This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Tao Chapter 55: Growth From Teh

For this Chapter we will use Suzuki's translation of the Tao.

He who possesses virtue in all its solidity is like unto a little child.
Venomous reptiles do not sting him, fierce beasts do not seize him. Birds of prey do not strike him. His bones are weak, his sinews tender, but his grasp is firm. He does not yet know the relation between male and female, but his virility is strong. Thus his metal grows to perfection. A whole day he might cry and sob without growing hoarse. This shows the perfection of his harmony.

To know the harmonious is called the eternal. To know the eternal is called enlightenment.

To increase life is called a blessing, and heart-directed vitality is called strength, but things vigorous are about to grow old and I call this un-Reason.

Un-Reason soon ceases!

Taoism Beliefs
The Taoism


This chapter is a statement of the nature of teh, belief in natural purpose.

The first stanza suggests that those who are in touch with teh are like a child.

The second stanza describes the properties of a child or a child like person who is in touch with Teh.  They seem to pass uninjured through life, they are weak and soft, but virile.  It is a child's nature to cry but crying does not weaken it.  He is able to do so because it is his teh to cry and so doing so comes easily.

The third stanza says that living in touch with teh, with inner purpose is enlightened living.

The fourth and fifth stanzas can be seen as a caution.  While teh is natural in the child, growing this life beyond its scope, or using it for strength rather than in its natural form invites the cycle of build up and decay.  How wise are we to remain in our inner nature and not be tempted to belief in positions of strength!

The Bible contains a similar passage.  Jesus says, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a child, and save that you enter as a child, you shall not know it at all."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chapter 54: Recognizing Tao

The thing that is well planted is not easily uprooted. The thing that is well guarded is not easily taken away.

If one has sons and grandsons, the offering of ancestral worship will not soon cease.

He who practices Dao in his person shows that his de [teh] is real. The family that practices it shows that their de [teh] is abounding. The township that practices it shows that their de [teh] is enduring. The state that practices it shows that their de [teh] is prolific. The empire that practices it reveals that de [teh] is universal.

Thereby one person becomes a test of other persons, one family of other families, one town of other towns, one county of other counties, and one empire of all empires.

How do I know that this test is universal? By this same Dao.

The Taoism
The Taoism


While the Daoist is not generally concerned with the opinions of others, this chapter can be seen an examination of how to recognize Tao in action in homes, towns, and nations.

The first stanza can be seen to say that care use of Tao gives strong results.  If we are careful in the design of our homes, towns and nations, they will be like well planted gardens.

The second stanza observes that these virtues are passed from generation to generation.  Taken together with the first stanza the message may be seen as, "the good virtues that we instill today will be passed forward."

The third stanza is can be seen as a reminder that Taoism requires substance.  If your teh (way of being) is strong it can be passed on.  If it is not, then it cannot be passed.  Taoism is not about thought or concept but about the way we live.  If this is true for one person, it is also true for our families and nations.

The fourth stanza can then be seen as pointing out that the living Dao is observable at all levels of society from the individual to the nation when it is being practiced.

The final stanza can be seen to be saying something to the effect of "these truths are self evident."  Either Tao is being followed or it is not.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Chapter 53: Avoiding Boastfulness

If I were suddenly to become known, and (put into a position to) conduct (a government) according to the Great Dao, what I should be most afraid of would be a boastful display. 

The great Dao (or way) is very level and easy; but people love the

Their court(-yards and buildings) shall be well kept, but their fields shall be ill-cultivated, and their granaries very empty.

They shall wear elegant and ornamented robes, carry a sharp sword at their girdle, pamper themselves in eating and drinking, and have a superabundance of property and wealth;--such (princes) may be called robbers and boasters.

This is contrary to the Dao surely!

The Taoism Chapter 53

The Taoism Interpretation:

Unlike some chapters that cover several topics, this passage can be seen to be making a single observation.

