Bob Schwartz

Category: Taoism

Chinese New Year: Tao Te Ching Chapter 39

The root of the noble is in the common,
the high stands on what’s below.
Princes and kings call themselves
“orphans, widowers, beggars,”
to get themselves rooted in the dirt.
A multiplicity of riches
is poverty.
Jade is praised as precious,
but its strength is being stone.
Ursula Le Guin, Tao Te Ching 39

Playing one’s part
in accordance with the universe
is true humility
So whether you’re a gem in the royal court
or a stone on the common path
If you accept your part with humility
the glory of the universe will be yours
Sam Hamill, Tao Te Ching 39

Therefore, the honored uses the lowly as basis
The higher uses the lower as foundation
Thus the rulers call themselves alone, bereft, and unworthy
Is this not using the lowly as basis? Is it not so?
Therefore, the ultimate honor is no honor
Do not wish to be shiny like jade
Be dull like rocks
Derek Lin, Tao Te Ching 39

It is the Chinese New Year. Here is something randomly selected from the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching—the seminal text of Taoism, one that has served as the first step for many on the path to Asian wisdom.

The selection is Chapter 39 of the 81 chapters. Following are just a few of the countless translations, interpretations and commentaries.

Chapter 39 may be a bit more obscure and less straightforward than some others. The closing theme is humility, particularly the humility of sages and leaders.


Ursula K. Le Guin, Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

39
Integrity

Those who of old got to be whole:

Heaven through its wholeness is pure;
earth through its wholeness is steady;
spirit through its wholeness is potent;
the valley through its wholeness flows with rivers;
the ten thousand things through their wholeness live;
rulers through their wholeness have authority.
Their wholeness makes them what they are.

Without what makes it pure, heaven would disintegrate;
without what steadies it, earth would crack apart;
without what makes it potent, spirit would fail;
without what fills it, the valley would run dry;
without what quickens them, the ten thousand things would die;
without what authorizes them, rulers would fall.

The root of the noble is in the common,
the high stands on what’s below.
Princes and kings call themselves
“orphans, widowers, beggars,”
to get themselves rooted in the dirt.

A multiplicity of riches
is poverty.
Jade is praised as precious,
but its strength is being stone.


Red Pine, Lao-tzu’s Taoteching

39

Of those that became one in the past
Heaven became one and was clear
Earth became one and was still
spirits became one and were active
valleys became one and were full
kings became one and ruled the world
but from this we can infer
Heaven would crack if it were always clear
Earth would crumble if it were always still
spirits would dissipate if they were always active
valleys would dry up if they were always full
kings would fall if they were always high and noble
for the noble is based on the humble
and the high is founded on the low
thus do kings refer to themselves
as orphaned widowed and destitute
but this isn’t the basis of humility
counting a carriage as no carriage at all
not wanting to clink like jade
they clunk like rocks


William Scott Wilson, Tao Te Ching: A New Translation

39

Of those who obtained
the One along the way in ancient times:
Heaven obtained the One, and became transparent;
Earth obtained the One, and became pacified;
The spirits obtained the One, and
were imbued with the essential mystery of things;
The valleys obtained the One, and were filled to the brim;
The Ten Thousand Things obtained the One,
and sprouted with life;
Lords and kings obtained the One,
and divined how to make the world correct.
It was the One that guided them along.

If Heaven were not transparent,
I’m afraid it would soon be rent like cloth.
If Earth were not pacified,
I’m afraid it would soon begin to shake.
If the spirits were not imbued with
the essential mystery of things,
I’m afraid they would soon not bother to exert themselves.
If the valleys were not filled to the brim,
I’m afraid they would soon be dried up.
If the Ten Thousand Things did not sprout with life,
I’m afraid they would soon become parched and wither.
If lords and kings were not respected and on high,
I’m afraid they would soon stumble and fall.
Thus, that which is of little value creates
the foundation for that which is treasured,
And that which is low creates
a bedrock for that which is high.
Therefore, lords and kings call
themselves orphans, widowers, and menials.
Is this not making what is of little value the foundation?
Is this not so?
Thus, though you may often be awarded words of praise,
you will have no honor.
Do not wish to jangle like jewels;
Rather, resonate like rocks and stones.


