Thursday, January 05, 2006

tao teh ching - closing matters

The main texts I've been using throughout the past couple of weeks are:

Gia-fu Feng and Jane English - Lao Tzu: Tao Teh Ching - A New Translation [WILWOOD HOUSE 1973]
D. C. Lau - Tao Te Ching [PENGUIN BOOKS 1963, 1969]
Robert G. Henricks - Lao Tzu: Te-Tao Ching [BALANTINE BOOKS 1989]
Richard John Lyn - Tao Te Ching: The Classic of the Way and Virtue [COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS 1999]
Man-jan Cheng - Lao-tzu: 'My Words are Very Easy to Understand' [NORTH ATLANTIC BOOKS 1981]

As we have seen, none of these can really stand alone, and the meaning in them, even for highly literate Chinese readers, is subtle, vast and difficult to grasp.
My own interpretation, whatever its worth, is based on the simple but verifiable fact that Taoism is - and has always been - very much a religion in the accepted sense of that term. It's present-day canon contains texts and practices covering pretty much the full gamut of Chinese thought and belief ranging from out and out shamanism through some of the most sublime flights of human philosophy, and even the 'humanism' and 'justice' that are generally thought of as the province of the Confucian school and its chief descendant, the teachings of Mencius are included in it.
Confucianists may look upon it askance, but much that is Chinese science, and certainly everything that is Chinese art, stems directly from it. It is, in fact, the very basis and root of Chinese thought - it's intuitive side, if you will, just as the humanist side is its facet of order and logic.
Many years ago I took up the use of two terms - 'eco'-logic and straight line logic - to try and describe the difference between these. Eco-logic follows nature... It watches and examines, feels and evaluates but is hesitant about coming to conclusions; straight line logic assumes that what it knows is reality and expects reality to fall in with its way of knowing. Eco-logic is careful; straight line logic builds what it imagines are empires but are actually only cloud cities. Eco-logic is caring and nurturing; straight line logic assumes things are solid and 'tough enough to take it'.

Other texts I've referred to are:

Arthur Waley - The Way and its Power [GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN 1934, 1969]
Richard Wilhelm - Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching [PENGUIN ARKANA 1989]
Ursula Le Guin - Tao Te Ching: A Book About the Way and the Power of the Way [SHAMBALA PUBLICATIONS 1997]
James Legge - The Texts of Taoism, Vols I and II [DOVER PUBLICATIONS 1962]
Ellen M. Chen - The Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary [PARAGON HOUSE 1989]
Chang Chung-Yuan - Tao: A New Way of Thinking [HARPER COLOPHON 1975]
Thomas Cleary - The Essential Tao [HARPER COLLINS 1991]
D. T. Suzuki & Paul Carus - The Canon of Reason and Virtue: A Translation of Lao Tze's Tao Teh King [OPEN COURT 1913, 1974]

Other texts lying about are Aleister Crowley's Tao Teh King [ASKIN & WEISER 1974], Frank J. MacHovec's The Book of the Tao: Key to the Mastery of Life published by Peter Pauper Press in 1962, and Witter Bynner's The Way of Life according to Lao Tzu published by Capricorn Books in 1962.

Two further texts attributed to Lao-tze and translated into English are Wen Tzu: Understanding the Mysteries - Thomas Cleary transl. [SHAMBALA PUBLICATIONS 1991] and the Hua Hu Ching: The Later teachings of Lao Tzu translated by Hua-ching Ni [SHAMBALA PUBLICATIONS 1995].

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

tao teh ching 81

Truthful words are not beautiful.
Beautiful words are not truthful.
Good men do not argue.
Those who argue are not good[1].
Those who know are not learned.
The learned do not know.

The sage never tries to store things up.
The more he does for others, the more he has.
The more he gives to others, the greater his abundance.
The Tao of heaven is pointed but does no harm[2].
The Tao of the sage is to work without effort[3].

[1] Lau has, 'Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good.'
[2] Lau has, '... benefits and does not harm.'
[3] Lau has, '... is bountiful and does not contend.'

