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.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

tao teh ching 75

Why are the people starving?
Because the rulers eat up the money in taxes.
Therefore the people are starving.

Why are the people rebellious?
Because the rulers interfere[1] too much.
Therefore they are rebellious.

Why do the people think so little of death?
Because the rulers demand too much of life[2].
Therefore the people take death lightly.

Having little to live on, one knows better than to value life too much[3].

[1] Lau has '... are too fond of action', the Ma wang tui text , '... have their reasons for acting'.
[2] Lau has 'It is because the people set too much store by life...', the Ma wang tui text, '... because they so avidly seek after life...'
[3] Lau has 'It is just because one has no use for life that one is wiser than the man who values life', the Ma wang tui text, 'Only those who do not act for the purpose of living — Only this is worth more than valuing life'.

Wang Pi says:

In other words, the reason the common folk indulge in deviant behaviour and the reason government ends in chaos always stem from the ruler and not from the subjects. The common folk model themselves on the ruler.

Professor Cheng's commentary says: The people starve because they are taxed too heavily. They are unruly because those above them have become selfish. The people take death lightly because of the stress on urgently seeking life. Conversely, if those above were to practice non–action, they would allow the people to live naturally and would thus be worthy examples of valuing life.

We come back here to the idea that what arises as our universe depends on how we are reading. Those who read life as a disaster get disaster; those who read it as adventure get adventure. Those who see it as an ever unfolding miracle get an ever unfolding miracle. Not that anything changes in what happens — The change is in the point of view.
Thoughts arise, take on form and then disappear. If one clings to them, one is tossed right and left, if one pushes them down, they surge up again somewhere else, and yet — if one simply lets them be — they come... they go... Some are interesting, some important, even, but it doesn't really matter... They are just thoughts, just experiences... fleeting... And ever–changing...
The thoughts model themselves around the reading.
We seem, on the one hand, to be forced to follow the world as dictated by external influences. If, on the other, though, we were simply to follow our own natural bents, borrowing for a while what we needed from life but leaving the rest, understanding that what we have borrowed we will have to return, preferably in better, but at least in as good a condition as it was when first we borrowed it, living lightly, thinking lightly, how different things would be. If, to this, we could add an attitude of ever–expanding kindliness and a recognition that the suffering of even one being is the suffering of all, surely the world would turn in its tracks.
We are driven to seek life, but life is what is here before our eyes, before our feet. There is nothing to seek. What we are pushing ourselves for is excitement, stimulation, change, and so we miss the subtle movements. An image used in tantric sexual terminology is the idea of 'static bliss' — a pre–ordained 'state' that will be the optimum of pleasure. In search of this orgasmic state, punch drunk with the idea of explosion, we miss all the tiny and subtle pleasures that are leading to — and from — it, the candle–lit dinners, the flowers, the taste of the wine... We are careless of life — convinced it's happening somewhere else than here and now.
And we are careless of death. Death (since one seems never to have died oneself) is something that only happens to others... We don't really stop to think about what it might be or how we will avoid regret when it comes to us — who knows, — in the next instant. We don't stop to think that all that separates us from death is that one heart beat, that one breath — that our lives are as fragile as a bubble.
Our minds have become unruly, dragging us round from pillar to post.
This is not a particularly 'modern' or 'occidental' disease: I believe it has always been the case. Otherwise why would beings such as Grandfather Lao have bothered to comment on it?
We get lost. The point is: we are lost only in our imagination — literally... Wrapped in the dreams and nightmares of our own read–out of what we are experiencing.

It's time now to come home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

tao teh ching 74

If men are not afraid to die,
It is of no avail to threaten them with death.

If men live i constant fear of dying,
And if breaking the law means that a man will be killed,
Who will dare to break the law?[1]

There is always an official executioner.
If you try to take his place,
It's like trying to be a master carpenter and cutting wood.
If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will only hurt your hand.

[1] D. C. Lau's take on this has a somewhat different flavour, more or less borne out by the Ma wang tui reading. He says (taking it from the top):

When the people are not afraid of death, wherefore frighten them with death? Were the people always afraid of death, and were I able to arrest and put to death those who innovate, then who would dare?

Wang Pi is strangely silent on this chapter. All he says is:

Deviant and socially disruptive is what is meant by 'perverse'.
Miscreants provoke hatred and anger in the compliant, and the cruel are always detested by the people. Thus 'there is the constant executioner'.

Professor Cheng says: If the people fear death and some who behave in unorthodox manner are caught and executed, who among the rest will dare oppose the social order? The remainder of the text bemoans the existence of the executioner. Not only is it inappropriate for anyone to substitute for the executioner, but it is also improper to be one.

I feel that both these commentaries actually miss the central point and tend to agree with Henricks who points out that what Lao–tze is saying here is that people do, quite naturally, fear death, and that even were their lives seem worthless to them this fear is there. The 'constant executioner' is not some huge eunuch with a scimitar but death itself. Death is always there — more constant, even, than your taxes — and there is therefore no need for the sage to precipitate death. It comes quite naturally and the people are already in awe of it. Rather encourage life and make sure it's worth the living.
Richard John Lynn assumes with Wang Pi that it is the people who are the executioner and that all the sage has to do is let the people take care of justice, but this can hardly be what Lao–tze is on about — If he's on about anything at all, it's about gentleness.
Mob justice, as we know only too well, unfortunately, is anything but gentle or even just.
Cheng comes a little closer in his last line... I 'reread' it as 'not only do you not need to precipitate death, but you have completely lost the track if you should even think to do so'.
In meditation you find that thoughts cannot be stopped — repressed — but that, if you leave them to themselves and don't pay them too much attention, they simply dissolve again of quite naturally because that's what thoughts do... They appear out of nowhere, have a seeming sort of half–life for a while, albeit they are nothing as such, and then disappear again... You don't have to invite them; you don't have to send them on their way; and, while they are present, you don't really have to listen to anything they say... Particularly not when practicing stilling or insight meditation...
As to killing, I would like to quote an extraordinary teaching by Jadräl Rinpoche, Sangye Dorje, from a recent and utterly exquisite book by Sandra Scales and published by Padma Publishing, called Sacred Voices of the Nyingma Masters. Once — many years ago now — it was suggested to me that I ask Jadräl Rinpoche to be my teacher. As luck would have it, though, that was not possible, and, although I have had the good fortune to study with and receive empowerment and blessings from many of the other great Nyingma masters over the past 40–odd years, I have never had the good fortune of meeting with him. One of his practices is the ransoming and release of animals destined for slaughter. At the request of Sandra Scales, he wrote the following text, rather beautifully rendered here by one of her translators:

To the spiritual master, Buddha of Infinite Life, Amitayus,
And to his bodhisattva disciples, I bow.
I will now briefly explain the benefits
Of ransoming and releasing animals.

To ransom and release animals
Constitutes a flawless practice
To be done with pure motivation and applied
By all of Shakyamuni's followers.

The benefits of this practice have been described extensively
In many sutras, tantras and treatises.
Oceanlike gatherings of learned and accomplished masters of India and Tibet
Have considered this an important way to aid beings.

For those of the Hinayana,
This practice represents the abandoning of harming others;
For those who have entered the mind of awakening of the Mahayana,
It represents the training itself;
And for practitioners of the Secret Mantra,
It represents the principal tantric commitment of the Jewel buddha family.

The reason for this is that in the world,
Nothing is more precious than life itself
And no negative act more serious than taking life.
Therefore, among composite forms of the roots of virtue,
None has greater benefit
Than the ransom and release of animals.
If you wish for happiness and good fortune,
Be diligent on this supreme path.

The authenticity of this practice is proven
By the authority of scripture and by logic.
It is a path without obstacle or error.
Thinking of your own body as an example,
Through this practice, give up harming others.

Don't take life.
Instead, release birds, fish, wild animals,
Farm animals doomed to be slaughtered
And also small creatures such as ants and bees.
Be diligent in giving them refuge from fear.

The benefits of this are inconceivable:
It is the supreme practice for longevity,
And there is no higher practice for nurturing good health
Or for dedicating virtue to the dead.
It is my main practice to help beings.

It clears away misfortune that arises due to outer and inner obstacles
And creates harmonious circumstances effortlessly and spontaneously.
When it is guided by positive motivation
And concluded with pure dedication and aspirations,
Its effect is that you will reach perfect enlightenment
And accomplish the two goals — benefit for yourself and for others.
Have no doubt of this!

Those who are endowed with merit and a virtuous attitude
Should prevent the practice of hunting in mountains and valleys.
In particular, during autumn and spring,
When flocks of cranes and other birds
Are compelled by their karma to fly south or north,
They must move their wings with great effort
And soar through space.
Yet sometimes they must come to earth
With anxiety, fear and an uneasy mind.
Don't strike such beings with stones or weapons.
Don't kill or harm them.
Protect them and help them to continue their migration in comfort.

