by O Society August 4, 2019
As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousands things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.
Those constantly with desires by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.
These two together emerge;
They have different names yet they’re called the same;
That which is even more profound than the profound —
The gateway of all subtleties.
Translation Robert Henricks
Verse 1 in Chinese to memorize and chant (here in pinyin);
“dao ke dao, fei chang dao;
ming ke ming, fei chang ming.
wu, ming tian di zhi shi;
you, ming wan wu zhi mu.
gu chang wu, yu yi guan qi miao,
chang you, yu yi guan qi jiao.
ci liang zhe, tong chu er yi ming.
tong wei zhi xuan,
xuan zhi you xuan,
zhong miao zhi men.”
For Chinese characters and their meaning try this.
When we speak of Dao-ism (which is not the same as speaking of Dao)
Which means somewhat loosely translated “Dao gives birth to 10,000 things.”
The point to understand here is 道 Dao is ineffable.
We cannot speak of 道 in terms which make sense or do it justice or whatnot. It is beyond comprehension and expression in language. It is a mistake to even call Dao a “verb” or a “noun” or make any linguistic assumptions at all. Our understanding is apophatic.
However, the manifestations, the “things” Dao does and is are everywhere, in everything we experience. What this means is if you ask yourself why is 萬物 Wanwu translated as 10,000 things rather than say… 10,001 things? Ten thousand seems to be an arbitrary number…
So Wanwu is an expression which means not just literally the 10,000 things we can name, but everything, all things. 10,000 things we talk about are just exemplars for all the myriad crazy things we could experience and talk about, so I suppose we could consider 萬物 to be all matter or all the things we can experience as human beings by definition.
It is often easy to believe we already know all this and what those Chinese guys are up to is easy peasy… but I’m not certain we do.
When we make assumptions…
In other words, it may sound picky, but be careful how things are stated because when we state these things a different way than the original intention, we arrive at a different destination than the one intended originally.
It’s tricky tricky stuff… iceskating on thin ice with Wittgenstein… the world is everything that is the case… oh dear, I’ve said to much.
Do you see or don’t you? At the end of the day, well hell I don’t really fucking know, do I? So there’s that…
In the case of Laozi (who may go by different jargon as Lao Tze or Lao Tzu or Laojun and so on, the exact name isn’t as important as realizing these various names refer to the same person), we find a story about this person called “Lao Tan” in the Chuang Tzu:
Confucius had gone along until he was fifty-one and had still not heard the Way. Finally he went south to P’ei and called on Lao Tan. “Ah, you have come,” said Lao Tan. “I’ve heard that you are a worthy man of the northern region. Have you found the Way?”
“Not yet,” said Confucius.
“Where did you look for it?” asked Lao Tan.
“I looked for it in rules and regulations, but five years went by and still I hadn’t found it.”
“Where else did you look for it?” asked Lao Tan.
“I looked for it in the yin and yang, but twelve years went by and I still hadn’t found it.”
“It stands to reason!” said Lao Tan. “If the Way could be presented, there is no man who would not present it to his ruler. If the Way could be offered, there is no man who would not offer it to his parents. If the Way could be reported, there is no man who would not report it to his brothers. If the Way could be bequeathed, there is no man who would not bequeath it to his heirs. But it cannot – and for none other than the following reason. If there is no host on the inside to receive it, it will not stay; if there is no mark on the outside to guide it, it will not go. If what is brought forth from the inside is not received on the outside, then the sage will not bring it forth. If what is taken in from the outside is not received by a host on the inside, the sage will not entrust it.”
“Fame is a public weapon – don’t reach for it too often. Benevolence and righteousness are the grass huts of the former kings; you may stop in them for one night but you mustn’t tarry there for long. A lengthy stay would invite many reproaches. The Perfect Man of ancient times used benevolence as a path to be borrowed, righteousness as a lodge to take shelter in. He wandered in the free and easy wastes, ate in the plain and simple fields, and strolled in the garden of no bestowal. Free and easy, he rested in inaction; plain and simple, it was not hard for him to live; bestowing nothing, he did not have to hand things out. The men of old called this the wandering of the Truth-picker.
“He who considers wealth a good thing can never bear to give up his income; he who considers eminence a good thing can never bear to give up his fame. He who has a taste for power can never bear to hand over authority to others. Holding tight to these things, such men shiver with fear; should they let them go, they would pine in sorrow. They never stop for a moment of reflection, never cease to gaze with greedy eyes – they are men punished by Heaven. Resentment and kindness, taking away and giving, reproof and instruction, life and death – these eight things are the weapons of the corrector. Only he who complies with the Great Change and allows no blockage will be able to use them. Therefore it is said, The corrector must be correct. If the mind cannot accept this fact, then the doors of Heaven will never open!”
