Monday, November 28, 2005

tao teh ching 44

Fame or self: Which matters more?
Self or wealth: Which is more precious?
Gain or loss: Which is more painful?

He who is attached to things will suffer much.
He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
A contented man is never disappointed.
He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
He will stay forever safe.

This is somewhat more elegantly expressed (and with minor differences of sense) by Lau, as follows:

Your name or your person,
Which is dearer?
Your person or your goods,
Which is worth more?
Gain or loss,
Which is the greater bane?
That is why excessive meanness
Is sure to lead to great expense;
Too much store
Is sure to end in immense loss.
Know contentment
And you will suffer no disgrace;
Know when to stop
And you will meet with no danger.
You can then endure.

This is borne out by the Ma wang tui reading, which differs from the standard text only in shifting the 'That is why...' phrase from where it is to the start of the sentence about knowing contentment, and reads 'excessive meanness' as 'great desire'... Wang Pi, however, bears out Lau's reading on this: he, too, has 'excessive meanness'.

Wang's commentary reads:

When one values reputation and craves high position, one's person surely becomes a matter if indifference to one.
When one's covetousness for possessions becomes insatiable, one's person surely diminishes.
If one gains reputation and material advantage but loses one's own person, what is harm?
When in the grip of extreme meanness, one does not identify with the people, and, when addicted to much hoarding, does not share with them. The more one tries to get, the more numerous those who seek to attack one, which means that one will be harmed by the people, thus suffering great expense and heavy loss.

Cheng says: To have excessive love of fame and possessions will certainly result in great loss of health. The text raises the question: what is gain and loss? Knowing that proud ownership inevitably preceeds an unbearable loss brings on understanding of what sufficiencey is and when to stop, thus avoiding both shame and danger which then results in durability.

Knowing much about many things, they tell me, is not as useful as knowing the one thing that would liberate all. But what is this one thing? It is, I am assured, both by my teachers and by the screeds of texts I read, a certain and direct - that is to say, non-discursive, non-theoretical - knowledge of who and what I am. Techniques exist, even, whereby the practitioner continually questions him or herself as to this... 'Who am I?' one asks, and continues to ask, regardless of all apparent 'answers', until such time as no further answers are forthcoming... and then still persists in asking...
One examines where and what and how and why this persistent sense of 'I-ness' might be, examines its attachments, examines its emotions, examines its cleverness and stupidness, its anxious hopes and fears and all its projections, positive, negative and of indifference and lack of interest, its manner of colouring its universe. And then one attempts to rest for a while - even a very brief while - in a state beyond hanging on... clinging...
It's generally suggested - at least for beginners - that one relax into this state and then immediately let it go before one has the chance to start making it into yet another 'something', yet another conquerable domain... One relaxes like someone shrugging off a heavy load at the end of a long and wearisome day, and then immediately lets go of that, then relaxes again, lets go, relaxes... One does not attempt to 'maintain a state of rapt meditation', an exercise that generally only leads off into the phantasmagoria of hope and fear, anyway, and into the side-trip of psycho-somatic sensations and 'lights'... The radiance of meditation has nothing to do with coloured lights for all that these do appear here and there along the way. The radiance we are talking of is the innate lucidity that is the ultimate nature of mind.
What arises within this lucidity is no more than surface phenomenon... Fascination with it is like taking the dust motes floating in a beam of sunlight and forgetting the space in which both dust mote and sunbeam are momentarily manifest. This is like the host of an inn becoming confused and thinking he's the guest, like the child of a rich family wandering off confused amongst beggars...

When one knows the host, one can gracefully receive the guest, but where the host is lost, all there is - however careful, however structured, however kindly, even, and intelligent - is just confusion.

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