Use honesty to govern the country,
Use surprise when using weapons,
Use non responsibility when seeking all under heaven.
How do I know so? Because of this.
The wider spread the taboos, the poorer the people.
The sharper their tools, the more a country’s confusion grows.
The more clever they are, the more strange things appear.
The more laws multiply, the more conspicuous the robbers.
For this reason, the holy person says,
I do nothing and the people change themselves.
I love stillness and the people straighten themselves.
I am without responsibility and the people thrive themselves.
I am without desire and the people simplify themselves.
1) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) straight (upright; main; honest) rule (govern; manage; peace) country (state; of our country), 以正治国，(yĭ zhēng zhì guó.)
2) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) strange (rare; surprise; wonder) use (apply <frml> hence) weapons (private; army), 以奇用兵，(yĭ jī yòng bīng,)
3) use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) nothing (without; not) matter (affair; thing; responsibility) take (get; seek; adopt) land under heaven. 以无事取天下。(yĭ wú shì qŭ tiān xià.)
4) I (we) who (why) know (realize; tell) his (its; their; they; that) correct (so; like that <formal conj> but; nevertheless) zāi (exclamatory or interrog. part.)? use (<v> take <p> according to; because of <adj> so as to <conj> and) this. 吾何以知其然哉？以此。(wú hé yĭ zhī qí rán zāi? yĭ cĭ.)
5) land under heaven much (more; too many; excessive) taboo (avoid as taboo; avoid as harmful) <conj.> and (yet, but) the people (civilian) full (overflowing; more) poor (deficient; garrulous; loquacious). 天下多忌讳而民弥贫。(tiān xià duō jì huì ér mín mí pín.)
6) the people (civilian) much (more; too many; excessive) sharp weapon (good tool) country (state; nation) grow (multiply; more> spurt; burst) dim (confused; muddled; lose consciousness; faint). 民多利器国家滋昏。(mín duō lì qì guó jiā zī hūn.)
7) human (man; people) much (more; excessive) ability (trick) clever (deceitful; artful) strange (rare; surprise) thing (matter; the outside world as distinct from oneself) drip (trickle) get up (remove; pull; appear). 人多伎巧奇物泫起。(rén duō jì qiăo jī wù xuàn qĭ.)
8) method (law; follow; model after) command (decree; make; cause) grow (multiply; more> spurt; burst) clear (evident; conspicuous) robbers (bandits) much (more; too many; excessive) have (exist). 法令滋彰盗贼多有。(fă lìng zī zhāng dào zéi duō yŏu.)
9) reason (cause; on purpose; hence) sage (holy; sacred) human (man; people) say (cloud). 故圣人云 (gù shèng rén yún)
10) I (we) nothing (without; not) do (act; act as; serve as; be; mean; support) <conj.> and (yet, but) the people (civilian) self (oneself; certainly) change (turn; transform; convert; influence). 我无为而民自化。(wŏ wú wéi ér mín zì huā.)
11) I (we) good (be easy_like; be fond of) still (quiet; calm) <conj.> and (yet, but) the people (civilian) self (oneself; certainly) straight (upright; main; honest). 我好静而民自正。(wŏ hăo jìng ér mín zì zhēng.)
12) I (we) nothing (without; not) matter (affair; thing; involvement) <conj.> and (yet, but) the people (civilian) self (oneself; certainly) rich (wealthy; abundant). 我无事而民自富。(wŏ wú shì ér mín zì fù.)
13) I (we) nothing (without; not) desire (wish; want; about to) <conj.> and (yet, but) the people (civilian) self (oneself; certainly) simple (plain). 我无欲而民自朴。(wŏ wú yù ér mín zì pò.)
Chapter of the Month
This chapter’s English still works for me. The notion of non responsibility is one of the more radical in this chapter. We are taught from childhood onward to be Responsible. Of course, this traces right back to the notion of free will, which pushes the ideal that we can have control over our lives. We desperately want control over life… to master our fate. Certainly, at first glance, we seem to have a lot of control. Heck, at the push of a button we can do all sorts of powerful things, up to even launching a nuclear war.
Looking deeper however, it is simply a need (or a fear) to either do or not do, that drives our action or inaction. We just don’t discern the process that carefully. The ego, “I”, thinks it is in control. This is abundantly clear when there is something we imagine we ‘should’ do or not do, which is not supported by a true visceral need. We dwell on it, but never act. Thinking we have free will, we beat ourselves up for not being ‘strong enough’ to be responsible.
Judging our lives this way doesn’t stop at the edge of our skin either. We expect other people to have this power of free will, to be responsible even as we continue to fail to live up to our highest ideals of perfection and personal responsibility. This chapter reveals how nature actually works, which is often very different from how we wished it worked. Ironically, the only folks who can fully appreciate this chapter’s revelation are those who already know it… at least at some intuitive level (i.e., we only understand what we already know).