At the end of the first stanza the author asserts that the most dangerous part of "becoming known" is the urge to display in a vain manner.

The second, third and fourth stanza observe the behavior of "known" people.  

The final stanza observes that such displays are out of keep with already established principles of Tao.

It is interesting to note the parallel between the behavior of the "princes" and the modern habit of borrowing excessively.   Perhaps this can be seen as similar to those princes who dress gaudily but leave their granaries empty.  

Monday, April 23, 2012

Chapter 52: Understanding Attachment

When creation began, Dao became the world's mother.

When one knows one's mother he will m turn know that he is her son. When he recognizes his sonship, he will in turn keep to his mother and to the end of life will be free from danger. He who closes his mouth and shuts his sense gates will be free from trouble to the end of life. He who opens his mouth and meddles with affairs cannot be free from trouble even to the end of life.

To recognize one's insignificance is called enlightenment. To keep one's sympathy is called strength. He who uses Dao's light returns to Dao's enlightenment and does not surrender his person to perdition. This is called practicing the eternal.

Tao te Ching chapter 52


This chapter deals with the subject of attachment.

The first stanza observes that, since the Dao came before all things, when the physical Universe came into being, the Dao was its origin.

The second stanza observes that, when we realize that we come from a place before the physical world, we can see that we are free and not bound to the suffering of this life.  The second sentence of this stanza can be seen to be repeating a message from the Buddha.  Our senses are of this world, to know our true self, we must go beyond them.  We must not remain attached to this world and the sensations it pour in to us through our bodies.

The first two sentences of the final stanza can be seen as statements on the values of modesty and compassion.  The last two remind us again to remember our true nature and to not fall into the trap of physical form.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chapter 51: What is teh

Tao gives life to all creatures; de [teh] feeds them; materiality shapes them; energy completes them. Therefore among all things there is none that does not honor Dao and esteem de [teh].

Honor for Dao and esteem for de [teh] is never compelled, it is always spontaneous.

Therefore Dao gives life to them, but de [teh] nurses them, raises them, nurtures, completes, matures, rears, protects them.

Tao gives life to them but makes no claim of ownership; de [teh] forms them but makes no claim upon them, raises them but does not rule them. This is profound vitality (de [teh]).

Tao te Ching Chapter 51


The "teh" or "te" of an object is often described as its "virture."  Another way to look at "teh" would be "natural purpose."  This definition may help in the understanding of the above passage, since all things, even things that we find to be without virtue do serve the purpose that is natural to their being.

Stanza one separates out four states of being, the self created by Tao, the self created by natural purpose, the physical self and the energy that flows through all of the above.

Stanza two can be seen to be saying that honor and respect for the nature of things is natural within.

The third stanza observes that the Dao itself gives rise to all things (including teh) but that teh may be defined separately as the driving force that completes the unique shape of each thing.

We see again in the fourth stanza the much repeated message that Dao and now also teh do these things spontaneously and without desire to own or possess.  It is this selflessness that give teh such unlimited power.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chapter 50: Beyond Life and Death

Life is a going forth; death is a returning home.

Of ten, three are seeking life, three are seeking death, and three are dying.

What is the reason? Because they live in life's experience. (Only one is immortal.)

I hear it said that the sage when he travels is never attacked by rhinoceros or tiger, and when coming among soldiers does not fear their weapons. The rhinoceros would find no place to horn him, nor the tiger a place for his claws, nor could soldiers wound him. What is the reason? Because he is invulnerable.

Tao te Ching Chapter 50


In and earlier chapter, the author discusses Immortality.   The suggested at that time that immortality is not an issue of a body that does not die but of returning naturally to the Dao.  It is as if we are water taken from the ocean in a bucket.  Sooner or later, whether poured back into the ocean or out onto the ground, that water will return to the ocean.  So too do we.  It can be said that the water in the bucket is actually still part of the ocean just as we, though we perceive ourselves as different are still part of the Tao.