The Ma wang tui text has significant differences, so I give it in full here:

Sincere words are not showy;
Showy words are not sincere.
Those who know are not 'widely learned';
Those who are 'widely learned' do not know.
The good do not possess a lot;
Those with a lot are not good.(*)

The Sage accumulates nothing.
Having used what he had for others,
He has even more.
Having given what he had to others,
What he has is even greater.
Therefore the Way of Heaven is to benefit and not cause any harm;
The Way of Man is to act on behalf of others and not to compete with them.

(*) These two lines literally say: 'The good are not many; the many are not good'. Henricks has changed the pu–to (not many) that is actually in the text to wu–to (not have much) in the belief that this makes a more logical reading. I am not so sure.

Wang Pi says:

Honesty consists in simplicity.
The basic is the uncarved block.
The ultimate consists in the One.
The sage keeps nothing as his own private property. Only someone this good can be as generous, for he does no less than leave others entirely to themselves.
(The more he does so), the more he is honoured and the more people are drawn to him.
The action of the Tao of Heaven is always to beget and to bring things to completion.
Because the benefits of the sage are provided in accordance with Heaven, they do not provoke people to contend with each other.

Professor Cheng says: Herein is Lao–tze's idea of truth, goodness and beauty. Dress in coarse clothes and carry the jade in your bosom: beauty is within. It is not something that everyone in the world can know. 'The wise are not widely learned' means to concentrate on the One. Doing things for others and giving of himself, the Sage feels fulfilment and gain; he follows the example of heaven and is not mean. Moreover, the Tao of heaven promotes birth and growth rather than harm. The Sage follows the Tao, and thus accomplishes without competing.

Realising that we do not have to freeze things into being what we think they are, and that, even if we do, they dissolve and melt into being something else forthwith anyway, and then something else again, we can learn to let go — to go with the flow, as it were...
So doing, we learn a little compassion for those who do not yet know this, and — basing ourselves in this — work for the well–being and benefit both of individuals and of the whole.
There is no need of recognition for this: what is important is that it works.
And what is so beautiful is that anything that comes our way can be turned to (or is that 're–turned to'?) this end.

Are not our 'gifts' simply so that we do not come empty–handed to the feast?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

tao teh ching 80

A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no–one uses them.
Though they have armour and weapons, no–one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple, their homes secure;
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbours
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.

All other texts read this entire chapter as a suggestion rather than a matter of fact. Lau's version, for example, says:

Reduce the size and population of the state. Ensure that even though the people have tools of war for a troop or battalion they will not use them; and also that they will be reluctant to move to distant places because they look on death as no light matter.
Even when they have ships and carts, they will have no use for them; and even when they have armour and weapons, they will have no occasion to make a show of them.
Bring it about that the people return to use of the knotted rope,
Find relish in their food
And beauty in their clothes,
That they are content in their abode
And happy in the way they live.
Though adjoining states are within sight of one another, and the sound of dogs barking and cocks crowing in one state can be heard in another, yet the people of one state will grow old and die without having any dealings with those of the other.

According to Henricks, there is both a military and a non–military interpretation for the 'tens and hundreds' in line 2. Some translators read it as Gia–fu Feng has, above, or as an idea of an abundance and overabundance of tools and utensils; others as does Lau in terms of troops (the 'tens and hundreds', as such) and weapons ('tools/utensils').

Apparently the second half of the text (from 'relish their food...' on) is cited by the great historian Ssu–ma Ch'ien in relation to the times of Shen–nung (a figure from Chinese mythology said to have invented the plough and taught man the art of agriculture as well as the cultivation of forests. He is also credited with the introduction of medicaments. Shen–nung is one of the three noble ones, called the San–huang. He is also considered to be the god of wind and the patron of pharmacists. He is sometimes portrayed with the head of an ox)(sez The Encyclopedia Mythica), and might ultimately stem from a 'Tiller' (nung–chia) source (cf., e.g.).

Wang Pi says:

If the state were small and the common folk few, it would still be possible to revert to antiquity, but how much less likely this is when the state is large and the common folk many in number!
In other words, if one supplied the common folk with only enough military equipment a company but gave them no occasion to use them, why would one ever need to worry that they were ill–equipped?
If the common folk are not used by the state for military purposes, since it is their own persons they will then cherish, they will not covet goods. Thus, finding contentment where they live, they would all take death seriously and not seek to journey far.
There would be nothing they crave.