'To help with loving–kindness
Destitute beings without protection
Has merit equal to that
Of meditating on the essence of compassion and emptiness.'
Thus said the glorious master Atisha.

Lamas, teachers, monks, nuns and lay people, both women and men,
Should each in your own domain
Energetically perform as much ransom and release of animals as you are able
And encourage others to do the same.

By doing so,
You will pacify sickness and disaster
Among humans and farm animals in your region.
Harvest will be plentiful, crops will increase, life will be long
And perfect happiness will dawn.
The time of death will be free of pain and confusion.
In the next life you will obtain an excellent body in a pleasant realm,
And eventually you will easily attain the supreme state of perfect awakening.
Have no doubt of this!

I, the one known as Jadräl Sangye Dorje,
Am always devoted to the activity of ransoming and releasing life.

By the virtue of these words,
May all beings enter the way of the bodhisattvas.

Mama Koling Samanta

(As far as I can make out — my Sanskrit studies never really properly got off the ground, unfortunately — this last phrase means something along the lines of: 'May I realise we're all one')

Buy the book — the royalties go into a fund created by Jadräl Rinpoche to just this end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

tao teh ching 73

A brave and passionate man will kill or be killed.
A brave and calm man will always preserve life.
Of these two, which is good and which is harmful?
Some things are not favoured by heaven. Who knows why?
Even the sage is unsure of this.

The Tao of heaven does not strive and yet it overcomes.
It does not speak and yet it is answered.
It does not ask, yet is supplied with all it needs.
It seems at ease and yet it follows a plan[1].

Heaven's net casts wide.
Though its meshes are coarse, nothing slips through.

[1] Up to this point, both Lau and the Ma wang tui text are different enough to be cited here in full. Lau has:

He who is fearless in being bold will meet with his death;
He who is fearless in being timid will stay alive.
Of the two, one leads to good and the other to harm.
Heaven hates what it hates,
Who knows the reason why?
Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult.
The way of heaven
Excels in overcoming though it does not contend,
In responding though it does not speak,
In attracting though it does not summon,
In laying plans though it appears slack.

The Ma wang tui text says:

If you're brave in being daring, you'll be killed;
If you're brave in not being daring, you'll live.
With these two things, in one case there's profit, in the other there's harm.
The things Heaven hates — who knows why?
The Way of Heaven is not to fight yet to be good at winning —
Not to speak yet skilfully respond —
No one summons it, yet it comes on its own —
To be at ease yet carefully plan.

Henricks agrees that the standard text version of the last line but one makes more sense. Wang Pi reads the line concerning profit and harm as that either approach can sometimes result benefit and sometimes not. He also reads the last few lines of this section as referring to the sage rather than to the Tao itself.

His commentary says:

One who expresses his bravery in daring will surely not die a natural death.
One who expresses his bravery in not daring will enjoy the full span of his years.
Both approaches entail bravery, but those who exercise bravery differ so the same benefit or harm does not always occur. Thus the text says they 'result sometimes in benefit, sometimes in harm'.
Who is able to understand heaven's intentions? Only the sage can do so. However, because even the sage with his perspicacity finds bravery expressed in daring to be fraught with danger, how much more so should this be true for those who lack such perspicacity and yet wish to rush straight in!
It is precisely because the sage does not contend that no one under Heaven can contend with him.
Compliance is good fortune and opposition misfortune. This is how 'he excels at making people respond without speaking'.
Since he takes the low position, the people gravitate toward him of their own accord.
Since Heaven reveals good fortune and misfortune by hanging images in the sky(*), the plans he sets are verified before things actually happen. When secure, he does not forget danger, and he makes plans while things are still in the pre–manifest stage. Thus 'he excels at planning while utterly at ease'.

(*) Section 11 of the Commentary on the Appended Phrases in the I Ching reads in part, 'Heaven produced numinous things and the sage regarded these as ruling principles. Heaven and Earth changed and transformed and the sage took these as models. Heaven hung images in the sky to reveal good fortune and bad and the sage regarded these as meaningful signs'.

Chen Man–ch'ing says: This rather complicated chapter discusses the web of heaven. It is so vast and its meshes are so widely spaced, yet nothing is missed, just as those who have the courage not to dare, live. As always, this is related to cleaving to the Female and harmonising with the ways of non–action. The Tao of heaven is difficult to understand. The sage follows it even though it is not easy. What follows next in the text, from 'does not contend' and so on...' is simply a restatement of 'Non–action, yet nothing is left undone' (cf., e.g., chs. 3 and 48).

Although Wang Pi is, of course, right that there are those very rare occasions where an act of daring might, for example, save someone's life, as he also points out, the results of such an act are by no means guaranteed, and, generally speaking things are best left to themselves. I would tend to disagree that the results of the acts of one whose bravery consists in daring not to act ever bring misfortune. 'The brave and calm person will always preserve life' is how Gia–fu Feng reads it, and it seems to me very clear that this is the point. Not that such a person preserves their own life, but that they always do everything they can to bring harm to no–one at all — to preserve — and even to encourage and promote — life.

There is a subtle yet enormous difference between simply refraining from doing things that are negative (which is passive), and actually exerting oneself (though not in any meddling or self–satisfied way) to do the opposite of what would generally be considered negative — saving lives rather than killing, for example, or practicing open–hearted and handed generosity rather than envying or stealing what others might have.
The effect — the trace it leaves on the deepest layers of our being — is far more profound.

Monday, December 26, 2005

tao teh ching 72

When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster[1].

Do not intrude in their homes[2].
Do not harass them at work.
If you do not interfere, they will not tire of you.

Therefore the sage knows himself but makes no show,
Has self–respect but is not arrogant.
He lets go of that and chooses this.

[1] The Ma wang tui text reads, '... then what they greatly fear is about to arrive'.
[2] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text read this rather as constricting their living space.

Wang Pi reads this text completely differently, so I shall give it in full here and then (for typographical reasons) follow that with his interlinear comments:

If the common folk do not fear force, such great force will arrive that there will be no restricting them to the boundaries within which they should dwell, no satisfying them within the limits in which they should dwell.
It is just because one is insatiable that there is no satisfying one.
Therefore what the sage knows he does not himself reveal.
He cherishes himself but does not value himself.
Thus he rejects the one and keeps the other.

He comments:

Where they should dwell means in purity, quietude and freedom from deliberate action. Where they should live means in humility, deference and freedom from arrogance. If the sovereign abandons purity and quietude and instead practices greed, deserts humility and deference and instead relies on power, people will make trouble and the common folk will fall into deviant behaviour. This means that power is no longer able to control the common folk. When the common folk are unable to bear the weight of this power any longer, they will burst forth in a flood from top to bottom, and this means that the terrible judgement of Heaven is about to arrive. In other words, the power of force should not be relied on.
If one does not find contentment with one's own lot, nothing under Heaven will ever satisfy one.
He does not himself reveal what he knows, that is the bright beam of his intelligence and how to exercise power.
If he valued himself, he would have to place restrictions and boundaries within which people should dwell and enforce limits on the satisfaction within which they should live.

Cheng says: To have no fear of the awesome is equivalent to trifling with the law and will inevitably result in more stringent punishments. 'But do not be disrespectful of their dwellings' means to police their neighbourhood but avoid rudeness in the desire to make their dwellings respectable. Trifling with the law until it becomes a matter of life and death suppresses the people's livelihood. On the other hand, if one is not strict with oneself, who else will be? That is why the Sage with his self–knowledge and self– respect is able to study the laws of nature. Though he does not make a show of himself or seek recognition, he is able to discriminate between 'the one' and 'the other'.

Wang Pi's reading seems very strange to me, pouring complication upon what it actually quite simple. Do not intrude; do not restrict; do not set limits... Then the natural limits are respected of themselves by one and all.
When people are no longer in awe of anything at all, nothing is sacred and, hence, nothing is safe. Laws, mores and appreciation of worth all disappear, only to be replaced by more restrictive, more fundamentalist interpretations...
If 'gods' and 'laws' are all that is used to scare the people into obedience, when these 'die' what is left except more stringent application?

How sad that it was imagined that gods and laws had to be created in the first place.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

tao teh ching 71

Knowing ignorance is strength.
Ignoring knowledge is sickness.

If one is sick of sickness then one is not sick.
The sage is not sick because he is sick if sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.

Lau reads this completely differently:

To know and yet think one does not know is best;
Not to know and yet think that one knows will lead to difficulty.
It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.

And the Ma wang tui text is different again... sort of somewhere between the two:

To know you don't know is best.
Not to know you don't know is a flaw.
Therefore, the Sage's not being flawed
Stems from his recognising a flaw as a flaw.
Therefore he is flawless.

Oddly, the first two lines of the text have been the source of much confusion amongst scholars... Possibly because, for them, knowing (and only knowing) is knowing?... I don't know.

