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.





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


Interpretation:

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


Interpretation:

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


Interpretation:

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


Interpretation:

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?


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 35: The Quiet Master

For this chapter we will use Legge's translation

To him who holds in his hands the Great Image (of the invisible Dao), the whole world repairs. Men resort to him, and receive no hurt, but (find) rest, peace, and the feeling of ease.

Music and dainties will make the passing guest stop (for a time). But though the Dao as it comes from the mouth, seems insipid and has no flavour, though it seems not worth being looked at or listened to, the use of it is inexhaustible.

Tao te Ching Chapter 35


Interpretation

This small and straight forward chapter holds many clues about how to be and recognize a great person.  

The first stanza makes the observation that those who understand the Tao are safe, good friends who will bring comfort to those around them.

The second stanza can be seen to be making a more subtle point.  It says that while "music and dainties"  can attract a person for a short time, the seemingly insignificant Dao has unlimited uses.  

It seems strange in a society dedicated to always having more to consider the value of nothing.  There are some clues to this in western culture.  Consider "deep listening" the practice of sitting with those in crisis and listening to their story without directing or judging.  Consider the young child, who when they lose their temper, is allowed to sit in a quiet room rather than being punished.  Consider the value of a quiet walk in the park after a hectic days work. Truly nothing can be as valuable as something!

Perhaps the author means to suggest that you may know a great person, someone filled by the Tao by the fact that they do not require anything from you.  "Music and dainties" can be seen and any entertainment and distraction.  The phone call from the television company offering you another hundred channels is appealing but would you not rather have a call from a friend who can listen without complaint to your troubles?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 34: The Greatest is Smallest

For this chapter we will use Legge's translation:

All-pervading is the Great Dao! It may be found on the left hand and on the right.

All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being their lord;--it may be named in the smallest things. All things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it which presides over their doing so;--it may be named in the greatest things.

Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he can accomplish them.

Tao te Ching Chapter 34


Interpretation:

This chapter brings together and restates many of the earlier chapters.

In the first stanza the author makes what can be seen as an important comment on an earlier chapter.  Earlier, the author said that left (wisdom) is preferable to right (strength.)  This is however, only in the context of the conduct of people.  Now the author switches focus back to the Dao itself so they first say, (The Dao) "may be found on the left hand and on the right" or The Dao is found in all things.

In the second stanza, the author points out again that the Tao is the source of all things, clothes all things, gives all things shape.  But they also point out that the Tao desires no credit for this, no reward.  It never draws attention to itself.  In this way it is both greatest and least of all things.

The third stanza states plainly that the wise person acts the same way.  Though the can accomplish great things, he requests and requires no status or reward.  It is through remaining small, like the Dao, that he achieves greatness, also like the Tao.

There is a clear parallel between this stanza and a comment made several times in the Bible by Jesus.  For example Mark 9:35:  " "If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all."  Does this message appear in other great teachings?  Why do you think this parallel exists?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 33: Enlightening Yourself

For this Chapter we will use Susuki's Translation:

One who knows others is clever, but one who knows himself is enlightened. One who conquers others is powerful, but one who conquers himself is mighty.  One who knows contentment is rich and one who pushes with vigor has will. 

One who loses not his place endures. One who may die but will not perish, has life everlasting.


Tao te Ching Chapter 33


Interpretation:

Here the author speaks directly about the benefits to the individual of taoist behavior.  

The two sentences of the first stanza seem generally well understood.  Happiness and unhappiness are conditions of our own existence.  Understanding others, learning to manipulate others can never be as effective as addressing the sources of happiness and unhappiness in ourselves.

The first part of the stanza also seems clear and is common in western thought.  If you are content you have all the riches you need.  The second half of the stanza is somewhat in doubt however.  It is not clear from this translation whether "will" is a desirable thing to have.

The original text reads this way:


And may suggest that a person of great will is better able to live with contentment.  Or perhaps seek enlightenment within.

The second stanza hints at a common trait among taoist.   Most who follow the Tao do not fear death.  It is as naturally a part of the natural order as is birth.  The rising and falling of all things, even the self is seen as right and natural.  Perhaps this view can be understood by seeing that the taoist does not view himself as separate from the world around him.  An iceberg is still water, does it make sense that the iceberg should be prevented from melting back into the ocean as it passes into warmer water?  The Taoist does not die, he or she moves from form to form as is natural.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Tao te Ching Chapter 32: The Nature of the Tao

Tao in its eternal aspect is unnamable.

Its simplicity appears insignificant, but the whole world cannot control it. If princes and kings employ it every one of themselves will pay willing homage. Heaven and Earth by it are harmoniously combined and drop sweet dew. People will have no need of rulers, because of themselves they will be righteous.