This chapter returns to that theme.  It is interesting to speculate whether the author means literally to suggest that those steeped in the dao are protected from animal attack.  It seems clear that they are suggesting that only one in ten have discovered their true place in the Dao and so their immortality.

The first stanza points out the perception that we, as living humans perceive ourselves as separate from the Tao, our "home."

The second stanza can be seen to say that some struggle with living, some with dying, others with the secret desire to die.

The third stanza suggests that these people's struggle is because they have not seen through to the Dao.  It suggests that only one in ten have noticed their true, immortal nature as part of the Dao.

The fourth stanza is most curious, does the author mean to suggest that those steeped in Dao cannot be cut or injured.  This seems unlikely because wounds to the body are part of the struggles of life that the one who is immortal is beyond.  It can be suggested that the tenth person is not hurt because they have taken refuge in their true nature and so injuries to the body do not disturb their sense of peace.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chapter 49: Love to All

The wise man has no fixed heart; in the hearts of the people he finds his own.

The good he treats with goodness; the not-good he also treats with goodness, for de [teh] is goodness. The faithful ones he treats with good faith; the unfaithful he also treats with good faith, for de [teh] is good faith.

The wise man lives in the world but he lives cautiously, dealing with the world cautiously. He universalizes his heart; the people give him their eyes and ears, but he treats them as his children.

Tao te Ching Chapter 49


This chapter repeats the earlier message about listening.  Now it observes that listening to the hearts and desires of others is a useful guide for choosing our own feelings.

It also shares a message from Buddhism.  The Buddha observed that being angry with someone is like holding a coal that you mean to throw at another person.  Whatever happens to the other person, we can be sure your hand will get burned.  This same sentiment is reflected here where the author suggests the wise person treats all people with good heart whether they are bad or good themselves.

The first stanza reminds up to be flexible in our feelings.  To understand the people around us and let them move our hearts.

The seconds stanza can be seen to say that compassion is universal.  Who needs compassion more than those whose hearts are so sick that they hate and treat us unfairly?

The third stanza repeats a frequent message from the Dao de Ching, careful action is the road to good life.  it also reminds us to care for all people as if they were our children.  This is in agreement with the teachings of the Christian Bible which tells us to "love our neighbors as ourselves."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Chapter 48: The Limits of Learning

He who attends daily to learning increases in learning. He who practices Dao daily diminishes. Again and again he humbles himself. Thus he attains to non-doing (wu wei). He practices non-doing and yet there is nothing left undone.

To command the empire one must not employ craft. If one uses craft he is not fit to command the empire.

Tao te Ching Chapter 48


There is a common saying, "The wise are not learned and the learned are not wise.  This stanza may be seen as comparison between learning for the sake of control and learning to be content.  We are can easily imagine a scatterbrained scientist who has memorized thousands of species names and endless details about birds but cannot remember to take care of a pet.  Then there is the person who has lived in nature and knows nothing of the names or scientific details of animals but can raise them and love them as family.   How does the second man, the wise man, acquire this ability?  By being still and observing.  Listening rather than doing.  This can be seen as the message of this chapter.

Stanza one points out the difference between the person who seeks intellectual knowledge and the the person who seek the Dao. 

The second stanza observes that the intellectual eventually fails.  This can be seen to say that the intellectual who is out of touch with the natural wisdom of listening and non-doing cannot value what he learns 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Chapter 47: Seeing Within

For this chapter we will use Susuki's translation:

"Without passing out of the gate The world's course I prognosticate. Without peeping through the window
The heavenly Reason I contemplate. The further one goes, The less one knows."

Therefore the holy man does not travel, and yet he has knowledge. He does not see things, and yet he defines them. He does not labor, and yet he completes.

Tao te Ching Chapter 47


Since the Daoist seeks to understand the world and life from the place before form, they need not trave to seek knowledge, by looking within, he can seek the structures and forms that lie beneath for.  If you look to the place before yen and yan, before light and dark, you look also to the place before here and there.  From this place before, all forms that rise from the Tao seem natural and understandable without study or intellectual understanding.