Wang Pi's comment is almost as laconic as the text itself. He says:

If one does not realise that knowledge is not worth relying on it will result in harm.
To regard harm as harm means that one has recognised how it is harm.

Professor Cheng says: 'To know yet appear as not knowing is best' harks back to chapter 56, 'one who knows does not speak', thereby appearing not to know. This is good. 'To know yet appear as knowing is sickness' describes someone who does not know and yet speaks. His 'knowledge' is his sickness, the disease of convincing oneself that one 'knows' what one does not. This is finally the real meaning of Lao–tze's words albeit they are very simple. 'Whoever is sick of sickness will not be sick' means that those who recognise this sickness for what it is will scrupulously avoid it. The Sage can do this.

Thought — knowledge — goes only just so far. Like language, it is inherently dualistic. Also almost inevitably based in the subject — ego–centric, as it were. Furthermore, what can be known is infinite in its possibilities. Nobody has the time or even the capacity to know everything.
Basically what we call 'knowing' is just made up of glimpses, passing acquaintance, assumptions, opinion and presupposition. We don't really know anything about anything, starting with ourselves and moving west in any direction...

We just think we know, which is quite a different thing.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

tao teh ching 70

My words are easy to understand and easy to perform,
Yet no man under heaven knows them or practices them.

My words have ancient beginnings.
My actions are disciplined[1].
Because men do not understand, they have no knowledge of me.

Those that know me are few;
Those that abuse[2] me are honoured.
Therefore the sage wears rough clothing and holds the jewel in his heart[3].

[1] Lau, borne out by the readings of both Wang Pi and the Ma wang tui text, has, 'Words have an ancestor and actions have a sovereign' with the note: If one could only grasp the 'ancestor' and the 'sovereign', the understanding of all words and affairs would follow.
[2] Lau translates this word as 'imitate' but notes that the next line actually makes far better sense if it's read as a corruption of the word 'harm'. The Ma wang tui text reads the line as: But when those that understand me are few, it's then that I'm of great value'. This reading is also that followed by Wang Pi.
[3] All other texts read this line as meaning 'although the sage is clad in homespun...'

Wang Pi says:

You can understand without leaving your gate or peering through your window. You can put them into practice without taking deliberate action. But people are deluded by attachment and befuddled by what they imagine is honour.
'Progenitor' refers to the master of the myriad things, and 'sovereign' to the master of the myriad affairs.
Because his words have this progenitor and his undertakings this sovereign, if there were those who could understand how this is so, they could not fail to understand him.
It is because he is so profound that those who understand him are rare. And the rarer understanding of him is, the less likely it is that he will have a counterpart.
To wear homespun is to be one with the very dust. To hold jade in one's bosom means to treasure one's authenticity. The reason the sage is so hard to recognise is that he is one with the dust and does not stand out in any way. He harbours jade in his bosom and does not compromise it. And, being hard to recognise, he is thus also precious.

Cheng Man–ch'ing, whose version of the text takes its name from the first words of this chapter, says: I have explained the section beginning 'my words have their sources' in my commentary on chapter 59(*): Lao–tze's teachings are truly easy to understand, but his definitions and logic are so different from the common man's that they are nearly impossible to practice. The statement that 'people do not understand' is connected with chapter 20's 'what a fool's mind I have!... I alone want dullness and darkness'. Because Lao–tze never favours knowledge, people do not understand him. However, as he says, 'the fewer who know me, the more valuable I am'. So the sage 'wears coarse clothes while carrying jade in his bosom', and very few people know about it.

(*) Having cited the first two lines, his commentary on ch. 59 continues: In fact people do not try to understand and practice them. Lao–tze continuously repeats and explains himself, but if the people still do not understand, what is the use of this?

We tend to seek out the exciting, the intriguing, the distant rather than the close at hand, the intoxicating wine rather than the refreshing water.
It's often said that the only difficulty with realising reality is that we look through it, beyond it — we look too far. It's right here... this... We look 'there'... for 'that'...

The ancient source.

Friday, December 23, 2005

tao teh ching 69

There is a saying among soldiers[1]:
I dare not make the first move but would rather play the guest;
I dare not advance an inch but would rather withdraw a foot.

This is called marching without appearing to move,
Rolling up your sleeves without showing your arms,
Capturing the enemy without attacking,
Being armed without weapons[2].

There is no greater catastrophe than underestimating the enemy[3].
By underestimating the enemy, I almost lose what I value.

Therefore when battle is joined[4],
The underdog will win[5].

[1] Most texts read something like 'those who specialise in arms and strategy'.
[2] For this section Lau reads somewhat differently:

This is known as marching forward when there is no road,
Rolling up one's sleeves where there is no arm,
Dragging one's adversary by force when there is no adversary,
And taking up arms when there are no arms.

The Ma wang tui text has:

This is called moving forward without moving forward —
Rolling up one's sleeves without baring one's arms —
Grasping firmly without holding a weapon —
And enticing to fight when there is no opponent.

[3] Lau has 'taking on an enemy too easily', and the Ma wang tui text, 'thinking you have no rival'.
[4] The Ma wang tui text adds 'and the opponents are fairly well matched'.
[5] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text assert that it is the side that that is stricken with sorrow and grief that will win.

Wang Pi's commentary reads:

When not advancing an inch but withdrawing a foot, the other side will not stop you.
... Through humility, deference, pity and kindness, one dare not commit one's own troops first. when one does use troops, it seems as if one 'campaigns as if there were no campaign, rolls up one's sleeve such that no arm is exposed, wields weapons as if there were no weapons involved, and leads in such a way that one faces no opponent'. This means there is no–one to grapple with.

Reading the next line as having to do with not having a viable opponent, he comments: ... Through humility, deference, pity and kindness, one would not wish to seize such power that among all under Heaven one will have no viable opponent. If one cannot stop but finishes up with no viable opponent, however, this is a disaster for one and all. 'Treasure' refers to the 'three treasures' (compassion, freedom from grasping and humility).
He who feels pity and is sure to exercise mercy, will not pursue advantage but do everything to avoid harm. Thus he will surely be victor.

Cheng Man–ch'ing says: The text expands on the 'three treasures' mentioned previously, admonishing to 'be the defender' and to 'retreat a foot' following on the precept 'not daring to be first'. To wield a weapon but not clash with that of the enemy, to raise one's fist without showing them, and to move without moving means that retreat is a way of advancing. To lead the enemy on without opposition is to be irresistible. Parental love, stung by grief, inspires victory. If I take the enemy lightly I am on the verge of losing my 'three treasures'. This is Lao–tze's unorthodox military strategy.

Hakuin Ekaku says: Patience is not 'putting up with the more or less uncomfortable'. Patience is to accept everything, even the utterly unacceptable, without the least complaint or question.
Amongst the Buddhists, enemies and trying situations are regarded as one's most precious treasure inasmuch as, without them, how would one ever learn patience? Anyone can patiently endure the easy. It is only in difficult circumstances that patience becomes necessary and can thus be 'learned' (for 'learned' it certainly must be! — If there is one thing that is not innate, it is certainly patience!).
Nor is there any enemy more redoubtable than anger. It is said that a single instant of anger wipes out aeons of merit and we all know of circumstances where friendship and even love turn to hatred in an instant because of a moment of anger on our part... This is why one should never underestimate the enemy nor engage it directly. If you fight against something, blow for blow, it is certain that you will be swept off in anger sooner or later. The only technique is to lead it on without engaging with it — without opposing it — until it dissolves, at the same time making energetic progress in the good.
What does this entail? It entails vigilance.
If one is aware when anger first arises and fully understands the depredations that are going to stem from it, one can let it go (or, at least, so I am told). In letting go one's anger, first and foremost, it just dissolves — it has nowhere else to go — and, secondly, one has strengthened oneself in learning at least one detail of patience, so the gain is actually twofold.
As it is, our only patience is with our own worst enemies — our ignorance, our anger, our greed, pride and jealousy. This is madness. Kyabje Düd'jom Rinpoche in his Rangkyön Ngöshe or Prayer by which One Recognises One's Own Faults, says, ' Examining ourselves, we are without the slightest shame for our own bad deeds, yet when it comes to others, our patience is as short as the tail of the drawa mouse'.

For this reason, it is always the one with compassion who wins.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

tao teh ching 68

A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good winner is not vengeful.
A good employer is humble.
This is known as the Virtue of not striving.
This is known as the ability to deal with people.
This since ancient times has been known as the ultimate unity with heaven.

Lau's version is far more cogent:

One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
One who excels in fighting [1] is never roused to anger;
One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issue;
One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
This is known as the virtue of non–contention;
This is known as [2] making use of the effort of others;
This is known as matching the sublimity of heaven[3].

The Ma wang tui text reads chapters 67, 68 and 69 as a unit and thus begins this chapter with 'Therefore...'