As soon as Dao expresses itself in orderly creation then it becomes comprehensible. When one recognizes the presence of Dao he understands where to stop. Knowing where to stop he is free from danger.

To illustrate the nature of Dao's place in the universe: Dao is like the brooks and streams in their relation to the great rivers and the ocean.


Tao te Ching Chapter 32


Interpretation:

It is sometimes difficult to explain to western thinkers that you are describing something that cannot be grasped by thought.  In chapter 1 of the Tao te Ching, the author tells us that the originating force of the universe has no name or face.  Perhaps it is easiest to think about it like this; The Tao is the experience of the universe happening, thoughts and words are a way of describing the universe happening.   Wanting now to talk directly about the Tao again, the author begins this chapter with a reminder that that which we are describing is the unnamed force behind all things.

The second stanza makes several statements.  I says that it is easy to overlook the power of the Tao but those who see its use willingly offer loyalty to it.  The third sentence can be taken to mean the "sweet" or perhaps "goodness" fall naturally from it.  The final sentence observes that those who follow Dao need no rulers since they themselves will be of good heart and honest nature.

The third stanza says that when the Dao begins to take form, it becomes understandable to the human mind.  Seeing the Dao behind all things gives one insight into when to stop acting, thus protecting them from danger.

The third stanza may seem to say that the Dao is like brooks and streams, smaller than rivers, but probably should be taken to mean, comes before.  If there were not brooks and streams, there would be no rivers and oceans.  Although we cannot see the stream when we look at the river, we know it must be there.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 31: Avoiding Warfare

Even successful arms, among all implements, are unblessed. All men come to detest them. Therefore the one who follows Dao does not rely on them. Arms are of all tools unblessed, they are not the implements of a wise man. Only as a last resort does he use them.

In propitious affairs the place of honor is the left, but in unpropitious affairs we honor the right.

Peace and quietude are esteemed by the wise man, and even when victorious he does not rejoice, because rejoicing over a victory is the same as rejoicing over the killing of men. If he rejoices over killing men, do you think he will ever really master the Empire?

The strong man while at home esteems the left as the place of honor, but when armed for war it is as though he esteems the right hand, the place of less honor. Thus a funeral ceremony is so arranged. The place of a subordinate army officer is also on the left and the place of his superior officer is on the right. The killing of men fills multitudes with sorrow; we lament with tears because of it, and rightly honor the victor as if he was attending a funeral ceremony.


Tao te Ching Chapter 31



Interpretation:


This chapter again cautions against the use of violence to resolve conflicts.  Specifically, it is opposed to weapons.   

Stanza one says that all weapons, even very good ones, are undesirable.  It is important to note, that the author does not say a wise man would never use one, only that their use is the "last resort."

Stanza to becomes clear when we understand that, in Chinese culture, the left hand is considered wise and the right hand strong.  If a Chinese person has a left handed child, it is considered a sign that that child will be smart.  So this stanza is a comment that wisdom is preferred over strength.

The third stanza says that even when a wise man is victorious (presumably in an issue of violence) he does not rejoice.  It goes on to question whether or not violence really brings control.  Perhaps it is wise to consider whether or not it is possible to kill without building resentment among the survivors.  

The final stanza restates the earlier comments and observes that the winner in battle is in a no happier place than a man attending a funeral.

There is an apparent paradox in the chapter because killing is natural and part of the Dao for many creatures.  Perhaps the author is observing that killing is not natural for humans or at least not for humans in the context of society.  


Friday, January 13, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching 30: The Dangers of Violence

When the magistrate follows Dao, he has no need to resort to force of arms to strengthen the Empire, because his business methods alone will show good returns.

Briars and thorns grow rank where an army camps. Bad harvests are the sequence of a great war. The good ruler will be resolute and then stop, he dare not take by force.

One should be resolute but not boastful; resolute but not haughty; resolute but not arrogant; resolute but yielding when it cannot be avoided; resolute but he must not resort to violence.

By a resort to force, things flourish for a time but then decay. This is not like the Dao and that which is not Dao-like will soon cease.


Tao te Ching Chapter 30


Interpretation:

While the taoist sees that nature creates and allows to decay all things, the author cautions that resorting to violence as a policy in conduct of the kingdom, is expensive and dangerous.

The first stanza observes that the business of the Empire can be conducted without violence.

The second stanza observes that destruction follows the army.  The author uses examples from classical Chinese warfare, thorns and bad harvest where army have occupied and lands have not been attended.

The third stanza acknowledges the rulers need to be strong but not violent.  It again cautions against the ego.  Is it possible that ego is the seed of violence?

