Saturday, December 17, 2005

tao teh ching 63

Practice non–action.
Work without doing.
Taste the tasteless.
Magnify the small, increase the few[1].
Reward bitterness with care.

See simplicity in the complicated.
Achieve greatness in little things[2].

In the universe the difficult things are done as if they were easy[3].
In the universe great acts are made up of small deeds.
The sage does not attempt anything very big
And thus achieves greatness.

Easy promises make for little trust.
Taking things lightly results in great difficulty.
Because the sage always confronts difficulties[4],
He never experiences them.

[1] The Ma wang tui text has, 'Regard the small as large and the few as many'.
[2] This seems to be more generally read along the lines of 'plan for the difficult while it is still easy;/ Act on the large while it is still small'.
[3] More generally read as that things, no matter how difficult seeming, start out as easy.
[4] Again, this is more generally read as the fact of the sage's regarding things as difficult — accepting the fact that they are difficult and acting accordingly.

Wang Pi's commentary reads:

Handling matters without conscious effort (wu wei), practice the teaching that is not expressed in words and have a taste for the utterly dispassionate is the ultimate of government.

He reads the next line as: 'Deal with the small as if it were great, and deal with the few as if they were the many, but respond to resentment in terms of virtue', and comments: Minor resentment is not worth responding to, but great resentment implies something for which all under Heaven seek punishment. It is virtuous to comply with that upon which all under Heaven agree.

Thus even someone with the talent of a sage still deals with the small and easy as if they were difficulties. How much more then should this hold true for someone who does not have the talent of a sage yet desires to treat such things with disdain! This is why the text says, 'still regards them as difficulties'.

Professor Cheng has: Acting through non–action and doing without doing are like tasting the tasteless. No matter whether your injuries are great or small, many or few, repay them with kindness(Teh). In chapter 49, the text says, '...his mind merges with the world. The Sage treats everyone as his children'. Those who repay injury with kindness are also merging their minds with the world. One must plan to tackle the difficult when it is still easy and to undertake the great while it is still small, otherwise one will make light, unreliable promises ore regard things as easy, thereby creating difficulties. One should treat everything as difficult; only then will there be no difficulty at all.

'Care' is the word that springs to mind... being careful, vigilant... Putting into practice the practice on no–practice, one certainly needs to remain constantly vigilant that one has not just drifted off back into the ordinary, everyday grasping and ignorance. What is this vigilance? It is not that of a cat watching a mouse and waiting to pounce on it at the least sign of life or even no life, but it is checking back from time to time to make sure.
'Tasting the tasteless'... Accord with reality has no particular savour: it is not particularly 'nice' or 'not nice', 'easy', 'difficult', or anything else... When it is any of these, we have probably drifted and should certainly check back... Is this reification? Is this grasping–attachment? Am I showing off to myself? Am I showing off to others? What is this dragging this corpse round here anyway?...
With vigilance one does not miss that instant of inception, or, at any rate, can catch things soon after they have started and re–examine them for what they actually are. That way one 'deals with the difficult while it is still easy, and undertakes the great while it is still small'... As pointed out in hexagrams 63 and 64 of the Book of Change, the traditional image here is that of an old fox crossing ice, his ears alert for the least crack, yet never once losing track of everything that is going on in the world around him. His Holiness the dalai Lama once described meditation as just this ability to be totally concentrated on an object of contemplation (be it with or without physical or even mental form), and yet at the same time open to the entire universe... This is Guru Padmasambhava's 'attention to detail like the finest of fine–ground flour'...

There are two important points here: To find and use the simplicity in what seems difficult; and to regard what seems simple with the greatest care and attention to detail. That way, whatever comes up just unfolds of itself.

I'll be interested to see if I can pull this off myself!


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