[1] The Ma wang tui text has 'in battle'
[2] The Ma wang tui text adds the word 'correctly' here
[3] The Ma wang tui text adds the line 'It is the high point of the past.

Wang Pi's commentary says:

'Warrior' refers to a commander of troops 'Warlike' describes a fondness for aggressive action.
One who is good at warfare holds back and does not go first, joins in but never starts the singing (cf. ch. 10). Thus he has nothing to do with anger.
'Joins with' means 'contends with'.
If one attempts to use men but does not place oneself below them, their power will not be one's to use (cf. ch. 66).

Professor Cheng says: The quiescence of the female always wins over the male, hence the lower position is victorious. The Tao acts through softness. 'Never confront the enemy directly' means to avoid wrangling or resisting. The gate of All Mysteries — the Mysterious Female — is what is 'in accord with the most ancient heavens'.

Shantideva, in his Bodhicharyavatara, 'Entering the Path of Enlightenment', points out that, although external enemies may be conquered a hundred, a thousand times, they will always regroup to attack one again, ever fiercer in their determination to win, yet, if one dissolves the internal cause of conflict which is one's own anger and hatred — once dissolved it has nowhere else to go and thus will not arise again.

Truly anger, grasping–desire, close–mindedness and the continuing possibility of falling back into these are the only things we should be on the look out for, the only things that should cause us concern. At least until such time as we know for sure that they have lost all hold on our mindstreams.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

tao teh ching 67

Everyone under heaven says that my Tao is great and beyond compare[1].
Because it is great, it seems different.
If it were not different, it would have vanished long ago[2].

I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
The third is daring not to be ahead of others.
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity[3];
From humility comes leadership.

Nowadays men shun mercy but try to be brave;
The abandon economy but try to be generous;
They do not believe in humility but always try to be first.
This is certain death.

Mercy brings victory in battle and strength in defence.
It is the means by which heaven saves and guards[4].

[1] Lau says '... and resembles nothing'.
[2] Throughout this section the Ma wang tui text uses the first person singular in the sense 'Everyone says "I'm great, I'm different"'... Grandfather Lao then says 'if I were like everyone else, for a long time now I would have been regarded as insignificant and small'.
[3] Lau says that because one is frugal one can afford to extend one's territory.
[4] The Ma wang tui text says:

When heaven tries to establish him,
It's as though he surrounds himself with a protective wall of compassion.

Wang Pi says:

... If it had a likeness, it would have lost the wherewithal to be great...
Thanks to kindness, when one takes the field, one is victorious and, when one takes a defensive position, one holds firm. Thus 'one can be brave'.
When one is frugal and careful of expenditure, no–one under Heaven will be in want, hence the term 'generous'.
Only someone who puts aside their own person can become a source to which others are drawn. Only then can such a one establish himself as a ready device, be of benefit to all under Heaven and become a leader of all peoples.

Professor Cheng says: 'Great and unrelated to anything else' means 'the son surpasses the father' (not as in a father–son relationship, but inasmuch as the Tao surpasses everything else) and refers to the Tao. How can one reject the Tao for its greatness? The text clearly explains the 'three treasures'. To be against the Tao is to choose death. Refusing to compete and still becoming leader of all 'vessels/instruments' refers to an earlier line: 'a great instrument is completed late'. Heaven aids such a person. It protects him through the influence of its 'parental love'.

Everyone wants to be first in what they do — good at it, recognised for it, understood, loved, cherished... This seems quite natural. And yet, here is Lao–tze saying, if he were like that, he would long ago have faded into insignificance.
Instead, he refers to three treasures: compassion, freedom from grasping attachment, and humility as the very basis of all success in life, even military undertakings. Compassion is the root, generosity of spirit the fruit, and humility the modus operandum.
Without these, whatever one undertakes is vain. Those who have them are protected by the all–encompassing compassion of heaven from being swept off into 'paths of glory'.

Surely this is to be sought at every turn?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

tao teh ching 66

Why is the sea king of a hundred streams?
Because it lies below them[1].
Therefore it is king of a hundred streams.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with humility[2].
If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way, when the sage rules, the people will not feel oppressed.;
When he stands before them, they will not be harmed[3].
The whole world will support him and not tire of him[4].

Because he does not compete,
He does not meet competition[5] .

[1] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text say that this is because it is good at being below them.
[2 Lau and the Ma wang tui text say that it is particularly in one's words that humility must shine through.
[3] Lau takes these two lines in a more affirmative manner: 'Therefore the sage takes his place over the people yet is no burden; takes his place ahead of the people yet causes no obstruction.' The Ma wang tui text says they do not find him heavy or see him as posing a threat.
[4] The Ma wang tui text says that they delight in praising him.
[5] The Ma wang tui text puts this as a question: 'Is it not because he is not contentious, that...etc.?'

As with chapter 31, Wang Pi has made no comment on this one.

Professor Cheng says that, for all Lao-tze sometimes seems repetitious, this is just evidence of his compassionate heart and we should not reject him because of it. 'If we lead the people with ignorance,' he says, 'of what use will cleverness be?'

Interestingly, if one really is without contentiousness, then, even when others wish to contend with you, you won't see it like that.
Quite how you see it, contentious little bugger that I am, I have not the vaguest idea, but I am assured by those who know that this is the case.
There's an old Chinese saying: 'The best father is a bit dim'.
Assuming this to mean that one can let many things pass, not pouncing on every detail like a cat on a waving piece of grass, and yet still not being duped as to what's really important, I've tried my best to live my fatherhood by it.
But - because I am contentious - because I am a sharp and rather sarcastic critic, in fact, very sure of my 'rightness' as far as how things should be if they're to 'go smoothly' - I make many mistakes and have sometimes hurt my kids quite badly I would guess.
I try to be aware, try not to foist my own encrusted views on them and to allow things to develop as they will and trust in the process, but... there are moments when I just can't keep myself from meddling... This would be fine if it had ever worked, but it doesn't, does it?
And just how to pull that one off I have no idea.
It's easy to talk about being above yet joyfully supported from below, being in front yet posing no threat - even of staying behind yet not pushing - but... actually pulling it off... actually letting things just be as they are, actually understanding that - in their very 'just are-ness' - things really are the blissful manifestation of emptiness unfolding... is somewhat less easily done.

One wanders on... ever hopeful.

Monday, December 19, 2005

tao teh ching 65

In the beginning those who knew the Tao did not try to enlighten others
But kept them in the dark.
Why is it so hard to rule?
Because people are so clever.
Rulers who try to use cleverness
Cheat the country.
Those who rule without cleverness
Are a blessing to the land.
These are the two alternatives.
Understanding these is Primal Virtue.
Primal Virtue is deep and far.
It leads all things back
Toward the great oneness[1].

[1] Lau has, '...But when things turn back it turns back with them./ Only then is complete conformity realised'. The Ma wang tui text says, '... And together with things it returns./ Thus we arrive at the Great Accord'.

Henricks asks the rather cogent question concerning this and chs. 3 and 5... Is it a population of sheep the Taoist sage is after, or does this mean doing away with the downside — the craftiness and self–serving, self–satisfied 'knowledge' — of what is generally considered learning?

Wang Pi says:

'Intelligent' means that much knowledge and clever duplicity obscure pristine simplicity. 'Stupid' means that freedom from knowledge and preservation of authenticity allow us to follow the Natural...
'Knowledge' and 'governance' are pretty much homophonic in Chinese inasmuch as both are pronounced chih... One should ensure that one blocks up the apertures and shuts the doors so that the common folk stay free of knowledge and desire. If, instead, one tries to motivate them through knowledge and methods, once their heart/minds are incited to evil, one will need to use even cleverer methods to keep their dishonest activities in check. However, because the common folk understand how these methods work, they will take protective steps and strive to avoid them. The more secretive and clever thinking becomes, the more treachery will proliferate...
Understanding these two is a rule that holds true for both ancient and modern times and it should thus never be abandoned. The ability to understand the consistent is called 'mysterious virtue', and is, indeed, profound and far–reaching.

Professor Cheng says: Guiding the people into ignorance will eventually control cleverness. This is 'to return'. People will eventually seek out the orthodox path. Starting from the extremely difficult to finally reach the easiest and starting from the Great Opposition to finally return to the Great Confluence are formulae of Lao–tze. An 'eternal pattern' is a model which has long held true. Chapter 10 explains Profound Teh. This chapter restates that explanation.

Since the Way — true realisation of emptiness and its manifestation — far transcends anything that can be grasped by the ordinary intellect or expressed in words that do more than merely point to it like fingers pointing at the moon, knowledge is not much use. The problem with cleverness is that, since it quickly understands things within the limits of its own terms, it never really goes on to put them into practice. Surely everything that has been said in this text and the various commentaries up to now we all 'know'... But of what use is that to us if we don't put it into practice.
An old Tibetan saying points out that mere knowledge is like a patch: it comes off when we are most in need of i, and that occasional meditative experiences are like mist and fade as the day advances. All of these are the domain of 'cleverness', but — unfortunately — our cleverness, based as it is in our limited sensory apparatus and labyrinth of convictions, opinions, hopes and fears, does not reach very far.
Only those who step outside their own version of cleverness ever meet with reality face–to–face. The rest of us do all our thinking about it second hand.

