When we understand without understanding, we don’t waste anything.”

WANG TAO says, “What people do involves action. What sages do accords with the Tao of non-action. ‘Work’ refers to the conditions of action. ‘Understanding’ refers to the meaning of action.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “To act without acting, to work without working, to understand without understanding is to conform with what is natural and not to impose oneself on others. Though others treat sages wrongly, the wrong is theirs and not the sages’. Sages respond with the virtue within their hearts. Utterly empty and detached, they thus influence others to trust in doing nothing.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “Action involves form and thus includes great and small. It is also tied to number and thus includes many and few. This is where wrongs come from. Only the Tao is beyond form and beyond number. Thus, sages treat everything the same; great and small, many and few. Why should they respond to them with anger?”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “If we repay wrongs with kindness, we put an end to revenge. If we repay wrongs with wrongs, revenge never ends.”

HAN FEI says, “In terms of form, the great necessarily starts from the small. In terms of duration, the many necessarily starts from the few. Wise rulers detect small schemes and thus avoid great plots. They enact minor punishments and thus avoid major rebellions.”

DUKE WEN OF CHIN told Kuo Yen, “In the beginning, I found it easy to rule the kingdom. Now I find it hard.” Kuo Yen replied, “If you consider something easy, it is bound to become hard. If you consider something hard, it is bound to become easy” (Kuoyu; Chin.4).

WANG CHEN says, “If rulers disdain something as easy, misfortune and trouble are sure to arise from it. If they do not pay attention to small matters, eventually they will overwhelm even the greatest virtue. Thus, sages guard against the insignificant lest it amount to something great. If they wait until something is great before they act, their action will come too late.”

TE-CH’ING says, “When I entered the mountains to cultivate the Way, at first it was very hard. But once I learned how to use my mind, it became very easy. What the world considers hard, the sage considers easy. What the world considers easy, the sage considers hard.”

The Tao of non-action is hard when action seems easy. But, the Tao of non-action is easy when action seems hard. Consider what you think is easy as hard, what is small as great, what is few as many. Then, you won’t be so inclined to intervene and interfere and try to control things by forcing them.

Red Pine introduces Duke Wen of Chin and Kuo Yen today.

DUKE WEN OF CHiN (FL.7TH C. B.C.). Ruler of the state of Chin and hegemon of the central states.

KUO YEN (FL. 7TH C. B.C.). Chief minister of the state of Chin during the reign of Duke Wen.

I wonder if Duke Wen followed Kuo Yen’s sage advice. (libertariantaoist).

A Sanctuary for the Good and the Bad

“The Tao is creation’s sanctuary
treasured by the good
it keeps the bad alive
beautiful words might be the price
noble deeds might be the gift
how can we abandon
people who are bad
thus when emperors are enthroned
or ministers installed
though there be great disks of jade
followed by teams of horses
they don’t rival one who sits
and offers up this Way
the ancients thus esteemed it
for did they not proclaim
who seeks thereby obtains
who errs thereby escapes
thus the world esteems it”

(Taoteching, verse 62, translation by Red Pine)

THE HSISHENGCHING says, “The Tao is the sanctuary of the deepest depth and the source of empty nothingness.”

WU CH’ENG says, “‘Sanctuary’ means the most honored place. The layout of ancestral shrines includes an outer hall and an inner chamber. The southwest corner of the inner chamber is called ‘the sanctuary,’ and the sanctuary is where the gods dwell.”

SU CH’E says, “All we see of things is their exterior, their entrance hall. The Tao is their sanctuary. We all have one, but we don’t see it. The wise alone are able to find it. Hence, Lao-tzu says the good treasure it, but the foolish don’t find it. Then again, who doesn’t the Tao protect? Hence, he says it protects the bad. The Tao doesn’t abandon people. People abandon the Tao.”

WANG PI says, “Beautiful words can excel the products of the marketplace. Noble deeds can elicit a response a thousand miles away.”

TE’CH’ING says, “The Tao is in us all. Though good and bad might differ, our nature is the same. How, then, can we abandon anyone?”

LAO-TZU says, “Sages are good at saving others / therefore they abandon no one / nor anything of use / this is called cloaking the light / thus the good instruct the bad / the bad learn from the good” (Taoteching: 27).

WANG P’ANG says, “Jade disks and fine horses are used to attract talented people to the government. But a government that finds talented people yet does not implement the Tao is not followed by its subjects.”

CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG says, “In ancient times, the less valuable presents came first. Hence, jade disks preceded horses.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “Better than disks of jade followed by teams of horses would be one good word or one good deed to keep the people from losing sight of the good.”

LU NUNG-SHIH says, “If words and deeds can be offered to others, how much more the Tao.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “There is nothing that is not the Tao. When good people seek it, they are able to find it. When bad people seek it, they are able to avoid punishment.”

Sanctuary cities. I remember reading all about them in the Old Testament of the Bible. You could do something really bad, like kill someone; and if you took refuge in a sanctuary city, you would be safe from harm. And, sanctuary cities have been in the news in the United States, too, of late. A safe haven for those who have transgressed what might be considered a random, and arbitrary law. So, the concept is familiar to us. But, Lao-tzu expands the concept of sanctuary city to encompass all of creation. All of creation has a sanctuary. The Tao. We see the external; but the Tao is on the inside, hidden. And, like the sanctuary cities we are familiar with, it isn’t just for the good. The Tao doesn’t abandon anyone or anything. Even those who are bad can look on the inside, and find sanctuary. This is good news for both the good and the bad. And, it is the kind of good news we should be telling our “newly enthroned” (or elected) leaders.

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

HSISHENGCHING (BOOK OF THE WESTERN ASCENSION). Taoist work apparently composed during the first centuries of the Christian era. It is one of several texts that recount Lao-tzu’s reappearance in India following his transmission of the Taoteching to Yin Hsi.


The Need to Be Lower

“A great state is a watershed
the confluence of the world
the female of the world
the female uses stillness to overcome the male
in order to be still
she needs to be lower
the great state that lowers itself before the small state
governs the small state
some lower themselves to govern
some lower themselves to be governed
the great state’s one desire
is to unite and lead others
the small state’s desire is to join and serve others
for both to fulfill their desires
whichever is greater needs to be lower”

(Taoteching, verse 61, translation by Red Pine)

LAO-TZU says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers / is because it has mastered being lower (Taoteching: 66).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “To lead a great state, we should be like the sea. We should be at the bottom of a watershed and not fight even the smallest current. A great state is the meeting place of the high and the low. The female refers to everything yin, everything that is weak, humble, yielding – what doesn’t lead.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “The female is the mother. All creatures revere their mother. The sage recognizes the male but upholds the female. Hence, all creatures turn to the sage.”

SU CH’E says, “The world turns to a great state just as rivers flow downstream. If a great state can lower itself, small states will attach themselves to it. If a small state can lower itself, a great state will take it under its care. A great state lowers itself to govern others. A small state lowers itself to be governed by others.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The female doesn’t make the first move. It is always the male who makes the first move. But to act means to lose the advantage. To wait means to gain the advantage. To act means to be higher. To wait means to be lower. The great state that doesn’t presume on its superiority gains the voluntary support of the small state. The small state that is content with its inferiority enjoys the generosity of the great state. The small state doesn’t have to worry about being lower, but the great state does. Hence, the great state needs to be lower.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “To serve someone greater is easy. To serve someone smaller is hard. Because it is hard, Lao-tzu says, ‘whichever is greater needs to be lower.’”

MENCIUS says, “Only a virtuous ruler is able to serve a smaller state. Only a wise ruler is able to serve a greater state” (Mencius: 1B.3).

WANG PI says, “By cultivating humility, each gets what it wants. When the small state cultivates humility, it preserves itself, but that is all. It can’t make the world turn to it. The world turns to the great state that cultivates humility. Thus, each gets what it wants. But it is the great state that needs to be more humble.”

Water is Lao-tzu’s go to metaphor to illustrate the practice of the Tao, wei-wu-wei, doing without doing, leading without leading, competing without competing. Water nourishes all things without having to put forth any effort. All it does is seek out the lowest places. The sea can govern a hundred rivers because it has mastered being lower. Master being humble. Don’t try to be great. You don’t have to force it. Forcing it, you destroy what you are trying to nourish.

Lao-tzu calls a great state a watershed, the confluence of the world, the female of the world. As Ho-shang Kung points out in his commentary on today’s verse, “the female refers to everything yin, everything weak, humble, yielding – what doesn’t lead.” It takes stillness to overcome the male yang, which so often gets us into trouble. Of course there is a place for yang. But, yin brings balance. Yang desires to unite and lead. Yin desires to join and serve. Where the two meet, at their confluence, both fulfill their desires. But, for this to happen the greater needs to be lower.

