Jach's personal blog

(Largely containing a mind-dump to myselves: past, present, and future)
Current favorite quote: "Supposedly smart people are weirdly ignorant of Bayes' Rule." William B Vogt, 2010

Tao Te Ching Reflections, 56 through 81 (end)

(I'm really bad at this. I guess it's just not high on my priority since I've read it so many times, but rereading is essential. I still have trouble living the parts I have accepted..)


Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can't be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

A classic chapter, especially the first two lines. People drown themselves in argument, it prevents them from seeking the next level. If you spend all your time talking about what you know, you'll never have time to learn, and after so long at this how much do you really know anymore? Science progresses by killing its heroes, standing on the shoulders of those who stood on other shoulders. If you have to argue, see if there are any shoulders you can stand on that you may also increase your knowledge rather than just defend it.

Be as the Tao, be everlasting, ignore the opinions of others lest you become a prisoner to them. Don't try to prove yourself by being clever. Shut up and go learn.


If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

Here the Tao te Ching begins to enter into advice on how to govern, possibly the greatest advice ever written. You can see elements of progressive ideals, conservative ideals, libertarian ideals, in essence the Tao is ideal and the rest hold chunks.

What happened when the US government tried to control alcohol? What is happening right now with drugs? The government must relinquish its control, the government must stop thinking of its citizens as sheep, the citizens must stop thinking of themselves as sheep. Studies show that making it harder to get a gun reduces gun crime. Beware the trappings of thinking only of the common good, there is something to be said about individual good, there is also something to be said about the human desire to do good. When you stop arguing over what is good, and what is evil, people will tend to do good by default.


If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn't pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

The religious right in America have deep problems with morality. In short, they don't practice what they preach. The same is true for Muslims who take young boys and make them dance, then have sex with them. One may say it's just culture, but culture and religion are bound tightly. Sin and declarations of sinful activities go hand in hand, you cannot find one without the other. God's commandment is thou shalt not kill, how frequently has that been violated? By his followers, by god himself?

The more you try to control, the more it will backfire. People do not like being controlled. This is why in America the binding chains of the present are invisible; it takes a certain ability to think abstractly to recognize you are a slave. And our country leads the way in Depression.


For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people's welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

My own quote: "I know where I'm going but I don't know where I'll end up." I'm struggling right now, life's thrown a few hard balls in the face in succession. But if I can manage to let go, I'll be able to continue my journey.

Letting go of yourself lets you think of others. Letting your self expand to include others is another form of letting go. Beware your own beliefs, they are often wrong.


Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn't there,
but you'll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

This is a lesson I wish America would learn. Why do so many people in the Middle East hate our government? Because we're there. If we left, we would have a lot less hatred. Withdrawing our forces back to America is a surefire way to step out of the way of all the evil out there as well as the evil we're causing.


When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
when he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

If only we could force every politician, every government contractor, Obama and his minions, every soldier, to read even just this chapter... This highlights all the things wrong with America, and it also illuminates a path to greatness. I hope some country can get there some day, I want to move to that country.


The Tao is the center of the universe,
the good man's treasure,
the bad man's refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don't offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

Instead of indoctrination, help others to follow the path you've walked. The Tao is fantastic, it's calming to read these verses.


Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn't cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.

This is all the self-help advice anyone should ever need. Go out of your comfort zone, wander and face challenges, but don't assume a direction of greatness. When faced with a big task, split it into chunks: the way any good programmer works.


What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus he has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

Some fantastic programming advice here. Seriously. And again, expand yourself into the Tao, which is in all things. Care about the Tao, which is in all things, and you care about all things.


The ancient Masters
didn't try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don't know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

As you learn more, hopefully you get a taste for the grand nature of what you don't know. Walk into a big library, and try to grasp just how much knowledge exists in those pages. You are ignorant of so much. Once you grasp this, try to pass on this ignorance to others. It is humbling, it is necessary for them to learn and change.


All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

Follow the Tao, and people will follow you of their own accord. They will even think they did it on their own. Exist happily at your higher level, there is no need to flaunt it. People will join you if they wish. Avoid competition, it's puerile and senseless.


Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

The Tao is what drew me away from Mormonism; there is just so much more wisdom and sense in this short document than the entire bible plus the Mormon books. The Tao Te Ching is nearly flawless. I don't consider myself a Taoist anymore, or a budding Taoist as it was, but I do appreciate Taoist philosophy and I try to live what I can. Hopefully this year will go better, I've neglected my three treasures.


