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.)
Those who use weapons have a saying:
We dare not act as hosts, but act as visitors.
We dare not advance an inch, but withdraw a foot.
This is called going without going.
Grabbing without an arm.
Casting aside without opposing.
Taking charge without weapons.
Of misfortunes, none is greater than rashly opposing.
Rashly opposing nearly lost me treasure.
Therefore contending militantly, adds sorrow to victory.
Chapter of the Month
Archive: Characters and past commentary
The only correction I felt like making was to smooth out the phrasing. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. I often need to remind myself that rolling off the tongue smoothly can be more disadvantage than advantage in attempts to understand the Tao Te Ching. The awkward phrasing forces my mind to either fight the phrasing or ponder more deeply. I’ve learned that the later usually serves me best. After all, as Line 9 says, Rashly opposing nearly lost me treasure.
I would sum up this chapter as being a call to patience. The beauty of this chapter lies in how it draws out the meaning of that word. Words are very ‘one dimensional’ by themselves. The meaning of a word lies in the emotion it evokes. However, one word, by itself, rarely evokes that, or if it does, that deeper meaning can soon wear off. Having the word patience drawn out, especially in a roundabout peculiar way, the mind can chew on deeper meanings longer. That process cultivates intuitive perspective… feeling!
Maintaining the feeling of this going without going helps me to drop much of my own expectations and rely on nature to play itself out (Expectations? See Science Proves Buddha Right). Life feels as if it offers me two paths: living in the process, or living in the expectations of results… or a muddy mixture of the two. The former is very much more peaceful, and as such, not truly ‘natural’.
What?… not truly ‘natural’? Haven’t I always said nothing is outside nature? The point here is that all living things are biologically set up to work, not rest in blissful peace. More to the point, life is set up to seek balance… work and rest, ‘war’ and peace, and so on. The symptoms point of view tells me that I’m seeking “more peaceful” because that is the direction in which balance lies, for me. Conversely, if I was seeking life’s thrills that would tell me I was too ‘peaceful’ within, i.e. bored to death. (Note: bored and death correlate.)
Human cultural evolution following the agricultural revolution has made it much more difficult for us to achieve a natural state of balance… most likely resulting from losing a sense of balance between ‘we’ and ‘me’. “I” the individual — this illusion of self/ego — dominates now. This is almost certainly a prerequisite for civilization to function. The ‘we’, which individuals identify with for a sense of social security, must extend beyond one’s immediate family and relatives. Civilization goes hand in hand with individuality. And that, my friends, is the ultimate source of imbalance from which we suffer.
I view this imbalance (tension) as driving each of us to seek out a niche that promises us the greatest sense of connection. Naturally, that is just what civilization requires; each individual filling a niche with a particular expertise to benefit the whole. Like the tribal process of the old way, but on steroids.
Of course, individuality (ego) also threatens the Meta-we of civilization. There have always been attempts via religious and cultural taboo (etiquette) to suppress individuality for the good of the group. These do not eliminate it; they only channel individual drives (ego) to find expression in other ways. It is crazy stuff.
The Tao Te Ching is the best attempt I’ve found to speak the truth, although, in such an inscrutable way so as not to offend those for whom their civilization’s story holds meaning. Written this way also gives something for anyone receptive. In other words, one can grow into it over time. As I’ve said before, a Taoist worldview is the religion of last resort. 😉
(For more on balance, see Exquisite Balance, Balancing Difference With Similarity, Counterbalancing I.Q.).
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