Wednesday, December 21, 2005

tao teh ching 67

Everyone under heaven says that my Tao is great and beyond compare[1].
Because it is great, it seems different.
If it were not different, it would have vanished long ago[2].

I have three treasures which I hold and keep.
The first is mercy; the second is economy;
The third is daring not to be ahead of others.
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity[3];
From humility comes leadership.

Nowadays men shun mercy but try to be brave;
The abandon economy but try to be generous;
They do not believe in humility but always try to be first.
This is certain death.

Mercy brings victory in battle and strength in defence.
It is the means by which heaven saves and guards[4].

[1] Lau says '... and resembles nothing'.
[2] Throughout this section the Ma wang tui text uses the first person singular in the sense 'Everyone says "I'm great, I'm different"'... Grandfather Lao then says 'if I were like everyone else, for a long time now I would have been regarded as insignificant and small'.
[3] Lau says that because one is frugal one can afford to extend one's territory.
[4] The Ma wang tui text says:

When heaven tries to establish him,
It's as though he surrounds himself with a protective wall of compassion.

Wang Pi says:

... If it had a likeness, it would have lost the wherewithal to be great...
Thanks to kindness, when one takes the field, one is victorious and, when one takes a defensive position, one holds firm. Thus 'one can be brave'.
When one is frugal and careful of expenditure, no–one under Heaven will be in want, hence the term 'generous'.
Only someone who puts aside their own person can become a source to which others are drawn. Only then can such a one establish himself as a ready device, be of benefit to all under Heaven and become a leader of all peoples.

Professor Cheng says: 'Great and unrelated to anything else' means 'the son surpasses the father' (not as in a father–son relationship, but inasmuch as the Tao surpasses everything else) and refers to the Tao. How can one reject the Tao for its greatness? The text clearly explains the 'three treasures'. To be against the Tao is to choose death. Refusing to compete and still becoming leader of all 'vessels/instruments' refers to an earlier line: 'a great instrument is completed late'. Heaven aids such a person. It protects him through the influence of its 'parental love'.

Everyone wants to be first in what they do — good at it, recognised for it, understood, loved, cherished... This seems quite natural. And yet, here is Lao–tze saying, if he were like that, he would long ago have faded into insignificance.
Instead, he refers to three treasures: compassion, freedom from grasping attachment, and humility as the very basis of all success in life, even military undertakings. Compassion is the root, generosity of spirit the fruit, and humility the modus operandum.
Without these, whatever one undertakes is vain. Those who have them are protected by the all–encompassing compassion of heaven from being swept off into 'paths of glory'.

Surely this is to be sought at every turn?

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