The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don't love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

Beware of competition, but games are just fine. When I used to play video games all the time, I would dominate with ease. (I still often dominate, though not with so much ease...) But it grew boring, and people disliked that I always won. I wanted a rival to match me, to best me. In any case, I got worse, my friends got better, and it's more a fair match now. I accept losing, I'm sometimes glad to lose, for then I know someone is better.

Playful rivalry set me out on my journey to become a Pokemon Master programmer. Unfortunately that rivalry is gone, and now I just measure myself against myself. I should stop that and just keep improving without notice.


The generals have a saying:
"Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advocate an inch
it is better to retreat a yard."

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one who knows how to yield.

Fantastic battle tactics, they speak for themselves. Also, stop thinking of Muslims as evil. Stop thinking of anyone as evil. Humans are humans.


My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you'll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your heart.

The Tao is not something I would have derived from first-order logic, yet it is clearly full of truth and wisdom. One day I think we can make computers that understand the Tao, but that will be very difficult.


Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

Knowing things can hurt you. There is Dangerous Knowledge out there, and also knowing things can hurt your ability to advance. If you are not yet ready to learn about cognitive biases, if you are not yet read to learn about logical fallacies, learning them will do nothing but damage you, as they will be all you consider in debate. There should be a fallacy of assuming fallacies, the true purpose of learning about biases and fallacies is to spot them within yourself, not others.


When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won't be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

Both the Old and the New Testaments are chock full of miracles (that science can mostly replicate today), the only difference is that in the New Testament the miracles are more personal and local since the Romans were around to contradict any claims of God obliterating a city and turning people into salt.


The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn't let a thing slip through.

The Tao is the universe.


If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren't afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can't achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take a master carpenter's place.
When you handle the master carpenter's tools,
chances are that you'll cut your hand.

Humans are not made to control the future, stop trying. Conservatives, give up. Stop fearing death, but don't stop trying to eliminate it.


When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people's benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

People are surprisingly good at governing themselves if you let them. I still believe Anarchy can work given a chance and the right initial conditions...


Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

Be like the water. Let your mind not be open or closed, as both states can rust and become stiff, but flexible and loose, soft and supple, pliant, light to the winds of evidence.


As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don't have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn't think that she is better
than anyone else.

Argument to end tax cuts for the rich? Uh oh. ;P


Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people's greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

The last line nearly sums up the entirety of Taoism. There is so much truth in it, yet it takes some thinking to unravel what at first seem like paradoxes and contradictions. Again, be like water. I hope I can master the art of being serene in chaos...


Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

Speaks for itself. Remind yourself of this next time you're doing a group project. In school last semester, and probably this semester, my grades aren't exactly stellar. Yet this excites me in a way, because it means I'm finally being challenged (or I'm not caring as much, but it can be both). To fail... it would waste a lot of money, but it would be very humbling and a very hard kick in the rear... A learning experience I'm trying to avoid, but if it happens I shall not be ashamed.


If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don't waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren't interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don't go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

This is a point of severe disagreement I have. I have no problem with people who choose this way, but it's not for me, and it's not for humanity. We are destined to expand, and if we're lucky we'll make it off this planet.


True words aren't eloquent;
eloquent words aren't true.
Wise men don't need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren't wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

Again, stop arguing and go learn. Why do I argue? Because it's fun, it can be a game, and sometimes I become deluded into thinking I can help people. But if it wasn't fun, I wouldn't argue. I'm moving next weekend, and I notice that I have too many possessions.


This is the end of the Tao te Ching. If you've been following along, are you nuts? ;) My perspectives are directed toward myself most of the time, but if you gained anything of value from them, I would be happy. Let me know in the comments!

I sometimes desire to learn the ancient Chinese necessary to read an original version of the Tao te Ching, instead of a translation. It's obvious the translation I used isn't exactly literal as vocabulary that simply didn't exist in the time of Lao Tzu is used. But nonetheless I think the translation is excellent, it preserves the spirit of the Tao and conveys its simple, blatant truth spectacularly. Of course there are areas of disagreement, but if I could learn to be more like the Master, I would be a much better person. I've neglected my three treasures of simplicity, patience, and compassion over the past year, I'm going to try and get them back.

Posted on 2011-01-24 by Jach

Tags: taoism


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