Friday, October 28, 2005

tao teh ching 5

Heaven and earth are ruthless;
They see the ten thousand things as dummies[1].
The wise are ruthless;
The see the people as dummies.

The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows.
The shape changes but not the form;
The more it moves, the more it yields.
More words count less.
Hold to the centre[2].

[1] Lau (as borne out by the Ma wang tui text and the commentaries of
both Wang and Cheng) has 'straw dogs' with a note to the effect that
in the Chuang-tze it is explained that straw dogs were used as offerings
and treated with great deference before the sacrifice, but that, after
the sacrifice, they were discarded and forgotton even to the point of
being trampled underfoot. This idea is also explained in detail in the
commentary by Cheng.
[2] Lau's rendering of this verse (again borne out by the Ma wang tui
and commentaries abovementioned) makes more sense to me:

Is not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows?
It is empty without being exhausted:
The more it works the more comes out.
Much speech leads inevitably to silence.
Better to hold fast to the void.

except that the Ma wang tui and Cheng both read the last word as
'centre'. Wang reads it as 'emptiness within', thereby referring to
the inexhaustible emptiness of the bellows, which has neither deliberate intention nor innate tendency which is exactly what gives it its use. (He also makes reference to the sheng or Chinese mouth-organ, but I don't really see much need to gild this particular lilly.)

There are two main points here: (i) that 'humanism' with its emphasis
on and bias toward the human species over all others (and not to be confused with 'humanitarianism', though this latter is also often equally one-eyed)is nonsense -
human beings are no more "the crown of creation" than cauliflowers,
flint or Cape Hunting Dogs... They just are... Nothing else. And (ii)
that intentional action - a modus operandum - a fixed way of seeing
and going about things soon bumps against its own limits.
Wang's comment says: Heaven and Earth allow things to follow their
natural bent and neither engage in conscious effort nor start
anything, leaving the myriad things to manage themselves... The
benevolent (jen) have to establish institutions and influence
behaviour and are prone to the use of kindliness and conscious effort.
But when intiutions are established and behaviour influenced, people
lose their authenticity, and when subject to kindness and conscious
effort, they no longer preserve their integrity. If people do not
preserve their integrity, they no longer have the capacity to uphold
the full weight of of their existence. Heaven and earth do not make
the grass grow for the sake of beasts, yet beasts eat grass. They do
not produce dogs for the sake of humans, yet humans eat dogs (*).
Heaven and Earth make no conscious effort with regard to the myriad
things, yet, because each of the myriad things has what is appropriate
to its use, there is not one thing that is denied support. As long as
you use kindness based on a personal perspective, it indicates a lack
of capacity to leave things to themselves...
"The interior of a bellows... is completely empty and free of innate
tendency (ching) or deliberate action (wei). Thus, though empty, it
can never be used up, and, when it is in action, it is impossible to
exhaust its capacity or strength. The space between Heaven and Earth
just all ows things to follow their natural bent without the least
stricture, and thus - like tha activity of the bellows or mouth-organ
(sheng) - can never be used up...
"The more you apply conscious effort to something, the more you will
fail. If you set up a policy of kindness toward people and establish
words for dealing with matters, there will be no way to provide relief
without kindness, nor anyway to establish order without the use of
words, and this is sure to result in rapid exhaustion... maintain
emptiness within and exhaustion will never arise; take your 'self' out
of it and leave things to themselves and nothing will ever lack order.
If a mouth orga tried intentionally itself to make sounds, it would no
longer have the capacity to provide the player with what he needs."

(*) Cf. the following

Cheng's commentary reads: The Tao of heaven and earth cannot be called
humane. the lives of the myriad things all proceed according to
nature. Their passing is no different than that of straw dogs. In
ancient times, dogs fashioned of straw were used during ritual
sacrifices as substitutes for the real animal. Once they had fulfilled
their function, they were cast aside, thus giving rise to the
observation of the text that there are no feelings of humanism
involved. The Sage's actions are in accord with those of heaven and
earth, not showing any favouritism toward mankind...
(A note to the text here reads) Neither heaven and earth nor the Sage
treat humanism as in any way desirable and it is precisely here that
Lao-tze speaks of humanism as neither beautiful nor good. To say, as
Wang Pi does, that 'Earth does not produce straw for the sake of
feeding animals, yet animals eat it, and does not produce dogs in
order to feed humans, yet humans eat them' can be called a glib
argument. Do all animals eat straw? Is the speciality of man the
eating of dogs?... Is this not vastly oversimplifying the case?...
"... Chuang-tze said 'To maintain the centre of the circle is to
respond inexhaustibly'. This is similar in meaning to what is intended
by this chapter."

This comes back to what we were saying yesterday... the skilled person
has no set end-in-view... That is why he or she can respond
immediately and absolutely sensitively and accurately to whatever
comes up.

An end-in-view tends to trample details.

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