Jonathan Star, Tao Te Ching: The New Translation

Verse 39

From ancient times till now
the One has been the source of all attainments
By realizing the One
Heaven becomes clear, Earth becomes still
spirits gain power and hearts fill up with joy
By realizing the One
kings and lords become instruments of peace
and all creatures live joyfully upon this earth
Without the One
Heaven has no clarity and would crack
Earth has no peace and would crumble
spirits have no power and would lose their charm
Without the One
hearts would dry up, empires would fall,
all things would go lifelessly upon this earth

Long ago kings and lords called themselves
“orphaned,” “lonely,” and “unworthy”
What honor can there be without humility?
What heights can be reached without being low?
The pieces of a chariot are useless
unless they work in accordance with the whole
A man’s life brings nothing
unless he lives in accordance with the whole universe
Playing one’s part
in accordance with the universe
is true humility
So whether you’re a gem in the royal court
or a stone on the common path
If you accept your part with humility
the glory of the universe will be yours


Sam Hamill, Tao Te Ching: A New Translation

39

Since ancient days, these attained oneness:
heaven attained unity and grew clear;
earth attained unity and grew tranquil;
souls attained unity and grew powerful;
valleys attained unity and produced abundance;
all beings became one and gave life;
rulers attained oneness and rule grew virtuous.
If heaven were not clear,
it would crumble;
earth without tranquility
would shatter.
Souls without power
would soon dissipate.
Valleys without abundance
are quickly exhausted.
Rulers without esteem
can be toppled.
Thus the noble is rooted in the humble,
the high founded upon the low.
Rulers call themselves orphans, widowers, destitute.
Isn’t humility at the root?
Hence they count many carriages
while disdaining their prestige.
Not wanting to tinkle and chime like jade,
they clatter, falling like stones.


Derek Lin, Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained

39

Those that attained oneness since ancient times:
The sky attained oneness and thus clarity
The earth attained oneness and thus tranquility
The gods attained oneness and thus divinity
The valley attained oneness and thus abundance
The myriad things attained oneness and thus life
The rulers attained oneness and became the standard for the world
These all emerged from oneness

The sky, lacking clarity, would break apart
The earth, lacking tranquility, would erupt
The gods, lacking divinity, would vanish
The valley, lacking abundance, would wither
Myriad things, lacking life, would be extinct
The rulers, lacking standard, would be toppled

Therefore, the honored uses the lowly as basis
The higher uses the lower as foundation
Thus the rulers call themselves alone, bereft, and unworthy
Is this not using the lowly as basis? Is it not so?
Therefore, the ultimate honor is no honor

Do not wish to be shiny like jade
Be dull like rocks

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Random Tao Te Ching: 54

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders.”

Tao Te Ching 54

What you plant well can’t be uprooted
what you hold well can’t be taken away
your descendents will worship this forever
cultivated in yourself virtue becomes real
cultivated in your family virtue grows
cultivated in your village virtue multiplies
cultivated in your state virtue abounds
cultivated in your world virtue is everywhere
thus view others through yourself
view families through your family
view villages through your village
view states through your state
view other worlds through your world
how do you know what other worlds are like
through this one

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who plant something well, plant it without planting. Thus, it is never uprooted. Those who hold something well, hold it without holding. Thus, it is never taken away.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “What we plant well is virtue. What we hold well is oneness. When virtue flourishes, distant generations give praise.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “First improve yourself, then reach out to others and to later generations bequeath the noble, pure, and kindly Tao. Thus, blessings reach your descendants, virtue grows, beauty lasts, and worship never ends.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “In ancient times, ancestral worship consisted in choosing an auspicious day before the full moon, in fasting, in selecting sacrificial animals, in purifying the ritual vessels, in preparing a feast on the appointed day, in venerating ancestors as if they were present, and in thanking them for their virtuous example. Those who cultivate the Way likewise enable later generations to enjoy the fruits of their cultivation.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “We cultivate the Tao in ourselves by cherishing our breath and by nourishing our spirit and thus by prolonging our life. We cultivate the Tao in our family by being loving as a parent, filial as a child, kind as an elder, obedient as the younger, dependable as a husband, and chaste as a wife. We cultivate the Tao in our village by honoring the aged and caring for the young, by teaching the benighted and instructing the perverse. We cultivate the Tao in our state by being honest as an official and loyal as an aide. We cultivate the Tao in the world by letting things change without giving orders. Lao-tzu asks how we know that those who cultivate the Tao prosper and those who ignore the Tao perish. We know by comparing those who don’t cultivate the Tao with those who do.”

