Tommy's Reviews > Tao Te Ching

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
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Sep 04, 11


I acquired this book many years ago but put it aside to study the Legge translation. The 'read this' icon here at GoodReads leads to the James Legge translation.

I am not sure if this is the same as the Gia Feng – Jane English translation. I think it may not be. I could be wrong.

The thing being, if you grok the Legge translation then that's all you need to know. It may be the finest translation of a volume of Chinese philosophy that exists, but who is to say. The Wilhelm-Barnes translation of the I Ching comes as close by comparison, the difference being that Legge's translations are sometimes more poetic than literal while still capturing the essence of the verses to a profound degree.


As to the subject:

What is the Tao?
None can say.
Where is the Tao?
It is hidden away.


Refer to verse 41:

The Tao is hidden, and has no name; but it is the Tao that is skillful at imparting (to all things what they need) and making them complete.



Question: if the Tao imparts, then how is it skillful at imparting?

Perhaps verse 48 can shed some light on this.

He who devotes himself to learning
seeks daily to increase his knowledge.
He who devotes himself to the Tao
seeks daily to diminish his doing.

He diminishes it and diminishes it
until he is doing nothing "on purpose."
Then, having arrived at this state of "non-doing"
there is nothing that he does not do.

(Very strange or very wise? But it continues...)

He who gets --- as his own --- all under heaven
Does so by not giving himself any trouble with that end (result).

If he (troubles himself) with that end (result)
is not yet equal to getting all as his own under heaven.


Question: does this mean that getting everything we want should be "no trouble at all?"

If so, how do we arrive at that capacity?


Perhaps verse 7 is a clue.

Heaven is long enduring and earth continues long.
The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue
Is that they do not live of, or for, themselves.

Therefore is the sage puts (consideration of) his own person last
And yet he ends up in the foremost place.

He treats (consideration of) his (own) person
as if it were foreign to him
And yet that person is preserved.

It is not that he has no personal or private ends
But that (this is how) those ends are realized.


And verse 66 reiterates this.

The way that the (big) rivers and seas are able to receive the homage and tribute of all the valley streams is their SKILL in being lower then they --- and thus they (become) kings of them all.

So it is that the sage (king/ruler) wishing to be above men
Puts himself by his words below them,
And wishing to be (ahead) of them
Places his person behind them.

In this way though he (achieves) his place above them
They do not feel his weight,
Nor though he (achieves) his place ahead of them
They do not count it an injury.

And all in the world delight to exalt such a person
And never tire of him.

And because he does not strive

((meaning to struggle or to have trouble with achieving before it's "no trouble at all"))

--- no one can strive with him.



Ah! So "skill" means to place yourself in the lower position!
But more so.
The skill is to acquire --- the lower position.
To be skilled in acquiring... ...the lower position.

The position to be of service.

The honor is to serve.


Not to proceed upon your own purposes, but rather to serve the purposes of others until achieving your own purposes is "no trouble at all."

He does not strive --- struggle to achieve his own purposes --- and so no one can strive with him.


Very strange or very wise?

Even more so, verse 4 says...

The Tao can be likened to the emptiness of a vessel
(a cup, a bowl, a jar, a ship).
In our employment of it we must be on our guard against all fullness.

(So, fullness is the enemy of emptiness? How are we to employ this? The verse continues...)

We should blunt our sharpness, tone down our brightness,
Bring ourselves into agreement with the obscurity of others,
And them help them to unravel the complications of things.


(And verse 11 adds to this...)

Thirty great spokes (of a wheel) can all unite in one nave
But their use depends on the emptiness of the central hub.

(Common) clay can be fashioned (fired) into vessels of great value
But their use depends on their hollow emptiness.

Doors and windows can be cut in the walls of apartments
And it is their emptiness on which their use depends.

Everything that exists can serve for profitable adaptation
But it is only that which is empty than can serve for actual usefulness.


Which brings us back to verse 42 (after consideration of verse 41, as stated here previously).


The Tao can give you one.
From one you make two.
From two you make three
And from that --- all things.

For all things leave behind them the obscurity out of which they come
To go forward and embrace the brightness into which they emerge,
While they are harmonized by the breadth of vacancy.

(The experience, the gestalt, of emptiness. Then the verse continues...)

But what people dislike is to be like orphans,
To be thought of as having little virtue,
To be like a carriage without a nave
((the "wheels having fallen off your wagon"))
And yet these are the designations that sage-kings and princes use for themselves!

So it is that some people are increased by being diminished
While others are diminished by being increased.



And all eighty-one verses just pour out this profoundly upside-down wisdom. One cannot help, it seems, but to start thinking like an sage.

"It's an upside down world
Where forwards is backwards,
Down is up
And sideways is straight-ahead"
--- Bruce Lee.


Look at verse 3.

Not to employ only those of superior ability
keeps the people from rivalry.
Not to prize what is hard to get
keeps the people from becoming thieves.
Not to display what might excite desires
keeps the people from falling into "disorder."

Therefore, the sage-king, in the exercise of government
Empties their minds and fills their bellies,
Weakens their willfulness and strengthens their bones.

He constantly tries to keep them unknowing and without desire.
And where some acquire knowing about things
He constantly tries to keep them from presuming to act upon it
((as in, precipitously, before things are "no trouble at all)).
Because where there is abstinence from precipitous action
"good order" becomes universal.


Good "order" in how to accomplish things and get the end result you desire.

Then verse 37 is the official end of the "first half" of the collection of verses.


The Taoist in the regular course of things
Does nothing for the sake of personal purpose
And so (it ends up) that there is nothing that he does not do.

If princes and sage-kings would but keep this in mind
Then things would "transform themselves," (so to speak).

So, when "transforming things" becomes
an object of your personal desire
Then remember Profound Simplicity!

Simplicity without a name
Free from all external aim,
Without desire, at rest and still,
And things go right as if of their own will.



Chop wood.
Carry water.
Then suddenly --- ah! The full moon in all its glory!
--- Bruce Lee


Tao Te Ching means, the way of the wellspring.


And verse 1 tells us about that "way" right at the beginning.


The way that can be pointed out to be walked down upon
Is not the enduring and thus unchanging way.

The name that can be named
is not the enduring and thus unchanging name.

Conceived of as having no name (being an unknown)
It is the Originator of heavenly sublime and low-earthly service

Conceived of as having a name (being well known or of great reputation)
--- it is like being the Mother to all things.

Without desire and just roaming around
That's how the great mystery can be found.
But when desire within us be
Then "catching a glimpse" of it is all we see.

Under these two aspects (Unknown and Famous)
it's really the same thing;
Because as things develop
they receive names (and reputations and fame).

But put these two things together and we call it, The Way of Mystery.

And where the Way of Mystery runs deep
Is the gateway to all that is subtle and wonderful.


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Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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Jeff Tommy, you wrote, "The 'read this' icon here at GoodReads leads to the James Legge translation. I am not sure if this is the same as the Gia Feng–Jane English translation."

Goodreads's [Read This] button takes you to the (a?) James Legge translation, which is definitely different than the Feng-English translation. The Legge translation also happens to be available from Project Gutenberg, though the very first line of the text is diff on PG than here on Goodreads.


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