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, 47 through 55

(It occurred to me the other day I hadn't finished this!)


Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

Inner-peace does not require going out and doing things, it can be done in the silence of your own home. In fact I suggest this; our culture is one of moving through one distraction after the other. A lot of people feel awkward with silence.

It always amazes me how much the ancient Chinese figured out. The middle portion of this chapter is the simplest way of putting a now commonly known truth. Little facts get in the way of understanding; you may know Gatorade has electrolytes, but do you know what electrolytes are? Do you know why they would be in Gatorade? After you learned what an electrolyte is, would you not realize you don't know a lot about what human bodies require to survive? The more you learn, the more you learn that there is so much you don't know.

The final portion is just another example of wuwei.


In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can't be gained by interfering.

This is one of those chapters where I disagree on consequential grounds, as this chapter can be used in probably unintended ways, and people not practiced in reading these things will come to false conclusions. "I'm leaving my todo list empty so that nothing is undone." is an example. The essence of this chapter, which I will try to elaborate, I full-heartedly agree with.

In pursuit of knowledge, every day something too is also dropped, and this thing is ignorance. In the practice of the Tao, what drops is your stress, what drops is your attachment to material objects, what drops are the barriers in your mind preventing you from grasping the larger picture of the world, what drops are the desires and cravings to control everything. Non-action is the state of non-interference, where you allow things to go their own way, and allow you to go with them. You cannot learn to program by interference. A master programmer creates programs that stay out of the way of the machine doing what was intended. (Bloat is very non-Taoist.)


The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren't good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren't trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master's mind is like space.
People don't understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

Inventors, entrepreneurs, the great scientists and mathematicians, all of them are and were bright, all of them had great minds, but in developing their works, they worked with the mind of the people. Only because someone thought of the internet are we able to make programs dependent on http transfers, regardless of how "unique" our program is on the top level. Human understanding is social, we progress by not only standing on the shoulder's of giants but also kicking them to the curb (in the case of science) when better understanding arrives. (Which may not have been possible without the older understanding.)

True goodness and true trust are two hard things to integrate, though I think having a nerdish personality can help in these goals. It's common for nerdish people to be perceived as too trusting.


The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work.

Unfortunately one of those chapters about accepting death, which I cannot agree to given modern technology. Also, if I didn't have to sleep I wouldn't. There is a message in here however about accepting evidence as it arrives and not deceiving oneself. As little as 100 years ago people had no rational expectation of avoiding death, and so it was proper for them to act as if death was inevitable.


Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

Atoms themselves are remarkable, that they should form from the simple particles performing the three simple quantum rules of turning, growing/shrinking, and adding/canceling. Molecules on top of atoms are too remarkable, and every level further is just amazing. Everything is made of the same stuff, isn't that remarkable? Everything is an expression of the Tao.

The Tao's actions are those a Master should strive for. Consider this a plug for open source development.


In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
you heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from juding
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

Finding the origin is a coping strategy but I don't think it really removes sorrow.

Judging in this context is about judging the worth of people, yourself, etc. It is not possible or proper to delay judgment on everything. Nor should you be taken in by your desires, especially your primitive ones which lead to irrational behavior and long term misery. Use your brain and you'll find peace.


The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn-
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

Consider the Narcissism of small differences and how it can destroy people not at all that different. I'll present Python, Perl, and Ruby as languages people argue about. I'll present the eternal debate of vim vs. emacs. While each is quite different they are all really similar, the differences are minor rather than major. It is the case with many social movements and governing ideas. Often we all want one thing but disagree on the implementation.

The US is very much not in keeping with the Tao. A lot of the megarich are there by betting and setting up intricate networks among multiple entities to funnel the maximum funds to those on top. While people are losing their houses, the home lending agencies are still around (and in fact have in part been given tax payer money). People cry out for the government to fund certain programs, but everyone sees the government budget is already stretched, and yet no one wants to mention cutting the gross military spending. This is really chaotic, hopefully it will sort out before long.


Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the universe
and the universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

Sound advice. Though the introspective argument isn't very strong, nevertheless if you look at history you'll find that successful cultures embody more pieces of the Tao than the dark ones.


He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn't know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

In harmony with the Tao, your instincts become proper. This is the fourth stage of competence, unconscious competence. When you can do some reasonably complex task (like riding a bike) you are unconsciously competent.

I want the vocal chords of a baby! I get hoarse quickly if I shout.

People focus their thoughts in the "results tank" but not in the "effort tank" or the "action tank". It's always "I want money!" not "I will learn a valuable skill and start working to use this skill.

Posted on 2010-09-05 by Jach

Tags: taoism


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