Stanza one observes that the knowledge of the dao comes from still contemplation not movement.  The last stanza, "the further one goes, the less one knows."  Can be interpreted to mean any movement, study, thought, away from still contemplation.

The second stanza tells us the benefits of seeking this stillness.  Internal knowledge, understanding, and wu wei, completion through non-action.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Chapter 46: Contentment

When the world yields to Dao, race horses will be used to haul manure. When the world ignores Dao war horses are pastured on the public common.

There is no sin greater than desire. There is no misfortune greater than discontent. There is no calamity greater than acquisitiveness.

Therefore to know extreme contentment is simply to be content.

Tao te Ching Chapter 46


It is sometimes surprising how many people have never examined what and why they desire.  For example, there are very many people in the world who, when you greet them, will immediately and consistently tell you what is wrong, with them, with the weather, with the world.   Since they tend to always respond this way, they must have some desire.  They must be seeking some gratification.  But what?  And why?

This chapter is perhaps the most accessible to the western mind.  It begins with an observation of social behavior and then personalizes it.

The first stanza observes that horses can serve prosperous ends when Dao is followed but destructive ends when it is not.  

The second stanza states clearly that it is desire, (and the Buddha might add, "the inability to acquire what we desire) that keeps us discontent.

The third stanza might be interpreted as "contentment comes from being happy for no reason.  always we want things, the weekend, the new TV, the better job.   How do we feel when we are experiencing a simple pleasure?   petting the dog?  Combing long hair slowly?   Is it possible to feel content simply for the sake of feeling content without any stimuli?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chapter 45: Finding Vigor

For this chapter we will use Legge's Translation:

Who thinks his great achievements poor Shall find his vigour long endure. Of greatest fulness, deemed a void, Exhaustion ne'er shall stem the tide.

Do thou what's straight still crooked deem; Thy greatest art still stupid seem, And eloquence a stammering scream.

Constant action overcomes cold; being still overcomes heat. Purity and stillness give the correct law to all under heaven.

Tao te Ching Chapter 45


Here the author talks about finding strength and remaining strong.

In the first stanza they make the observation, as they have before that being proud of your achievements will exhaust you.  They also point out that those who are happy with nothing, "filled with a void" are not easily tired.

Legge occasionally chose to rhyme his translation of the Dao and Stanza two is an example.  There is no reference to screaming of outcry of any kind in other translations of this chapter.  What the translations do seem to agree on is that, when you follow the natural path, your way will seem crooked.  This can be understood to mean that a Daoist uses least energy, holds his vigor, by following the lines of least resistance in life.  Or at least choosing paths free of unnecessary conflict.

The third stanza may be seen to be somewhat cleverly pointing out that seemingly opposite actions can be best in different circumstances.  If it's cold out, keeping busy will keep you warm.  On the other hand, if it's hot, finding  a shaded corner to rest in will help you cool down.  How often are the rules of life fixed?  How often to they require adaptation to the moment?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chapter 44: Moderation

Which is nearer, a name or a person? Which is more, personality or treasure? Is it more painful to gain or to suffer loss?

Extreme indulgence certainly greatly wastes. Much hoarding certainly invites severe loss.

A contented person is not despised. One who knows when to stop is not endangered; he will be able therefore to continue.

Tao te Ching Chapter 44


This chapter makes the point that having to much of anything invites disaster.  

In the "classic" style of the Tao teh Ching, the first stanza asks a series of questions.  Do you feel closer to a person or to that persons name?  In other words, do titles matter more than the personality of the person?  Do you value people or treasure more?  Everyone enjoys gaining, is the pleasure more than the pain of loss?

The second stanza observes that if you indulge, you almost certainly waste and that gathering together more than you need invites loss.  A small house is easy to keep in order, but who can keep track of all that comes and goes from a mansion.  More importantly, contentment never comes to those who are always fearful that they will lose what they have.