How sad!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

tao teh ching 64

Peace is easily maintained;
Trouble is easily overcome before it starts.
The brittle is easily shattered;
The small is easily scattered.

Deal with it before it happens.
Set things in order before there is confusion[1].

A tree as great as a man's embrace springs from a small shoot;
A terrace nine storeys high begins with a pile of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles starts under one's feet.

He who acts defeats his own purpose;
He who grasps loses.
The sage does not act, and so is not defeated.
He does not grasp, and therefore does not lose.

People usually fail when they are on the verge of success,
So give as much care to the end as to the beginning,
Then there will be no failure.

Therefore the sage seeks freedom from desire.
He does not collect precious things.
He learns not to hold onto ideas.
He brings men back to what they have lost.

He helps the ten thousand things find their own nature
But refrains from action[2].

[1] Most readings take these six lines as a unit. For example, in Lau's text we have:

It is easy to maintain a situation while it is still secure;
It is easy to deal with a situation before symptoms develop;
It is easy to break a thing when it is yet brittle;
It is easy to dissolve a thing when it is yet minute.
Deal with a thing while it is still nothing;
Put a thing in order before disorder sets in.

[2] The Ma wang tui text reads these last two lines as:

He learns not to learn and returns to what the masses pass by:
He could help all things to be natural, yet he dare not do it.

Wang Pi says:

When secure, one does not forget danger, and, in maintaining security, does not forget ruin but plans for it while it is still without effect(*).

(*) Cf. the Commentary to the Appended Phrases in the I Ching, which reads in part: 'To get into danger is a matter of thinking one's position secure; to be ruined is a matter of imagining one's continuance assured; to fall into disorder is a matter of considering one's order enduring. Therefore the noble person does not forget danger when secure, ruin when enjoying continuance, or disorder when maintaining the experience of order. Thus his person is kept secure and his state protected.'

Although such danger has detached itself from nothingness and assumed existence, because of its fragility and tininess, it still lacks the wherewithal to initiate any larger effect. Thus dealing with it is 'easy'. These four (the secure, the premanifest, the fragile and the tiny) all warn that one should be heedful of how things end. One should not fail to maintain security just because the danger of ruin doesn't exist yet. Nor should one fail to dissolve the danger of ruin simply because it is not yet of much consequence. If one fails to maintain security while danger is still non–existent, danger will take root and grow into existence within that very failure. If one fails to dissolve danger while it is still small, it will take root and expand within that failure. Thus, if one is careful about disaster as it happens in the end and as it threatens at the start, no endeavour will ever end in defeat.
Act while it is still in its premanifest state.
Control it while it is still fragile and small.
It is correct that, mindful of how things end, one eliminates tiny sprouts of danger, and that, mindful of these sprouts of danger, one eliminates disorder. However, if one attempts to bring them under control by taking intentional action and implementing set procedures or tries to take administrative action against them by using punishments and names, this will, on the contrary, provoke the start of new troubles, and cunning and stealth will proliferate. This is what is meant by 'ruined' and 'lost'.
The people are not mindful of how things end.
Though preferences and desires may be tiny, contentious tastes will arise from them. Though goods hard to come by may be insignificant, greedy thievery will arise because of them.
What one is capable of without learning is the natural. To be learned in learning results only in error.

Ch'eng Man–ching says: The first section advises acting before anything has happened and setting things in order before confusion arises. Do not imagine that a mere sprout is not an omen. That 'a journey of a thousand li starts where the feet are' means that things reach into the distance gradually and quite naturally. To act consciously and clutch at things is to court failure.
The second section simply expands upon the first. The desire of the sage is not the desire of ordinary people. He does not study what ordinary people study. 'he avoids the mistakes of ordinary people' means he avoids what they mistakenly desire and mistakenly seek after. He simply assists all thing to fulfil their natures, not daring to contrive anything else.

When do thoughts and attachments dissolve? Preferably just as they are arising... Like a child recognising its mother, one knows that 'thought' is 'emptiness' and lets it go there and then. This does not mean that the thought 'disappears' – that one stamps it out – but what does happen is that – since one knows what one is experiencing – the thought is like water pouring into water, and – like a snake undo ing its knots – simply unfolds and then turns into something else... There is nothing to hang on to or to push away... Thoughts come; and then they go... You don't have to do anything about that... But you do need to be gently aware of it...
As Ch'an Master Liao An says:

Essence is unpolluted, absolutely complete in itself.
Just detach from false mental objects,
And there is the buddha of being as is.

When deluded, you deviate from the real and pursue the false;
When enlightened, you abandon the false and return to the real.

After you've reached the point where reality and falsehood both melt
And delusion and enlightenment lodge nowhere,
Then you use up old karma according to conditions,
Trusting essence and enjoying natural reality,
Exercising kindness and compassion,
Helping out the orphaned and the unsheltered,
Forgetting subject and object, annihilating shadow and form,
Becoming a person beyond measure,
Living in a realm of experience beyond measure,
And doing work beyond measure."

This is, as a friend of mine once said, exactly '... the inside that is going outside – not at all a reaction in the opposite direction, but a new coil in the spiral. The brew has brewed and now the test in all is the drinking of it...'

As Mi–p'am Rinpoche says:

"... Even if you don't know what to meditate on,
Simply seeing it as something unattainable,
Although not as though you had thrown something away,
Is to see into the foundations of the mind.

'When you allow this, too, to remain in the realm of the unattainable,
Although there is no longer the smallest atom of concrete reality,
You possess the creativity of all–illumining knowledge,
The non–duality of reality and its intrinsic awareness inseparable.

'Nothing as such, yet it has no essence of nothingness.
Examined, there is nothing. Left to itself, it is clear and bright,
Though – like the moon's reflection in water– not to be caught by grasping for it...

'... What benefit is there in its openness and its appearing?
Who is this in which there is no duality? What is it that is to be meditated upon?
Leave it as it is in its self–settledness.'

According to our various capacities, we perceive this self–established primordial awareness beyond ordinary mentality either gradually or instantaneously.
This is where yogic practitioners burn up the seeds of birth into the various realms of being in the fires of indestructible enlightened body, speech and mind that are the innate creativity of the primordial wisdom in the heart.

As he says:

From them, the sun of support and strength blazes forth,
And, holding wisdom in their hands and putting it into practice,
In a single lifetime they realise primordial buddhahood.

I'm sure that this is so.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

tao teh ching 63

Practice non–action.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small, increase the few[1].
Reward bitterness with care.

See simplicity in the complicated.
Achieve greatness in little things[2].

In the universe the difficult things are done as if they were easy[3].
In the universe great acts are made up of small deeds.
The sage does not attempt anything very big
And thus achieves greatness.

Easy promises make for little trust.
Taking things lightly results in great difficulty.
Because the sage always confronts difficulties[4],
He never experiences them.

[1] The Ma wang tui text has, 'Regard the small as large and the few as many'.
[2] This seems to be more generally read along the lines of 'plan for the difficult while it is still easy;/ Act on the large while it is still small'.
[3] More generally read as that things, no matter how difficult seeming, start out as easy.
[4] Again, this is more generally read as the fact of the sage's regarding things as difficult — accepting the fact that they are difficult and acting accordingly.

Wang Pi's commentary reads:

Handling matters without conscious effort (wu wei), practice the teaching that is not expressed in words and have a taste for the utterly dispassionate is the ultimate of government.

He reads the next line as: 'Deal with the small as if it were great, and deal with the few as if they were the many, but respond to resentment in terms of virtue', and comments: Minor resentment is not worth responding to, but great resentment implies something for which all under Heaven seek punishment. It is virtuous to comply with that upon which all under Heaven agree.

Thus even someone with the talent of a sage still deals with the small and easy as if they were difficulties. How much more then should this hold true for someone who does not have the talent of a sage yet desires to treat such things with disdain! This is why the text says, 'still regards them as difficulties'.

Professor Cheng has: Acting through non–action and doing without doing are like tasting the tasteless. No matter whether your injuries are great or small, many or few, repay them with kindness(Teh). In chapter 49, the text says, '...his mind merges with the world. The Sage treats everyone as his children'. Those who repay injury with kindness are also merging their minds with the world. One must plan to tackle the difficult when it is still easy and to undertake the great while it is still small, otherwise one will make light, unreliable promises ore regard things as easy, thereby creating difficulties. One should treat everything as difficult; only then will there be no difficulty at all.

