The way of nature is like a stretching bow.
The high restrains, the lower lifts.
The surplus decreases, the insufficient benefits.
The way of nature decreases surplus yet benefits the insufficient.
The way of man, as a rule however,
. . . . decreases the insufficient so as to give to the surplus.
Who can have a surplus and give to all under heaven?
Only those who have the way.
The holy person uses this to serve, yet does not rely on,
Meritorious deeds result, yet not dwelled within.
Such absence of desire appears able and virtuous – how odd!
Limits: Translations, even the nearly literal one above, lose some of the original meaning due to the cultural context of contemporary words. Studying the numerous synonym-like meanings of the Chinese characters in the Word-for-Word translation mitigates this. (Click graphic at right for on-line Word-for-Word.)
Chapter of the Month
None per se…
Who can have a surplus and give to all under heaven? Only he who has the way. Well then, all I need to do is figure out how to get the way. Sarcastic yes, yet still a good blunt line of attack. It is utterly normal to think I can do something to get the way. Alas, that approach always ends up getting in my way.
Feeling and then thinking I can do something to get the way illustrates the difference between free will notions and the way. I think of the way as an infinite bowl of space time in which all of existence circulates within. Everything is in-by-with-of-on the way; this is my objective metaphor. However, it is a subjective sense of having the way for which I yearn. Why? Because I assume ‘it’ will make me happier. Doesn’t this ring the bell of Buddha’s “The surrounding world affects sensation and begets a craving thirst that clamors for immediate satisfaction”.
The intention to do something, anything, in order to have the way causes the problem that I’m wishing to resolve. It is utterly futile. The bright side of this dismal circumstance is that by facing up to it, I am able to look deeper within to tab other resources. Consider the Bhagavad Gita and its view of surrender for example.
But they for whom I am the End Supreme, who surrender all their works to me, and who with pure love meditate on me and adore me ‑ these I very soon deliver from the ocean of death and life‑in‑death, because they have set their heart on me. 12:6‑7
For concentration is better than mere practice, and meditation is better than concentration; but higher than meditation is surrender in love of the fruit of one’s actions, for on surrender follows peace. 12:12
The renunciation of selfish works is called renunciation; but the surrender of the reward of all work is called surrender. 8:2
So, all I need to do is surrender! Yes and no. I must surrender in order to relax or fall asleep. Yet, if I try to let go and surrender, I just lie awake trying to do it. Cease trying to do is what works, but I can’t try to cease the doing.
Wéi Wú Wéi or Wú Wéi (为无为 or 无为)
You probably see where I’m headed with this. I hope I’ve helped take the moralistic connotation with which people habitually interpret this chapter. A blinding belief in free will, whether explicit or implied, lends this chapter the righteous angle implied in lines 5,6, and 7. Indeed, I’d even go so far as to say the author, Lao Tzu or others, made this blunder. Well, nobody’s perfect!
5) The way of man, as a rule however, decreases the insufficient so as to give to the surplus.
6) Who can have a surplus and give to all under heaven?
7) Only those who have the way.
Any such misreading of Nature, in my view, is due to failing to examine circumstances from a symptoms point of view. Instead, our faulty judgments arise from an innate sense of fairness common to ‘higher’ social animals. Simply put, primal emotion drives human cognition. Line 4 gives us a clue to seeing outside this instinct driven box: (4) The way of nature decreases surplus yet benefits the insufficient.
Chapter 56’s This is called profound sameness and to chapter 16’s Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial also helps clear away moralistic connotation.
The way of nature doesn’t just take a vacation when it comes to humanity. Therefore, whenever the way of man, as a rule however, decreases the insufficient so as to give to the surplus is true, it is still nature at work! In other words, when a person is piling up surplus, for example, they are merely feeling a profound insufficiency within themselves, i.e., emptiness, loss, failure, weakness, death and all the other correlates. They can’t help but decreases surplus they see ‘out there’ to benefits the insufficiency they are experiencing within themselves. After all, ‘in here’ is our core point of reference for what is real. I suppose that’s why sanity can be so precarious.
Free will and wéi wú wéi are like oil and water
Much of the Tao Te Ching appears to be telling us to do something, like be involved without being involved and much of the rest of chapter 63 and 3. In some cases, like this current chapter 77, it seems the author/s is doing just that. In other cases, the author/s pleads a case for without doing. I resolve the seeming inconsistencies by simply regarding the Tao Te Ching as a very keen view of how nature works, and not as a prescription of what I ‘should do’, had I free will to choose.
Viewing the Tao Te Ching as a description rather than as a proscription is actually an effective way to nudge myself in the ‘Right Direction’, as Buddha might have called it. The more deeply I sense how nature works, the more involuntarily I seem to comply cognitively speaking. I can’t help it. It becomes harder to expect otherwise, and as we know, it is cleaving to our expectations that grieve us most! Surrendering expectations — This is called matching of Nature’s ancient utmost.