The third stanza finds two benefits to moderation.  First, the person who is not always longing does not make enemies.  Second, the person who knows when to stop does not put himself in danger.  These two create an opening for a good and long life within the bounds of moderation.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chapter 43: The Benefit of Non-Action (Wu Wei)

For this chapter we will use Legge's translation:

The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; 

That which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice.

I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose). There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without words, and the advantage arising from non-action.

Tao te Ching Chapter 43


This chapter returns to the concept of Wu Wie, the idea that inaction is often the best action.

The first stanza can be seen to be describing the action of water which, though it has no form of its own can overcome or wear down anything having a set form.

The second stanza curiously parallels quantum physics which has discovered a range of massless or near massless particles capable of passing through solid matter as if it were transparent.  The same can be said to a lesser extent of radio signals, x-rays and other massless energy forms.

The third stanza suggests that non-action results in the ability to penetrate seemingly intractable problems.  Can you think of an example where direct opposition to a problem was ineffective but waiting would have created an opening?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Chapter 41: The Dangers of Power

For this Chapter we will use Legge's Translation:

The Dao produced One; One produced Two; Two produced Three; Three produced All things.

All things leave behind them the Obscurity (out of which they have come), and go forward to embrace the Brightness (into which they have emerged), while they are harmonised by the Breath of Vacancy.

What men dislike is to be orphans, to have little virtue, to be as carriages without naves; and yet these are the designations which kings and princes use for themselves. So it is that some things are increased by being diminished, and others are diminished by being increased.

What other men (thus) teach, I also teach.

The violent and strong do not die their natural death. I will make this the basis of my teaching.

Tao te Ching Chapter 41


This chapter may be seen to have an inverted structure will the earlier stanza used to build to the final line.

In stanzas one the author reminds us that all form rises from the formless.

The translation of stanza two is somewhat in doubt.  Some translators translate this stanza to mean that all things have positive and negative attributes which are held in balance buy the unmanifested nature of the Dao.    Susuki translates it this way: 

"The ten thousand things are sustained by Yin [the negative principle]; they are encompassed by Yang [the positive principle], and the immaterial breath renders them harmonious."

This translation seems more likely because it ties more clearly to the overall message.  

After having asserted that all things have positive and negative attributes, the author goes on to assert that some negative (or weak) attributes are actually desirable.  The example he gives is from an earlier chapter where they pointed out that humility, in this case claiming low station, is advantageous for rulers.

Finally, the author says that they, like other teachers before, will teach that seeking only to be strong and violent will not grant you long life.

The overall message of this stanza can be read thus:  All things rise from the Dao with both positive and negative (strengthening and weakening, or expressive and receptive) properties.  Even the strongest of use find use for the weakest tools.  Therefor, those who seek only power and violence doom themselves.

Or, as has been stated many times before, a balanced life is best.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Chapter 42: Leaving Concepts Behind

The superior scholar when he considers Dao earnestly practices it;

An average scholar listening to Dao sometimes follows it and sometimes loses it;

An inferior scholar listening to Dao ridicules it. Were it not thus ridiculed it could not be regarded as Dao.

Therefore the writer says:

Those who are most illumined by Dao are the most obscure. Those advanced in Dao are most retiring. Those best guided by Dao are the least prepossessing.

The high in virtue (de [teh]) resemble a lowly valley; the whitest are most likely to be put to shame; the broadest in virtue resemble the inefficient.

The most firmly established in virtue resemble the remiss. The simplest chastity resembles the fickle, the greatest square has no corner,

the largest vessel is never filled. The greatest sound is void of speech, the greatest form has no shape.

Tao is obscure and without name, and yet it is precisely this Dao that alone can give and complete.

Tao te Ching Chapter 42


In this notoriously obscure chapter, the author may be seen to be challenging us to "be" rather than to "do"  to "experience" rather than to "believe."  

