Saturday, October 29, 2005

tao teh ching 20

Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles[1].

Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox[2].
In spring some go to the park and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it leaarns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother[3].

[1] The famous 1st line of chapter 20 that some scholars think should be the last line of chapter 19 and that Lau considers should be the first. I mentioned the arguments put forth by Henricks for moving the line to the end of 19 in yesterday's entry.
For my own part, I love the fact that 'scholarship' has its knickers in a knot about a line that is saying what this says.
Really makes me grin.
Also interesting (assuming Feng knew what he was doing with the punctuation), is the fact that the line as it stands here makes two suggestions: (i) give up all pretention to cleverness, and (ii) get rid of your problems - solve them, dissolve them, forget them, but get rid of them.
[2] The t'ai lo feast actually entailed the sacrifice and consumption of a sheep, a pig and an ox.
[3] I particularly like Lau's reading of the last two lines (this was the version that first woke me up back in the 60s, after all):

I alone am different from others
And value being fed by the mother.

The Ma wang tui text reads the first seven lines completely differently:

Argument and angry rejection;
How great is the differenc between them?
Beautiful and ugly;
What's it like - the difference between them?
The one who is feared by others
Must also, because of this, fear other men.
Wild, unrestrained! It will never come to an end!

and it reads the last two lines as

But my desires alone differ from those of others -
For I value drawing sustenance from the Mother.

(By an odd quirk of typography, the word 'alone' in my copy is underscored, which again gives yet another possible interpretation which I'm sure would NOT be acceptable to 'scholarship - Oh well!)

Wang's commentary says: As is said in chapter 48, 'The pursuit of learning means having more each day, but the pursuit of the Tao means having less each day'. As such, learning seeks to increase what one can do and advance what one knows, but, if one were free from desire and thus content, what would one seek to gain in having more? And if one could stay on the mark without undue concern as to how it was being done, what would one wish to learn by knowing more. As is said,

Finches have mates,
Doves do too.
Those who live in wintry climes
Are sure to know one fur from another.
That which is already sufficient unto itself by nature
Will only be ruined if one tries to add to it.

So what is the difference between lengthening the duck's legs and cutting down the legs of the crane?(*) And why should the fear of praise that leads to promotion be any different from the fear of punishment? How far is approval from disapproval or praise from censure? Therefore, if feared by others, I should also be in fear of them. One dare not rely on such things as a basis for action.

(*) Aha! The very Chuang-tze I cited yesterday!

... befuddled by praise and advancement and excited by honour and reward (people) let their desire run free and trheri heart/minds become excited and contentious.
... I, in my solitude, have no form that can be named and provide no hint that can be detected, just like an infant who has not yet learned to smile.
... longings and ambition... fill their breasts to overflowing. Thus the text says 'all have more than enough... I alone engage in no conscious effort and have no desires, as if I had lost all capacity for them.
... the heart/mind of a completely stupid man is innocent of distinction, and his thoughts are free of any consideration of good and bad... Innocent of distinctions, I cannot be named.
... (Others) make their brilliance shine. They discriminate between each and every thing,... (but) my tendencies cannot be discerned. I have no ties to anything - no attachment...
... Everyone is seeking the chance to fulfil some purpose. I have nothing I want to do. Moddled and oafish, I appear to know nothing at all...
'Drawing sustenance from the mother' refers to the root of life, the Tao. Everyone forsakes the roots from which true sustenance can be drawn in preference of the blossoms that decorate the branch-tips. Thus the text says 'I alone wish to be different from others'.

Cheng says (after a while): Compare the lines'what others fear, I must fear' with chapter 49, where it says, 'I am kind to the kind. Iam also kind to the unkind'. If everyone is treated with equal kindness then what is there to fear?...
... The Mother is the mother of all things - that is air, or breath (ch'i)...

He compares the words 'I alone and different from the rest' and the last six sentences with chapter 57, where it says: 'I practice non-action...I love tranquility... I do not interfere in anything... I am without desires', pointing out that this is how Lao-tze views the ego. One who is ego-centric cannot alleviate his notions of intention, necessity and insistence. This - says Cheng - is in diametric opposition to the views of Confucius, and it is in just this that the crucial difference between the two men lies...

Cheng saw an enormous difference between what he calls Lao-tze's Tao and the Tao of Mankind as enshrined in the teachings of Confucius. In Grandfather Lao he obviously perceived a path of quietism, and it would seem that this quite bothered him.

It is a conceit of mine (or perhaps just plain conceited) to see (or imagine) myself as like this bloke described here. At any rate, this is certainly how I would like to be (on the one hand). A poem I wrote, many years ago for a cabinet-maker friend of mine I hadn't seen for many years:

beyond this glow loving hands half seen
furnish feasts of bread meat and wine

we sit within and smile

two old chairs rapt in oceanic silence

still fire-heart red beyond the grey, you

inner and outer polishing
etched, unnoticed, into your bones

me longer-haired and woollier now than ever

foolish like a child
no idea at all of where i'm coming from

where to go

Not much else to say, is there?


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