Lynn notes that, in section 2 of The Commentary on the Appended Phrases, Part II, in the I Ching, it says (in part): 'In remote antiquity, people knotted cords to keep things in order. The sages of later periods replaced this with written tallies, and by means of these all the various officials were supervised, and the common folk kept under control'.

Professor Cheng's comment is: Such conditions were a dream even in Lao–tze's time. Today, when it is possible to travel tens of thousands of miles between dawn and dusk, this eventuality is out of the question. If we wanted to return to knotting ropes, we would have to start the world from its primitive beginnings again.

If internal proof were still needed that this is not a political text and that Taoism is not a political school, one need look no further than this 'hippy' day–dream... There is no going back. Everybody knows this, and they always have.
So what is Grandfather Lao trying to tell us here?
One thing he is certainly not telling us is that we should dumb–down. On the contrary! And yet, on the face of it, that's exactly what this chapter is saying.
If we stick with my 'meditative' reading, however, perhaps all he means here is : Keep it simple; keep it small; you don't have to use everything you've got. In fact, when you do, you lose it... You lose sight of its beauty and confuse yourself with what seems to be innovation and change.
Get on with your own business, don't meddle in the business of others, and don't be too taken in by their way of going about things, either... It's just 'a way of going about things', like yours.
As it says in the I Ching, 'a good team horse is not continuously glancing at its team–mate'...

Come back to 'this'; let go of 'that'.

Monday, January 02, 2006

tao teh ching 79

After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain.
What can one do about it[1]?
Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain[2]
But does not exact his due.
The man of Virtue performs his part,
But a man without Virtue requires others to fulfil their obligations.
The Tao of heaven is impartial.
It stays with good men all the time.

[1] Lau, borne out by the Ma wang tui reading, has:

When peace is made between great enemies
Some enmity is bound to remain undispelled.
How can this be considered perfect?

[2] Lau has '... the sage takes the left–hand tally...' with a note to the effect that the left–hand tally was the half held by the creditor. This is also the version of the Ma wang tui B text, but the A text has him holding on to the right–hand tally, with a note that this was the part due to the superior partner in any contract. Henricks then argues — quite cogently, I think — that this is actually what is being said here: that although the sage is owed much, he does not exact payment. He causes no resentment because he makes no demands on others and does not expect them to live up to their part of the bargain.

Wang Pi says:

If one has not arranged a contract clearly, and, as such, allows things to reach a point where great resentment has already arisen before using virtue to restore harmony, the injury will not be healed.
It is by holding the left half of the tally that he prevents reasons for resentment from arising.
A person of virtue considers his contracts carefully and does not allow resentment to arise and then blame the other party.
The person without virtue scrutinizes and corrects the mistakes of others.

Cheng says: Hatred is related to malice; goodness to kindness. As kindness cannot mix with hatred, goodness cannot harmonise with evil. Compromising with hatred is unworthy of the good. The Sage, holding the tally–stick, waits for the man with Teh to take the other half. This is harmonious. The man with no Teh loses hold of the stick and slips away. The Tao of heaven is without selfish preferences. It dwells only with the virtuous and the good.

At this point in the Ma wang tui text there is a note saying: Teh — 3041 characters, and, at the end of ch. 37, has another saying Tao — 2426 characters. It thus follows that the full Ma wang tui text originally had a total of 5467 characters whereas the extant Wang Pi text has only 5268 and that of Ho–shang Kung, 5281.
Apparently Fu I (554–639 C.E.) also claimed that he had available to him versions with 5722, 5635, 5683, and 5555 characters.

Interestingly, too, the fact that the tally of characters comes here, and not at the end of ch. 81 where it would seemingly be more logical leads to the conclusion that either the last two chapters are later interpolations (which I doubt — they are, after all, included in the Ma wang tui text which is the oldest version know to us to date), or that they are to be regarded as a sort of summing up — that we have seen all that has been said on both the Way and its authentic and inauthentic forms of Manifestation and that this is now a sort of 'outro', as it were.

