Thursday, December 08, 2005

tao teh ching 54

What is firmly established cannot be uprooted.
What is firmly grasped cannot slip away.
It will be honoured from generation to generation.

Cultivate Virtue in your self,
And Virtue will be real.
Cultivate it in the family,
And Virtue will abound.
Cultivate it in the village,
And Virtue will grow.
Cultivate it in the nation,
And Virtue will be abundant.
Cultivate it in the universe,
And Virtue will be everywhere[1].

Therefore look at the body as body;
Look at the family as family;
Look at the village as village;
Look at the nation as nation;
Look at the universe as universe[2].

How do I know the universe is like this?
By looking!

Let's look at Professor Cheng's commentary first, because I love it... He says: The language, 'the well established cannot be uprooted, the well embraced cannot be lost' is too forceful for Lao-tze. To cultivate oneself to insure that ancestral sacrifice continues unbroken, then expanding this model to include the universe, smacks of 'action' (wei). This chapter is discordant with the teachings of Lao-tze, and I leave it without further comment.

If this really was a political breviary, he'd be quite right. The ideas that 'unpack' from the first line are, indeed, strangely Confucianist (cf. The Great Learning presented in the commentary to ch. 21)

[1] Lau reads these last two lines as dealing with 'the state' and 'the empire'. The Ma wang tui text, however, agrees that the last is 'the world'/'universe'.
[2] Lau reads these lines more in the style of 'look at the person through the person, the family through the family', and so on.

Wang Pi says:
Only after firmly establishing the roots does one tend to the branch tips.
When one is not greedy, one is not carrying more than one can.
Because one's descendants hand down the Tao, the sacrifices they make one never cease.
One extends cultivation of virtue to others by first cultivating it in oneself. Cultivating it in yourself, it becomes authentic. Cultivating it in your family it fulfils one and all. If you cultivate it without fail, its application will become vast...
... One comes to know it by searching within oneself; it cannot be sought anywhere outside...

Not being as wise as Professor Cheng, I once again stick my neck out and venture the following: If you understand that Teh is the Tao becoming manifest and remain with Tao, clearly recognising the positions of 'host' and 'guest', you will not need to cultivate anything, anywhere other than in yourself, the which 'cultivation' simply consists in simply remaining aware and letting go - letting be.

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