Confucius called on Lao Tan and spoke to him about benevolence and righteousness. Lao Tan said, “Chaff from the winnowing fan can so blind the eye that heaven, earth, and the four directions all seem to shift place. A mosquito or a horsefly stinging your skin can keep you awake a whole night. And when benevolence and righteousness in all their fearfulness come to muddle the mind, the confusion is unimaginable. If you want to keep the world from losing its simplicity, you must move with the freedom of the wind, stand in the perfection of Virtue.
Why all this huffing and puffing, as though you were carrying a big drum and searching for a lost child! The snow goose needs no daily bath to stay white; the crow needs no daily inking to stay black. Black and white in their simplicity offer no ground for argument; fame and reputation in their clamorousness offer no ground for envy. When the springs dry up and the fish are left stranded on the ground, they spew each other with moisture and wet each other down with spit – but it would be much better if they could forget each other in the rivers and lakes!”
When Confucius returned from his visit with Lao Tan, he did not speak for three days. His disciples said, “Master, you’ve seen Lao Tan – what estimation would you make of him?”
Confucius said, “At last I may say that I have seen a dragon – a dragon that coils to show his body at its best, that sprawls out to display his patterns at their best, riding on the breath of the clouds, feeding on the yin and yang. My mouth fell open and I couldn’t close it; my tongue flew up and I couldn’t even stammer. How could I possibly make any estimation of Lao Tan!”
When we read ^ this ^ account, we may arrive at a conclusion such as Lao Tan is a teacher of Confucius. Basically the story goes Confucius consults Lao Tan on the proper funeral rites to perform. In this sense, we can say Lao Tan is a teacher of Confucius (also called Kongzi), because Confucius defers to Lao Tan on this issue of how to perform the rites.
Thing is, there are other ways to interpret this passage as well. Namely, Lao Tan may be a manifestation of Dao (aka Tao, again the spelling isn’t so crucial as realizing these names refer to the same “thing” or “person”). As such, Lao Tan could exist out of time and space in a way we don’t quite understand.
Meaning, it is possible Laozi taught Confucius back in BC days what we commonly call the Dao Dejing is the work of Laozi.
Yet it is also possible Laozi gave us another scripture called Qingjing Jing (translated as something like the Scripture of Clarity and Stillness) at a different moment in time around 700-800 AD!
Lao Jun Yue :
Master Laozi says :
Da Dao wu xing , sheng yu tian di .
The Great Dao has no form; it brings forth and raises heaven and earth.
Da Dao wu qing . yun xing ri yue .
The Great Dao has no feelings; it regulates the course of the sun and moon.
Da Dao wu ming , chang yang wan wu .
The Great Dao has no name; it raises and nourishes the myriad beings.
Wu bu zhi qi ming , qiang ming yue Dao .
I do not know its name, so the name I give it is Dao.
Fu Dao zhe:
As for this Dao:
You qing you zhuo , you dong you jing;
It has clarity and turbidity; it has movement and tranquility ;
tian qing di zhuo , tian dong di jing ;
heaven is clear, earth is turbid; heaven moves, earth is tranquil ;
nan qing nü zhuo , nan dong nü jing ;
the male is clear, the female is turbid; the male moves, the female is tranquil ;
jiang ben liu mo .
(this all) descending from the origin and flowing toward the end.
Er sheng wan wu ,
(But) as it gives birth to all things.
qing zhe zhuo zhi yuan , jing zhe dong zhi ji .
Purity is turbidity’s source, tranquility is movement’s root.
Ren neng chang qing jing , tian di xi jie gui .
If people can always be pure and tranquil, heaven and earth return to the primordial.
Fu ren shen hao qing , er qing nao zhi .
The human spirit is fond of purity, but feelings disturb it.
Ren xin hao jing , er yu qian zhi .
The human mind loves tranquility, but desires drag us from it.
Chang neng qian qi yu , er xin zi jing .
If one can always discard one’s desires, then the mind calms itself.
Cheng qi xin , er shen zi qing .
Cleanse the mind, and the spirit clears itself.
Zi ran liu yu bu sheng , san du xiao mie .
Naturally the six desires won’t arise, and the three poisons are destroyed.
Suo yi bu neng zhe , wei xin wei cheng zhe ,
Whoever cannot do this has a mind not yet cleansed.
yu wei qian ye .
and his desires are not yet driven out.
