Were I possessed of the least knowledge, I would, when walking on the great
way, fear only paths that lead astray. The great way is easy, yet people prefer
The great way is easy only when I have priorities set. To set my priorities, I must first STOP and separate paths that lead astray from those that don’t. I’m only able to STOP if I sense that I’m possessed of the least knowledge and so must ponder the situation carefully.
It’s ironic that the least knowledge I possess the more I choose bypaths. Of course this only really happens when I DON”T KNOW that I’m possessed of the least knowledge. I thought I knew much in my youth so I fearlessly plunged forward. Growing up has been a process of realizing how little I really know. It’s easier to walk the great way now, for I’m more cautious of bypaths. Tentative, as if fording a river in winter, Hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbors [see ch. 15].
When I really know I’m possessed of the least knowledge, I do fear only paths that lead astray.” This is apparent, for example, when I get lost in a city or a forest. So, I suppose civilized circumstances give us a false sense of security. We rely on our truisms so much, it’s difficult to realize how really lost we are! Thus the paths we take don’t appear to us as bypaths.
Prefer is the key word here for me. I prefer to do what I want, rather than what is best. Of course, I’m just following my natural instinct. I know that eating carrots is best for my health, but I prefer eating cookies. Now, in nature there would be no cookies. My preferences would coincide with what was best for me. So, in the jungle I’d prefer carrots to tree bark, the greater nutrition being in carrots. Under natural conditions, the great way is easy. Humanity has rapidly changed natural conditions into civilized conditions without any attendant change in basic instincts, and so our preferences easily become bypaths.
The court is corrupt,
The fields are overgrown with weeds,
The graneries are empty;
Yet there are those dressed in fineries,
With swords at their sides,
Filled with food and drink,
And possessed of too much wealth.
This known as taking the lead in robbery.
Far indeed is this from the way.
This Chapter speaks to how easy it is to take things for granted. There are essentials in life, which are easy to bypass in the pursuit of preferences. The court refers to my spiritual integrity. The fields allude to everything that sustains my physical integrity. It’s all too easy to rush ahead to what I desire, i.e., prefer, and neglect the indispensable.
Prefer is insidious. It’s easier to see how lust and desire get us in trouble, but prefer has such a gentle quality. It is just this unassuming aspect that easily leads us astray. At first glance this chapter seems to contrast the rich from the peasant. But really, we ALL prefer more wealth to less, more fineries to less. It becomes a matter of access and luck that separates the rich from the poor. We all, however, are committing the same ‘sin’ of preferring bypaths. We value fineries over natural simplicity, wealth over sufficiency. Our appetites rob us of contentment.
The further I am from the way, the greater distinction I perceive between opposites, and the more I prefer to choose one side or the other. The way is broad, reaching left as well as right. [see ch. 34].