Of people, existence weak and delicate,
Their death hard and unyielding.
Of plants, existence soft and yielding,
Their death withered and haggard.
Therefore the hard and unyielding, of death only,
The weak and fragile, of life only.
The use of powerful weapons, normally destroys,
The strong tree normally breaks.
The big and powerful dwell below,
The weak and fragile dwell above.
Limits: Translations, even the nearly literal one above, lose some of the original meaning due to the cultural context of contemporary words. Studying the numerous synonym-like meanings of the Chinese characters in the Word-for-Word translation mitigates this. (Click graphic at right for on-line Word-for-Word.)
Chapter of the Month
None per se…
As with most of the Tao Te Ching, I see this as more of a testament to how Nature works—its process. Granted, I must read between the lines somewhat, but doing that I see there is nothing I can ‘do’ with it. However, matching my expectations to Nature’s process sure helps avoid ‘banging my head against the wall’, so to speak. Knowing better how Nature works puts a little more distance between my head and the wall.
Okay, on the life’s side of nature’s equation we have weak and delicate, soft and yielding, weak and fragile… all dwelling precariously above. If you accept the fact that balance is nature’s prime directive (1), then you may see the inevitable tension that will arise in all living things, from viruses to humans.
Counter-balancing the Yin
The delicate and weak core of life drives the myriad outward ways life counter-balances that soft and yielding side of ourselves. Again, by ‘ourselves’, I’m referring to all living things—the myriad creatures—although, we’re the one’s most needing to get a handle on this, right?
Our counter-balancing efforts become especially apparent when that ‘Yin’ side is overly yielding and produces a more intense sense of insecurity—fear, to put it simple. From a Taoist perspective, we also acknowledge the plain, but subtle fact, that we always embody both sides, the Yin and the Yang, so why does the ‘Yin’ side bring on such insecurity?
Imagination Knows No Bounds
Insecurity arises when survival is threatened. Death, an ultimate Yin, taps the visceral core of all life. We’re no different, but our imagination amplifies and adds to this insecurity. Not only death, but all of deaths surrogates (correlations) that we also tend to fret over, whether anticipated or actual: Loss, failure, weakness, shame, soft, dark, depression, silence, and so on. From a symptoms point of view, it is easy to see how life has no choice but to contend. From correlations, I see: Yang = act = contend = survive = live life.
Certainly, all living things must needs push back on the Yin side of Nature’s equation constantly. In other words, going forward is the only way life avoids being overtaken by entropy… even though entropy will win in the end. We augment and so complicate this natural survival struggle by way of –you guessed it – our unique disease: Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease.
The only way to deal with this is by making friends with the inevitable, at least enough to cease reacting rashly to the Yin side. Chapter 42 sets the stage nicely, All things suffer the negative and embrace the positive; (or as D.C. Lau translated this, The myriad creatures carry on their backs the yin and embrace in their arms the yang and are the blending of the generative forces of the two.)
It helps to direct the mind to watch out for profound sameness rather than ‘lay back’ and judge all the differences that emotion drives awareness to notice.
The more the mind notices profound sameness, the closer it comes to sense immortality. Not an immortality of the ‘illusion of self’ as Buddha calls the ego, but the timeless-whole of the way. Differences are illusionary in that they mirror the agenda of the observer. Profound sameness connects the observer to the whole, and the mortal self dissolves in a sea of unity. Well, it sounds nice anyway, doesn’t it? Seriously though, whatever profound sameness you can witness between apparent opposites helps counter-balance the ‘disease’.
Not Contending Counter-balances
Highest good is like water.
Water benefits all things and does not contend,
Dwells in places the multitude loathe.
Therefore, it is somewhat like the way.
In being, satisfactory is earthy.
In intention, satisfactory is depth and benevolence.
In speech, satisfactory is truth.
In honesty, satisfactory is order.
In work, satisfactory is ability.
In action, satisfactory is time.
He alone does not contend,
Hence, there is no blame. #8
One adept in being a person is not militant.
One adept in battle is not enraged.
One adept in victory over enemies does not participate.
One adept in utilizing people acts from the lower position.
This is called the moral character of not contending.
This is called employing the ability of the people.
This is called matching of Nature’s ancient utmost. #68