Saturday, October 29, 2005

tao teh ching 28

Know the strength of man
But keep a woman's care!
Be the stream of the universe!
Being the stream of the universe,
Ever true and unswerving,
Become as a little child once more.

Know the white
But keep the black!
Be an example to the world!
Being an example to the world,
Ever true and unwavering,
Return to the infinite.

Know honour
Yet keep humility.
Be the valley of the universe!
Being the valley of the universe,
Ever true and resourceful,
Return to the state of the uncarved block[1].

When the block is carved, it becomes useful.
When the sage uses it, he becomes the ruler.
Thus 'a great tailor cuts little'[2].

[1] Most other texts read the ideas contained in these three verses in terms of cause and effect, e.g., 'When you know the male and yet hold to the female, You'll be a river valley for all under heaven'.
[2] Lau has:

When the uncarved block shatters it becomes vessels.
The sage makes use of these and becomes lord over the officials.
Hence the greatest cutting
Does not sever.

Henricks reads the next to last line in the ma wang tui text as, '...When the sage is used, he becomes the head of officials...'

The ideas of 'vessels' and 'carving up' also refer to government lackeys and governmental-type regulation. 'Thus,' says Henricks, ' the sage is one who can govern (=carve) without destroying (=splitting up) what is natural in people.'

Wang Pi's commentary says:

The male is the category that assumes the lead; the female brings up the rear. One who sees that he is foremost amongst all under Heaven must put himself in the rear. Chapter 7 says, '... the sage places himself in the rear yet finds himself in front'. The river valley solicits nothing yet things come to it as a matter of course. The infant uses no knowledge of its own and yet communes with the knowledge of nature...
... it is only with constant return to such ends (infant, the infinite and the uncarved block) that virtue completely fills the one in whom it resides. A later section (ch. 40) says, 'Turning back is the activity of the Tao'. Efficacy is not something that can be seized in that it resides at all times in the mother.
The uncarved block is authenticity. When authenticity fragments, many different kinds of behaviour emerge and many different types of people appear, just like a variety of implements. Because they are fragmented, the sage stands as chief of officials above them. He emplys good men as teachers for those who are not good, and those who are not good become the material to be worked on. By his reformation of customs and transformation of habits, he brings about a return to the One.
Because 'the great carver' takes the heart/mind of all under Heaven as his own heart/mind, he never cuts(*).

(*) As in the Chuang-tze tale of the butcher and the prince mentioned a few chapters ago, for example.

Chen Man-ch'ing says: This section clarifies how the tao benefits from being the lesser and delineates the way for a person to proceed. See chapter 32, 'The Tao is to the world as a brook or valley is to the river or ocean'. Chapter 66 says, 'that which makes the river and the ocean king of the hundred valleys is the ability to benefit from being lower'. The message is the same: cleave to the feminine, the dull or humility, and benefit from the lesser position. To 'be the valley' or to'be a guide' indicate ways for a person to proceed. Never swerve from your inner nature, thereby bringing it to fullness, and you will be able to return to the state of infancy and the pre-conceptual, or original uniqueness. Thus, by turns, Lao-tze describes the Tao because it is so difficult to name.
Compare (the last verse) with chapter 32, '... no matter how insignificant one's original uniqueness, nothing in the world can make it inferior', because it is a nucleus complete in itself. As soon as original uniqueness is divided and instrumentalities apear, the situation no longer includes only the tao itself. Therefore the sage employs the instrumentalities as officers, according to their various capacities. If they reurn to original uniqueness, this may be likened to subtle governance which does not seek to 'shape'.

Assuming for the moment, as I generally do, that this text is NOT actually about politics except by tertiary and even quaternary analogy, let us imagine that the 'agents' mentioned here are, for example, the sensory experiences, thoughts and emotions...
Pure awarenes without either bias or attachment may be likened to a king and the arising display of experience and the thoughts and emotions it occasions to his retinue.
Intelligent deployment and appreciation of these latter while avoiding all attachment and bias is the role of the sage as chief official.

Wu chi (as first explicitly mentioned in this chapter, but implied in some that have gone before) is a purely Taoist conception of the 'origin of things'. The Confucian equivalent is t'ai chi... During the Sung dynasty (960 - 1279 C. E.) Chu-hsi combined the two visions, and, rewriting Chou Tuan-yi's treatise T'ai-chi T'ao Shuo, explained this movement as follows:

Wu chi - 'the Void', 'Emptiness' - is the uncarved of block of pure awareness.
The 'shattering' or 'carving' of the block is the arising of t'ai chi - 'the supreme ultimate' - which is the first manifestation of the primordial duality of yin-yang, yang appearing first as the movement of its energy, which, when it reaches it's extreme, reverts to the stilness in which the yin or manifest essence begins to apear. Movement and stilness follow each other, yin and yang interact and thus the five elements, water, fire, wood, metal and earth are born.
The five vapours mutually enrich each other to generate the four seasons.
From the properties of the five elements and the sessence of wu chi generative energy emerges. The male is born from the Way of Heaven (the trigram ch'ien) and the female follows the way of earth (the trigram k'un).
The union of ch'ien and k'un gives birth to the myriad things, and the myriad things combine and procreate thus giving rise to the infinity of forms, all of which have their origin in wu chi. (Cf. the diagram illustrating the commentary to ch.25)

This parallels the possible combinations of yin and yang which it also then becomes quite interesting to examine :

In a first series of combinations, yang can support yang or support yin, and yin can support yang or yin. This is generally represented by a series of of four digrams (if such a word exists?)

___ _ _ ___ _ _
___ ___ _ _ _ _

Combining again, we get eight trigrams, yang supporting yang and yang, yang supporting yang and yin, yang supporting yin and yang and yang supporting yin and yin, on the one hand, and yin supporting yin and yin, yin supporting yin and yang, yin supporting yang and yin and yin supporting yang and yang, on the other. As follows:

___ _ _ ___ _ _ ___ _ _ ___ _ _
___ ___ _ _ _ _ ___ ___ _ _ _ _
___ ___ ___ ___ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

This ordering - father, youngest daughter, middle daughter eldest son, eldest daughter, middle son, youngest son, mother (heaven, lake, fire, thunder, wind, water, mountain, earth), also gives the following groupings: father and youngest daughter together = metal, fire = fire, eldest son and eldest daughter together = wood, water = water, and youngest son and mother together = earth. Fire is in the south, water in the north, wood in the east (and southeast), metal in the west (and northwest) and earth technically in the centre, but also in the northeast and southwest, more or less as follows:

The eight trigrams combine to make the sixty four hexagrams which, with their six lines of change and the fact that each one can remain the same or change into any one of the 63 others, represent the ten thousand things in all their change and variety.

Nuff blather for one day. Let me shut up.

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