Chapter 65 begins with, Of old those who excelled in the pursuit of the way did not use it to enlighten the people but to hoodwink them. Initially, I thought of old referred to people, e.g., parents, politicians, preachers, gurus. On the other hand, these people are often?… usually?… always?… hoodwinked by their own set of beliefs. As a result, I feel now that of old plainly refers to Nature herself. What is more of old than Nature? Nature and her co-conspirator, biology, hoodwink living things to do their living.
Fishing offers a useful example of how one might partly avoid Nature’s hoodwinking hooks. Consider the wise old lake bass that no fisherman can ever hook. That’s because that fish quickly learned that the bait was a hoodwink, and so avoided the hook from then on… “Once bitten, twice shy”. The fish in the frying pan is the one, blinded by hungry desire, didn’t learn and ended up hooked.
So, do fish desire? That depends on what desire means. Upon scrutiny, desire looks like this: Desire = need + thought (1). Fish don’t think, so it is only their need to eat that drives them to take the bait. In fact, need is the urgent visceral emotion that pushes both fish and us to act… to take the ‘baits’ in life. Thinking is where fish and we part company. Thought enables us to project our emotions (primarily needs and fears) into a future, or carry them along from a past in the form of stories we tell and retell others and ourselves.
To sum it up: The bio-hoodwink refers to the underlying biology that drives life, via need and fear (2), to survive. In addition, the complex nervous systems of “higher” animals have a more acute sense of need and fear. In our case, the mind notices the outcomes of these biological drives (need and fear). This produces an illusion of self that imagines it controls action. Voilà: we are naturally hoodwinked into believing we are in control. In fact, biology runs the show. This is similar to the impression of personal power and control people get when riding a motorcycle, a horse, or surfing a wave.
Biology hoodwinks all life by giving it the sense that (A) it will live “forever”, and (B) responding to need and fear always guarantees survival. Thinking merely intensifies this impression. We clearly we need to distrust the thinking side of this enough to avoid taking the bait and being repeatedly hooked by our own rationalizations.
Buddha’s Four Noble Truths (p.604) offer part of the solution. However, even more applicable is chapter 71…
To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty. (3)
It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with
no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.
The reality we think we perceive is not the full-blown cosmic reality. We merely see what evolution primes our senses to perceive for survival’s sake. Moreover, the senses tend to filter out every aspect of reality that doesn’t actually serve survival. We exacerbate this perceptual blindness by feeling the genuine certainty that our perceptions are the true and total story.
A deep and constant awareness of Nature’s hoodwink makes it more difficult for our instincts and senses to fool us. We will realize it’s better to take everything we sense as only provisionally true and real… to be taken with a grain of salt.
For another angle on the hoodwink, see Peeking in on Nature’s Hoodwink, p.11.
(1) Depending on circumstances, many other words denote need and desire, e.g., hunger, thirst, lust, greed, cleaving, longing, clinging, wishing, yearning, hankering, and so on.
(2) It helps to realize that fear is the ultimate precursor of need. The fear of nothing, loss, death, and the void, drives all living things to move, to organize, and to resist entropy — death. Understandably, that means that fear + thought = worry (anxiety).
(3) The first two lines translate more literally as, Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease… Disease! Was D.C. Lau being politically correct?