'Care' is the word that springs to mind... being careful, vigilant... Putting into practice the practice on no–practice, one certainly needs to remain constantly vigilant that one has not just drifted off back into the ordinary, everyday grasping and ignorance. What is this vigilance? It is not that of a cat watching a mouse and waiting to pounce on it at the least sign of life or even no life, but it is checking back from time to time to make sure.
'Tasting the tasteless'... Accord with reality has no particular savour: it is not particularly 'nice' or 'not nice', 'easy', 'difficult', or anything else... When it is any of these, we have probably drifted and should certainly check back... Is this reification? Is this grasping–attachment? Am I showing off to myself? Am I showing off to others? What is this dragging this corpse round here anyway?...
With vigilance one does not miss that instant of inception, or, at any rate, can catch things soon after they have started and re–examine them for what they actually are. That way one 'deals with the difficult while it is still easy, and undertakes the great while it is still small'... As pointed out in hexagrams 63 and 64 of the Book of Change, the traditional image here is that of an old fox crossing ice, his ears alert for the least crack, yet never once losing track of everything that is going on in the world around him. His Holiness the dalai Lama once described meditation as just this ability to be totally concentrated on an object of contemplation (be it with or without physical or even mental form), and yet at the same time open to the entire universe... This is Guru Padmasambhava's 'attention to detail like the finest of fine–ground flour'...

There are two important points here: To find and use the simplicity in what seems difficult; and to regard what seems simple with the greatest care and attention to detail. That way, whatever comes up just unfolds of itself.

I'll be interested to see if I can pull this off myself!


Friday, December 16, 2005

tao teh ching 62

Tao is the source of the ten thousand things[1].
It is the treasure of the good man and the refuge of the bad[2].
Sweet words can buy honour[3];
Good deeds can gain respect[4].
If a man is bad, do not abandon him.
Therefore on the day the emperor is crowned,
Or the three officers of state installed,
Do not send a gift of jade and a team of four horses,
But remain still and offer the Tao.
Why does everyone like the Tao so much at first?[5]
Isn't it because you find what you seek and are forgiven your sins?
Therefore this is the greatest treasure in the universe.

[1] Lau says it is their refuge, the Ma wang tui text that it is that toward which they all flow. Professor Cheng reads, 'Tao is the enigma of all creation'.
[2] Lau says that it is that by which the good man protects, but this is not borne out by other readings.
[3] The Ma wang tui text says they can be bought and sold.
[4] The Ma wang tui text says these can be offered to others as gifts.
[5] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text ask why this way (the offering of Tao rather than gifts) was so valued of old. As the Ma wang tui text answers in next line: Did they not say, 'Those who seek, with this will attain, and those who commit offences, with this will escape'?

Wang Pi says:

It is 'the treasure of the good man' because useful to him. Due to its protection the integrity of the man who is not good is kept whole.

He translates the next line as, 'Fine words can be used to market it and noble behaviour can be used to influence others by it', and comments:

In other words, the Tao takes precedence over absolutely everything, and nothing could be more valuable. Jewels, treasure, jade disks or horses, nothing can match it. If one were to express it in fine words, it would command the highest prices on the market.... If one practices it in noble behaviour, even those at a distance of more than a thousand li will respond to it...

Those who are not good should be protected, for they are not rejected by the Tao.
'This Tao' refers to all that is said above. The reason the Son of Heaven is established and the three dukes installed, with these positions ennobled and a high value placed on those who fill them, is so that the Tao can be carried out through them. Because nothing could be more valuable than this, so that, although it might be embellished with disks of jade and gifts of horses, this falls short of promoting the Tao by letting them sit quietly (Wang Pi understands that it is the emperor and dukes who sit quietly).
If one asks for it, one gets what one wants, and if one violates it, one is forgiven by it. There are no circumstances to which it does not apply. This is what was esteemed by the ancients.

Cheng Man–ch'ing says: Tao is the mystery hidden in all things and is the treasure of the good man. Men who are not good rely on it as a shelter. Words of worth can gain popularity and create a city. The people respect deeds; the can raise the one who accomplishes them above all others. How can anyone, however bad, be abandoned? Chapter 27 states that the Sage abandons no–one. According to ritual, during the enthronement of an emperor or installation of the three ministers, first of all a precious disc of jade is presented with the two hands (out of respect), but this does not compare with riding onward upon the Tao. Even more to the point, would not the ancients have said that finding the Tao frees one from guilt? Truly the Tao is something the world should value.

There is no need to suppress 'bad thoughts' and cultivate 'good thoughts'... 'Negative' thoughts are just thoughts, and – as such – as empty as anything else... All that is needed is simply to let them go... just like anything else. 'Positive' thoughts are equally empty, and if cultivated as 'real' are simply 'gilding the lily'. Cultivated as emptiness, however, both 'good' and 'bad' thoughts point directly to the actual nature of the mind. They are the 'thieves in the empty house' referred to yesterday, 'winds in space'.
When one returns to the real (for all the fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger does not seem to know this), everything one has previously done out of ignorance becomes subtly modified... It actually becomes the path that brought you to your awakening. The tale of Angulimala in the sutra of the same name is a case in point and there are various versions of this available on the web, e.g., at

or, in full, at

Once again I refer you to the words of the yogini Niguma:

If you don't understand that whatever appears is meditation,
What can you hope to achieve by applying an antidote?

Perceptions are not abandoned by discarding them
But are spontaneously freed when recognised as illusory.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

tao teh ching 61

A great country is like low land.
It is the meeting ground of the universe,
The mother of the universe.

The female overcomes the male with stillness,
Lying low in stillness.

Therefore if a great country gives way to a smaller country,
It will conquer the smaller country.
And if a small country submits to a great country,
It can conquer the great country.
Therefore those who would conquer must yield,
And those who conquer do so because they yield.

A great nation needs more people;
A small country needs to serve.
Each gets what it wants.
It s fitting for the great nation to yield.

Lau's version, borne out in general by that in the Ma wang tui text, expresses this somewhat differently:

A large state is the lower reaches of a river —
The place where all the streams of the world unite.
In the union of the world[1],
The female always gets the better of the male by stillness.
Being still, she takes the lower position.
Hence the large state, by taking the lower position, annexes the small state;
The small state, by taking the lower position, affiliates itself to the large state.
Thus the one, by taking the lower position, annexes;
The other, by taking the lower position, is annexed.
All the large state wants to do is take the other under its wing;
All the small state wants is to have its services accepted by the other.
If each of the two wants to find its proper place,
It is meet that the large should take the lower position[2].

[1] The Ma wang tui text has:

It is the female of the world;
It is the meeting point of the world.

[2] The Ma wang tui text has:

If both get what they want,
Then the large state should fittingly be underneath.

Wang Pi's commentary:

Because the river and the sea occupy large areas and are situated in low positions, all streams and tributaries flow into them. If a large state dwells in greatness and takes up a low position, all under Heaven will flow towards it.
It is that to which all under Heaven gravitate.
It maintains quietude and does not seek them out, so the people gravitate toward it of their own accord.
It is because of her quietude that the female can place herself beneath. We are speaking here of 'the female' in general — as a general principle echoed in all species. The male is aggressive and active, covetous and full of desire, but because the female always practices quietude, she is able to conquer the male. That she is able to place herself beneath is also because of her quietude, and this is why the other gravitates toward her...
... It is only by cultivating humility that each — the male and female, superior and subordinate, large and small — finds its proper place.
The small state cultivates lowliness, for it can do nothing more than keep itself whole; it cannot cause all under heaven to come toward it. When the large state cultivates lowliness, it is natural that all under heaven will be drawn towards it. Therefore, ' it is fitting that the larger place itself beneath'.

Cheng says: A large country is like the sea: all rivers flow into it. 'Intercourse with the world' refers to the yin and the yang. The feminine is the yin or female principle. That 'the feminine always conquers the male through tranquility is related to a line in the Book of Change, 'heaven gives and the earth receives'. Summing up, the text emphasises the lower position and the yin, especially in 'it is fitting that the greater take the lower position'. Thus does Lao–tze discuss the use of yin and softness.

