Monday, December 26, 2005

tao teh ching 72

When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster[1].

Do not intrude in their homes[2].
Do not harass them at work.
If you do not interfere, they will not tire of you.

Therefore the sage knows himself but makes no show,
Has self–respect but is not arrogant.
He lets go of that and chooses this.

[1] The Ma wang tui text reads, '... then what they greatly fear is about to arrive'.
[2] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text read this rather as constricting their living space.

Wang Pi reads this text completely differently, so I shall give it in full here and then (for typographical reasons) follow that with his interlinear comments:

If the common folk do not fear force, such great force will arrive that there will be no restricting them to the boundaries within which they should dwell, no satisfying them within the limits in which they should dwell.
It is just because one is insatiable that there is no satisfying one.
Therefore what the sage knows he does not himself reveal.
He cherishes himself but does not value himself.
Thus he rejects the one and keeps the other.

He comments:

Where they should dwell means in purity, quietude and freedom from deliberate action. Where they should live means in humility, deference and freedom from arrogance. If the sovereign abandons purity and quietude and instead practices greed, deserts humility and deference and instead relies on power, people will make trouble and the common folk will fall into deviant behaviour. This means that power is no longer able to control the common folk. When the common folk are unable to bear the weight of this power any longer, they will burst forth in a flood from top to bottom, and this means that the terrible judgement of Heaven is about to arrive. In other words, the power of force should not be relied on.
If one does not find contentment with one's own lot, nothing under Heaven will ever satisfy one.
He does not himself reveal what he knows, that is the bright beam of his intelligence and how to exercise power.
If he valued himself, he would have to place restrictions and boundaries within which people should dwell and enforce limits on the satisfaction within which they should live.

Cheng says: To have no fear of the awesome is equivalent to trifling with the law and will inevitably result in more stringent punishments. 'But do not be disrespectful of their dwellings' means to police their neighbourhood but avoid rudeness in the desire to make their dwellings respectable. Trifling with the law until it becomes a matter of life and death suppresses the people's livelihood. On the other hand, if one is not strict with oneself, who else will be? That is why the Sage with his self–knowledge and self– respect is able to study the laws of nature. Though he does not make a show of himself or seek recognition, he is able to discriminate between 'the one' and 'the other'.

Wang Pi's reading seems very strange to me, pouring complication upon what it actually quite simple. Do not intrude; do not restrict; do not set limits... Then the natural limits are respected of themselves by one and all.
When people are no longer in awe of anything at all, nothing is sacred and, hence, nothing is safe. Laws, mores and appreciation of worth all disappear, only to be replaced by more restrictive, more fundamentalist interpretations...
If 'gods' and 'laws' are all that is used to scare the people into obedience, when these 'die' what is left except more stringent application?

How sad that it was imagined that gods and laws had to be created in the first place.

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