Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tao te Ching: 81

True words are not beautiful;
Beautiful words are not true.
A good man does not argue;
He who argues is not a good man.
A wise man has no extensive knowledge;
He who has extensive knowledge is not a wise man.
The sage does not accumulate for himself.
The more he uses for others, the more he has for himself.
The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.
The Way of Heaven is to benefit others and not to injure.
The Way of the sage is to act but not compete.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tao te Ching: 80

Let there be a small country with few people.
Let there be ten times and a hundred times as many utensils
But let them not be used.
Let thepeople value their lives highly and not migrate far.
Even if there are ships and carriages, none will ride in them.
Even if there are armor and weapons, none will display them.
Let the people again knot cords and use them (in place of writing).
Let them relish their food, beautify their clothing, be content with their homes, and delight in their customs.
Though neighboring communities overlook one another and the crowing of cocks and barking of dogs can be heard,
Yet the people there my grow old and die without ever visiting each other.
I have seen this interpreted many ways. Some say it favors conservatism. Others say it favors simplicity. I think that it favors frugality and the virtue of the Tao.

There are many things but we do not feel compelled to use them all. There are places to go, but we are content with what we have and are not yearning for life experiences. There are new and better technologies, but we do not feel compelled to use them when our system already works.

Perhaps that is simplicity. I feel that it is simply not over extending ourselves. It avoids the reaching, or craving, that the Buddhists warn of in the Four Noble Truths. In fact, the entire passage reminds me strongly of it.

Suffering exists
Suffering arises from attachment to desires
Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tao te Ching: 79

To patch up a great hatred is surely to leave some hatred behind.
How can this be regarded as good?
Therefore the sage keeps the left-hand portion (obligation) of a contract
And does not blame the other party.
Virtuous people attend to their left-hand portions,
While those without virtue attend to other people's mistakes.
"The Way of Heaven has no favorites.
It is always with the good man."
Even if you atone for a mistake, there is something left. There is no such thing as to forgive and forget, barring something that induces amnesia. I suppose one could forgive and have brain trauma, but barring that, we forgive and remember. How much better is it to simply mind our obligations and our own business rather than to cause such a rift?

The Tao isn't a popularity contest. Be a good person and you will be on that path. If you are on that path, then everything is with you and nothing can compete.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tao te Ching: 78

There is nothing softer and weaker than water,
And yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things.
For this reason there is no substitute for it.
All the world knows that the weak overcomes the strong and the soft overcomes the hard.
But none can practice it.
Therefore the sage says:
He who suffers disgrace for his country
Is called the lord of the land.
He who takes upon himself the country's misfortunes
Becomes the king of the empire.
Straight words seem to be their opposite.
 Does all the world know the the weak overcomes the strong and the soft overcomes the hard? Well, perhaps they're acquainted with the physical process by which water erodes and wears away the largest of mountains. Perhaps they're aware of how freezing water can cleave a rock apart. But are they familiar with it in the philosophical sense?

Consider the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
—Matthew 5:38-42, NIV
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
—Luke 6:27-31. NIV
 It seems that the Christians ought to be familiar with the principle of how the weak overcomes the hard. What greater sacrifice is there but to take the sins of others and die for them? Was Jesus a Taoist? Of course not. But this principle is known to them.

The Buddhists have long practiced non-violence and with the Hindus and most of the other Eastern traditions, have a long history of giving alms and caring for mendicants, yogis, monks, and other seekers as well as those less fortunate.

All the world does know that the weak eventually overcomes the strong. It is better to give of yourself and take the troubles of others than it is to do the reverse.

Too bad the gains are only visible in the long term... in the short term, the Takers are still far outstripping the Leavers.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tao te Ching: 77

Heaven's way is indeed like the bending of a bow.
When (the string) is high, bring it down.
When it is low, raise it up.
When it is excessive, reduce it.
When it is insufficient, supplement it.
The Way of Heaven reduces whatever is excessive and supplements whatever is insufficient.
The way of man is different.
It reduces the insufficient to offer to the excessive.
Who is able to have excess to offer the world?
Only the man of Tao.
Therefore the sage acts, but does not rely on his own ability.
He accomplishes his task, but does not claim credit for it.
He has no desire to display his excess.
The Way of Heaven, known as the Tao, is a path of moderation. Not for the sake of making things indiscriminate, but because all things are ultimately one with the Tao. The Buddhists call this Buddha-nature. Regardless, since all things are one, there is no need to make one area deficient to increase the surplus of another.

This is the way of man. Think about taxes. Accumulation of resources denies those resources to another. You could use the money that goes to taxes for something you need. Something you truly need, not just something you want. And someone else, with a surplus, has money for what they need, what they want, and for taxes. What saves a man from being either the victim or the perpetrator?

Frugality, such as the sage possesses. Chapters 2, 10, and 51 all discuss hsüan-te.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Tao te Ching: 76

When a man is born, he is tender and weak.
At death, he is stiff and hard.
All things, the grass as well as trees, are tender and supple while alive.
When dead, they are withered and dried.
Therefore the stiff and the hard are companions of death.
The tender and the weak are companions of life.
Therefore if the army is strong, it will not win.
If a tree is stiff, it will break.
The strong and the great are inferior, while the tender and the weak are superior.
Consider Chapters 22 and 64. Lao Tzu says
To yield is to be preserved whole.To be bent is to become straight.
Which means that flexibility is essential. Here he explains his reasoning. It is interesting to me that the logic appears to hold up only superficially. We do not expect, in this day, that the stiff and hard (as companions of death) mean that anything stiff and hard are likewise associated with it. And yet, consider the skin. Think of how tough it must be to keep your limbs inside. Protect you from germs and wounds and temperature changes. Think of how hard it is to actually tear your flesh accidentally. It doesn't come off when opening a door knob or walking along the floor. Yet a small, hard instrument like a needle or a knife can rend it. That's death trying to overcome life. And it's possible for death to spread those qualities of stiff and hard. Your skin will become drawn, like parchment. it will split and crack and lose its ability to protect.

Our logic and reason says that those qualities are associated with plenty of other things. Yet, think on it; we have a car made of metal and say it protects us. But the protection of the car relies upon its ability to have shocks that bounce and a framework that crumples in some places to protect the passengers. It too is comparatively tender and weak.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Tao te Ching: 75

The people starve because the ruler eats too much tax-grain.
Therefore they starve.
They are difficult to rule because their ruler does too many things.
Therefore they are difficult to rule.
The people take death lightly because their ruler strives for life too vigorously.
Therefore they take death lightly.
It is only those who do not seek after life that excel in making life valuable.
The lines alternate A/B. The phrase beginning the A line, "the people starve" should be interpreted as as an action in progress. The B line should be interpreted as the state. They starve because they have no food. They are difficult to rule because the ruler does to many things.

What does it mean to strive for life too vigorously? To indulge in things. To live as a hedonist, always doing the things one wants and consuming the things one wants to consume. Because the ruler focuses on all of these things, there is no meaning or gravity to death. It is simply the "end of fun" instead of a part of life.

Remember Chapter 11:

Therefore turn being into advantage, and turn non-being into utility.
This means that the value added comes from not having things. Consider having things to be a benefit, though ultimately they are not as useful as not having things.