Chapter of the Week: #71

I've been doing some thinking about this concept that our complex emotions can be deconstructed to reveal simple biological drives. I suppose you could split them roughly into survival functions and reproductive functions. Now, in the modern world, most of our survival is taken care of already. The mechanism that tells me I have food in storage must be a fairly basic one, since it appears in many species; I'm thinking here of squirrels storing food for hibernation.

Taking this into account, that my survival is, if not assured, it's looking likely, and I can know this on a subconscious level, a deep, natural, "old ruts" kind of a knowledge, then the over-whelming majority of my emotions and their responses must have their roots in the reproductive imperative. I've got a good grasp on evolutionary biology - Dawkins' "The Selfish Gene" is probably the most accessible explanation of how reproductive imperatives drive living organisms - but it's never occurred to me before to take what I might think of as "The Carl Abbott Step" and really think about how this applies to humans and our emotional responses.

If my every emotional response is rooted in breeding, and I don't plan to breed today, I can be confident in the knowledge that not acting on my emotions will not bring me harm. In fact, I can only be benefitted.

Can it really be this simple to diffuse emotions and their associated thoughts? Well, I shall be finding out...


  • edited July 2008
    Each week we address one chapter of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching can be obscure, especially if you think you're supposed to understand what it's saying! We find it easier and more instructive to simply contemplate how the chapter resonates with your personal experience. Becoming more aware at this fundamental level simplifies life. This approach conforms to the view that true knowing lies within ourselves. Thus, when a passage in the scripture resonates, you've found your inner truth. The same applies for when it evokes a question; questions are the grist for self realization.

    Chapter 71
    To know yet to think that one does not know is best;
    Not to know yet to think that one knows will lead to difficulty.

    It is by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it. The sage meets with
    no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no

    Read commentary previously posted for this chapter.
    Read notes on translations
    Now, do it too at Wengu!
  • edited December 1969
    [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.]

    I was a bit stumped by parts of this chapter's literal Chinese, so I went to see what someone else at Wengu zhixin had to say. Initially I really took to Waley's translation (see below) . It promised a solution to 'the problem'. I woke up from this fantasy when I noticed much of what he says, solution-wise, is absent from the original Chinese. D.C. Lau also adds more than is there in the original, although the ‘by being alive to difficulty that one can avoid it ’ hits the nail on the head nonetheless.

    I've find that pondering away in confusion over the original can eventually bring deeper insight than what, at first sight, seems [chref=81]beautiful and persuasive[/chref]. So it is with most every thing in life, is it not? The nitty gritty of this chapter to me is humanity's mental defect: we believe to be true what we think is true. There is simply no basis for this trust we put into the mind's goings on (including all this naturally). I think of thoughts as logs in a river. I use them, hoping from one to another, as I move to the 'other side' (death?). I quickly lose balance if I stay or hold onto any log too long. That, and knowing that my thoughts are simply symptoms and reflections of deeper [chref=14]indistinct and shadowy[/chref] realms helps me [chref=10]not know anything[/chref] in the end. I guess I'm training myself to be an expert at [chref=40]Nothing[/chref]. How odd is that?

    Take your time, scratch your head and who knows…
    Realize not know superior, not know this realization is a defect.
    Man alone has this defect, this is because to him its no defect.
    Sacred person is not defective, because of such defect.
    Man alone has this defect, this is because to him its no defect.

    This literal bare bones translation should make the one above feel more attractive:
    know (realize; inform; knowledge) no (not) know (realize; inform; knowledge) upper (up; higher; superior),
    no (not) know (realize; inform; knowledge) know (realize; inform; knowledge) disease (fault; defect).
    husband (man) only (alone, yes) disease (fault; defect) disease (fault; defect),
    correct (yes, this, that) use (take, because of, as well as) no (not) disease (fault; defect).
    sage (sacred)human being (man, person, adult) no (not) disease (fault; defect),
    use (take, because of, as well as) his (her; its; that; such) disease (fault; defect).
    husband (man) only (alone, yes) disease (fault; defect) no (not) disease (fault; defect),
    correct (yes, this, that) use (take, because of, as well as) no (not) disease (fault; defect).

    Waley's translation:
    To know when one does not know is best.
    To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease.
    Only he who recognizes this disease as a disease
    Can cure himself of the disease.
    The Sage's way of curing disease
    Also consists in making people recognize their diseases as diseases and thus ceasing to be diseased.
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