YEN TSUN says, “Let your person be the yardstick of other persons. Let your family be the level of other families. Let your village be the square of other villages. Let your state be the plumb line of other states. As for the world, the ruler is its heart, and the world is his body.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “The reality of the Tao lies in concern for the self. Concern for the state is irrelevant, and concern for the world is cowshit. From this standpoint, the emperor’s work is the sage’s hobby and is not what develops the self or nourishes life” (Chuangtzu: 28.3).

Lao Tzu’s Taoteching, translated by Red Pine

Crow and heron, goose and crow. And fish.

“Now, about what it means to realize conclusively that what is unborn and marvelously illuminating is truly the Buddha Mind: Suppose ten million people got together and unanimously declared that a crow was a heron. A crow is black, without having to be dyed that way, just as a heron is white—that’s something we always see for ourselves and know for a fact. So even if, not only ten million people, but everyone in the land were to get together and tell you a crow was a heron, you still wouldn’t be fooled, but remain absolutely sure of yourself. That’s what it means to have a conclusive realization. Conclusively realize that what is unborn is the Buddha Mind and that the Buddha Mind is truly unborn and marvelously illuminating, and everything will be perfectly managed with the Unborn, so that, whatever people try to tell you, you won’t let yourself be fooled by them. You won’t accept other people’s delusions.”
Bankei Zen

“You, Sir, if you want to stop everything below Heaven losing its original simplicity, you must travel with the wind and stand firm in Virtue. Why do you exert yourself so much, banging a big drum and hunting for a lost child? The snow goose doesn’t need a daily bath to stay white, nor does the crow need to be stained every day to stay black. Black and white comes from natural simplicity, not from argument. Fame and fortune, though sought after, do not make people greater than they actually are. When the waters dry up and the fish are stranded on the dry land, they huddle together and try to keep each other moist by spitting and wetting each other. But wouldn’t it be even better if they could just forget each other, safe in their lakes and rivers?”
Book of Chuang Tzu

Thunder in the Lake/Following (Hexagram 17)

The thunder rises in the east
The lake sets in the west.
Miles and eons between
Originating in thunder
Maturing on an island in the lake.
All along
Sublime, smooth
Favorable, steadfast.
Follow when the time is right
Follow when the time has come.

“According to King Wen’s arrangement of the eight primary gua (trigrams of the I Ching), Thunder symbolizes the sun rising in the east, and Lake the sun setting in the west. ‘Thunder in the midst of Lake’ symbolizes that sunrise will surely follow sunset, that time continues in the proper order.

“This gua (hexagram) is very special, for it possesses the four virtues, as do the first and the second gua: yuan, heng, li, zhen….the four attributes of Heaven, symbolizing the virtues of an emperor, a leader, or a superior person. Yuan means sublime and initiative. Heng means prosperous and smooth. Li means favorable and beneficial. Zhen means steadfast and upright. Throughout the I Ching you will find these four phrases attributed to certain gua, though few are so auspicious as to have all four. These four Chinese characters also indicate the functions of the four seasons of a year: originating, developing, maturing, and declining, referring to spring, summer, autumn, and winter.” (Alfred Huang)

World Series I Ching

world-series-2016

The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.
From Hexagram 48 – Jing/The Well

The World Series begins tonight. I am consulting the I Ching about it, and I will explain my purpose carefully.

As I’ve written before, in my view the I Ching is not a predictive oracle, a divining tool, a crystal ball, though it began that way thousands of years ago and is still used that way around the world. It is an insight tool, and an unsurpassed one, offering vision into circumstances and situations so that we may act more knowingly.

Which itself would be useful, if I was Manager of the Indians or Cubs. I could use it to help determine the lineup, or to decide when to pull the starting pitcher. And if I was a pitcher, I could use it to help figure out which pitches to throw, or as a batter which pitches to expect. I’m none of those.

The point here is to look into the attitude a fan might have as the Series proceeds on its roller coaster.

My lifelong love of baseball necessarily includes these ups and downs, measured in innings, in games, in seasons. Or in the case of the Cubs, who have been waiting 108 years to win a World Series, in centuries.