The first three stanzas make what seem like logical assertions.  A disciplined person will practice the Dao religiously.  A mediocre person with practice the Dao when they remember it.  And a fool laughs when told about the Dao.  Then comes a most startling sentence.   It appears to say that the fools laughter is the only true proof of Dao.  Why would the author say this?  Surely the scholar has the most access, the most correct understanding of the Dao.

Understanding of the author's meaning and a gateway to deeper contact with the Tao may be found in the realization the Tao te Ching is about life at its most natural, its simplest state free of beliefs.  All of nature, trees, cows, dogs, planets have their own nature and are able to experience existing purely and without hesitation. Only humans, in our experience of the universe thus far, cling to concepts and ideas.  Try explaining to your dog why it is important to vote democrat or republican in the next election and you'll begin to see what I mean.  He will not explain to you that chasing squirrels is more important.  He will however follow his nature and miss the election, gleefully chasing squirrels all afternoon.  He does not believe this is right.  It is simply his nature.

This head full of concepts is useful.  Humans have incredible control over their environment but they suffer for their concepts.  There is no separation from nature.  The walls of our houses are made from timber and gypsum.  The floors from gravel and lime.  Even the plastic cases of our computers are made of natural materials welded together using the natural forces of heat and pressure.   Yet a human will sit in the middle of the Dao, the middle of this house made of the universe around him and say, "I need to get back to nature."

If you can see that this person is constantly surrounded by nature and is actually asking to get away from his endless sea of concepts and back to the inherent flow of the Universe, then you can begin to understand the laughter of the fool.  Even objects that seem very real to us are still bound by our concepts.  To us a road is clearly a means of travel, but this solid identity is still bound to our concepts.  To the turtle, whose feet are its means of travel, the road becomes a good place to warm yourself in the morning.

So the wise man makes a concept of the Doa, studies it vigorously and never gains any joy from it.  The fool, on the other hand, is free of concepts, is living the direct experience of life.  When he is told of the Tao, he laughs, because he is being offered a concept.  He doesn't need concepts because he is already joyously following his nature.

So, how do we abandon our pursuit of the concept Dao and begin to experience it directly?  The author makes some  suggestions.

In stanza four the author observes that true followers of Tao are obscure.  They have no title or rank, no conceptual identity.  The are simply living their lives.  

In stanza five he adds that success and high accomplishment are not needed to be at one with the Dao.

Stanza six reminds us that things like chastity and virtue are also concepts.  The phrase the "the greatest square has no corner." clues us to remember that all concepts fall short of their goal.

Stanza seven extends the virtue of conceptlessness out to the boundaries of the physical universe, back to the unmanifested, pure Dao.   Here, they say in stanza seven, is the completeness we all feel deep inside us.

How do we move away from ideas and questions?  How do we stop reading and writing, making concepts of the Dao, and start living it?   What would we say and do, if we had no concepts?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 40: Being at Rest


Retirement is characteristic of Dao just as weakness appears to be a characteristic of its activity.

Heaven and earth and everything are produced from existence, but existence comes from nonexistence.

Tao te Ching Chapter 40


It is often difficult for people to understand that the Tao te Ching clearly recommends doing nothing as a useful activity.  We do hold the clue to this in our society however.  Many of us wait anxiously for the weekend or lunch break or any time that we can "zone out" for a while.  These moments of peaceful inactivity are as essential to our ability to live effectively as our moments of activity.  The Tao te Ching may be said to embrace this notion.  This chapter may be interpreted to say, Relaxing is very healthy.

The first stanza observes that the Tao lies at rest and reiterates the earlier theme that the Tao appears weak.

The second stanza observes that everything thing that is (and is active) came from the formlessness of the Dao (and was inactive.)  Perhaps this can be interpreted to mean that the state of rest is the true form of the universe at its core.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 39: Keeping The Self Healthy

It has been said of old, only those who attain unity attain self-hood. . . .

