“The Tao remains unnamed
simple and though small
no one can command it
if a lord upheld it
the world would be his guest
when Heaven joins with Earth
they bestow sweet dew
no one gives the order
it comes down to all
the first distinction gives us names
once we have a name
we should know restraint
who knows restraint avoids trouble
to picture the Tao in the world
imagine a stream and the sea”
(Taoteching, verse 32, translation by Red Pine)
WANG P’ANG says, “The Tao has no body. How could it have a name?”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We call it ‘simple’ because it hasn’t been cut or polished. We call it ‘small’ because it’s faint and infinitesimal. Those who can see what is small and hold on to it are rare indeed.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “‘Simple means the natural state. When it expands, it’s everywhere. When it contracts, it isn’t as big as the tip of a hair. Hence, even though it’s small, it’s beyond anyone’s command.”
WANG PI says, “If people embrace the simple and work without effort and don’t burden their true nature with material goods or injure their spirit with desires, all things will come to them on their own, and they will discover the Tao by themselves. To discover the Tao, nothing is better than embracing simplicity.”
JEN FA-JUNG say, “In terms of practice, if people can be serene and natural, free themselves from desire, and put their minds at rest, their yin and yang breaths will come together on their own and penetrate every artery and organ. Inside their mouths, the saliva of sweet dew will appear spontaneously and nourish their whole body.”
LU HUI-CHING says, “When a ruler acts, the first thing he does is institute names.”
HSUN-TZU says, “Now that the sages are gone, names and reality have become confused” (Hsuntzu:2).
TE-CH’ING says, “What is simple has no name. Once we make something, we give it a name. But name gives rise to name. Where does it end? Hence, Lao-tzu tells us to stop chasing names.”
LI JUNG says, “The child who depends on its mother suffers no harm. Those who depend on the Tao encounter no trouble.”
WU CH’ENG says, “The Tao has no name, but as Virtue it does. Thus, from nothing we get something. But Virtue is not far from the Tao. If we stop there, we can still go from something back to nothing and return to the Tao. Thus, the Tao is like the sea, and Virtue is like a stream, flowing back into the Tao.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “Although Heaven and Earth are high and low, they join together and send down sweet dew. No one makes them do so. And there is no one who does not benefit. Although the Tao separates into things, and each thing has a name, the Tao never abandons anything. Thus, the breath of rivers eventually reaches the sea, and the breath of the sea eventually reaches rivers.”
LAO-TZU says, “The reason the sea can govern a hundred rivers / is because it has mastered being lower” (Taoteching: 66).
You wouldn’t know this, if I didn’t readily admit it, but I have taken several days wrestling with today’s verse. And, the Tao remains unnamed. Oh, we have ascribed a name to it. Tao. But that isn’t its immortal name. That remains unnamed. And, it will always remain unnamed. That can’t change. It never changes.
Call it simple. That just means the natural state. It hasn’t been cut or polished. It will never be cut or polished.
Call it small. It is faint and infinitesimal. Without distinction. If we could see what is small and hold on to it, Ho-shang Kung says, “those who can do this are rare indeed.”
It is small, yes, but it expands. And, when it expands it’s everywhere. It also contracts, until it isn’t as big as the tip of a hair, says Chiao Hung. Hence, even though it is small, it’s beyond anyone’s command.
You can’t command it. Though we try, how we try. But, you can uphold it. I think that is the purpose of Lao-tzu’s words: To uphold the Tao.
It doesn’t need us to uphold it. It will just go on expanding and contracting, being itself. But it would be of benefit to ourselves if we would uphold it.
Can we be simple and small? Wang Pi says, “If people embrace the simple and work without effort and don’t burden their true nature with material goods or injure their spirit with desires, all things will come to them on their own, and they will discover the Tao by themselves. To discover the Tao, nothing is better than simplicity.”
As Heaven and Earth join together to bestow sweet dew, without anyone giving the order, it comes down to us all, without distinctions.
Distinctions. That first distinction is what gives us names. This and that. Yes and no. I’m right, so you’re wrong. We really should know restraint.
If we could just know restraint, we could avoid trouble.
Restraint. Jen Fa-jung says, “In terms of practice, if people can be serene and natural, free themselves from desire, and put their minds at rest, their yin and yang breaths will come together on their own and penetrate every artery and organ. Inside their mouths, the saliva of sweet dew will appear spontaneously and nourish their whole body.”
Spontaneously. Naturally. Effortlessly. Without anyone commanding that it be so.
To picture the Tao in the world, imagine a stream and the sea. Where the stream meets the sea, it is impossible to distinguish the one from the other. There is no this or that, there is no yes or no, there is no I am right, so you are wrong.