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


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.  
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