Wednesday, November 16, 2005

tao teh ching 34

The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right.
The ten thousand things depend upon it; it holds nothing back[1].
It fulfils its purpose silently and makes no claim.

It nourishes[2] the ten thousand things
And yet is not their lord.
It has no aim; it is very small.

The ten thousand things return to it
Yet it is not their lord.
It is very great[3].

It does not show greatness
And is therefore truly great.

[1] Lau has '... yet it claims no authority'
[2] This seems to generally be read 'It clothes and nourishes...'
[3] From 'It has no aim...' down to '... it is very great', Lau reads as follows:

Forever free of desire, it can be called small; yet, asit lays no claim to being their master when the myriad creatures turn to it, it can be called great.

The Ma wang tui text has a completely different reading which I give here in toto:

The Way floats and drifts;
It can go left or right.
It accomplishes its tasks and completes its affairs, and yet for this it is not given a name.
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
Thus it is constantly without desires.
It can be named with the things that are small.
The ten thousand things entrust their lives to it, and yet it does not act as their master.
It can be named with the things that are great.

Therefore the Sage's ability to accomplish the great
Comes from his not playing the role of the great.
Therefore he is able to accomplish the great.

Wang Pi says: In other wordsd, the Tao floods in such a way that there is nowhere it does not go
Its function has the ability of operating anywhere, left, right, up or down, thus there is no place it does not reach.
The myriad things all derive life from the Tao, but, having life they do not know where it came from. (*) Therefore, when all under Heaven are without desire, each of the myriad beings will find its place and it will be as if the Tao had done nothing for them.
Thus it is named amongst the small.
All the myriad things return to it for life, but it assiduously ensures that they do not know where they come from, which is no small matter. Thus one can again name it among the great.
'Plan for the difficult while it is still easy; work on the great while it is still small.' (cf. ch.63)

Cheng says: 'All pervasive' describes vastness and breadth. The tao is so gereat that one cannot speak of right or left, up, down or any of the four directions. It's sphere is everywhere. Everything depends on it, but it requires nothing, neither recognition nor fealty. The same though is expressed in chapters 10 and 51: 'produce but do not possess; act but do not control'. Non-desire includes elements which might be styled 'the lesser'.
That 'all things return to it, yet it does not control them' is called 'the greater', and this refers to non-action. The line 'because it never insists on its greatness, its greatness becomes a reality' expresses the same idea as chapter 63.

Once again we are brought back to the idea that the open-endedness and 'emptiness' of the Tao actually what is necessary to bring things to their natural and proper conclusion. Anything added to or subtracted from it only detracts from that goal. And yet the Tao itself is not insisting that everything is empty, that everything is mere froth and a dream. The Tao insists on nothing at all. Indeed, the Tao itselft is utterly unknowable by ordinary mind - inconceivable even.
And yet, it is in this very inconceivability that everything arises as this and that.
Nagarjuna, founder of the Madhyamaka or 'Middle Way' school of Buddhism based around the texts of the so-called 'Perfection of Wisdom' (or of 'Transcendent Peerless Insight') and the teaching of 'emptiness', said:

It is because of emptiness
That all things and events can be established.
Without emptiness, nothing can be established

He also says (Madhyamika Karika 13:7):

If there were something that were not empty,
Then emptiness would have to exist.
Since there is nothing at all that is not empty,
How can there be be something else called emptiness as such?
The Victorious Lord proclaims emptiness
Only in order to refute all viewpoints.
He who holds that emptiness exists of itself
The buddhas all call incurable.

Emptiness/Tao is thus not some thing that exists somewhere outside of its manifestations. That is to say that both emptiness and the Tao are not philosophical doctrines but therapeutic devices for cleansing us of our innate clinging.
Chinese Buddhism has ten similes for emptiness which are quite germane here:

* Emptiness is non-obstructive like space or the void, existing within everything but hindering or obstructing nothing
* It is omnipresent, ubiquitous like space, embracing everything everywhere
* It is fundamentally equal throughout, equal to all and making no discrimination anywhere
* It is vast, broad and infinite
* It is formless and has no particular shape or characteristic mark
* It is pure, like space, and knows not the least defilement
* Like the void, it is motionless, always at rest, and it utterly transcends all coming into or passing out of existence
* It is the negation of all that is limited or has a finite end
* It also negates negation, derstroying the clinging to both the idea of a finite self and to that of emptiness as something 'existent'
* And - like space or the void - is completely ungraspable or attainable

The Monk Shao, disciple of the Indian master and translator Kumarajiva (344-413 CE), expresses the non-abiding nature of the Tao as follows:

All things have their companion
But the tao stands alone.
Outside of the Tao there is nothing;
Within it there is no duality.
Without inside or outside,
It includes the primordial oneness
And embraces the eight realms and ten thousand things...

It is not one, not many, not dark, not bright
It does not arise or cease, is neither empty nor existent,
It is not up, not down, not creation, not destruction,
Not moving, not at rest, not going, not coming,
Not profound, not shallow, not wise, not ignorant,
Not contending, not harmonious...
Neither new nor old, good nor bad...
Neither alone nor with a companion...

But why is this so?

Because, if you say it has an inside,
It embraces the entire universe,
If you say it has an outside,
it accomodates and etablishes all things.

If you say it is small,
It embraces everything, far and wide,
If you say it is large,
It penetrtaes the realms of the atoms.

Call it one - it has all qualities;
Call it many - it has neither body nor form.

Call it light - it is obscure and dark;
Call it dark - it illumines and brightens all things.

Say it arises - it has neither shape nor form;
Say it becomes extinct - its radiance glows throughout all eternity.

Call it empty - it has a thousand functions
Call it existent - it is silent and knows no shape...

Call it high - it is level and has no form;
Call it low - there is nothing that equals it.

Say it creates - it scatters the stars;
Say it destroys - things exist from the depths of time.

Say it moves - it remains in silence;
Say it stands still - it runs with all things.

Say it returns - it leaves without saying farewell;
Say it leaves - when the time is ripe, it returns.

Call it deep - it merges with all beings;
Call it shallow - its roots cannot be seen.

Call it poor - it has a thousand treasures and merits;
Call it rich - nothing exists in the vast ultimate...

Say it is alone - it is the companion of the ten thousand things;
Say it pairs - it is empty and without a second...

Thus the Tao cannot be encompassed by a single name and truth cannot be illustrated through a single doctrine. This discription here is merely a brief explanation, for how would it be possible to actually plumb the depths of the Tao?

That's enough for one day, no?

No comments: