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.)
The people are hungry because taxes eat much,
That is why they are hungry.
The people are difficult to govern because of their expectations,
That is why they are difficult to govern.
The people take death lightly because they seek life’s flavor,
That is why they take death lightly.
Only the man without use for life is worthy of a noble life.
Chapter of the Month
Archive: Characters and past commentary
None per se…
Taking this personally, I wonder how do I “tax” myself, and in that way cause myself to be “hungry”. Now, I know many translations (interpretations) prefer to see this in a political context, along the lines of ‘Rulers tax the people, which makes them hungry’. Certainly, that has been the case throughout the history of civilization, with the poorest people carrying the greatest tax burden. But so what?
Bemoaning the ‘unfairness’ of it never changes it, as history shows. Hierarchical structure of civilization always means that the top will always be at the top! Even in revolutions against the established order, the ‘bottom’ takes over and settles into the ‘top’. Communism comes to mind, not as the ideals it professes, but rather as what it is in reality. Only when we leave our favoritism behind and see the natural process at work will we be able to deal with it in ways that are more effective and balanced. It will never be ‘perfect’ because civilization is an imperfect social construct for managing millions of ‘tribe mates’, but having the courage to face reality can only help improve our ability to deal with it.
Pointing fingers at suitable scapegoats whether those at the ‘top’ or ‘bottom’, comes very naturally. This instinctive approach works just fine in the wild, especially for the non-thinking animal kingdom. For us, that train has left the station. Our thinking gets us into trouble. Our only hope to mitigate this is through more impartial thinking. Given how much emotion drives thought, this is a lot easier said than done!
Just what is a noble life? Take a look at the character meanings, 贵 (guì) 生(shēng). expensive (precious; noble) give birth to (grow; existence; life). When I am not expecting more out of life than I am giving to life each moment, I feel worthy of a noble life. It isn’t that I sit passive and let the world run me over. Indeed, it has nothing to do with activity; it is simply doing without doing — wéi wú wéi (为无为). As chapter 3 and 63 say,
Doing without doing, following without exception rules,
Do without doing,
Be involved without being involved.
Taste without tasting.
I imagine that comes off sounding a bit too passive. However, it really means being at one with the moment, applying 100% of my awareness to that alone, and nothing to thoughts that feed hungry expectations, i.e., expectations are merely the ‘doing’ that takes place in the mind… a mental doing with
out doing, so to speak.
Naturally, Doing without doing is not possible to practice perfectly.; we can’t practice what we preach because of that nasty old thinking disease (re: chapter 71). Even so, it helps to see this as speaking to what is simply and naturally so. All I need to do is ‘follow’ that which is naturally so, and remain imperfectly perfect… or is it perfectly imperfect. Either way, that is doable.
Immortality is a state of mind.
Last night I was semi dreaming, semi thinking of my parents and my brother. I will soon be joining them in death. I often feel this in a general way, joining all those who have gone before. Feeling connected to all those who have gone before and to the past, imparts a sense of immortality. That is, as long as the feeling is absent expectations or longings. Impartiality is essential. This experience is another aspect of the ‘fact’ that time is merely a reflection of our expectations. Only the man without use for life is worthy of a noble life. A lust for life, or as this chapter put it seek life’s flavor, returns death. Or as chapter 50 says,
Of people, aroused by life, in death trapped, also three in ten.
Why is this so?
Because they favor life
Leave a Reply