Sunday, December 11, 2005

tao teh ching 57

Rule a nation with justice.
Wage war with surprise moves.
Become master of the universe without striving.
How do I know that this is so?
Because of this! [1]

The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men's weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers[2].

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desire and people return to the good and simple life.

[1] This line is missing in the Ma wang tui text which consequently also begins the next line with fu, 'Well... (the more laws, etc.)'.
[2] Lau's reading of this, as borne out by Wang Pi et al, is somewhat more elegant:

There more taboos there are in the empire
The poorer the people;
The more sharpened tools the people have
The more benighted the state;
The more skills the people have
the further novelties multiply;
The better known the laws and edicts
The more thieves and robbers there are.

Wang Pi's commentary says:

If one governs the state with the Tao, the state will be at peace. If one governs the state with governance, perverse military actions will arise. If, however, one tends to matters without conscious purpose, one may take all under Heaven into one's charge. As an earlier chapter says (cf. ch. 48), 'One who takes all under Heaven as his charge always tends to matters without deliberate action. One who does take conscious action is not worthy to take charge of all under Heaven'. Thus, if one governs the state with governance, because is not worthy to take charge of it, he will use the military in perverse fashion. Governing the state with the Tao means encouraging growth in the branch tips by caring for the roots. One who governs it by governance attacks the branch tips by establishing rules and punishments. When the roots are not firmly established, the branch tips wither and the common folk will have no means to cope with life. It is for this reason that things then degenerate to the point where one uses the military in perverse fashion.
'Sharp instruments' are any instruments used to benefit only oneself. When the common folk are strong, the state is weak.
If the people are too clever, artful falsehood arises, and from that stems all evil.
The rule of law is established in the hope of extinguishing evil, but perverse military actions are the result. One increases taboos and prohibitions out of a wish to instil a sense of shame... but they just makes the common folk poorer still. 'Sharp instruments' are things intended to strengthen the state, but their presence only makes it more muddled. It is because of neglecting the roots and tending to the branches that things have reached such a pass.
What the sovereign desires the common folk are quick to pursue. Since all I desire is to have no desire, the common folk, too, become desireless and attain pristine simplicity all by themselves. These four things (engaging in no conscious effort, loving quietude, tending to matters without conscious purpose and desirelessness) are all a matter of enhancing growth at the branch tips by tending carefully to the roots.

Cheng says:

Orthodox government uses non–action. Using non–action to wage war is extremely casual — unorthodox even. It is evident from this that the words 'through non–action nothing is left undone' describe unorthodox unorthodoxy. As for the world, it belongs to the people; it is not private property. If a ruler interferes, it can only be for private ends. This is not the way to win the world. Too many restrictions and prohibitions simply mean that the people become poorer and poorer. The more sharp weapons the people have, the more skilled as artisans they become and the more precisely the laws are articulated, the more chance there is of thieves and outlaws proliferating. Thus the Sage reverses the process so that the people will naturally be transformed and return to simplicity.

One may wonder why it is that Lao–tze continually returns to this idea of action without conscious effort, dealing with things with no particular purpose in mind. Isn't it, though, simply because the path is so slippery? We set off with no end in view, and next thing, before we even know it, it's ten years later and we are as wrapped up in hope and fear, wanting and not wanting, attachment, rejection, confusion and all pretentious 'certainty' and one–eyed 'vision' as ever we were...
What happened in between?
We lost track.
Starting out with no–meditation, 'no meditation' has become our meditation and we have not been awake to the seeping in of undercurrent thoughts to the very point where we are totally swept off by them.
So he brings us back. Don't drive; don't push the river; don't tug on the sprouts to help them grow faster. Remain vigilant, be aware of what's happening around you... And relax...
It is just a dream, a magic show, but, if you get caught up in it, its 'teeth' are just as sharp as any others you imagine.
Don't make it hard for yourself — don't set too many strictures, deadlines and definitions. As Seng–ts'an, 3rd. Patriarch of Ch'an Buddhism ( 6th. c. CE) said in his Faith in Mind:

Realising mind is not difficult:
just don't have any preferences.
Get rid of like and dislike
and there it is;
Deviate from it even slightly,
and a gulf as wide as that between heaven and earth opens up.
If you want it to manifest
just don't be for or against a thing.
Being for or against things is contention,
and contention is a disease of the mind.

