Friday, October 28, 2005

tao teh ching 3

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies,
by weakening ambitions and strenthening bones.[1]
If people lack knowledge and desire,
then intellectuals will not try to interfere[2].
If nothing is done, then all will be well.

[1] Chen Man-ch'ing reads:

"That is why the Sage governs himself by
relaxing the mind,
reinforcing the abdomen,
gentling the will
strengthening the bones.

Pointing out the subtle yogas of breath and the organs, his commentary goes on to ask how - if the way of the Sage really were simply to fill his own or anybody else's belly with food - would Lao-tze's Tao Teh Ching be of any value to anyone?
[2] Most of the other texts I have see this rather as keeping the "clever" from shooting their mouths off, which I think is FAR closer to the fact.

Since 'filling the belly' is a key Taoist practice, I think it might be both interesting and instructive to transcribe Cheng Man-ch'ing's whole commentary on this section [Man-jan Cheng - LAO-TZU: "My words are very easy to understand", Tam C. Gibbs transl. North Atlantic Books 1981] along with the translator's note on the Yellow Emperor's Classic.
Prof. Cheng says: 'Govern' means to regulate by certain principles. 'Relaxing the mind' (lit. emptying the heart) is the doctrine of non-action. 'Reinforcing the abdomen' means, in the words of the Yellow Emperor: "The Sage swallows the breath (ch'i) of heaven to reach spiritual enlightenment". In ch. 20 it says, "prize the food of the Mother". 'Mother' is the mother of all living things, the life-giving 'breath' (ch'i) of heaven-and-earth. This is the Tao of Lao-tzu. The will resides in the spleen('gentling the will'). The bones ('strengthening the bones') are related to the urogenital system. The spleen is the root of post-natal life, and the urogenital system determines pre-natal life. Furthermore, the urogenital system governs one's strength. If one's will is too strong, it will harm not only one's primal energy but will also damage the very root and trunk of one's life span. How can one strenthen the bones? By cultivating the generative essence (ching) and filling the bones with marrow as was taught by Ch'i-po, the teacher of the yellow Emperor. Ch'i-po said, "strengthening of the bone and marrow is the very root of life itself". I one were to say that the Sage's way of governing himself were no more than filling his belly with food, how could Lao-tzu's Tao Teh Ching be worthy of its title?

The translator's note adds: According to The Yellow Emperor's Classic on Internal Medicine, the will resides in the spleen. The urogenital system (including the kidneys) is related to the bones. The spleen helps the stomach digest food.
The urogenital system, referred to as hsien t'ien (cf. below) in traditional Chinese medical terminology, relates directly to the strength of one's parents. Up until the time of birth, life is totally dependent on the strength of one's parents, and so it is called hsien t'ien or 'pre-heaven', which also translates as 'pre-natal'. According to Chinese medicine, all the strengths one has (eyesight, hearing, energy, taste, etc.) depend on the strength of the urogenital system.
The will is inversely related to the strength of the spleen. If the will is too strong, it draws energy from the spleen, and awhen the spleen's energy is out of balance, it will borrow energy from the urogenital system, thus diminishing one's basic energy. This is based upon the Five Elements system used in traditional Chinese medicine whereby 'earth (the spleen) 'overcomes' water (the urogenital system).
Ching is not just sperm or semen, it is the basic energy out of which semen is made. According to Ch'ing-po in The Yellow Emperor's Classic on Internal Medicine, the marrow of the bones is effected by this substance.

My own note, too, is that ch'i = breath is not the same as chi = subtle vital energy.

This chapter is quite fascinating. On the surface of things it looks as though Lao-tzu is offering political advice, but in fact - I believe - if this advice is meant to be political at all, it first demands that it be applied to oneself. As Prof. Cheng points out in his commentary on the last lines: Chapter 65 reads "... not to enlighten (the) people, but instead to (gradually) make them stupid". Chapter 20 says, "What a fool's mind I have! How muddled I am"
He does, indeed, seek to gradually transform people, starting 'here', as it were (Let peace begin with me)... These descriptions - especially in ch. 20 - are not gratuitous: Several times I have heard very great lamas say exactly the same thing - 'You think that I am a buddha and totally enlightened, and that is very good for you to think like this and to have trust and confidence in that fact, but - I assure you - of the five paths or stages leading to enlightenment, I am still far from the ending of the first - the path of prepapration'... Socrates knew this too, as does any so-called "expert" in anything... 'Mastery' is a dream for most of us, and is most certainly a dream if we imagine we have it before we've even set out upon the path!

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