We shall see over the next two days, no?

No matter how hard one tries to suppress one's own negativity, to repress and negate it, it will always arise again, and often in ways that are far more powerful and surprising... frightening, even. This is even more true when one tries to meddle with what one considers the negativities of others, and over which one actually has no control at all.
Finally, the only 'technique' is to maintain one's vigilance — one's own part of the bargain — and allow the negativities — the part of the other — to dissolve. If one recognises the thoughts for what they are as they arise, as the continue and as they disappear, how can they ever bring harm?

On the other hand, if one does not, how can they fail to drag one off into universes and infinite webs of cause and effect far beyond one's wildest dreams?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

tao teh ching 78

Under heaven nothing is softer or more yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff[1].
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no–one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people is fit to rule them[2].
He who takes upon himself the country's disasters deserves to be king of the universe[3].
The truth often sounds paradoxical.

[1] The Ma wang tui text continues with the water image here, taking the second line of the couplet as an explication of the first, and reads this as: 'That water can defeat the unyielding— That the weak can over come the strong— (everyone under heaven knows this...)
[2] Lau, borne out by the Ma wang tui text, says, '... Is called a ruler worthy of offering sacrifice to the gods of earth and millet', and adds a note to the effect that each state had (and possibly still even has) its own shrines to the gods of earth and millet, and a state was considered independent only as long as its ruler was able to maintain these shrines.
[3] Most other readings reckon king or emperor of the world will be enough.

Wang Pi's commentary, which concerns the first section only, says that:

The impossibility refers to water. In other words, if one employs the softness and pliancy of water, no–one can ever take one's place.

Professor Cheng says: In assaulting the hard and strong nothing is better than water, and yet, though the whole world knows this, no–one can practice it. Hence the Sage says if one can accept even the filth and disasters of a nation, one will be lord of the society and ruler of the world. Words of truth seeming the exact opposite is similar to knowing the usefulness of water, yet not practicing it.

If, without stirring, one can allow the thoughts to come and go of themselves, regardless of whether their content is 'good' or 'naughty'... just let them arise and then dissolve again, while we simply stay with the awareness, this is what is really meant by meditation... Staying with the awareness is 'stillness', and being aware is 'insight'... When one retreats from no 'fall' and rushes toward no 'opening', but simply stays with and dissolves within the instant, then whatever arises is the source of enlightenment.
Water is deceptively powerful, even in repose. Try and push your hand flat down into water and you soon discover that it's resistance, though apparently opening up before you, is quite powerful and firm. Also, once you've finally managed to push your hand down into it, where are you? Completely surrounded by it.
This is the very essence of the t'ai chi ch'uan ideas of sticking, adhering, joining and following.

As is said, 'It has no teeth, yet can bore through iron and stone; it has no bones, yet can carry a ship weighing ten thousand tons'.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

tao teh ching 77

The Tao of heaven is like the bending of a bow[1].
The high is lowered, and the low is raised.
If the string is too long, it is shortened;
If there is not enough, it is made longer[2].

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough.
Man's way is different.
He takes from those who do not have enough
to give to those who already have too much.
What man has more than enough and gives it to the world?
Only the man of Tao.

Therefore the sage works without recognition.
He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it.
He does not try to show his knowledge[3].

[1] Lau puts this as a question: Is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow?
[2] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text understand this simply as taking from where there is too much and augmenting where there is too little. Nothing to do with bow strings.
[3] Lau reads this last section as:

Therefore the sage benefits them yet exacts no gratitude,
Accomplishes his task yet lays claim to no merit.
Is this not because he does not wish to be considered a better man than others?

The Ma wang tui text says the sage

... takes actions but does not possess them;
Accomplishes his tasks but does not dwell on them.

I'm not sure Henricks hasn't garbled the last line, which he seems to read, 'Like this, is his desire not to make a display of his worthiness'. This is not a question. Perhaps it's a misprint (the book is bound very badly, too, with many chapters completely out of place) for 'his desire is not'?