If yang is the engendering force, yin is that which gives it form. If emptiness and open–endedness is the engendering force, subtlety and softness are the means of formation. The tension between yin and yang which is the continuous coming–into–being of all that is is always in a state of perfect balance unless interfered with... Even interference is part of it, ultimately...
The gentler the yin, the more receptive, the gentler the yang; the more obdurate the yin, the harsher the yang. Where the situation opens before one, and 'things just fall into place', there is no need for aggressive advance and desperate seizing — indeed, such things will merely cause the openness to collapse. The yang in an old and dried out branch is brittle and hard, just like the yin; it will snap with the first strong wind or even just under its own weight.
'Above' and 'below' here are not so much positions of superiority and inferiority as of support and supported. If one can get rid of one's 'sclerosis of the ideas', generally, since one is now 'open to the situation' rather than trapped in the VR–helmet of one's own 'brilliance' and habit reaction tied to one's vision of the world, the situation itself also opens up as the juices start running through it again. Arthritis of the brain is not much use.
As Confucius said: 'The quickest way out of a room is via the door; how is it that people will not avail themselves of this expedient?'
Trying to deal with ideas that arise in meditation by suppressing them doesn't really work. As you are busy chopping down one, hydra–like, another hundred are springing up elsewhere... Finally the only technique is to recognise them for what they are and simply let them be. One gives a young bull a large field to play about in and opens the doors and windows for the cat... The thoughts come and go like a thief in an empty house — indeed, like wind in an empty house: they harm no–one and no–one seeks to harm them either. This is support and the supported.
'Softness', of course, is one of the roots of t'ai chi ch'uan. Softness, but not limpness. Tonic but yielding until the limit is reached, and then the soft yielding turns back into gentle yang advance. 'Sprung steel wrapped in velvet,' we say.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

tao teh ching 60

Ruling the country is like cooking a small fish.
Approach the universe with Tao
And evil will have no power[1].
Not that evil is powerful,
But its power will not be used to harm others.
Not only will it do no harm to others,
But the sage himself will also be protected[2].
They do not hurt each other,
And the Virtue in each one refreshes both[3].

[1]What Gia–fu Feng translates as 'evil' here is generally given as 'spirits'.
[2] Lau says, 'The sage, also, does not harm the people'. The Ma wang tui text rather intriguingly says 'The sage, also, will not harm them'. recognising the inherent ambiguity in this, Henrick's prefers to read 'them' as 'the people', but I prefer to read it as the Sage doing nothing that would upset the insubstantial realms in any way and thereby protecting the people too.
[3] Lau reads, 'As neither does any harm, each attributes the merit to the other'. I would prefer to think (though this is not borne out by the text as such) that this refers to all three, the sage, the people and the insubstantial realms... that the Virtue in each of these feeds and nourishes not only themselves but also both the others as well.

Wang Pi's commentary says:

'Ruling like cooking a small fish' means without stirring. Activity brings harm but quietude brings about the fulfilment of authenticity. Thus, the larger the state, the more the ruler should practice quietude, for only then will he be able to widely contact the heart/minds of the people.
Governing carefully and with the Tao, the spirits there lose their malign power.
Numinous powers do not harm the Natural. When the people hold to the Natural, numinous powers have no hold on them. Since they cannot impose on them, the people will not know if they are numinous or not.

He reads the next line as, 'It is not that these numinous powers do not harm the people, in fact, but that the sage does not harm the people', and comments:

If they unite with the Tao, numinous powers will not harm the people. As these powers do not harm them, they are unaware of them as powers. If he unites with the Tao, the sage, too, will not harm the people. and they are therefore also unaware that the sage is a sage... Relying on a network of power to control the people swiftly brings on the end of the government. If one allows the people to become unaware of numinous powers and sageliness, this will bring on ultimate realisation of the Tao.
Neither the powers nor the sage cause any harm, and sharing the same Tao, they revert to it.

Cheng Man–ch'ing says: Although Lao–tze generally prefers small states with small populations, here he says ruling a large state is like cooking a small fish. This is elsewhere described as 'doing nothing, there is nothing that remains undone'. Chapters 34 and 63 both state that the sage never insists on his sageliness and therefore his greatness becomes a reality. This chapter says that spirits do not haunt mankind and the sage does not harm them. Spirits cannot impede the Tao, and the sage, regarding the people as his children and governing from the point of view of Tao, refrains from weeding out (harming) those who do not agree with him. What is more, in his governing according to Tao, not only do the two refrain from harming mankind, but also the Teh spreads uniformly throughout all.

In meditation one has to exercise due care. If one does not know what one is doing, there is much that one can unwittingly do to set strange patterns of cause and effect in motion. The goals of meditation are many, but my teachers tell me that they can basically be summed up as stilling the mind and developing penetrating insight. The problem is that, once one enters that particular door, all sorts of delicious sidetracks begin to manifest... Because of one's hopes and fears, one has experiences and even flashes of clarity, sees visions, gains 'powers', and so on, all of which are a total distraction, and ultimately nothing... just another ego cul–de–sac.
One cooks a small and fragile thing gently, not pushing it about too much. Gentle fire, gentle handling, taking one's time and keeping a close eye on what is going on. The problem when we sit to meditate is either that we sink into it and doze off or that we get caught up in the thoughts that arise and never really get to either stillness or clarity at all.
Thoughts arise out of nothing, are made of nothing at all, and swiftly change and dissolve back into nothing only to be replaced by more and more, endlessly fountaining, virtually without a break, day and night, year after year after year, instant after instant... Some relate to other thoughts, some just 'come out of the blue', some are important thoughts and most just complete and utter rubbish... And though they have no substantiality and lack all form, they can get us up off that meditation cushion and out the door before we even know what's happening...
The important thing is not the thoughts — not the content of the thoughts — but to see, to know for sure, that what is arising here is just nothing inside a void, a play of lights in infinite space...
Like a drawing on water, it is nothing in its arising; like a snake uncoiling from apparently indissoluble knots, it is nothing as it continues; and, like mist dissolving back into space, it is nothing as it disappears again... It is the nothingness becoming.
And the 'things'... the 'things that make up our reality'... the ground, the sky the animate and inanimate beings that people them, male, female, both and neither, friend, enemy, family and lover... these too are known only in one's experience, in one's own mind... They too are neither something nor not...
When dealing with them, they very much 'exist' and so do the rules pertaining to cause and effect that animate them. But when examined for an essence, the more one looks, the more one searches, the less of anything resembling an essence is to be found there... It always seems just beyond our ultimate grasping...
So maybe it's mind that exists? But when you look for mind, where is mind? There is fleeting and insubstantial 'minding', perhaps, but where is there a mind that could 'mind'? Where is the mind in which the minding happens? When a bird sings, what hears (which is the mind) hears the bird's song somewhere out in 'outer space'. The bird is not singing in my head or in my heart.

Or is it?

'No matter what manifests or how you perceive it, its inherent nature is that of a magical illusion', says Künzang Dechen Rinpoche. 'Clinging to it as actually possessing material characteristics is simply the error of wishful thinking.'


Therefore, if we have any sense at all, we will meditate gently, like the sage ruling a great kingdom, and we will not set up waves and get caught up in reflections, but gently allow the mind to settle till it is as luminous and transparently clear as purest water in an all–encompassing crystal ball. Sure the rainbow lights and all are lovely... Sure the moon reflected on the surface is exquisite...

But that is not the point...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

tao teh ching 59

In caring for others and serving heaven,
There is nothing like using restraint.
Restraint begins with giving up one's own ideas.
This depends on Virtue gathered in the past[1].
If there is a good store of Virtue, then nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, then there are no limits.
If a man knows no limits, he is fit to be the ruler[2].
The mother principle of ruling holds good for a long time.
This is called having deep roots and a firm foundation,
The Tao of long life and eternal vision[3].

[1] Lau has:

It is because he is sparing
That he may be said to follow the way from the start;
Following the way from the start he may be said to accumulate an abundance of virtue...

[2] Lau suggests that no–one knows his virtue.
[3] Lau has:

When he possesses the mother of the state
He can then endure.
This is called 'the way of deep roots and firm stems' by which one lives to see many days.

The Ma wang tui text is different enough from and both similar enough to one or another at various points, too, to warrant being reproduced here in its entirety:

For ordering humanity and serving Heaven, nothing is so good as being sparing.
For only if you are sparing to you can you, because of this, early submit to the Way.
Early submission — this is called 'to repeatedly accumulate Virtue'.
If you repeatedly accumulate Virtue, there is nothing you can't overcome.
When there's nothing you can't overcome, no–one knows where it will end.
When no–one knows where it will end, you can possess the state..
And when you possess the mother of the state, you can last a very long time.
This is called having deep roots and a firm base.
It is the Way of long life and long–lasting vision.

Wang Pi says:

Se (husbandry) refers to the farmer. The farmer puts his farm in order by bringing uniformity to it by earnestly ridding it of weeds. Its naturalness is fulfilled by his preventing the threat of its damage by neglect, which is to say, eliminating the cause of such damage (the weeds). For receiving the mandate of Heaven above and keeping the people content below, nothing surpasses this.
'Quick submission' is to constancy.
Allow repetitive accumulation of virtue to happen, and avoid forcing the people to hasten. Only thus can you have them submit to the way of constancy.
Tao is infinite.
If one attempts to rule a state while limited by constraints, one will certainly not keep that state.
That which keeps a state at peace is called its mother. The 'repetitive accumulation of virtue' means simply that , having carefully planned the roots as one's first consideration, one then goes on to tend to the branch tips. This is what enables one to live one's live to its full and is referred to as 'having deep roots firmly established', for it is the Tao of long life and enduring insight.