If you turn your back on the practice of stilling the mind,
you will never be able to put its profundity into practice.
Perfect, like the great void
it lacks nothing and has nothing in excess.
When you discriminate,
you miss its ‘thusness’.
Don't cling to external cause and effect,
don't dwell in some relative ‘void’:
If you can be completely impartial,
differentiation ceases of itself.

Putting an end to disturbance only leads to a stillness and calm,
which, when clung to, causes the mind to stir again.
And yet, if you cling to it's opposite,
how will you ever know the One?
If you do not recognise the oneness of mind,
the dualism of opposites can only lead nowhere.
Avoiding what 'is' means clinging to what 'is not';
clinging to what 'is not' only reawakens what 'is'.

The more you talk and think,
the further you are from it,
but if you can put a halt to all speech and thought
you find it everywhere.
If you think success lies in returning everything to its root,
you will be at variance with it because you are clinging to its function.
The moment you really look within,
you transcend all contemplations of a ‘void’ always changing in the light of your preconceptions.

Don't look for ‘the real’,
just lay down all false views.
Avoid both ‘real’ and ‘false’;
don't look for either.
Once you start to choose between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,
you become confused and loose your original mind.

All pairs spring from original mind but even this should not be clung to.
When your mind doesn't stir, everything is innocent and harmless.
Things that are harmless cease to exist,
And mind that stirs also does not exist.
Disentangled from object, subject disappears;
Objects, too, vanish just like their creator.
Objects are caused by subjects,
and it's on subjects alone that their existence depends.

If you want to understand the nature of dualities,
recognise that they arise out of absolute emptiness:
The absolute and all dualities are one
because it is from the absolute that all things ultimately come.
When you cease discriminating between the coarse and the subtle, all prejudice dies.
Since the great mind embraces all and everything,
realising it is neither difficult nor easy.
In their distrust, the ignorant waver between enthusiasm and doubt.

If you grasp it, you are wrong and fall into the way of the heretics;
if you leave it be, it neither stays where it is nor wanders off.
Unite your nature with that of the Way and you will put an end to all troubles.

Clinging to ‘the real’ goes astray and leads to confusion.
Discrimination is useless —
don't tire out your mind.

If you want to know the one,
do not reject the data of the six senses.
When these are not rejected,
they are one with enlightened mind.

The wise man is not ‘active’;
the ignorant continually bind themselves.

All things are the same at heart,
yet clinging stems from delusion.
If you use your mind to look for your mind,
surely this is a grave mistake?

Delusion brings stillness and disturbance;
enlightenment is far beyond all good and evil.
All pairs of opposites stem from discrimination…
dreams, illusions, flowers in the sky, they are not worthy of attachment.
Gain and loss, right and wrong,
lay them down this instant.

If you don't shut up your eyes in sleep,
all dreams will disappear.
If you leave off discriminating,
all things are just as they are.
This state of ‘thusness’ is extremely profound,
vast and lofty beyond all illusion.

If you don't think of things as different,
they return to their own nature,
And when they disappear,
mind is without compare.
When it stills, disturbance dissolves,
and when all motion has come to an end, even stillness disappears.

When all opposites have dissolved,
where, then, can there be a ‘one mind’?
When you look for the ultimate,
you find it has no pattern… leaves no trace…
In this utterly impartial mind
duality has completely vanished
When distrust dissolves,
faith is real.

When everything has been thrown away,
there's nothing to remember.
Pure now, mind is radiant and never tired.
Beyond all discrimination and thinking,
it is unfathomable to what ‘knows’ and ‘feels’.

Such is the absolute state,
free from ‘self’, free from ‘others’.
If you wish to be one with it,
avoid all duality.
The non–dual is the same in all places
and there is nothing outside it.

All wise men everywhere belong to this school,
which, since a single thought lasts ten thousand years,
Is beyond the eternity or fleetingness of time.

It neither is nor is not.

Because everywhere is here,
the smallest is equal in extent to the largest
since it is completely beyond the confines of space,
and the largest is equal to the smallest
because there is neither a ‘within’ nor a ‘without’.

'Is' and 'is not' are the same,
for what is not is precisely what is.

If you cannot awaken to this, you should change your ways.
One is all, and all is now one.
If you can awaken in this way, what worry that you will never attain it?

Just understand that your mind is without duality.

If your faith in that is undivided, there's no room in it for words and speech:
It is utterly beyond present, past or future.

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