Saturday, December 24, 2005

tao teh ching 70

My words are easy to understand and easy to perform,
Yet no man under heaven knows them or practices them.

My words have ancient beginnings.
My actions are disciplined[1].
Because men do not understand, they have no knowledge of me.

Those that know me are few;
Those that abuse[2] me are honoured.
Therefore the sage wears rough clothing and holds the jewel in his heart[3].

[1] Lau, borne out by the readings of both Wang Pi and the Ma wang tui text, has, 'Words have an ancestor and actions have a sovereign' with the note: If one could only grasp the 'ancestor' and the 'sovereign', the understanding of all words and affairs would follow.
[2] Lau translates this word as 'imitate' but notes that the next line actually makes far better sense if it's read as a corruption of the word 'harm'. The Ma wang tui text reads the line as: But when those that understand me are few, it's then that I'm of great value'. This reading is also that followed by Wang Pi.
[3] All other texts read this line as meaning 'although the sage is clad in homespun...'

Wang Pi says:

You can understand without leaving your gate or peering through your window. You can put them into practice without taking deliberate action. But people are deluded by attachment and befuddled by what they imagine is honour.
'Progenitor' refers to the master of the myriad things, and 'sovereign' to the master of the myriad affairs.
Because his words have this progenitor and his undertakings this sovereign, if there were those who could understand how this is so, they could not fail to understand him.
It is because he is so profound that those who understand him are rare. And the rarer understanding of him is, the less likely it is that he will have a counterpart.
To wear homespun is to be one with the very dust. To hold jade in one's bosom means to treasure one's authenticity. The reason the sage is so hard to recognise is that he is one with the dust and does not stand out in any way. He harbours jade in his bosom and does not compromise it. And, being hard to recognise, he is thus also precious.

Cheng Man–ch'ing, whose version of the text takes its name from the first words of this chapter, says: I have explained the section beginning 'my words have their sources' in my commentary on chapter 59(*): Lao–tze's teachings are truly easy to understand, but his definitions and logic are so different from the common man's that they are nearly impossible to practice. The statement that 'people do not understand' is connected with chapter 20's 'what a fool's mind I have!... I alone want dullness and darkness'. Because Lao–tze never favours knowledge, people do not understand him. However, as he says, 'the fewer who know me, the more valuable I am'. So the sage 'wears coarse clothes while carrying jade in his bosom', and very few people know about it.

(*) Having cited the first two lines, his commentary on ch. 59 continues: In fact people do not try to understand and practice them. Lao–tze continuously repeats and explains himself, but if the people still do not understand, what is the use of this?

We tend to seek out the exciting, the intriguing, the distant rather than the close at hand, the intoxicating wine rather than the refreshing water.
It's often said that the only difficulty with realising reality is that we look through it, beyond it — we look too far. It's right here... this... We look 'there'... for 'that'...

The ancient source.

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