The Tao abides in non-action,
Yet nothing is left undone.
If kings and lords observed this,
The ten thousand things would develop naturally.
If they still desired to act,
They would return to the simplicity of formles substance.
Without form there is no desire.
Without desire there is tranquility.
And in this way all things would be at peace.
 Lau has 'hold fast to this'.
 Lau has 'be transformed of their own accord'.
 For this last section, Lau has:
After they are transformed, should desire raise its head,
I shall press it down with the weight of the nameless uncarved block.
The nameless uncarved block
Is but freedom from desire,
And if I cease to desire and remain still,
The empire will be at peace of its own accord.
The Ma wang tui reading is subtly different, so I give it here:
... I would subdue them with the nameless simplicity.
Having subdued them with the nameless simplicity,
I would not disgrace them.
By not being disgraced they will be tranquil
And Heaven and Earth will of themselves be correct and right.
Wang Pi's commentary reads:
It complies with the natural.
In either getting its start or achieving its completion, every one of the myriad things, without exception, stems from what is done in this way.
In 'once nurtured, should desire arise', 'arise' means the formation of desire. 'I would press down on it with the uncarved block' means that I would not play the master.
There would be no desire or contention.
Professor Cheng says: This chapter is similar to chapter 32 ... When all beings change and they desire to act, the ruler uses the'original uniqueness of the nameless' to curb them. Eventually there will be non-desire. Having no desires will bring serenity, and eventually the world will also naturally settle down. Hence, 'the Tao is always without a name, yet there is nothing it does not do'.
Amongst other things, I find it rather fascinating that the Ma wang text (the Teh Tao Ching) comes to a close with this. As pointed out yesterday, this chapter is the final chapter and summing up of the section on Tao.
'Not playing the master', as Wang Pi puts it, means trusting 'original sanity'... Allowing the ten thousand things to arise as they will, without creating problems concerning them. We, quite naturally, expect things to run more or less in line with the way we imagine they're going, but the Tao, of course, has no such predelictions. It manifests what happens next, whatever that might be; any surprises we might get from that have to do only with the fact that we're necessarily unaware of the whole picture. The tao is 'ocean'; we see only 'waves', or even just 'details of foam on waves'.
Here, once again, Grandfather Lao brings us back to his opening statement. What can be done, named, thought, understood, brought into being, is not the Tao, and yet all that ever happens in any direction is only because of it. There is nothing outside it - even itself is not outside it! - and yet it has no palpable somethingness except in its myriad manifestations - it has no 'otherness'.
I feel that Gia-fu Feng's reading really is closest here. It's not a question of 'subduing', but simply that of returning to simplicity - allowing the simplicity to simply unfold as it will.
This is not so easy.
And yet, nor is it difficult in the slightest.
The only problem is that it seems too simple to us, to close to see clearly or properly understand. We want it to be some 'thing' - some special 'state' or extraordinary 'understanding', but it's not. It's just what is. Vast beyond our wildest dreams, present before our very noses, totally embracing all of time-space and our most subtle and infinitessimal instants of awareness. It is, in fact, what the Buddhist call awareness - that pure awareness that is totally untrammelled by anything that might arises within it.
'Desire', here, is equivalent to - identical with, I think - the Buddhist notion of attachment - getting stuck in the thingness of one's thoughts and observations - reifying them and extrapolating upon them till they are totally unrecognisable for what they actually are.
The solution to this is to 'let the mud settle', which cannot possibly be achieved by constantly stirring up the water in which it is suspended... You have to leave it be... 'Leaving it be' does not mean becoming insensitive to what is happening - becoming 'detached' and 'feelingless' which are just other forms - negative forms - of attachment anyway. It means simply to allow things to have their course in the perfect certainty that, although they are very important and very 'real' within the relative realm of their manifestation, and demanding, even, of swift and very clear intervention at times, ultimately they are just 'the stuff of dreams'... 'Meditation', to use Niguma's term.
What appears to each of us is not 'ordinary', not 'normal', it is utterly and without the least question unique. No-one else anywhere, at any time, is experiencing, has experienced or will experience exactly what each of is experiencing now. Each one of us is wrapped in (if not rapt in) and part and parcel of an infinite and exquisite fountaining of lights, colours, sounds, smells, tastes and bodily sensations, and of positive and negative emotions ranging from the simplest to the most profound, some of them easier to deal with and others less so... We are each enfolded, as it were, in the gentle hands of the Thousand-Armed Lord of All-Encompassing Compassion, carried forward and cared for by the mere fact of being, and yet we do not know this and pull at our imagined bonds like a puppy on a chain, reaching for the moon in the water and falling back horrified when we realise that it's not there.
There is a poem - a vajra song - written by an extraordinary lama who used to live here in France until his death a couple of years ago. Here is my translation of it:
free and easy: a spontaneous song of indestructible reality
by Gen'dün Rinpoche
happiness is not to be found
through great effort and willpower
it is already present in open relaxation and letting go
there's nothing to do or to undo
whatever momentarily and adventitiously arises in body–mind
has no real import at all
has very little reality at all
why identify with it and become attached to it,
passing judgement on it and on yourself and others?
far better simply
to let the entire game just happen of itself
springing up and falling back again like waves
without 'rectifying' things or manipulating things
just noticing how everything vanishes
and then magically reappears, again and again and again
time without end
like a vivid rainbow one runs after but can never catch
or a dog chasing its own tail
it's only our searching for happiness
that prevents us from seeing it
though peace and happiness have no existence
as some actual place or thing
they are forever at hand —
one's constant companion at every instant
just don't be taken in by the apparent reality
of good and bad experiences
they're like today's passing weather
like rainbows in the sky
wanting to grasp the ungraspable
you exhaust yourself in vain
but as soon as you open up and relax the tight fist of grasping
infinite space is right there — open, inviting, comfortable
use this spaciousness — this freedom and natural ease
don't look anywhere else
don't go off into the tangled jungle
searching for the elephant of great awakenedness
when he is already at home
quietly resting in front of your own hearth
there's nothing to do or to undo
nothing to force
nothing you have to want
emaho — how marvelous
everything just happens of itself