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.)
Under heaven, all say my way is great resembling nothing.
Man is only great by reason of resembling nothing.
If it resembled anything, long ago indeed,
. . . it would trifle as would man.
I have three treasures of which I hold and protect:
The first I call kindness,
The second I call thrift,
The third I call not daring to act before all under heaven.
Being kind, I can be brave,
Being thrifty, I can spread out,
Not daring to act before all under heaven acts,
. . . I can succeed steadily.
Now, abandoning kindness for daring,
Abandoning thrift for spreading out,
Abandoning the rear for the front,
Man using kindness in battle normally succeeds,
. . . and in defense normally resolute.
Heaven leads in rescuing using kindness of defense.
Chapter of the Month
Line 3: No big deal. Just a comma I felt needed moving.
Lines 15: Big deal! This line bothered me today. Man using kindness normally succeeds, according to rules admittedly. This just didn’t make sense. How did it ever? At first I thought, “Perhaps it just needs a little rephrasing”, like changing this “according to rules admittedly” to read something like “according to rules no doubt”, or “according to rules as a matter of course”.
Still not pleased with this, I slept on it. Today I dug deeper and I saw the light. Curiously, I had the pin yin right all along, but that’s another story. The problem is that the final characters toward the end can be read either as two words, or as one word. Why did I go for the one word meaning, when two makes much more sense? Who knows… certainly not me. In the end, it is all mysterious. Although, that may be a sign of me aging. 😉 Oh, memory is a curiously unreliable beast; it favors this and ignores that all the time.
Here is the change and the breakdown. Note also that I added the word battle; why I left that out I’ll never know, as well.
Man using kindness in battle normally succeeds, and in defense normally resolute.
husband (man) kind (loving; mother) use (take; so as to_and) war (fight) standard (norm; rule > imitate; follow) victory (success; surpass), use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) guard (defend; keep watch; abide by; near) standard (norm; rule > imitate; follow) solid (firm> originally > admittedly; no doubt). 夫慈以战则胜，以守则固。(fū cí yĭ zhàn zé shèng, yĭ shŏu zé gù.)
Lines 3 tickled me today. If it resembled anything, long ago indeed, it would trifle as would man. Yes, I even chuckled. Why is difficult to answer. Perhaps, its truth struck me deeply at that moment. They say laugher is a release of tension, which sounds about right. Now, it is not the first time I’ve considered that view, or been struck by it; indeed, I hold it deeply. Yet, in that moment, it re-struck me. It just goes to show how important it is to keep words alive and connected into what they echo. It is all too easy to lazily fall back on our ‘talking points’. On the other hand, lazy rest is good. As always, balance is my Holy Grail.
This is an interesting problem. Words can dull perception and shield us from the vibrant emptiness that flushes each moment. On the other hand, we can use words to point out that mind numbing effect to which we so often turn. The three treasures help.
Kindness: When I can muster enough of this emotion, it neutralizes any tendency I feel to judge others. Words being the key tool we use in passing judgment. Words permit us to hold on to our judgments permanently. Holding-on shields us from the emptiness by producing an illusion of self, i.e., Buddha’s 2nd Truth, “… The illusion of self originates and manifests itself in a cleaving to things“. We then waste much of life protecting that fantasy. Conversely, with less illusion-of-self (ego) to protect, I can be brave.
Thrift: When I can muster enough restraint, I am more likely to stop in time. Man handles the realization to stop. Knowing to stop [he] can be without danger. Having restraint, I can spread out.
Not daring to act: When I can muster enough patience, I am better able to follow circumstances. Without patience, I tend to push my own agenda to make circumstance conform to my ideal. Naturally, I can’t see the futility and failure of this approach when I’m in hot pursuit of my immediate goal. Conversely, Not daring to act before all under heaven acts, I can succeed steadily.
As chapter 12 says,
The five colors make people’s eyes blind.
The five sounds make people’s ears deaf.
The five tastes make people’s mouths brittle.
Rushed hunting makes people’s hearts go crazy.
Goods hard to come by make people behave harmfully.
Because of this, the wise person acts for the belly, not the eye.
Hence, he leaves that and takes this.
I can succeed steadily holds a subtle clue. Succeed steadily as contrasted with winning the jackpot, the game, the prize, our hearts desire, etc., suddenly. Our biological urge to have it all, and have it now, is as detrimental to well-being as it is powerful. Of course, in wilderness circumstances—sans civilization—this urge would be much less of a problem. Nature’s wild side would keep these urges in check constantly. How? The last line offers a hint to contemplate: Heaven leads in rescuing using kindness of defense.