Tuesday, December 27, 2005

tao teh ching 73

A brave and passionate man will kill or be killed.
A brave and calm man will always preserve life.
Of these two, which is good and which is harmful?
Some things are not favoured by heaven. Who knows why?
Even the sage is unsure of this.

The Tao of heaven does not strive and yet it overcomes.
It does not speak and yet it is answered.
It does not ask, yet is supplied with all it needs.
It seems at ease and yet it follows a plan[1].

Heaven's net casts wide.
Though its meshes are coarse, nothing slips through.

[1] Up to this point, both Lau and the Ma wang tui text are different enough to be cited here in full. Lau has:

He who is fearless in being bold will meet with his death;
He who is fearless in being timid will stay alive.
Of the two, one leads to good and the other to harm.
Heaven hates what it hates,
Who knows the reason why?
Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult.
The way of heaven
Excels in overcoming though it does not contend,
In responding though it does not speak,
In attracting though it does not summon,
In laying plans though it appears slack.

The Ma wang tui text says:

If you're brave in being daring, you'll be killed;
If you're brave in not being daring, you'll live.
With these two things, in one case there's profit, in the other there's harm.
The things Heaven hates — who knows why?
The Way of Heaven is not to fight yet to be good at winning —
Not to speak yet skilfully respond —
No one summons it, yet it comes on its own —
To be at ease yet carefully plan.

Henricks agrees that the standard text version of the last line but one makes more sense. Wang Pi reads the line concerning profit and harm as that either approach can sometimes result benefit and sometimes not. He also reads the last few lines of this section as referring to the sage rather than to the Tao itself.

His commentary says:

One who expresses his bravery in daring will surely not die a natural death.
One who expresses his bravery in not daring will enjoy the full span of his years.
Both approaches entail bravery, but those who exercise bravery differ so the same benefit or harm does not always occur. Thus the text says they 'result sometimes in benefit, sometimes in harm'.
Who is able to understand heaven's intentions? Only the sage can do so. However, because even the sage with his perspicacity finds bravery expressed in daring to be fraught with danger, how much more so should this be true for those who lack such perspicacity and yet wish to rush straight in!
It is precisely because the sage does not contend that no one under Heaven can contend with him.
Compliance is good fortune and opposition misfortune. This is how 'he excels at making people respond without speaking'.
Since he takes the low position, the people gravitate toward him of their own accord.
Since Heaven reveals good fortune and misfortune by hanging images in the sky(*), the plans he sets are verified before things actually happen. When secure, he does not forget danger, and he makes plans while things are still in the pre–manifest stage. Thus 'he excels at planning while utterly at ease'.

(*) Section 11 of the Commentary on the Appended Phrases in the I Ching reads in part, 'Heaven produced numinous things and the sage regarded these as ruling principles. Heaven and Earth changed and transformed and the sage took these as models. Heaven hung images in the sky to reveal good fortune and bad and the sage regarded these as meaningful signs'.

Chen Man–ch'ing says: This rather complicated chapter discusses the web of heaven. It is so vast and its meshes are so widely spaced, yet nothing is missed, just as those who have the courage not to dare, live. As always, this is related to cleaving to the Female and harmonising with the ways of non–action. The Tao of heaven is difficult to understand. The sage follows it even though it is not easy. What follows next in the text, from 'does not contend' and so on...' is simply a restatement of 'Non–action, yet nothing is left undone' (cf., e.g., chs. 3 and 48).

Although Wang Pi is, of course, right that there are those very rare occasions where an act of daring might, for example, save someone's life, as he also points out, the results of such an act are by no means guaranteed, and, generally speaking things are best left to themselves. I would tend to disagree that the results of the acts of one whose bravery consists in daring not to act ever bring misfortune. 'The brave and calm person will always preserve life' is how Gia–fu Feng reads it, and it seems to me very clear that this is the point. Not that such a person preserves their own life, but that they always do everything they can to bring harm to no–one at all — to preserve — and even to encourage and promote — life.

There is a subtle yet enormous difference between simply refraining from doing things that are negative (which is passive), and actually exerting oneself (though not in any meddling or self–satisfied way) to do the opposite of what would generally be considered negative — saving lives rather than killing, for example, or practicing open–hearted and handed generosity rather than envying or stealing what others might have.
The effect — the trace it leaves on the deepest layers of our being — is far more profound.

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