Limits: Translations, even my nearly literal one above, invariably lose some of the ancient ‘original intention’ due to the modern cultural context we bring to our language’s words… our ‘education’. Studying the Word-for-Word translation of the Chinese character’s many synonym-like meanings helps mitigate this. (Click graphic at right for on-line Word-for-Word.)
When people don’t respect death, why use the fear of death?
If we could cause people to always respect death and be in wonder,
And we caught and killed them, who would dare?
Always have the killer manage the killing,
A man taking the place of the killer killing,
Is said to be taking the place of the great craftsman chopping.
A man taking the place of the great craftsman chopping rarely never hurts his own hands.
Chapter of the Month
None per se…
This chapter certainly zeros in on the folly of taking the ‘lead’ in nature rather than ‘following’ nature. Other animals respond to natural circumstance; they ‘follow’ nature for the most part. Our cognitive ability allows us to project our needs and fears into a future we imagine. Then, rather than ‘following’ nature, we ‘follow’ our projection.
One caveat: this ability to project into a future is what has enabled us to dominate and rise to the top of the food web. Knowing that benefit and harm come in equal measure is one of the things the Tao Te Ching attempts to point out, and woe to him who doesn’t realize this double edge. A few excerpts illustrate this from Word for Word and D.C. Lau.
From chapter 16
From chapter 72
Given that our own projections arise from our own inner needs and fears means that we are chasing our own tail, more often than not. We go around in circles, yet think that we are getting somewhere. We aren’t; we just hurt our own hands. Naturally, the deep-seated belief in our capacity for free will convinces us that we are in charge, and therefore success is more certain.
The first line of chapter 71 speaks almost directly to the folly of believing in free will: Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. Belief is the devoted sense that you know. Indeed, if you didn’t know your belief was true, you couldn’t believe in it. Oh, I know that’s obvious. Still, how easy we forget.
‘Simply’ dropping my belief in free will, and choice, helped me avoid taking the place of the great craftsman [nature] chopping. Yes, it was a matter of ‘simply’, but not quickly! All in all, I suppose it took over 10 years to fully settle into non-belief.
What is non-belief? To me it boils down to simply distrusting the truth of whatever cognition conjures up. You could say it is taking every thought with a grain of salt. Now, that may sound like an overly passive approach to life. Ironically, it turns out to be just the opposite.
It is not that I ‘do nothing’; it is more that I can’t avoid being more humble in whatever I do. Knowing that I am not in control helps me see through my own limitations, and this lets life unfold more naturally. Seeing through my own limitations doesn’t mean seeing my limitations, it means not believing that any limitations that I ‘think’ I see are actually real. I become more open to a wait and see approach when necessary, or conversely jump in and see what happens; try it out and let the chips fall where they may.
If “simply dropping” your belief in free will sounds worth a try, be patient. I found that all I needed to do was first wonder whether of not free will was real. Having a grain of doubt led me to try to find any true evidence of free will that couldn’t be explained by natural processes that all living things experience. I’ve found none to date. Indeed, there is so much evidence contrary to free will, that any belief in free will just ends up looking like a case of wishful thinking.