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 to be ‘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 the hoodwinking dynamic, and hints at how one can partly avoid Nature’s hoodwinking hooks. We’ve all heard stories of that wise old lake bass that no fisherman could hook. Isn’t that the fish that quickly ‘gets it’? Once bitten, twice shy, as they say. This fish quickly sees bait as a hoodwink and learns to avoid it. The dead fish is the one forever hopeful that its desires will satiate.
Do fish desire? No, strictly speaking. This is how it boils down: Desire = need + thought (1). Fish don’t think, so only instinctive need drives them to take the bait. Need is the immediate visceral emotion we and the fish feel driving us to act, or refrain from acting. 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 ourselves.
To sum it up: The bio-hoodwink refers to the underlying biology that drives life, via need and fear, to survive. The evolved nervous systems of ‘higher’ animals have a more acute sense of need and fear. Human cognition notices the actions driven by these drivers of intrinsic will. This gives one’s “illusion of self” the impression “I” controls the actions, when in fact, need and fear — biology — is the driver. This is similar to the impression of personal power and control people get when riding a motorcycle, riding the 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 ensure that eternal result. Thinking intensifies this impression and causes undue stress. The obvious question now: How can we avoid taking the bait and ending up like that dead fish? Obviously, we need to distrust the promises our thoughts make and the rationalizations into which we talk ourselves.
Buddha’s Four Noble Truths address this head on. In particular, of the Eightfold path, four 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
(1) Other words refer 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, 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 literal is more serious than D.C. Lau translated it. Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease… Disease!