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 often seem hoodwinked by their own paradigm, so to speak. As a result, I now feel of old refers more candidly to Nature itself. 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 story of the wise old lake bass that no fisherman can hook. It is old and wise because it learned that the bait was a hoodwink, and thus avoided the hook from then on. “Once bitten, twice shy”, as they say. The fish in the frying pan is the one that, blinded by its hungry desire didn’t learn and ended up hooked.
Do fish desire? That depends on what desire means. I boil the nature of desire down this way: Desire = need + thought (1). Fish don’t think, so it is only their need that drives them to take the bait. In fact, need is the urgent visceral emotion that pushes both fish and us to act. Thinking is where fish and we part company. Thought enables us to project our emotions 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, to survive. The complex nervous systems of “higher” animals have a more acute sense of need and fear. The human mind notices the outcomes of these drivers (need and fear), and this creates the mental impression “I” controls the actions. Voilà: the mind is hooked. In fact, need and fear — biology — are behind the wheel. This is similar to the impression of personal power and control people get when riding a motorcycle, a wave, or a horse.
Biology hoodwinks all life by giving it the impression that (A) it will live forever, and (B) responding to need and fear will guarantee survival. Thinking intensifies this impression and causes undue stress. The obvious question now: How can we avoid taking the bait and ending up like dead fish? Obviously, we need to distrust the promises our thoughts make, and the ensuing rationalizations into which we talk ourselves.
Buddha’s Four Noble Truths (p.604) address this head on. In particular, of the Eightfold path, four of these speak to the mind’s involvement: comprehension, resolution, thought, and state of peaceful mind. Perhaps even more to the point is chapter 71(3) ,
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.
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 see is not full-blown reality. We merely see what evolution cultivates our senses to perceive for survival’s sake. Moreover, the senses tend to filter out every other aspect of reality that doesn’t serve the survival imperative. To top it off, we feel an instinctive certainty that our perceptions are 100% true.
Constant awareness of Nature’s hoodwink makes it less likely our instincts and senses can fool us. It’s best to take everything we sense as only provisionally true and real.
For another piece of the hoodwink puzzle, see Peeking in on Nature’s Hoodwink, p.11.
(1) Other words connote to need and desire, depending on circumstance, degree, and custom: hunger, thirst, lust, greed, cleaving, longing, clinging, wishing, yearning, hankering, and so on.
(2) I should point out 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) Note how the literal is much more forthright than D.C. Lau translated it, Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease… Disease!