Thursday, February 24, 2011

81: The Ideal


True words are not pleasing.
Pleasing words are not true.
Those who are right do not argue.
Those who argue are not right.
Those who know are not learned.
Those who are learned do not know.
The sage does not hoard.
The more he does for others,
The more he has.
The more he thereby gives to others,
The ever more he gets.
Heaven's Way
Is to benefit and not to harm.
The sage's Way
Is to act and not to contend.

The Ideal

The final chapter of the Tao Te Ching sums up the most important aspects of living up to the ideal of Tao, the Way, and what signifies the sage who follows it. The similarities to the Christian ideals, as expressed in the words of Jesus, are obvious...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 81 Translation and Commentary

80: Simple Utopia


Let the country be small,
And the inhabitants few.
Although there are weapons
For tens and hundreds of soldiers,
They will not be used.
Let people take death seriously,
And not travel far.
Although they have boats and carriages,
There's no occasion to use them.
Although they have armor and weapons,
There's no occasion to wear them.
Let people return to making knots on ropes,
Instead of writing.
Their food will be tasty.
Their clothes will be comfortable.
Their homes will be tranquil.
They will rejoice in their daily life.
They can see their neighbors.
Roosters and dogs can be heard from there.
Still, they will age and die
Without visiting one another.

Simple Utopia

Making knots on ropes was believed to be a forerunner to the sophisticated Chinese pictogram writing. Lao Tzu expresses a longing back to previous times, when things were simpler...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 80 Translation and Commentary

79: Honor the Settlement


When bitter enemies make peace,
Surely some bitterness remains.
How can this be solved?
The sage honors his part of the settlement,
But does not exact his due from others.
The virtuous carry out the settlement,
But those without virtue pursue their claims.
Heaven's Way gives no favors.
It always remains with good people.

Honor the Settlement

William Shakespeare dedicated one of his greatest dramas, Romeo and Juliet, to the tragic fact that conflict is so hard to end. Two families remain in a feud that has lasted for generations. It doesn't end until the highest price is paid for it – the death of both Romeo and his Juliet...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 79 Translation and Commentary

78: Water Surpasses All


Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.
Yet, to attack the hard and strong,
Nothing surpasses it.
Nothing can take its place.
The weak overcomes the strong.
The soft overcomes the hard.
Everybody in the world knows this,
Still nobody makes use of it.
Therefore the sage says:
To bear the country's disgrace
Is to rule the shrines of soil and grain.
To bear the country's misfortunes
Is to be the king of the world.
True words seem false.

Water Surpasses All

Lao Tzu returns to what must be his favorite metaphor for the primary quality of Tao, the Way. Water is yielding, which is exactly what makes it superior. As the Roman poet Ovid pointed out: Dripping water hollows out the stone, not through force but through persistence...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 78 Translation and Commentary

77: Raise the Low


Heaven's Way is like stretching a bow.
The high is lowered and the low is raised.
Excess is reduced and deficiency is replenished.
Heaven's Way reduces excess and replenishes deficiency.
People's Way is not so.
They reduce the deficient and supply the excessive.
Who has excess and supplies the world?
Only the one who follows the Way.
Therefore, the sage acts without taking credit.
He accomplishes without dwelling on it.
He does not want to display his worth.

Raise the Low

Here, Lao Tzu again uses the expression Heaven's Way as if it's synonymous with Tao, the Way. It's a bit strange that he would do so, considering his otherwise consistent perspective on Tao preceding everything, including Heaven. To Lao Tzu, Tao is superior to all. Accordingly, Heaven's Way must be something lesser and later than the Way itself...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 77 Translation and Commentary

76: Life Is Soft and Weak


People are born soft and weak.
They die hard and stiff.
All things such as grass and trees
Are soft and supple in life.
At their death they are withered and dry.
So, the hard and stiff are death's companions.
The soft and weak are life's companions.
The unyielding army will not win.
The rigid tree will be felled.
The rigid and big belong below.
The soft and weak belong above.

Life Is Soft and Weak

Lao Tzu uses drastic imagery, comparing the newborn baby with the dead corpse, the former being soft and the latter stiffening in rigor mortis. The fact that we stiffen after death confirms the point he wants to make...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 76 Translation and Commentary

75: People versus Rulers


People starve.
The rulers consume too much with their taxes.
That is why people starve.
People are hard to govern.
The rulers interfere with too much.
That is why people are hard to govern.
People take death lightly.
They expect too much of life.
That is why people take death lightly.
Truly, only acting without thought of one's life
Is superior to valuing one's life.

People versus Rulers

There are people and there are rulers. Their relation is a complicated one, to say the least. People often have great difficulties suffering the demands of the rulers, and the rulers can have great problems making people obey their commands. Lao Tzu gives some hints to why this is so...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 75 Translation and Commentary

74: The Supreme Executioner


If people are not afraid of dying,
Why threaten them with death?
If people live in constant fear of death,
And if breaking the law is punished by death,
Then who would dare?
There is one appointed supreme executioner.
Truly, trying to take the place of the supreme executioner
Is like trying to carve wood like a master carpenter.
Of those who try to carve wood like a master carpenter,
There are few who do not injure their hands.

