Saturday, December 31, 2005

tao teh ching 77

The Tao of heaven is like the bending of a bow[1].
The high is lowered, and the low is raised.
If the string is too long, it is shortened;
If there is not enough, it is made longer[2].

The Tao of heaven is to take from those who have too much and give to those who do not have enough.
Man's way is different.
He takes from those who do not have enough
to give to those who already have too much.
What man has more than enough and gives it to the world?
Only the man of Tao.

Therefore the sage works without recognition.
He achieves what has to be done without dwelling on it.
He does not try to show his knowledge[3].

[1] Lau puts this as a question: Is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow?
[2] Both Lau and the Ma wang tui text understand this simply as taking from where there is too much and augmenting where there is too little. Nothing to do with bow strings.
[3] Lau reads this last section as:

Therefore the sage benefits them yet exacts no gratitude,
Accomplishes his task yet lays claim to no merit.
Is this not because he does not wish to be considered a better man than others?

The Ma wang tui text says the sage

... takes actions but does not possess them;
Accomplishes his tasks but does not dwell on them.

I'm not sure Henricks hasn't garbled the last line, which he seems to read, 'Like this, is his desire not to make a display of his worthiness'. This is not a question. Perhaps it's a misprint (the book is bound very badly, too, with many chapters completely out of place) for 'his desire is not'?

Wang Pi's commentary says:

Only if one makes one's virtue conform to that of Heaven and Earth can one one embrace the people as the Tao of Heaven and Earth does. If one tried to embrace them with just one's individual capacity for virtue, having a stake in one's own existence, one would be unable to establish equity amongst them. Indeed, it is possible only where one has no stake in one's individual existence and is absolute devoid of self–interest. Only after attaining to the natural can one join one's virtue to that of heaven and Earth.
In other words, who is able to exist in fullness and yet be completely empty? Who is able to diminish those who have too much too augment those who do not? Who 'merges with the brilliant and becomes one with the very dust'? Who can establish universal equity? Only one who has the Tao. Thus it is that the sage has no desire to exhibit his worthiness, for it is in keeping it hidden that he establishes equity among all under Heaven.

Cheng says: To draw a bow, the left hand grips it and the right hand draws the string back. The left hand must be firm and unwavering. The right hand can raise or lower the arrow. Reducing or supplementing the excessive and deficient refers to tilting the bow backward or forward to bring the arrow in line with the bull's eye. The Tao of heaven reduces the excessive and supplements the insufficient, whereas man takes from where there is not enough to augment where there is already too much. Who is it that has enough surplus to augment and supplement the world? Truly, only such a one as possesses Tao. Only the Sage, in harmony with the Teh of heaven and earth, acts but does not demand subservience, is deserving of merit yet claims no credit, and this because he has no desire whatsoever to advertise his own worth.

Actually, when drawing a bow, both high and low are simultaneously pulled toward the centre, and it is from the centre that the arrow is released. This is the point. There is no adjusting up and down with the right hand: It simply draws back and into the centre; all aiming is done with the steady but flexible left hand.
The idea here is that of balance — of levelling out extremes. In meditation, for example, if one is too tense and too intent on catching thoughts as they arise and dissolving them, this is as much a mistake as is being simply unaware that they have arisen and being carried off by them. Somewhere between the two is a point of balance... a point were one is perfectly in tune... Aware but not waiting like a cat to pounce on a mouse; relaxed but not 'asleep'.
Another example that could be adduced here is that of trying to recognise the dream state. If one is too intense, either the dream will not come or one awakens the moment one becomes aware of it; on the other hand, if one is not adequately aware, one is simply carried off into 'dream reality' without the least knowledge of where one is or what it is that is going on.

The careful tuning of a stringed instrument makes a very fine image.

What we tend to do, though, is exactly the opposite: we feed our senses and our excitement during the day and then sleep like the dead at night. Never do we stop, even for an instant, to wonder what all this is.... where it is coming from, why it should appear to us in this way and not some other or even be here at all. We are completely swept away by it, and easy prey for any distraction.

Only those who realise the Way are safe from this, and time is running out like blood from a severed aorta.

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