Tao Te Ching – Lao Tzu
Exalt not the wise,
So that the people shall not scheme and contend;
Prize not rare objects,
So that the people shall not steal;
Shut out from sight the things of desire,
So that the people’s hearts shall not be disturbed.
Therefore in the government of the Sage:
He keeps empty their hearts
Makes full their bellies,
Discourages their ambitions,
Strengthens their frames;
So that the people may be innocent of knowledge and desires.
And the cunning ones shall not presume to interfere.
By action without deeds
May all live in peace.
(Translated by Yu Tang Lin)
If we over-esteem wise individuals, they will become competitive; If we overvalue possessions, people will begin to steal.
Do not display your treasures or people will become envious. The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their bellies, weakening their ambitions and making them secure. Then they will prefer simplicity and free themselves from desires.
He helps people lose everything, by avoiding the pitfall of knowledge and wrong action. For those who practice doing nothing will have everything fall into place. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9E7Ji8fH18).
Here is a historical example of a Chinese emperor. The reigns of Emperor Wen and his son (Wen-Jing zhi zhi 文景之治) are remembered as a time of peace and prosperity.
He was heavily influenced by his wife Empress Dou, who was an adherent of Taoism. Emperor Wen governed the country with general policies of non-interference with the people and relaxed laws. He practiced “doing nothing” during his 23 years of ruling.
Emperor Wen himself led a very simple life. The clothes he usually wore were of standard quality and were not the exquisite robes that emperors were typically expected to wear. Even his wardrobe set an example for the nation.
He created a social security system of sorts by which the government provided tax exemptions or loans for widowers, widows, orphans, and seniors. He even mandated that the government provide food to those over 80 years old, and that cloth and cotton for clothing be given to those over 90.
He emptied the people’s minds by freeing them from fear. He abolished guilt-by-association. No longer would the parents, siblings, or children of those convicted of a crime be punished for crimes that they did not commit.
He made peace with neighboring countries and also did not declare war, as he did not want to bring hardship to his people so that they could live in peace.
Emperor Wen also lessened restrictions on free speech. If things were not going well, he examined himself first to rectify it. He also believed that listening to and accepting suggestions from the people was useful, and could open up new opportunities and ways of governing the country.
In 178 BC, two solar eclipses occurred in November and December (then viewed as a symbol of divine displeasure), and he was concerned that he had not done enough for his people. He requested that officials give him honest criticism and recommend capable individuals for governmental positions. He also tried to decrease mandatory taxes and hard labor.
His reign was marked by thriftiness and attempts to reduce burdens on the people. During the reign of Emperor Wen, one of the lowest tax rates in Chinese history was recorded. Two years after his death, the tax rate was as low as 3.3% of one’s income. He cared for his people and filled their bellies.
Even after death, he lived by his practice of “doing nothing.” He issued an order that his tomb would not house any decorative metals such as gold or silver. Instead, only humble pottery would be used. It also stipulated that his tomb should only be of a moderate size to avoid burdening the people with increased labor and using up resources.
When the people of the Earth all know beauty as beauty,
There arises (the recognition of) ugliness.
When the people of the Earth all know the good as good,
There arises (the recognition of) evil.
Being and non-being interdepend in growth;
Difficult and easy interdepend in completion;
Long and short interdepend in contrast;
High and low interdepend in position;
Tones and voice interdepend in harmony;
Front and behind interdepend in company.
Therefore the Sage:
Manages affairs without action;
Preaches the doctrine without words;
All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them;
He gives them life, but does not take possession of them;
He acts, but does not appropriate;
Accomplishes, but claims no credit.
It is because he lays claim to no credit
That the credit cannot be taken away from him.
(Translated by Yu Tang Lin- See note )
Some scholars regard the first and second chapters as the introduction of the Tao Te Ching.
Here Lao Tze gives us a new word- “inter-depend.” It is neither “depend” or “independent.” In his concise way, he tells us there is no contrast and no conflict for all things, but they should coexist and be complementary instead.
He goes further to apply the nothingness or emptiness to our livelihood by giving us the example of the sage.
As an actor, I’ve had a lot of chances to audition for different characters. But this year, it seems like I’ve had a hard time booking any roles. The other day, when I went to an audition, I thought that I should apply what I had learned from Lao Tzu to them. I just focused on myself and changed the outfit I used to wear, dressing in brighter colors and putting my hair down. Overall, I caught people’s eye more often.