First, Do No Harm

“Ruling a great state
is like cooking a small fish
when you govern the world with the Tao
spirits display no powers
not that they have no powers
their powers don’t harm the people
not that their powers can’t harm
the sage keeps them from harming
and neither harms the other
for both rely on Virtue”

(Taoteching, verse 60, translation by Red Pine)

In a poem bemoaning the absence of virtuous rulers, the SHIHCHING says, “Who can cook fish / I’ll wash out the pot (Kuei:4).

LI HSI-CHAI says, “For the sage, ruling a state is a minor affair, like cooking a small fish.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “If you cook a small fish, don’t remove its entrails, don’t scrape off its scales, and don’t stir it. If you do, it will turn to mush. Likewise, too much government makes those below rebel. And too much cultivation makes one’s vitality wither.”

HAN FEI says, “In cooking a small fish, too much turning ruins it. In governing a great state, too much reform embitters the people. Thus, a ruler who possesses the way values inaction over reform.”

TE-CH’ING says, “A cruel government brings calamity down on the people. The people, however, think their suffering is the work of ghosts and spirits and turn to sacrifice and worship to improve their lot, when actually their misfortune is caused by their rulers.”

THE TSOCHUAN says, “If the state is meant to flourish, listen to the people. If the state is meant to perish, listen to the spirits” (Chuang: 32).

WANG CHEN says, “The government that takes peace as its basis doesn’t lose the Way. When the government doesn’t lose the Way, yin and yang are in harmony. When yin and yang are in harmony, wind and rain arrive on time. When wind and rain arrive on time, the spirit world is at peace. When the spirit world is at peace, the legion of demons can’t perform their sorcery.”

WANG PI says, “Spirits don’t injure what is natural. What is natural gives spirits no opening. When spirits have no opening, spirits cannot act like spirits.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, Spirits dwell in the yin, and people dwell in the yang. When both accept their lot, neither injures the other.”

SU CH’E says, “The inaction of the sage makes people content with the way they are. Outside, nothing troubles them. Inside, nothing frightens them. Even spirits have no means of using their powers. It isn’t that spirits have no powers. They have powers, but they don’t use them to harm people. The reason people and spirits don’t harm each other is because they look up to the sage. And the sage never harms anyone.”

WU CH’ENG says, “The reason spirits don’t harm the people is not because they can’t but because the sage is able to harmonize the energy of the people so that they don’t injure the energy of the spirit world. The reason neither injures the other is due to the sage’s virtue. Hence, both worlds rely on the virtue of the sage.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “‘Neither’ here refers to spirits and the sage.”

LI JUNG says, “Spirits and sages help people without harming each other. One is hidden, the other manifest. But both rely on virtue.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Spirits are spirits because they respond but can’t be seen. Sages are sages because they govern but don’t act. The virtue of sages and the virtue of spirits is the same.”

And RED PINE adds, “Commenting on the Taoteching is also like cooking a small fish. Better to have left it in the sea. Commentators are divided as to whether the subjects of lines nine and ten are spirits and the people or spirits and the sage. Given the usual ambiguous syntax of the Chinese language, both are possible, but my reading gives the nod to spirits and sages.”

All this talk of spirits and Te-ch’ing cuts right to the chase, “A cruel government brings calamity down on the people. The people, however, think their suffering is the work of ghosts and spirits and turn to sacrifice and worship to improve their lot, when actually their misfortune is caused by their rulers.”

We have always been a superstitious people. Inventing ways to explain any mystery. Anything we can’t understand. The “powers of spirits” is a prime example. Of course, I have a more natural, rather than supernatural, explanation for these “spirits.” Anytime we “work against nature” we can expect nature to “work against us.” If we, first and foremost, do no harm to nature. Nature will do no harm to us. The virtue of the practice of non-action is that fish we are cooking, while being careful not to poke too much, will be all the better to eat when it is finished cooking. Governing yourself, and others, is like that. Rely on Virtue, and all will be well.

Red Pine introduces a couple of “new to us” resources today.

SHIHCHING (BOOK OF SONGS). Collection of some 300 poems from China’s earliest historical period, between the twelfth and seventh centuries B.C. Arranged by style and region, it was reportedly compiled by Confucius from larger corpus of over 3,000 poems. It remained an essential part of traditional education until the twentieth century. There are half a dozen English translations.

TSOCHUAN (ANNALS OF TSO). First comprehensive account of the major political events of the Spring and Autumn Periods (722-481 B.C.). It was compiled during the fourth century B.C. by Tso Ch’iu-ming, about whom we know nothing else.