The translation of the third stanza is in doubt and the available translations disagree strongly on its meaning.  Certainly the first sentence is in keeping with the theme of the chapter; the apparent success of violence is followed by swift decay.  


The last sentence however is problematic.  While the Dao is eternal, all things of form do rise and then decay.  This is the natural order.   The original text reads this way:


The phrase, "" can be read, "Things strengthening through affection"   

Perhaps the author wishes to say that "strengthening through affection" is the natural way rather than through violence.







Thursday, January 12, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 29: Wu Wei

For this chapter we will use Susuki's translation:

When one desires to take in hand the empire and make it, I see him not succeed. The empire is a divine vessel which cannot be made. One who makes it, mars it. One who takes it, loses it. 

And it is said of beings:
" Some are obsequious, others move boldly, Some breathe warmly, others coldly, Some are strong and others weak, Some rise proudly, others sneak."

Therefore the holy man abandons excess, he abandons extravagance, he abandons indulgence.


Tao te Ching Chapter 29


Interpretation:

One of the key concepts of Taoism, Wu Wei, is explored in this chapter.  Wu Wei can be described as having the wisdom to know when to act.  It is summed up quite nicely in  Reinhold Niebuhr's  serenity prayer:  

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference."


Knowing that the author favors Wu Wei, this chapter can be interpreted to be a caution against over action.

Stanza one observes that control cannot really be taken.  By attempting to do so, we often destroy or change that which we wish to control.

The second stanza observes that humans nature is varied and different people approach issues differently.  

The third stanza can be seen as saying, "regardless of your nature, you are wise to limit your interference.  Practice Wu Wei.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Ch. 28: Finding Simplicity

He who knows his manhood and understands his womanhood becomes useful like the valleys of earth (which bring water). Being like the valleys of earth, eternal vitality (de [teh]) will not depart from him, he will come again to the nature of a little child

He who knows his innocence and recognizes his sin becomes the world's model. Being a world's model, infinite de [teh] will not fail, he will return to the Absolute.

He who knows the glory of his nature and recognizes also his limitations becomes useful like the world's valleys. Being like the world'svalleys, eternal de [teh] will not fail him, he will revert to simplicity.

Radiating simplicity he will make of men vessels of usefulness. The wise man then will employ them as officials and chiefs. A great administration of such will harm no one.

Tao te Ching Chapter 28


Interpretation:

These stanza may be said to represent a ladder of progress toward simple life.  

The first stanza suggest that we learn to understand our yin and yang, our expressive and receptive abilities.

The translation of the second stanza is in doubt.  The concepts of sin and innocence are not common in Taoism.  Legge translates the same stanza this way:

"Who knows how white attracts,
Yet always keeps himself within black's shade,
The pattern of humility displayed,
Displayed in view of all beneath the sky;
He in the unchanging excellence arrayed,
Endless return to man's first state has made."

Translated this way, stanza two becomes a lesson in humility; a common theme in Taoism.

Stanza three returns to to the earlier message of the "glory" found within all things that arise from the Tao but reminds us to balance that with our limited nature.  The combination of these three attributes; balance of yin and yang, humility, and glory matched to ability leads to a simple life.

The fourth stanza observes that a person skilled in these three skills can be of great use as leaders because they will not desire to harm anyone.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 27: Compassion for All

Good walkers leave no tracks, good speakers make no errors, good counters need no abacus, good wardens have no need for bolts and locks for no one can get by them. Good binders can dispense with rope and cord, yet none can unloose their hold.

Therefore the wise man trusting in goodness always saves men, for there is no outcast to him. Trusting in goodness he saves all things for there is nothing valueless to him. This is recognizing concealed values.

Therefore the good man is the instructor of the evil man, and the evil man is the good man's wealth. He who does not esteem his instructors or value his wealth, though he be otherwise intelligent, becomes confused. Herein lies the significance of spirituality.

Tao te Ching Chapter 27



Interpretation:

The first stanza of the chapter observes that, when you are very good at a thing, it can sometimes appear as if you are not doing it at all.  You have made it your nature.

The second stanza observes that a wise man chooses compassion.  Choose to include all people in his scope of care.  This is in keeping with earlier messages in the Tao te ching.  Since we all rise from the same source, can we say that one of us is more or less worth of care "saving?"  

Translations of the final stanza vary widely.  Looking at the characters:




the first line does clearly state that the "bad" or "not to be looked down on" person is the wise person's treasure.  The second sentence may or may not agree with Goddard's translation.  The character  is negative and seems to suggest that the wise man does not   "love" his treasure.  Perhaps in light of earlier chapters on non-attachment this stanza is meant to suggest that the wise man values all men but does not become attached to them.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 26: Remaining Calm


The heavy is the root of the light; the quiet is master of motion.