When I went in, I felt alright, and the colors I wore also made me feel more confident. Not to my surprise, I got a callback. I was excited because there were more people than I realized. It took about two days for the audition, so the competition was fierce. I haven’t been acting for too long, and I knew I had many competitors that had a lot more acting experience than me. Delighted, I went back for the callback.
The gentleman who went in with me happened to sit next to me before we were called to go in. He was not at peace and complaining a lot about why we had only gotten a few hours notice for a callback. But I was just happy that I had received a callback.
When we went in together, he happened to be acting as my partner. Unlike the first audition, there was more than just one person inside. They started to give us instructions, and I quietly listened, knowing following instructions was important. My partner, again, was anxious and kept asking me whether I heard them or not.
When we started to act, I quietly did what I needed to do and acted more than I talked. My partner did the opposite and kept adding more lines for himself. When I left, I didn’t know what to think because there were still a lot of people here for callbacks, but the day after, I was happy to find out that they booked me for the commercial.
As I think back, after posting the first chapter of Lao Tzu, I realized we don’t have to compete or be anxious when we try. We should follow his principle of “doing nothing” and leave it to our inner selves. Since I wasn’t trying too hard and I wasn’t anxious, my appearance was much calmer and more peaceful as compared to my partner. It also showed how confident I was, because outward appearances attract people’s attention.
When Lao Tzu says to “do nothing,” it still means to take action. Rather, you act in a way where people will see the peacefulness and calmness within you. You do not see hardships to struggle through because you do not claim them as your own. Then it just comes to you naturally.
Chinese: 林語堂; pinyin: Lín Yǔtáng; October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese writer, translator, linguist, and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.-Wikipedia
Image is from Wikipedia
1. On the Eternal Tao
The Tao that can be told of
Is not the Eternal Tao;
The Names that can be given
Are not Eternal Names.
Non-being(Nothingness) is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
Being(Significance) is the Mother of All Things.
We can perceive the Mystery of Something
Coming out of Nothing, through this Nothingness
If we use Significance, we will be able to understand the Difference
Between All Things and their Inter-Relationships.
These two (Nothingness and Significance)
Are derived from the same Source
And yet, they are of Different Names
So we call it Mystery.
We use these two Extremes
to call the Eternal Tao.
It is the Mystery of Mysteries.
This is how it becomes the Gate of Mystery to All Life.
Lao Tzu did mention Tao in two other chapters – Chapter 62, where he says that “Tao is the mystery of all things,” and in Chapter 67, where he says that “The whole world regards my Tao, but it is so large that it is beyond understanding. People do not view it as ordinary Tao. If you can describe what Tao looks like, gradually it can be boxed in, and it will no longer be a mystery. In other words, it is neither the Eternal Tao nor the Eternal Truth.”
UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization )has previously done a statistical analysis of cultural masterpieces, discovering that the works that most entered foreign language publishing circulation were “the Bible,” followed by Lao Tzu’s “Tao Te Ching.” The reason why there is such a shocking amount of translation, printing, and reading of Lao Tzu’s work is that it contains the human spirit of the world’s constant speculation and alertness.
There are two literary giants in the history of Chinese literature – Confucius and Lao Tzu. When I was in school, we learned the writings of Confucius, but I never really had the chance to learn the philosophy of Lao Tzu until later in life.
Confucius’s writings are more about moral code and conduct: of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faith. He writes on restraint and of conforming oneself. The Tao, the Way of Lao Tzu, is the teaching that the purpose of man’s journey on earth is to go back to the origin. He instead writes of introspection and of finding oneself.
Lao Tzu and Confucius did meet each other a few times in China when they lived about 2,500 years ago. According to “Shiji,” or “The Records of the Grand Historian,” one such instance was when Confucius went to Luo Yang, the capital city, to meet Lao Tzu to enquire about rituals and proper etiquette.
When he came back from his meeting, he didn’t speak for three days. His students grew concerned and asked their teacher what had happened. Confucius said: “I know how a bird can fly. I know how a fish can swim. But I do not know how Lao Tzu could rise and fly like a sublime dragon riding on clouds in the sky.”
“Birds can fly but will fall at the hunter’s arrow. Fish can swim but will be caught by the fisherman. Beasts can run but will drop into people’s nets and traps. There is only one thing that is out of man’s reach. That is the legendary dragon. A dragon can fly into the sky, ride on clouds, dive into the ocean. A dragon is so powerful, yet so intangible to us. Lao Tzu is a dragon, and I will never understand him.”
This is all the more reason for me to post Lao Tzu’s teachings, which I will do about once a week every Wednesday. May we all gain enlightenment from his words.