Here you will find commentaries on the meanings of verses and stories from Laozi, Zhuangzi and other early Taoists regarding their philosophies and practices. At the end of each month, all of the commentaries for that month will be posted in our BLOG.

AUGUST, 2019

08/16/2019

Let’s return now to Laozi’s Tao de Ching. Today we shall take a look at Chapter 9, a very important chapter that illustrates one of the main principles of Taoism. Next, to Wu Wei, moderation and knowing when to stop are vital to most sincere Taoists.

“A bow that is stretched to its fullest capacity may certainly snap.
A sword that is tempered to its very sharpest may easily be broken.
A house that is full of jade and gold cannot remain secure for long.
One who proudly displays his wealth invites trouble.
Therefore, resign from a high position when your mission is complete.
This is the Universal Way of a life of deep virtue.”

Translation by Ni Hua-Ching, 1995.

Again Laozi is telling us to use moderation in all things, and, above all, know when to stop. Whether it’s food or drink. Moderation means don’t try to fill yourself to capacity. Stop when you are 70% or 80% full, not 100 or beyond.

Whether it’s jade or gold, jewelry, furniture, paintings,cars don’t go overboard. Whether it’s your body or your home, instead of looking stately and refined, it will look garish, opulent – two words that are synonymous with “ugly.” Did you ever see a person who has a large ring on every finger? If so, then you know what I mean by garish, opulent, ugly. Furthermore, when you go overboard, you take away from items that look truly exquisite when given prominence, but are totally lost in a sea of acuterments and are appear no different from a hoarder’s place littered with junk. Not to mention the fact, that such a display of wealth, like Laozi says, invites trouble.

The same is true of money. People who hoard money and work their butts off to make deals and make more money are truly pathetic. Whether it’s money they constantly seek or praise or fame, the result is the same, a sadly pathetic, self-centered nerd. It isn’t wealth, per se, that is damaging. It is seeking wealth for the sole purpose of self-aggrandizement that destroys love, friendships and other relationships. There are many wealthy financiers that have amassed fortunes and have established foundations to help others share in their wealth. They regularly pay their fair share of taxes and give to charities. So, here it is the intent that makes seeking wealth a detriment or a worthwhile activity. By asking the Universe, the Tao, how may I serve and how can the wealth I earn benefit others, your work and your financial acumen become tools for the Tao and the Te to distribute and spread the wealth to the rest of mankind.

Remember, none of this is truly yours, not your money, your possessions, your businesses.not even your very life. All of this belongs to the Tao. The Tao is responsible for everything in the Universe and beyond.

Next up is Chapter 33 of the Tao Te Ching, a verse of comparisons and contrasts that, like Chapter 9, expound further on the Taoist lifestyle.

08/22/2019

As promised, Chapter 33 of Laozi’s Tao Te Ching: Self-Denial versus Self-Criticism.

He who knows others is knowledgeable.
He who knows himself is wise.
He who conquers others is physically strong.
He who conquers himself is truly mighty.
He who is contented is rich.
He who acts with persistence has a will.
He who does not lose his root will endure.
He who dies but is not forgotten has longevity.


COMMENTARY: Before I begin, I would like to say that some of you are not going to like this. Perhaps, most of you will not like this. So, I must apologize in advance should I offend anyone.

Many study this chapter and concentrate on the last two lines. Here Keping Wang has translated the very last line correctly as it was written in the oldest versions of the text discovered in the MaWangDui Caves just last century. Prior to those versions, some translators assessed the line differently and combined it with the previous line, building a case for immortality. The translations would be something like “He who keeps to his root will endure and will not perish but remain eternally present.” That would certainly make Laozi roll over in his grave, for he had no uncertainty that death would befall each and every one of us no matter how enlightened. The last two lines are about cultivating one’s “heart,” in other words, one’s daily living, not immortality. Thus, living from one’s “root,” the Tao, will leave a lasting impression on others in one’s everyday affairs, one’s writings, one’s art, friendships and relationships, and on nature, itself, which, in a way, is a form of immortality.

The true emphasis in this chapter is not on the ending but on the beginning, the first four lines. Despite many variations, the general semantics of these lines for the most part have been kept intact. However, Laozi’s true intent has been confused. Martial artists, in general, and tai chi and qigong players, more specifically, are partly responsible for this distortion, not to mention meditation gurus. There is a line in the Tai Chi Classics: “I know you, but you don’t know me.” This line generally means that you know where your opponent’s center is at all times, but he/she does not know where yours is because you are able to hide it quite skillfully. Well, this is not the “know” Laozi had in mind. In fact, he would say that you don’t truly know your opponent or yourself.

Laozi here is emphasizing that deep inward knowledge that goes to the very heart of our character. Back in his day, life was complicated enough. People were not so easy to discern. They by no means wore their hearts on their sleeves but kept it hidden deep underneath all the layers with innuendo, deceit, selfishness, not only hidden from the world but hidden from themselves by a facade of benevolence and generosity. In this case, if one were to somehow discern the true character of others, he/she would be considered quite knowledgeable, truly intelligent.