The Supreme Executioner

This chapter is unclear in several ways, in its Chinese original, and has been translated in quite different manners. The first part deals with the fear of death, the second with the executioner. The subjects connect, since Lao Tzu first discusses how fear of the death penalty makes people abide by the law, and then moves on to the one executing the punishment...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 74 Translation and Commentary

73: Heaven's Way


Those who have the courage to dare will perish.
Those who have the courage not to dare will live.
Of those two, one is beneficial and one is harmful.
What Heaven detests, who knows why?
Even the sage considers it difficult.
Heaven's Way does not contend,
Yet it certainly triumphs.
It does not speak,
Yet it certainly answers.
It does not summon,
Yet things come by themselves.
It seems to be at rest,
Yet it certainly has a plan.
Heaven's net is very vast.
It is sparsely meshed, yet nothing slips through.

Heaven's Way

Heaven's Way, T'ien chih Tao, is a concept that was old and established already at the time of Lao Tzu. Mankind has always observed and awed at the many movements in the sky. Clouds of different shades and shapes sail through it, occasional rain or snow falls from it, the sun and moon travel it in fixed cycles, and the stars appear in millions at clear skied nights...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 73 Translation and Commentary

72: Don't Make Them Weary


When people do not dread authorities,
Then a greater dread descends.
Do not crowd their dwellings.
Do not make them weary at their work.
If you do not make them weary,
They will not be weary of you.
Therefore, the sage knows himself,
But does not parade.
He cherishes himself,
But does not praise himself.
He discards the one,
And chooses the other.

Don't Make Them Weary

The second part of the Tao Te Ching has several chapters on government, and how to improve it. This is one of them. What Lao Tzu expresses in his views on governing the country, often seems very similar to modern democratic ideals. That would be going too far, though...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 72 Translation and Commentary

71: Knowing Illness


Knowing that you do not know is the best.
Not knowing that you do not know is an illness.
Truly, only those who see illness as illness
Can avoid illness.
The sage is not ill,
Because he sees illness as illness.
Therefore he is not ill.

Knowing Illness

Disease awareness and the lack thereof are frequently discussed in relation to mental disease, where the lack of awareness is said to be common. No wonder, since it's the mind that is affected, and it's by the mind one is made aware. One can't see into oneself. Nor is it easy to regard one's actions from an objective perspective, because the mind is subjective by nature...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 71 Translation and Commentary

70: Easy to Understand


My words are very easy to understand
And very easy to practice.
Still, no one in the world
Can understand or practice them.
My words have an origin.
My deeds have a sovereign.
Truly, because people do not understand this,
They do not understand me.
That so few understand me is why I am treasured.
Therefore, the sage wears coarse clothes, concealing jade.

Easy to Understand

The origin and sovereign of Lao Tzu's words and deeds is obviously one and the same: Tao, the Way. People who don't understand Tao have little chance of understanding what Lao Tzu says, or why he acts the way he does, which is mostly by non-action...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 70 Translation and Commentary

69: Like a Guest


Warriors say:
I dare not be like the host,
But would rather be like the guest.
I dare not advance an inch,
But would rather retreat a foot.
This is called marching without marching,
Grabbing without arms,
Charging without enemy,
Seizing without weapons.
No misfortune is worse
Than underestimating the enemy.
Underestimating the enemy,
I risk losing my treasure.
When equal armies battle,
The grieving one will be victorious.

Like a Guest

The wise warrior would not invite to battle and presume to control the circumstances. Instead, he considers his actions carefully and expects the unexpected...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 69 Translation and Commentary

68: Peaceful Warriors


Excellent warriors are not violent.
Excellent soldiers are not furious.
Excellent conquerors do not engage.
Excellent leaders of people lower themselves.
This is called the virtue of no strife.
This is called the use of people's capacity.
This is called the union with Heaven.
It is the perfection of the ancients.

Peaceful Warriors

It would be going too far to state that Lao Tzu is a pacifist. In his book, he seems to admit to the necessity of war in some cases, or the impossibility to avoid it forever. What he does make clear, though, is that even in the case of war there are virtuous actions and non-virtuous ones...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 68 Translation and Commentary

67: Battle with Compassion


The whole world says that my Way is great like nothing else.
It is great because it is like nothing else.
If it were like everything else,
It would long ago have become insignificant.
I have three treasures that I cherish.
The first is compassion.
The second is moderation.
The third is not claiming to be first in the world.
By compassion one can be brave.
By moderation one can be generous.
By not claiming to be first in the world one can rule.
But to be brave without compassion,
Generous without moderation,
And rule without refraining from being first in the world
Are certain deaths.
So, those who have compassion when they do battle
Will be victorious.
Those who likewise defend themselves
Will be safe.
Heaven will rescue and protect them with compassion.

Battle with Compassion

In the beginning of this chapter, Lao Tzu plays with the word hsiao, which means both `like' and `small.' The latter I dared to translate as `insignificant,' to clarify what kind of small Lao Tzu refers to here. The two words have different pictograms, but they are pronounced the same...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 67 Translation and Commentary