Work in Progress
(1) Spelling Heven on line 3. How did the spell checker miss that? (2) Switching between adding a ‘the’ and leaving it more literal, i.e., Chinese doesn’t use ‘the’, but sometimes it feels so necessary to include in the translation. Son Luke said I should at least be consistent within a chapter, which seems to make sense, at yet…
I do nothing and the people change themselves. Someone wondered in the meeting how people could change themselves simply by one doing nothing. In a purely objective sense that won’t happen all that much. However, the old saying, “it takes two to fight” suggest the effect of simply ceasing to act. Much of life is a reaction to what we perceive. If you perceive me as disengaging, that will influence your behavior. All the same, I prefer to consider this in a more subjective sense…
When I am sufficiently still within, the whole world ‘out there’ changes accordingly. It is only when I need the world to be a certain way, that I start imagining how the world could change for the better. I first became aware of ‘how I am determines how the world appears’ by noticing what the external world looked and felt after I awoke each morning.
When I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I would notice a world of angry people out and about throughout the day. When I woke up with a more cheerful upbeat mood, I would coincidently come across a world of cheery upbeat people. Sure, some of that was due to my behavior, i.e., treat people nice, they treat you nice. However, I’m also talking about strangers I saw across the street, for example. The moral of this experience: how I was determined, to a large extent, how the rest of the world appears to me to be. So much of what we object to ‘out there’ originates ‘in here’.
The more clever they are, the more strange things appear account for the widespread confusion that now appears to exist on the planet. It is not that anyone in particular is more clever now than in previous eras, it is just that exponential increases in technology create an effect that mimics increased cleverness. We live in fascinating times.
Chapter of the Week
Not being meddlesome is another way to consider the notion of using non responsibility. Both meddling and taking responsibility come from a desire on the part of the “responsible” meddling person to control the situation in order to have an outcome that agrees with their ideal objective. The desire to have things go your way is the fly in the ointment of life.
But what about the desire for “good”? The problem with good and bad is that one person’s “good” (pleasure) is another’s “bad” (poison). Being without desire, means being without responsibility for either good or bad. That may feel shocking at first, but consider Nature for a moment. Looking at the natural world, I see no good or bad – impartiality rules the day. Good and bad are obviously projections of what personally brings us pleasure and pain. Simply said, if it’s pleasurable and I like it, it’s good. If it’s painful and I dislike it, it’s bad. If animals could talk, they’d formulate a similar set of words for their emotional experience of pleasure and pain.
Of what are taboos, sharp tools, and laws symptomatic? Our instinctive, boundless need for comfort and security. Taboos are restrictions that evolve in cultures to preserve the security of the status quo. This stability is useful to an extent, but eventually serves to undermine the people’s ability to adapt to the changing conditions nature throws their way. The poorer the people is the end result. Sharp tools enable people to circumvent nature in order to maximize comfort and security. Tools allow us to get life done quicker; confusion grows as we get ahead of ourselves in our rush to “progress”.
Finally, laws multiply as group cohesion and mutual trust wanes. Most members of prehistoric, hunter gatherer groups lived their entire lives together from birth to death. That connection fostered intuitive trust and mutual obligation. As that sense of intimate connection wanes, it becomes easier for people to rob, cheat and lie. As we transitioned from hunter-gatherer tribal existence to civilization, everyone beyond one’s family became a stranger to some degree. Indeed, today even member of nuclear families have become strangers somewhat as they share less and less of the activities that previous generations did (work, music, food, etc.). (See Ethics, Do They Work Any More?) It is a “lonely brave new world” in ways we’ve yet to fully realize.
The world I experience is largely a reflection of how I feel. Thus, when I hold firmly to stillness, the whole world feels more tranquil than otherwise. “I love stillness”, is the heart and sole of what we call meditation and prayer. It is one sure way for people to straighten themselves. Stillness is more than meditation and prayer though: a sigh, a cigarette break, a tea break, a nap,… many are the ways of stillness.
On the other hand, rushing around taking responsibility and getting things done is symptomatic of what we feel deficient in life (i.e., Nature abhors a vacuum). The imperfection we see in the world is simply a reflection of what we feel missing, and so hunger for. Saying I do nothing and the people transform themselves can be very misleading if it comes across as implying that doing nothing results in their objective transformation. Although, that is the first impression many have.
It may be more accurate to see both as happening in concert together; one doesn’t cause the other. Rather, when I feel a need to change something, I will act. When I feel contentment with how things are, I do nothing (much). When I feel contentment, everything is perfect; I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the uncarved block. (I suppose a more accurate way to put this would be: I am free from desire and thus my perception is transformed and I see the people simple like the uncarved block. (Alas, what we gain in accuracy, we lose in the poetry).