Saturday, October 29, 2005

tao teh ching 18

When the great Tao is forgotten,
Kindness and morality arise.
When wisdom and intelligence are born,
The great pretense begins.

When there is no peace within the family[1],
Filial piety and devotion arise.
When the country is confused and in chaos,
Loyal ministers appear.

[1] Echoing the Ma wang tui text and most others, Lau has 'When the the six relations (father and son, elder and younger brother, husband and wife) are at variance...'

Wang says: When one abandons tending to matters without conscious effort, replacing this with practices of mercy and establishing the idea of goodness, this means that the tao has become invested in things(*). When one employs methods and uses intelligence... on'e intentions become obvious and the form they take visible... When the six relations exist in harmony and the state maintains good order all by itself, no one knows where the obedient kindly and loyal are to be found. It is only when fish forget the Tao of rivers and lakes that the virtuous act of moistening each other comes into being(**).

(*) This means that, once the pristine simplicity of the uncarved block of the Tao is lost, tangible entities such as mecy and goodness arise.
(**) This is a paraphrase of the 'Great Master and Teacher' section of the Ch'uang-tze: 'When sources dry up, finding themselves stranded together on the ground, fish moisten each other with spit and wet each other with foam, but how much better it would be if they could just forget each other in rivers and lakes!'

Cheng waxes most eloquent on this brief chapter, his commentary and it's notes covering two full pages, but basically what he's saying is that - although it seems, on the surface, that Lao-tze is attacking humanism here - since the Tao is without form or substance - without even name or origin - how can it ever be lost? And if there were no-one - no beings at all - to appreciate the fact of its existence, what would it matter if it existed or not. Mankind without humanism and justice is as inconceivable as heaven without its qualities of yin and yang or earth without its qualities of hardness and softness... The gross hypocricy is as if heaven and earth had only the qualities of yin and softness - when the qualities of yang and hardness lose the affirmative, yin and softness take over. When humanism and justice are not sharp and clear, then great hypocricy arises, yet Lao-tze himself praises uprightness in government, so, even if such hypocricy does exist, it is no real cause for concern... it is, in a sense, the very Tao of mankind, the third in the trinity of heaven, earth and man, the so-called three 'powers' or 'agents' comprising the metaphysical cosmos of Chinese thought.
He points out that, when family relationships really have fallen into disorder, the merest glimpse of correct relationship is easily mistaken for filial piety. He has an interesting note here: 'Lao-tze is speaking from the reverse side of things, and he has his reasons, but I wonder what brought the six relationships into existence? How would they fall out of harmony? How could there have been 'a golden age of government'? And how did this fall into darkness and confusion? To assert that everything was the product of non-action is overdoing it a bit. Lao-tzu alone desires to live according to non-action; those who practice plail action outnumber him a billion to one. From this it is possible to deduce that what Lao-tze advocates is impossible to put into practice.

I find this last statement (a 'conclusion', after all, being simply where someone stops thinking about something) not a little intriguing. Not least inasmuch as Taoism is the avowed raison d'ĂȘtre and modus operandum of t'ai chi ch'uan of which Cheng was an acknowledged master.

But I will agree it's walking against the stream. (Many a Taoist tale of what you find up there, too, when you finally get there!)

What is important here, of course, is unselfconsciousness which is not a contrived 'consciousness' of some weird entity called the 'unself', but simply being and doing without too much in the way of name and packdrill.
Once you start being clever about things, it will often take you on a trip through many years of apprenticeship, journeymanship and even mastery before you get back to the original, unselfconscious spark that set you off in the first place... If you ever get back there at all!
This is not to say that study and training are useless, or that being kindly and respectful are not desirable qualities. On the contrary! But vaunting oneself on having such, when they are - indeed! - no more than the merest drop in the ocean, will certainly prevent you from advancing any further until you forget them again.
What the buddhists call mara - the demon of limiting ideas.

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