Heaven attained unity and thereby is space. Earth attained unity, thereby it is solid. Spirit attained unity, thereby it became mind. Valleys attained unity, therefore rivers flow down them. All things have unity and thereby have life. Princes and kings as they attain unity become standards of conduct for the nation. And the highest unity is that which produces unity.

If heaven were not space it might crack, if earth were not solid it might bend. If spirits were not unified into mind they might vanish, if valleys were not adapted to rivers they would be parched. Everything if it were not for life would burn up. Even princes and kings if they overestimate themselves and cease to be standards will presumably fall.

Therefore nobles find their roots among the commoners; the high is always founded upon the low. The reason why princes and kings speak of themselves as orphans, inferiors and unworthy, is because they recognize that their roots run down to the common life; is it not so?

If a carriage goes to pieces it is no longer a carriage, its unity is gone.

A true self-hood does not desire to be overvalued as a gem, nor to be undervalued as a mere stone.

Tao te Ching Chapter 39


This chapter turns the issue of balance into to look at the individual.  How do we with all of life's stress and change  maintain a healthy sense of who we are?

The author's  answer lies in the issue of balance.

The first stanza may be seen as saying that each of the names objects, space, mind, etc. does not stand as a single object but is a unification of several components together.

The second stanza goes on to observe that this union creates the properties of the objects.  So, for example, if the unity of Earth is disturbed, as for example by heating the rock until it become lava, then it is no longer suitable for walking on.  The disturbance of its unity has made it both too hot and too liquid to useful in the ways we find Earth useful.  

The third stanza repeats a caution heard time and again int the Tao te Ching, high and low, good and bad, create each other.  In this context this may be taken to mean that the balance of union is to be found in the place that is neither high nor low.

The fourth stanza, though very short, is one of this blogger's very favorites.  "If a carriage goes to pieces, it is no longer a carriage.  Looked at in depth, this line shows us that a car is only a car because we perceive this union of metal an rubber as a car.   If we change the state enough, we will cease to see it as a car.  It will have lost the balance.  The question rises, is a possible for anything to be in an of itself, or do we only ever perceive unions of objects in transition?  This is the key to the Buddha's teaching on interdependent origination.  Interesting that it is mirrored here.  Can you think of other places this teaching exists?

The final stanza is a small bit of an adjustment from earlier chapters.  Having earlier repeated many times that the ego dangerously overestimates the self, this stanza brings that view into balance with the comment that we should also not consider ourselves to only be a stone.  

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Tao Te Ching Chapter 38: Being Genuine

For this Chapter we will use Legge's translation:

(Those who) possessed in highest degree the attributes (of the Dao) did not (seek) to show them, and therefore they possessed them (in fullest measure). (Those who) possessed in a lower degree those attributes (sought how) not to lose them, and therefore they did not possess them (in fullest measure)

(Those who) possessed in the highest degree those attributes did nothing (with a purpose), and had no need to do anything. (Those who) possessed them in a lower degree were (always) doing, and had need to be so doing.

(Those who) possessed the highest benevolence were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had no need to be doing so. (Those who) possessed the highest righteousness were (always seeking) to carry it out, and had need to be so doing.

(Those who) possessed the highest (sense of) propriety were (always seeking) to show it, and when men did not respond to it, they bared the arm and marched up to them.

Thus it was that when the Dao was lost, its attributes appeared; when its attributes were lost, benevolence appeared; when benevolence was lost, righteousness appeared; and when righteousness was lost, the proprieties appeared.

Now propriety is the attenuated form of leal-heartedness and good faith, and is also the commencement of disorder; swift apprehension is (only) a flower of the Dao, and is the beginning of stupidity.

Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and eschews what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the flower. It is thus that he puts away the one and makes choice of the other.

Tao te Ching Chapter 38


One of the longest chapters in the Tao te Ching, Chapter 38 is also one of the easiest to interpret.  