Neng qian zhi zhe :
Those who can abandon these (desires) :
nei guan qi xin , xin wu qi xin ;
through introspection observe their minds, and see there is no mind ;
wai guan qi xing , xing wu qi xing ;
from outside observe the body, and see there is no body ;
yuan guan qi wu , wu wu qi wu .
then observe other things by glancing afar, and see there are no other things.
San zhe ji wu , wei jian yu kong .
Once you have realized these three, you observe emptiness.
Guan kong yi kong , kong wu suo kong .
Observe emptiness using emptiness, and see there is no emptiness.
Suo kong ji wu , wu wu yi wu .
When even emptiness is no more, there is no more nonbeing either.
Wu wu ji wu , zhan ran chang ji .
Without the existence even of non-being, profound and everlasting all is serenity.
Ji wu suo ji , yu qi neng sheng ?
When serenity dissolves in nothingness, how can desire arise?
Yu ji bu sheng , ji shi zhen jing .
When no desire arises, there is true tranquility.
真靜應物，真常 得 (德?)性。
Zhen jing ying wu , zhen chang de xing .
True tranquility goes along with other beings; true permanence realizes inner nature.
Chang ying chang jing : chang qing jing yi .
Forever going along, forever tranquil : this is permanent purity and tranquility.
Ru ci qing jing , jian ru zhen Dao .
Like this in purity and tranquility, gradually enter the true Dao.
Ji ru zhen Dao , ming wei de Dao .
When one has entered the true Dao, one can say this is “realization”.
Sui ming de Dao , shi wu suo de .
Though one speaks of “realization”, actually there is nothing to attain.
Wei hua zhong sheng , ming wei de Dao .
The so-called transformation of the myriad beings is what is called “realization”.
Neng wu zhi zhe , ke chuan sheng Dao .
Only one who can properly understand this is worthy to transmit the sages’ Dao.
Lao Jun yue :
Master Laozi says :
Shang shi wu zheng , xia shi hao zheng .
The highest gentleman does not fight; the lesser gentleman loves to fight.
Shang De bu De , xia De zhi De .
Highest virtue is free from Virtue; lesser Virtue clings to Virtue.
Zhi zhuo zhi zhe , bu ming Dao De .
All clinging and attachments have nothing to do with the Dao or Virtue.
Zhong sheng suo yi bu de zhen Dao zhe ,
The reason people do not attain realization of the Dao
wei jian wang xin .
is because they have deviant minds.
Ji jian wang xin , ji jin qi shen .
Deviance in the mind means pride in the body.
Ji jin qi shen , ji zhuo wan wu .
Pride in the body means there is clinging to things.
Ji zhuo wan wu , ji sheng tan qiu .
Clinging to things, means there is searching and coveting.
Ji sheng [tan qiu , ji shi fan nao .]
Searching and coveting means there are passions and afflictions.
Fan nao wang xiang you ku shen xin .
Passions, afflictions, deviance, and imaginings trouble and pester body and mind.
Bian zao zhuo ru , liu lang si sheng .
Then one falls into turbidity and shame ups and downs, life and death.
Chang chen ku hai , yong shi zhen Dao .
Forever immersed in the sea of misery, one is in eternity lost to the true Dao.
Zhen chang zhi Dao , wu zhe zi de .
The Dao of true permanence: those who understand naturally achieve it.
De wu Dao zhe , chang [ qin jing yi ] .
Those who achieve realization of the Dao will rest forever in the pure and tranquil.
Folks with training in science and philosophy say, “No way Jose can this guy be around in both the 6th century BC AND the 8th century AD! Crazy talk!” This was my knee-jerk reaction upon hearing this story.
What I am suggesting here is we say “I don’t know” much more often when we get into this subject. Because we don’t know much of diddly for certain. There are different levels of esoteric meaning here.
So please remember, it is not that a statement such as “Laozi has Confucius in mind when he’s writing the Dao Dejing” is wrong, it’s that there are other equally valid interpretations of meaning here and what may at first seem mutually exclusive or contradictory to Western logic doesn’t mean these cannot be reconciled, as there are multiple levels of meaning in all Daoist and Buddhist scripture, so anytime we believe “I got it” we are forgetting there is more we either do not or cannot understand.
Therefore, we must remain humble at all times remembering we could be wrong or not know what else there is to know or even be capable of understanding.
For example, there may be myriad authors of the Dao De Jing rather than it being the work of a single person named Laozi. I don’t know.
Yuanshi Tianzun 元始天尊