Chapter of the Week: #75

While I was considering human striving after happiness, it struck me yesterday how similar it is to a dog chasing its tail. I see something out of the corner and launch myself after it, chasing it down. It's not as close as it first appeared, not as easy to obtain, but as I spin round and round and round, I swear I'm gaining on it. It always stays tantalisingly just out of reach. It's only when I stop running in circles and remain still that I find peace. I can't see my tail when I'm not chasing, but I can know it's there. Having seen a glimpse of it and nothing more, it feels "shadowy and indistinct", but chasing it down makes me feel like I don't yet have it, whereas I can accept that I have it already if I stop chasing. It's always been a part of me, seeking happiness is only interpreting it as an external object, scrambling wildly after that which is already within me.


  • edited August 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 75
    The people are hungry:
    It is because those in authority eat up too much in taxes,
    That the people are hungry.
    The people are difficult to govern:
    It is because those in authority are too fond of action,
    That the people are difficult to govern.
    The people treat death lightly:
    It is because the people set too much store by life,
    That they treat death lightly.

    It is just because one has no use for life that one is wiser than the man who
    values life.

    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.]

    There is an odd thing about saying those in authority eat up too much in taxes. It is the people who hand authority over to those in authority. In translating this chapter, I felt this may be the underlying point in the original Chinese. Is this correct, or just a result of my long held view that there would be no government if no one ‘signed up’? Who knows?

    This ‘chicken or the egg’ issue also applies to armies and the wars waged. There would be no generals if no solders showed up. Followers are a precondition for leaders. Obviously, being a social animal there is no shortage of followers. Now, to then blame those in authority for the problems that ensue is yet again passing the buck – which created the problem in the first place, i.e., handing over authority to others to ‘lead the way’. Letting others lead us, and then blaming them for their incompetence must be one strong instincts. It certainly keeps that ‘buck’ circulating.

    On setting too much store by life, I prefer how the literal original Chinese puts it: the people take extremes lightly because they seek a larger existence. In this latter view, it is not so much that they treat death lightly, but that they treat extremes lightly, and so naturally overlook the unintended consequences of seeking a larger (than life) existence.

    The mind numbing beauty of the original, for me anyway, lies in the extensive number of synonyms (near synonyms and not so near synonyms) that Chinese seems to have. Is that really the case, or it that just because I’m not a native speaker? Do Chinese folks feel the same way about English? Anyway, these ‘synonyms’ along with the extreme terseness of the Tao Te Ching helps tell the ‘taoist story’ well, which is to say, [chref=15]murky like muddy water[/chref]. :wink: In fact, not being a knowledgeable native speaker may even be an advantage when it comes to this ‘story’. Hmm, Now that's seeing the cup half full!

    Fairly literal... (all things considered):
    The people are hungry because they are taxed so much,
    That is why they are hungry.
    The people are difficult to govern because they have activity,
    That is why they are difficult to govern.
    The people take extremes lightly, because they seek a larger existence,
    That is why they take extremes lightly.
    Only the man without use for life's activity is worthy of a noble existence.

    Literal enough to scratch one's head over:
    the people of be hungry (starve) use (take, because of) his (its, their, they, that, such) upper (up, higher, go up) eat tax of much.
    this (that, justify) use (take, because of) be hungry (starve).
    the people of difficult govern use (take, because of) his (its, their, they, that, such) upper (up, higher, go up) of have (exist) do (act, become)
    this (that, justify) use (take, because of) difficult govern.
    the people of light (un-important, gently) die (extremely, implacable, rigid),
    use (take, because of, so as to) his (its, their, they, that, such) beg (seek, try, demand) existence (life, get, have) of thick (large, generous, flavour),
    this (that, justify) use (take, because of) light (un-important, gently) die (extremely, implacable, rigid).
    man only (alone) nothing (not have, without, not) use (take, because of, so as to) existence (life, get, have) do (act, become)
    this (that, justify) virtuous (worthy, able) in (at, to, from, by, than, out of) expensive (valuable, precious, noble) existence (life, get, have).
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