Here the author makes the observation that those who understand the Dao often do not show it and, conversely, those who seek to demonstrate their daoism, (or any other virtue) do not fully understand the way. The first stanza states exactly that.

The second stanza can be described as wu wei.  Those who are masters at the dao do not need to act in order to be so.  It is simply their nature to be acting in accordance with the way.  

The third stanza can be seen at a statement on the true nature of caring.  Consider the person who helps another person but the person receiving the help does not respond with praise for the helper.  If the helper is solely motivated by the urge to help another person, they do not need praise.  If they seek glorification for their good deed, they are at least partly motivated by ego and self seeking.  

The master taoist is the same.  he or she never seeks praise for being a master taoist.  It is simply who they are.

The fourth stanza contrasts the previous two stanza with person who is self serving.  If they do not receive the praise they believe they deserve, they will become angry.

The fifth stanza refers to a time when the Tao simply was.  In this time there would have been no conditions or states described as the Tao.  The Tao simply was.  The following is a progression that can be seen as a very human descent from a state of grace, to one of rules, to one of meaningless ritual.

The fifth stanza states bluntly that moving away from natural alignment with the Dao is not wise.

Finally, the author reminds us that the Taoist sticks to what is real and practical and stays away from needless flash and showiness.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 37: Leading Naturally

Tao is apparently inactive (wu wei) and yet nothing remains undone. If princes and kings desire to keep) everything in order, they must first reform themselves. (If princes and kings would follow the example of Dao, then all things will reform themselves.

If they still desire to change, I would pacify them by the simplicity of the ineffable Dao.

This simplicity will end desire, and if desire be absent there is quietness. All people will of themselves be satisfied.

Tao te Ching Chapter 37


This chapter is again about the rule of people but may also be interpreted as advice on management of the self as well.  

It is important to note, here as in other chapters, the author does not indicate that the Tao does not act.  Wu wei suggests natural action rather than action inspired by desire.  The practitioner of Wu wei will stay at rest unless and until they are motivated, they will act in accordance with the need and then return to rest without claiming credit or glory for themselves.  There was a television show once about sailors in Indonesia.  It described their actions this way;  "I never heard Captain Tundry give an order but the crew responded at once to the needs of the ship."  A very wu wei sort of leadership and crew and very much the message of this Chapter.

The first stanza restates the function of wu wei and observes that, like Captain Tundry's crew, the people with respond with wu wei to a leader who practices wu wei.

The second stanza may be interpreted to mean the the author advocates the teach of Tao, or that Tao can be used like television to keep the masses at rest.

The third stanza agrees that a desireless person or nation will remain at rest and that people can of their own accord remain at peace.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 36: Understanding The Rising and Falling

That which has a tendency to contract must first have been extended; that which has a tendency to weaken itself must first have been strong; that which shows a tendency to destroy itself must first have been raised up; that which shows a tendency to scatter must first have been gathered.

This is the explanation of a seeming contradiction: the tender and yielding conquer the rigid and strong.

The fish would be foolish to seek escape from its natural environment. There is no gain to a nation to compel by a show of force.

Tao te Ching Chapter 36


This chapter is one of the cases where the Tao te Ching is so obvious that many people miss the point and so the value.

The first stanza may be taken to say that all things have an origin.  No balloon ever popped that was not first blown up.  No tree ever grew strong that was not first a seedling.

The second stanza makes a subtle but very important point.  That which is young and flexible tends to overcome the strong.  For example:  Stone yields to the prying of tender tree roots.  The new movable type printing press allowed the people of France to communicate quickly and freely and so spawned the French Revolution and the end of the centuries old Monarchy. Can you think of an example where something tender and yielding overcame something rigid?  Water beneath the foundation of a house perhaps.

The interpretation of the third stanza is more challenging.  The first in the first sentence may be said to be the nation in the second sentence.  Perhaps the author means to suggest that "compelling by a show of force" is not the natural environment for a nation.  If this is not the natural manner of action for a nation, what is?