Thursday, December 15, 2005

tao teh ching 61

A great country is like low land.
It is the meeting ground of the universe,
The mother of the universe.

The female overcomes the male with stillness,
Lying low in stillness.

Therefore if a great country gives way to a smaller country,
It will conquer the smaller country.
And if a small country submits to a great country,
It can conquer the great country.
Therefore those who would conquer must yield,
And those who conquer do so because they yield.

A great nation needs more people;
A small country needs to serve.
Each gets what it wants.
It s fitting for the great nation to yield.

Lau's version, borne out in general by that in the Ma wang tui text, expresses this somewhat differently:

A large state is the lower reaches of a river —
The place where all the streams of the world unite.
In the union of the world[1],
The female always gets the better of the male by stillness.
Being still, she takes the lower position.
Hence the large state, by taking the lower position, annexes the small state;
The small state, by taking the lower position, affiliates itself to the large state.
Thus the one, by taking the lower position, annexes;
The other, by taking the lower position, is annexed.
All the large state wants to do is take the other under its wing;
All the small state wants is to have its services accepted by the other.
If each of the two wants to find its proper place,
It is meet that the large should take the lower position[2].

[1] The Ma wang tui text has:

It is the female of the world;
It is the meeting point of the world.

[2] The Ma wang tui text has:

If both get what they want,
Then the large state should fittingly be underneath.

Wang Pi's commentary:

Because the river and the sea occupy large areas and are situated in low positions, all streams and tributaries flow into them. If a large state dwells in greatness and takes up a low position, all under Heaven will flow towards it.
It is that to which all under Heaven gravitate.
It maintains quietude and does not seek them out, so the people gravitate toward it of their own accord.
It is because of her quietude that the female can place herself beneath. We are speaking here of 'the female' in general — as a general principle echoed in all species. The male is aggressive and active, covetous and full of desire, but because the female always practices quietude, she is able to conquer the male. That she is able to place herself beneath is also because of her quietude, and this is why the other gravitates toward her...
... It is only by cultivating humility that each — the male and female, superior and subordinate, large and small — finds its proper place.
The small state cultivates lowliness, for it can do nothing more than keep itself whole; it cannot cause all under heaven to come toward it. When the large state cultivates lowliness, it is natural that all under heaven will be drawn towards it. Therefore, ' it is fitting that the larger place itself beneath'.

Cheng says: A large country is like the sea: all rivers flow into it. 'Intercourse with the world' refers to the yin and the yang. The feminine is the yin or female principle. That 'the feminine always conquers the male through tranquility is related to a line in the Book of Change, 'heaven gives and the earth receives'. Summing up, the text emphasises the lower position and the yin, especially in 'it is fitting that the greater take the lower position'. Thus does Lao–tze discuss the use of yin and softness.

If yang is the engendering force, yin is that which gives it form. If emptiness and open–endedness is the engendering force, subtlety and softness are the means of formation. The tension between yin and yang which is the continuous coming–into–being of all that is is always in a state of perfect balance unless interfered with... Even interference is part of it, ultimately...
The gentler the yin, the more receptive, the gentler the yang; the more obdurate the yin, the harsher the yang. Where the situation opens before one, and 'things just fall into place', there is no need for aggressive advance and desperate seizing — indeed, such things will merely cause the openness to collapse. The yang in an old and dried out branch is brittle and hard, just like the yin; it will snap with the first strong wind or even just under its own weight.
'Above' and 'below' here are not so much positions of superiority and inferiority as of support and supported. If one can get rid of one's 'sclerosis of the ideas', generally, since one is now 'open to the situation' rather than trapped in the VR–helmet of one's own 'brilliance' and habit reaction tied to one's vision of the world, the situation itself also opens up as the juices start running through it again. Arthritis of the brain is not much use.
As Confucius said: 'The quickest way out of a room is via the door; how is it that people will not avail themselves of this expedient?'
Trying to deal with ideas that arise in meditation by suppressing them doesn't really work. As you are busy chopping down one, hydra–like, another hundred are springing up elsewhere... Finally the only technique is to recognise them for what they are and simply let them be. One gives a young bull a large field to play about in and opens the doors and windows for the cat... The thoughts come and go like a thief in an empty house — indeed, like wind in an empty house: they harm no–one and no–one seeks to harm them either. This is support and the supported.
'Softness', of course, is one of the roots of t'ai chi ch'uan. Softness, but not limpness. Tonic but yielding until the limit is reached, and then the soft yielding turns back into gentle yang advance. 'Sprung steel wrapped in velvet,' we say.

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