Wednesday, December 07, 2005

tao teh ching 53

If I have even just a little sense,
I will walk on the main road and my only fear will be of straying from it.
Keeping to the main road is easy
But people love to be sidetracked.

When the court is arrayed in splendour[1],
The fields are full of weeds
And the granaries are bare.
Some wear gorgeous clothes,
carry sharp swords
And indulge themselves with food and drink.
They have more possessions than they can use;
They are robber barons.
This is certainly not the way of Tao.

[1] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text leave out the conditional 'when', but where Lau reads, 'The court is corrupt', both Wang Pi and the Ma wang tui text read that the court is kept very clean.

Henricks also points out that the last two lines of the text are a pun. Though the characters that represent them are different, the word tao in the fourth tone means both 'robbery' and 'the way'. The lines in the Ma wang tui text thus read: 'This is called tao, But this tao is certainly not the Tao'.

Wang Pi says: In other words, if, with firm resolve, I could have the knowledge to make the great Tao prevail among all under Heaven, my only fear would be that I might try to meddle with it.
Although the great Tao endlessly stretches on, straight and smooth, the common folk nevertheless discard it and do not follow it, preferring instead to travel the bypaths of deviancy. How much more would this be the case if I were to block the great Tao by meddling with it?...
... To keep the court in excessive good order will result in fields that are heavily overgrown with weeds and granaries that are exceedingly empty. This is harming the lives of the many for the benefit of the one.
Whatever is obtained in violation of the Tao is invariably ill–gotten, and ill–gotten literally means that it is stolen. That which goes against the Tao is always 'stolen'.

Cheng's reading is interesting. I give it in full here:

I have cause to know that, though I possess great wisdom,
To preach it while travelling on a highway is dangerous.
Though the highway is smooth and straight,
The common people prefer byways.
The ruler's court is well tended, but the fields are neglected.
The granaries are empty, but garments are sumptuous.
Men carry sharp swords but are satiated with food and drink.
There is a surplus of money and merchandise, 'temptation for bandits'.
This is certainly not the Tao.

He comments, 'Although the highway is very smooth and level, the common people do not use it, preferring the byways instead. Hence, though I may have great wisdom, spreading the Tao from the centre of the main road is potentially dangerous', and then goes on to point out that the state of affairs he's so cleverly read as oppositions is not what it's all about. Bit reminiscent of the current state of the planet, though, isn't it?


These 'sidetracks' — bypaths — are exactly the bliss, clarity and no–thought mentioned yesterday.
Also the over–excited scatteredness and/or sinking lethargy that seem to attack the brain the minute we start trying to slow it down.


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