The I Ching is all about ups and downs. It is by title and essence The Classic of Changes. So why not ask it about the changes we are about to experience, as the Indians, this season’s little engine that could, defy the odds. Starting tonight on a very cold but still green fall field in Cleveland.

Some brief excerpts from I Ching commentaries on the received hexagram follow. As for interpretation, feel free to consider it all as the Series plays out.

hexagram-48

Hexagram 48
Jing/The Well

The structure of the gua is Water above, Wood below. This image gave the ancient sage the picture of a well. The water in a well was practically an inexhaustible resource. It was in constant use yet continually refilled. It was the source of life. The image also suggests that the roots of a plant draw water from the soil to nourish the stalk and leaves.

Decision

Neither loses nor gains.
Coming and going, drawing, drawing.
Nearly out of the well,
Break one’s bucket—misfortune.

Commentary on the Decision

Nearly out of the well,
The achievement has not yet been fulfilled.
Break one’s bucket;
There is misfortune.

Commentary on the Symbol

In correspondence with this,
The superior person encourages the people at their work
And urges them to help one another.

Judgment

At the Well.
The rope fails to raise
Water
From the Well.
The pitcher is broken.
Calamity.

On the Image of the Hexagram

Water above Wood,
The True Gentleman
Comforts the Folk;
He gives encouragement.

The Tao of No Place Like Home

These words from Verse 80 of the Tao Te Ching could come from the Wizard of Oz:

let there be another state so near
people hear its dogs and chickens
but live out their lives
without making a visit

In other words, there is no place like home.

The force of exploration, discovery and progress is strong with us. This post, for example, is drafted on an amazing digital device, edited on another amazing digital device, and published on an amazing global network. Moving house and traveling are easier and more convenient than ever. So many modern tools. So big a world.

Verse 80 proposes a different view. Labor-saving tools not used. Boats and carts not ridden. Knots used to communicate (a pre-writing system). Pleased and content with clothing and goods. You may think that this is regress, the opposite of progress. But is it? In your heart, is that what you believe?

Imagine a small state with a small population
let there be labor-saving tools
that aren’t used
let people consider death
and not move far
let there be boats and carts
but no reason to ride them
let there be armor and weapons
but no reason to employ them
let people return to the use of knots
and be satisfied with their food
and pleased with their clothing
and content with their homes
and happy with their customs
let there be another state so near
people hear its dogs and chickens
but live out their lives
without making a visit

Lao-tzu’s Taoteching, translated by Red Pine

 

Lao-tzu’s Taoteching

Taoteching

“The world is a spiritual thing.”

Taoteching, Chapter 29

Trying to govern the world with force
I see this not succeeding
the world is a spiritual thing
it can’t be forced
to force it is to harm it
to control it is to lose it
sometimes things lead
sometimes they follow
sometimes they blow hot
sometimes they blow cold
sometimes they expand
sometimes they collapse
sages therefore avoid extremes
avoid extravagance
avoid excess

Reading and studying the little (81 tiny chapters) and infinite pool of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching is as valuable as knowing any text from any tradition. Of the dozens of translations into English, all different and many worthy, the one by Red Pine—the translator and scholar Bill Porter—is the place to visit and rest awake. Along with his translation, he includes excerpts from 2,000 years of commentaries.

Poem: Between the Waters

Hexagram 29 - Theresa Blanding

Between the Waters

Let there be an expanse that it may separate water from water.
Genesis 1:6

It is a bottomless pit
The waters above
The waters below.
An abyss
A sea without boats.
No ground to stand.
Just falling.

If there is space between
How vast must it be
To contain hope?
Could it be so small
And still be heaven?

Dim Dusty Mirror

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12 (New Revised Standard Version)

Can you keep your crescent soul from wandering
can you make your breath as soft as a baby’s
can you wipe your dark mirror free of dust
can you serve and govern without effort
can you be the female at Heaven’s Gate
can you light the world without knowledge
can you give birth and nurture
but give birth without possessing
raise without controlling
this is Dark Virtue
Verse 10, Lao-tzu’s Taoteching
Translated by Red Pine

“Our spirit dwells in our eyes. When the eyes see something, the spirit chases it. When we close our eyes and look within, everything is dark. But within the dark, we still see something. There is still dust. Only by putting an end to delusions can we get rid of the dust.”
Commentary on Verse 10 by Wu Ch’eng (1249–1333)