Wang Pi's commentary says:

Only if one makes one's virtue conform to that of Heaven and Earth can one one embrace the people as the Tao of Heaven and Earth does. If one tried to embrace them with just one's individual capacity for virtue, having a stake in one's own existence, one would be unable to establish equity amongst them. Indeed, it is possible only where one has no stake in one's individual existence and is absolute devoid of self–interest. Only after attaining to the natural can one join one's virtue to that of heaven and Earth.
In other words, who is able to exist in fullness and yet be completely empty? Who is able to diminish those who have too much too augment those who do not? Who 'merges with the brilliant and becomes one with the very dust'? Who can establish universal equity? Only one who has the Tao. Thus it is that the sage has no desire to exhibit his worthiness, for it is in keeping it hidden that he establishes equity among all under Heaven.

Cheng says: To draw a bow, the left hand grips it and the right hand draws the string back. The left hand must be firm and unwavering. The right hand can raise or lower the arrow. Reducing or supplementing the excessive and deficient refers to tilting the bow backward or forward to bring the arrow in line with the bull's eye. The Tao of heaven reduces the excessive and supplements the insufficient, whereas man takes from where there is not enough to augment where there is already too much. Who is it that has enough surplus to augment and supplement the world? Truly, only such a one as possesses Tao. Only the Sage, in harmony with the Teh of heaven and earth, acts but does not demand subservience, is deserving of merit yet claims no credit, and this because he has no desire whatsoever to advertise his own worth.

Actually, when drawing a bow, both high and low are simultaneously pulled toward the centre, and it is from the centre that the arrow is released. This is the point. There is no adjusting up and down with the right hand: It simply draws back and into the centre; all aiming is done with the steady but flexible left hand.
The idea here is that of balance — of levelling out extremes. In meditation, for example, if one is too tense and too intent on catching thoughts as they arise and dissolving them, this is as much a mistake as is being simply unaware that they have arisen and being carried off by them. Somewhere between the two is a point of balance... a point were one is perfectly in tune... Aware but not waiting like a cat to pounce on a mouse; relaxed but not 'asleep'.
Another example that could be adduced here is that of trying to recognise the dream state. If one is too intense, either the dream will not come or one awakens the moment one becomes aware of it; on the other hand, if one is not adequately aware, one is simply carried off into 'dream reality' without the least knowledge of where one is or what it is that is going on.

The careful tuning of a stringed instrument makes a very fine image.

What we tend to do, though, is exactly the opposite: we feed our senses and our excitement during the day and then sleep like the dead at night. Never do we stop, even for an instant, to wonder what all this is.... where it is coming from, why it should appear to us in this way and not some other or even be here at all. We are completely swept away by it, and easy prey for any distraction.

Only those who realise the Way are safe from this, and time is running out like blood from a severed aorta.

Friday, December 30, 2005

tao teh ching 76

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap[1].
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and the unbending is the disciple[2] of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and the strong will fall.
The soft and the weak will overcome[3].

[1] The Ma wang tui text has: When the ten thousand things and grasses and trees are alive, they're supple and pliant.
[2] Lau and the Ma wang tui both have 'companions'.
[3] Lau's version of these last four lines is:

Therefore the weapon that is strong will not vanquish;
A tree that is strong will suffer the axe.
The strong and big takes the lower position,
The supple and weak takes the higher position.

but the Ma wang tui version of the first two comes closer to the Gia–fu Feng reading.

Wang Pi says:

If one inflicts violence on all under Heaven through the use of stiff ('powerful') military force, one will be despised by the people. Thus one will surely fail to enjoy victory.
A stiff tree will be attacked by all sorts of creatures.
When the strong and great are below, this is the trunk of the tree.
When the soft and pliant are above, this refers to the branches.

Professor Cheng's commentary is: The stiff and the hard are moribund, the soft and supple vital. If an army is strong it will not be victorious; a hardy tree gets the axe. The stiff and hard trunk is below and the soft and supple branches above. This accords with the laws of nature.

What is 'strong' is one's resolve not to be taken in by appearances; what is 'weak' is the suppleness of allowing things to be as they are and then to dissolve.