Therefore the wise man in all the experience of the day will not depart from dignity. Though he be surrounded with sights that are magnificent, he will remain calm and unconcerned.

How does it come to pass that the Emperor, master of ten thousand chariots, has lost the mastery of the Empire? Because being flippant himself, he has lost the respect of his subjects; being passionate himself, he has lost the control of the Empire.

Tao te Ching Chapter 26


Interpretation:

Here the author ties the issue of opposites to individual life.  We know from earlier chapters that light and dark make each other, and the neither good nor evil can exist without the other.  So if we wish to remain on the path, how do we react to the events around us?  Too much excitement and we lose control, too much control and we lose passion.  The author suggests to us that we do not overreact to any experience that we have.  When the author asks how the master of the chariots can lose mastery of the kingdom, we can read them to say, if we cannot master our own responses, we cannot control the world around us.



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Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 25: The Greatness of All Things

25.

There is Being that is all-inclusive and that existed before Heaven and Earth. Calm, indeed, and incorporeal! It is alone and changeless!

Everywhere it functions unhindered. It thereby becomes the world's mother. I do not know its nature; if I try to characterize it, I will call it Dao.

If forced to give it a name, I will call it the Great. The Great is evasive, the evasive is the distant, the distant is ever coming near.

Tao is Great. So is Heaven great, and so is Earth and so also is the representative of Heaven and Earth.

Man is derived from nature, nature is derived from Heaven, Heaven is derived from Dao. Dao is self-derived.

Tao te Ching Chapter 25


Interpretation:

What existed the moment before the big bang?  It did not know time, it did not know space or movement.  Does that mean there was nothing there?  The Christians call the force from the time before time God.  The first stanzas of the Bible are very similar to the the first stanza here.

"1 In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep."

The second stanza asserts that the Tao, being unlimited acts without limitation and is the source of all things.

In the third stanza, the author makes a strange statement.  They say, "The Great (tao) is evasive and distant, the distant is ever coming near."  Why do you think the author would describe the Tao as "distant" and "ever coming near" when they in the same chapter make the observation that all things are part of the Tao?

The final two stanzas assert a message that at first seems to disagree with the earlier statements about the ego.    Here the author says that all things are great and possessed of greatness by their nature.  They are all of the Dao and the Dao is great, therefor all of us are great also.  

Knowing that the author believe that serving the ego (asserting greatness) is contrary to the way, how are we to take this new message of greatness?  Can we have greatness without ego?  What does this greatness mean is a world where all things are also suffused with this greatness?  Does this message parallel Jesus' sermon on the mount?  Does it differ? 

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 24: "Being Natural"

24.

It is not natural to stand on tiptoe, or being astride one does not walk. One who displays himself is not bright, or one who asserts himself cannot shine. A self-approving man has no merit, nor does one who praises himself grow.

The relation of these things (self-display, self-assertion, self-approval) to Dao is the same as offal is to food. They are excrescences from the system; they are detestable; Dao does not dwell in them.

Tao te Ching Chapter 24


Interpretation:

Again this chapter cautions us about vanity and the ego and the very funny metaphors again points out the happy heart of the taoist.   We cannot stand on our ego with any more grace than we can on our tiptoes.  

The comparison of the ego to "offal" is funny but leads to a deeper question.  By saying "self-display" etc. exist in relation to the Dao in the same way that offal relates to food, the author suggests that ego is a by product of the Tao.  Why might they say that?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 23: How to Attract Good People

For this chapter we will use Susuki's translation.

23.

To be taciturn is the natural way. A hurricane: does not outlast the morning. A cloudburst does not outlast the day. Who causes these events but heaven and earth? If even heaven and earth cannot be unremitting, will not man be much less so?

Those who pursue their business in Reason, men of Reason, associate in Reason. Those who pursue their business in virtue associate in virtue. Those who pursue their business in ill luck associate in ill luck. When men associate in Reason, Reason makes them glad to find companions.

When men associate in virtue, virtue makes them glad to find companions. When men associate in ill luck, ill luck makes them glad to find companions. "If your faith is insufficient, verily shall ye receive no faith."


Tao te Ching Chapter 23




Interpretation:

In one of the funniest moments in the Tao te Ching, the author here offers us a warning before making his point.  A hurricane does not last very long and neither do people who talk too much.  This message and others like it point to the realization that people deeply immersed in the Tao seldom speak of it.  This is why even in China, there are so few teachers of the Tao.  The natural way must be experienced not taught and those who teach generally are not advanced in their study.

The message that follows may be interpreted as like attracts like.  If you are on the path, you will find others who are also on the path.  If you fall from the path, you will meet others who are off the path.