So, by “knowing,” Laozi is referring to discerning one’s true character, ours or others. And, as difficult as that was in his day, imagine the complexity and illusiveness in our modern world. We have so many technical innovations to hide from and hide behind that it is virtually impossible to discern a person’s true character. Add to these, the psychological shadings, the self-denials and the repressions, the Freudian concepts of infantile sexuality, libido, the Oedipal complex, transference or the Jungian archetypes: the shadow, the wise old man, the child, the mother, the maiden, and the anima and the animus. Is it any wonder that you need to be a genius to truly know someone? Laozi says that a person who can do that, such as Freud or Jung, is knowledgeable, which means highly intelligent – but not necessarily wise.

Wisdom, on the other hand as Laozi tells us, arises when we are able to dig deeply inside and cut through all the self-denials and buried feelings that we have repressed over the years and truly come to know ourselves. It is not sitting on a mat and taking deep breaths as some meditation gurus advise or visualizing beautiful, calming scenes or vibrating light rays. It is not following your thoughts until they dissipate, leaving your mind empty. It is not your mind that needs to empty. It is your heart, the very core of your being. That is exactly why Laozi says: He who conquers others is physically strong. But…He who conquers himself is truly mighty. 

Emptying and clearing out our hearts requires an enormous amount of intestinal fortitude, persistence, and spiritual strength to cut through all those self-denials and repressed feelings that we have not only hidden from the world but have hidden from ourselves. It requires a supreme act of self-criticism rather than the self-denial we have become used to.  Reciting affirmations and platitudes are nice. Going around feeling you are pure awareness, consciousness or emptiness is just another form of self-denial, one more case of avoidance. None of these things can take the place of self-criticism and deep introspection.

Refusing to accept responsibility is another form of self-denial. Often, we are aware of things that we have done that we are not so proud of. But we shift the blame to others – parents, siblings, teachers, close friends, lovers – as though they were responsible for our actions. Nothing could be further from the truth. No one can force you to do anything unless they are holding a gun to your head. You chose to follow the crowd and do what they were doing. You chose not to be an outcast. Years later, looking back on those actions, we tell ourselves it was not our fault. So emptying the heart is as much about accepting responsibility as it is about plunging into the depths of one’s heart of hearts.

Once you have toughed it out and emptied your heart, then the final four lines of Chapter 33 will fall into place. You will naturally feel contented with what you have. After persisting to empty the heart, you will feel that your will is strong enough to persist in anything. Finally, you will know yourself and, therefore, know your root, which is the Tao, and that will endure for the rest of your life. Everything you do will be in harmony with the Tao and Nature, thus leaving a legacy that will endure far beyond a long life.

I hope this commentary helps you to better understand Chapter 33 and what needs to be done.

Until next time…Peace.

 

08/28/2019

We end August with a look at Chapter 52 of the Tao Te Ching. Chapter 52 seem like a natural thematic progression from Chapter 33 above. So, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in September.

Chapter 52

There was a beginning of the universe
Which may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe.
From the Mother, we may know her sons.
After knowing the sons, keep to the Mother.
Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

Stop its apertures,
Close its doors,
And one’s whole life is without toil.

Open its apertures,
Be busy about its affairs,
And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.

He who can see the small is clear-sighted;
He who stays by gentility is strong.
use the light,
And return to clear-sightedness –
Thus cause not yourself later distress.
– This is to rest in the Absolute.
Translation by Lin Yutang

COMMENTARY:

In the Lin Yutang edition, he titles this chapter “Stealing the Absolute,” which refers to the final verse. Discussing the opening verse, he states:”In this chapter, Mother refers to the Tao, source of all things, and her sons refers to the things of the universe, which are Tao in its manifested forms. By recognizing that all things come from the same source and by keeping to the unity, one achieves an emancipation of the spirit which overcomes the individuality of things.”

There are several astounding insights in this opening verse. First of all, Laozi unequivocally asserts that Tao is the source of all life, simply by referring to it as the Mother of the universe. Also, as Lin Yutang contends, the Tao actually manifests itself in all the things within the universe. Laozi then instructs us to keep to the Mother (the Tao, the Unity) rather than the individual appearances.

However, it is by scrutinizing, observing the sons’ appearances that we get to know the Tao as their origin and “Thus, one’s whole life may be preserved from harm.

As in Chapter 33, the second verse advises us to go inward by stopping the openings (the apertures). In other words, our five senses. Then Laozi adds “close its doors”  – to seeking external knowledge “And one’s whole life is without toil.”

In the third verse, Laozi describes what will happen if we do not take his advice and leave the apertures and doors open, busying ourselves with external affairs. “And one’s whole life is beyond redemption.”

In the final verse, Laozi again uses contrasts and comparisons “He who can see the small…” is another reference to turning within and scrutinizing both ourselves and others. “He who stays by gentility”  mean knowing how to yield is strength. Finally, to use your inner light for understanding ourselves and others is actually using the light of the Tao – the Absolute. This is the reason Lin Yutang decided to title the chapter “Stealing the Absolute.”

I hope this commentary has made it easier for you to understand the chapter and to better follow the Tao. As I mentioned in the beginning, we will circle back and cover Chapter 51 in the September edition.

 

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