“The incomplete become whole
the crooked become straight
the hollow become full
the worn-out become new
those with less become content
those with more become confused
sages therefore hold on to one thing
and use this to guide the world
not considering themselves they appear
not displaying themselves they shine
not flattering themselves they succeed
not parading themselves they lead
because they don’t compete
no one can compete against them
the ancients who said the incomplete become whole
came close indeed
becoming whole depends on this”
(Taoteching, verse 22, translation by Red Pine)
CHUANG-TZU says, “Lao-tzu said everyone else seeks happiness. He alone saw that to be incomplete was to become whole” (Chuangtzu: 33.5).
WU CH’ENG says, “By exploring one side to its limits, we eventually find all sides. By grasping one thinig, we eventually encompass the whole. The caterpillar bends in order to straighten itself. A hollow in the ground fills with water. The renewal of spring depends on the withering of fall. By havinng 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 meausure for the world always finds more.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Only those who find but one thing can act like this. Thus to have less means to be content. The reason most people cannot act like this is because they have not found one thing. Thus, to have too much means to be confused.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The reason sages are able to be chief of all creatures is because they hold on to one thing. Holding on to this one thing, they never leave the Tao. Hence, they do not observe themselves but rely instead on the vision of others. They do not talk about their own strength but rely instead on the strengths of others. They stand apart and do not compete. Hence, no one can compete against them.”
HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Not observing themselves, they become whole. Not displaying themselves, they become upright. Not flattering themselves, they become complete. Not parading themselves, they become new.”
TZU-SSU says, “Only those who are perfectly honest can realize their nature and help others do the same. Next are those who are incomplete” (Chungyung; 22-23).
MENCIUS says, “We praise those who don’t calculate. We reproach those who try to be whole” (Mencius: 4A.21).
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are able to practice being incomplete keep their physical body whole. Those who depend on their mother and father suffer no harm.” (Mother is Tao. Father is Te or Virtue).
And Red Pine adds, ‘Lao-tzu’s path to wholeness is through incompleteness, but an incompleteness so incomplete that he is reduced to one thing.”
As I am typing up my thoughts on today’s verse, the much-hyped “Day of Totality” has finally arrived. There is going to be a total eclipse of the sun just a few short hours from now. My son has left with a friend of his on a road-trip north to be within the 70 mile-wide path where the sun’s eclipse will be complete. Meanwhile, I am content with the incomplete. Not that I won’t probably view “the whole” on the internet. I am not completely committed to this “the incomplete become whole” thing, after all, it would seem.
I came close, I guess. And, I understand that becoming whole depends on this: Holding on to one thing. Being content with less, understanding that having more just confuses things (and me) more.
Can I, can we, be content with being incomplete? Becoming whole depends on this. Not considering your own self. Not displaying yourself. Not flattering yourself. Not parading yourself. And, finally, not competing. That “not competing” would better be described as “without competing” for it is a competing that doesn’t compete, and hence can’t be competed with.
Life, counter to what we have been taught and programmed to believe, is not meant to be a competition producing winners and losers. Distinctions we make between winning and losing are delusions which bring about suffering. But, if we will be content, if we will yield, we will be in accord with the Way; and becoming whole depends on this.
Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:
TZU-SSU (D. 483 B.C.). Grandson of Confucius and author of the Chungyung.