Saturday, October 29, 2005

tao teh ching 23

To talk little is natural.
High winds do not last all morning.
Heavy rain does not last all day.
Why is this? Heaven and earth!
If heaven and earth cannot make things eternal,
How is it possible for man?

He who follows the Tao
Is at one with the Tao.
He who is virtuous
Experiences Virtue.
He who loses the way
Feels lost.
When you are one with the Tao,
The Tao welcomes you.
When you are one with Virtue,
The Virtue is always there.
When you are one with loss,
The loss is experienced willingly[1].

He who does not trust enough
Will not be trusted[2].

[1] The Ma wang tui text reads this singularly differently:

To the one who is one with Virtue, the Way also gives Virtue;
While for the one who is one with loss, the Way also disregards him.

Since teh means both 'virtue' and 'gain' or 'attain', there is also a possible play on words here and these four lines could equally well be translated:

One who devotes himself to attainment is one with gain,
And one who devotes himself to loss is one with loss.
To the one who is one with attainment, the Way also gives attainment;
While for the one who is one with loss, the Way also disregards him.

[2] This line is absent in both version of the Ma wang tui text, but is present in all later versions.

Wang Pi's version is so different again, that I give it and its commentary in full:

The 'inaudible' is a way of referring to the Natural.

'When we listen for it but do not hear it, we call it the "inaudible"'(cf. ch. 14). A later section says: 'When the tao is spokenn of, how bland: it has no flavour at all! We look for it, but there is not enough there to see anything at all. We listen for it, but there is not enough there to hear anything' (cf. ch.35). As that is so, such expressions as 'no flavour at all' and 'not enough there to hear anything' are actually the most appropriate way of referring to the Natural.

Thus a whirlwind does not last an entire morning and a rainstorm does not last the day. What is it that causes them? It is Heaven and Earth. If even Heaven and Earth cannot make them last long, how much less can man?

In other words, sudden praise does not last long.

Thus, to undertake things in accordance with the Tao, the man of Tao becomes one with the Tao.

Undertaking things means managing affairs in accordance with the Tao. The Tao completes and benefits the myriad things without form or conscious effort. Thus, one who undertakes things in accordance with the Tao 'tends to matters without conscious effort and practices the teaching that is not expressed in words' (cf. ch.2). On and on, he has only apparent existence, yet through him the people achieve authenticity. He is the embodiment of the Tao...

The man of virtue becomes one with virtue.

Virtue/success (teh) results from having little. 'Having little gives one access' (cf. ch.22), and this is why the text here refers to virtue, success and access (all contained within the meanings of the word teh). If one practices virtue/success, one will embody virtue/success... (*)

The man of failure becomes one with failure.

Failure results from entanglement in great possession. One entangled in having much fails... One who practices failure embodies failure...

He who becomes one with virtue the tao also endows with virtue; he who becomes one with failure the Tao also endows with failure.

In other words the Tao reacts to one's practice and responds in kind.

If one fails to have trust, there is a corresponding lack of trust in onself.

When one's faith in those below fails, 'a corresponding lack of trust in onself' occurs.

(*) Lynn's note here says: Wang identifies teh (virtue) with teh (success and associates teh (success) with the expression teh chi pen, 'have acces to one's roots', i.e., be successful in accessing them. One's 'roots' are one's essentials, one's 'authenticity', that which is the pure embodiment of the Tao. Creative, spontaneous and natural, one's roots compare to the 'root of Heaven and Earth' (cf. ch. 6).

Since it once again misconstrues Lao-tze's meaning, I shall give Cheng in full and base any comments i might have around this... He says: It is in harmony with the Tao when speech is short and natural. Chapter 43 says, 'few in the world attain wordless teaching and the benefit of non-action'. This is the exact opposite of chapter 5's 'too many words quickly exhaust'. Although caused by heaven and earth, hurricanes and thundershowers cannot last long because, too furious and violent, they fall outside natural laws for enduring phenomena. Lao-tze's explanation reflects contempt for human striving (my italics).

This is complete and utter nonsense.
Lao-tze may, indeed, regard 'pushing the river' and 'tugging at shoots to help them grow more quickly' as a useless occupation, but that is purely secondary. What he's actually trying to say is that the causes and conditions for that which endures at not - generally speaking - violent and explosive. 'Nature's way is to say little'. Nature does not in-sist, it per-sists... Generally quite quietly and gently.
If human striving means only that braggarts and loudmouths scrabble and shove in their rush for 'the top', then yes, Cheng is right. Grandfather Lao regards such actions not only as 'degrading', but as a direct highway for conflict and suffering, this is sure. But I am not that convinced that that was what Confucius meant by the Tao of Mankind either. Confucius believed in striving for perfection, certainly, but that perfection could only take root in the eternal quest for the appropriate, the consistent examination of one's actions and motivations, and a careful attention to the balancing of the yin and the yang.
Loa-tze contends, rather, that the yin and the yang are naturally balanced, and that all one really has to do is to realign oneself with this ever-present nature.

Cheng continues, with his usual acuity: Those who are in communication with the Tao are, in turn, welcomed by the Tao. Because of such communion, the attainment of the Tao is a joy. The same reaction holds for those who are in communication with the Teh, and so forth. This idea is expressed in the Book of Change (hexagram 1, Chien, line 5), 'similar tones respond to one another (sympathetic vibration); beings with silmilar 'life-force' (ch'i, psycho-physiological energy, breath) seek each other'. The statement 'those in communication with failure are also welcomed by failure' should be placed alonside the text of chapter 38: 'Thus, if Tao is lost, Teh appears; if Teh is lost, humanism appears; in humanism is lost, justice appears'. With rumination, one will understand Lao-tze's point: if people fail in practicing virtue and success, they will be happy to accept humanism. Those who have failed in following Tao and Teh because they do not understand them, thereby accept humanism, or - failing that - justice, and are perfectly happy to do so.

'Some are not true enough to the Tao, and so there are those who are not true to it at all', (Cheng's reading of the last line) means that those who have failed in following either the Tao or the Teh lack faith, and that this finally leads to complete faithlessness.

So... 'to talk little is natural'. I'll shut up.

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