Are We Blinded by Our Own 'Brilliance'?

[Note: I italicize phrases I borrow from the chapter, and link to phrases I borrow from other chapters to help tie chapters together. While making it more tedious to read, :? the Tao Te Ching is best pondered in the context of the whole.]

A man of great virtue follows the way and the way only is the measure of [chref=41]the best student[/chref]. I recall, like one of Cinderella's sisters, trying to stuff myself into the shoes of great virtue. Fortunately I 'soon' felt the futility and realized my failure, and have since been gradually 'disappearing'. What else could possibly happen as I began to feel the [chref=14]indistinct and shadowy[/chref] essence of failure? It is ironic that failure allows me to feel the essence I was struggling to become... well, at least until I start [chref=8]contending[/chref] again. Alas, oh well, naturally... we [chref=36]must first[/chref] struggle to make failure possible. It is all quite [chref=56]mysterious[/chref], and something to live for as [chref=19]desires[/chref] wither away. And, we do need something to live for, if not for something we [chref=37]desire[/chref]! Instinct demands it!

First, a raw literal translation of chapter 21:
hole (opening) of virtue hold only (alone) way is from (ever, follow).
of way stands for things thought suddenly (seem) thought indistinct.
indistict suddenly (seem) its middle (center, core) have shape (image).
indistict suddenly its middle (center) have thing.

deep (quiet) dark (profound) its middle have extract (essence, perfect).
its extract extremely real (genuine; really; truly).
its middle have true (confidence; trust; evidence; letter).
self (certainly, from) its ancient reach (come up to, and) now (modern, present day),
its name (fame; reputation) not go (leave) use (because of) read (inspect, experience) many (crowd) just (only).
I who of know many just (only) of form (condition, account) (?!)
use ( take, according to) this.

And now to render it with some poetic license:
The opening to virtue always follows holding only to the way.
The way stands for: things of thought suddenly seem indistinct.
Thought suddenly seems its center has shape.
Indistinct suddenly seems its center has something.

Deep and dark, its center has an essence.
Its essence is extremely real. Its center has the evidence.
Its 'self' reaches from the ancient to the present,
Its reputation never leaves because it is experienced by all.
How do I know it is experienced by all?
Using this.


  • edited December 1969
    'The intellectual establishment' suffers the same problems found in any bureaucracy. Inertia can keep bureaucracies of thought plodding along old ruts for millennia. One 'rut' I notice is the one found in the matter of free will. For example, here is an excerpt from Freedom & Neurobiology by John Searle.
    The persistence of the traditional free will problem in philosophy seems to me something of a scandal. After all these centuries of writing about free will, it does not seem to me that we have made very much progress. I cannot give you a solution to the problem of free will but I hope to be at least able to state the problem in a precise enough form so that we can see what possible solutions would look like. What would the world, specifically our brains, be like if determinism were true and what would the world, specifically our brains, be like if determinism were false?
    Apparently John Searle is highly regarded among neurobiologist (among others). Yet, here he is, on one hand lamenting how "scandalously" bogged down we are on the issue of free will, yet he himself is bogged down by the false notion that this is an either or issue, i.e., either free will or determinism. When you ask narrow questions, you get narrow answers which can never satisfy for long. (Oh, and there is "a solution to the problem of free will", if I do say so myself.)

    We are a dumb little creature (relatively) who has an extremely exaggerated opinion of himself - we are blinded by our own 'brilliance'! And naturally so. Who is offering a counter view? And, even if there was a counter view, who would want to hear that we are not who we idealize ourselves to be, especially in terms of our 'great human potential' (spiritual or otherwise). Me thinks the 'emperor' really is naked, and clothes can't hide that fact. Hmm, I'm often harping on this, aren't I? I just feel that if we could see ourselves more as we are, rather than how we [chref=71]think[/chref] we are, we would [chref=23]conform to the way[/chref] a little more and [chref=8]contend[/chref] a little less. Oh well,... alas, I care,... but I'm working on that! :wink:

    PS: Yes, of course, I'm one of those dumb little creatures. :oops: So to be sure, dumb is not 'bad' in my view. To paraphrase,... [chref=18]cleverness[/chref] and dumb [chref=2]complement each other[/chref]. I've tried clever and it got me into enough trouble. Finally realizing that I'm dumb helps me immeasurably [chref=64]learn to be without learning[/chref]. Hmm, am I clever to realize that I'm dumb, or is that a little wisdom [chref=15]settling[/chref] in?
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