Cheng says (in part): 'To acquire the habit early' is to practice at every opportunity... To be 'deeply rooted and firmly seated' in that place described as the Mother (the Mysterious Female), is to have 'longevity and lasting vision'.

Compassion, which is the manifest energy of insight (so much so that, if one's insight does not give immediate and equal rise to compassion, it does not merit the name insight), arises based on virtue — accumulated virtue — the 'habit acquired early through learning to put it into practice at every opportunity'. Compassion is not being all lovey–dovey and sweet; compassion is getting down next to the diggers in the cess–pit, picking up your own spade and putting your back into it... It is realising we're all in the same boat and doing what you can to make the voyage both meaningful and easy. This often entails setting off in some very odd directions, but, since 'the bodhisattva is one who gives rise to a mind that is unsupported anywhere' as the Diamond Sutra says, one has no particular end in view except to make life easier for one's fellow beings, and — if it's at all possible — even somewhat meaningful.
'Restraint' — good husbandry — is not having set ends in view... The situation is sufficient in itself; just help. And 'filling up wells with snow' is pretty much what we will have to spend much of our time doing...
Eventually people work it out for themselves... as do we. Then they move on to something else — very often another well, unfortunately... As do we.


Helping without imposing one's own 'better way' (as in: 'Be reasonable — Do it my way')... Not so easy...
One also tends to forget, when passing on one's 'wisdom', that it took one years and billions of repetitions to even begin to work out.

Just help where help is needed, share pleasure where pleasure is possible, put your shoulder to the wheel when it needs a shoulder to the wheel.

It is, of course, also true and many Taoist practitioners, following Ho–shang Kung, see this 'restraint' as the practice of conserving semen and the life breath, there now being a large number of texts in the Taoist (and Tibetan Buddhist and Shaivite) Cannon referring to and/or detailing such practices.
The problem with them is that — unless one is very careful — they seem to assume the reality of duality.
There's a lot of whacky bullshit written about Taoist and Tantrik sex, but, from the little I've been taught about it, I don't think many people would be up to the actual practices involved — practices which have almost nothing to do with the seeking of 'pleasure', and, indeed, some of which are quite 'vampirish'.
The Taoist religion is a vast phenomenon, ranging from out–and–out shamanism with its practices of attack and defence, trance and divination, on the one hand, all the way up to the furthest flights of human philosophy — openness, voidness and compassion — on the other.
Taoists of some schools do , indeed, practice a 'dual cultivation' which always seems to me rather cold and calculating. Shaivite and Taoist 'dual cultivation' seem to be based in the practitioner and the needs of the practitioner, whereas Buddhist practices are based in compassion and wisdom and the needs of compassion and wisdom...
It's a vast subject and I don't really want to go into it, so a single comparison will have to suffice: In Shiva Tantra, the practitioner is Shiva and the universe, his partner included, is his emanated energy — shakti. The practice, then, is to realise that Shiva and shakti are one and then withdraw shakti back into Shiva so as to realise the ultimate. In Buddhist tantra, the female partner is wisdom and the male skilful means. The skilful means seeks adequate response to the solicitations of wisdom and the energy thus generated is shared and dissolved as the manifestation of bliss–emptiness.
The practices entailed are extremely difficult and 'laborious' — not so much in the actual practices themselves, but certainly in the length of time (18 hours a day for months and even years on end?) one is expected to dedicate to it. These practices are also extremely carefully monitored by the teacher, who will check into the retreat centre at least daily to make sure that one is not creating subtle attachment. It's very much a question of using poison to fight poison, but... as I said above... this needs to assume the actual existence of poison, does it not?
Taoist alchemy, much like its Western counterpart, also finally developed a school of thought wherein all alchemical practices came to be viewed as internal and symbolic and several schools of Taoism then branched out from this idea. My personal opinion (and this is not to denigrate or look down on any of the other approaches, all of which, it seems to me, have their place and are a very real motor along the path, each at its proper time) is that — since such schools embody, embrace and then transform into openness all that comes before them — they are somewhat subtler, somewhat closer to the ultimate nature of reality...

Monday, December 12, 2005

tao teh ching 58

When the country is ruled with a light hand[1],
The people are simple.
When the country is ruled with severity,
The people are cunning.

Happiness is rooted in misery.
Misery lurks beneath happiness.
Who knows what the future holds?
There is no honesty.
Honesty becomes dishonest.
Goodness becomes witchcraft.
Man's bewitchment lasts for a long time[2].

Therefore the sage is sharp but not cutting,
Pointed but not piercing[3],
Straightforward but not unrestrained,
Brilliant but not blinding.

[1] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text, borne out by Wang Pi, say that this is when government is muddled and confused, or — in the next line but one — when government is alert, discriminating and clear.
[2] The Ma wang tui text seems clearest here:

... For there is no fixed 'correct'.
The 'correct' turns into the 'deviant'
And 'good' into 'evil'
People's state of confusion has certainly lasted a long time.

[3] Both texts wax fairly 'geometrical' in this section. Lau has: 'Therefore the sage is square–edged but does not scrape./ Has corners but does not jab', and the Ma wang tui text, '... Be square but don't cut./ Be sharp but don't jab'.

Wang Pi's commentary says:

In other words, one who is good at government has no identifiable form, name, purpose or procedure. Being completely muddled, he attains great government in the end... The people have no reason to wrangle or contend, and are therefore simple and pure in their generosity which is great.
A government based on meticulous scrutiny establishes punishments and names, and promulgates rewards and penalties all in order to uncover treachery. It maintains strict distinctions among the classes, which causes the common folk to harbour contention and wrangling in their heart/minds.
Who understands what is best? Good government is at its best only when it is impossible to identify any act of government or name any punishment, and when, although it is completely muddled, all under Heaven effect their own great moral transformation.
If one uses governance to govern the state, it easily reverts to perverse use of the military.
If one establishes goodness in the hope of bringing harmony to the myriad folk, this easily reverts to deviancy and disaster.
The people, in their doubt and confusion, have lost the Tao for so long now that one cannot easily make them behave correctly and with an appreciation of the good.
Using squareness (uprightness) to lead the people, one enables them to put aside their evil ways; one does not use one's squareness as a model for cutting people into shape (cf. ch. 41).
'Pointed', here, means 'honest'. To stab is to wound. Using honesty to lead the people, one enables them to quit their devious ways, but one does not use it to inflict wounds on them.
Leading the people with straightness, one may enable them to seta aside deviancy, but one does not use it to dam up or strike at them(*). This is what is meant by 'great straightness seems crooked' (cf. ch. 45).

(*) Mencius (VI A; 2) says: Certainly water has no propensity for flowing east or west, but can the same be said for its flowing up or down? The tendency in human nature toward goodness is just like the tendency of water to flow downwards. Nothing lacks this tendency to goodness, just as no water ever flows anything but downwards.. Now, one may strike at water and make it leap up above one's head, and one may dam up water and force it to move so that it can be sent up a hill, but this has nothing to do with the actual nature of water.

One uses brightness to illuminate the way out of confusion but not as a lamp to expose what the people wish to keep hidden. This is what is meant by 'the bright Tao seems dark' (cf. ch. 41 and also Wang Pi's commentaries to 49 and 52)

Professor Cheng expresses very strenuous doubts as to the many different interpretations, including his own, of Lao–tze's words which turn him into thousands and millions of different personalities and make him even weirder and more mysterious than he is (what need, then, to mention mine?). Lao–tze himself says 'My words are very easy to understand', and Cheng agrees (with the proviso: if one is sincere). He feels this chapter hardly needs interpretation at all and reluctantly adds a few pointers in the full realisation that his interpretation may not be what Grandfather Lao intended at all.
He says: If government practices non–action, how can it accomplish anything? Thus it appears muffled and subdued. Laxity and indifference indicate deficiency. Proper government is orthodox. If improper government becomes overbearingly strict and exacting, it become unorthodox and is acting from selfish motives. Furthermore, the unorthodox brings on the unnatural and general confusion sets in. Under such circumstances, whatever the people consider good fortune is actually just bad. Not cutting yet making square, not infringing yet squaring corners means that it is unnecessary to use incisive action to make things fitting and proper. Not going to extremes yet straightening, not glaring and yet glowing will let the people be simple and sincere.

As long as our hopes and fears are based on the reification of duality we are simply rearranging the pieces on the board, moving them round in the hope that one arrangement will be the arrangement — the real arrangement... the KEY. This is nonsense.
I like Gia–fu Feng's interpretation... Muddled governments don't much get my vote... Simple ones, yes, but I like them to have some idea why they're out there, don't you?
Compassion is of the essence, but dumb–ass compassion is useless — as useless, and possibly even as dangerous as an intelligence that doesn't value or understand compassion.

A question of keeping those strings perfectly in tune.

It's on the twin wings of wisdom and compassion that the buddha bird flies.