Chapter of the Week: #78

A desire for intoxication is a symptom of underlying need. Often desire leads us to actions than don't resolve the need, but rather mask it enough. Allow us to cope.

It takes a certain degree of courage to drop the 'mask' and see what may actually be there. The courage is facing the unknown, dropping that which worked 'good enough' in the attempt to stumble upon something that works better.

This is essentially the same pioneer spirit that moved people to leave behind the known and venture into the unknown. Taoism is essentially a journey into that realm of the unknown, principally because it poo-poos the one crutch onto which we cling that gives us the illusion of thinking we know.

"The teaching that uses no words, the deed that consists in taking no action". These are outcomes of dropping our trust in names and words.


  • 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 78
    In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for
    attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it. This is because
    there is nothing that can take its place.

    That the weak overcomes the strong,
    And the submissive overcomes the hard,
    Everyone in the world knows yet no one can put this knowledge into practice.

    Therefore the sage says,
    One who takes on himself the humiliation of the state,
    Is called a ruler worthy of offering sacrifices to the gods of earth and millet;
    One who takes on himself the calamity of the state,
    Is called a king worthy of dominion over the entire empire.

    Straightforward words
    Seem paradoxical.

    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.]

    Taking on himself the humiliation and the calamity of the state is rare to be sure. Mostly I see a universal tendency to either cheer the state (patriot) or denigrate the state (protester). This is not only true of the nation state, but the state of anything in human affairs. This suggests there is a sense of implied (if not explicit) belief in free will. We feel someone is in charge and is either merit worthy or to blame for their ‘choices’. Taking on himself the humiliation and the calamity of the state suggests a more realistic appraisal of circumstances. In my view, this parallels Jesus when he said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” All the ills that I see around me (and within) are born out of [chref=70]ignorance[/chref]. How can one be blamed for being ignorant? Despite the law’s ‘ignorance is no excuse’, I say it is the root cause, the only valid ‘excuse’. Being ignorant that a hook is inside the worm, a fish bites down and dies. Being ignorant that _(you name it)_ is why we suffer the unintended consequences of _(you name it)_ . Naturally, that applies to that blind tendency to either cheer the state (flag-waver) or denigrate it (complainer). Accepting what is, is [chref=63]difficult[/chref].

    True, other forces are at work within us. The tribal instinct drives us to divide (rebel) in order to unite, to unite (obey) in order to divide. Rebelling drives us to unite with fellow rebels, obeying drives us to differentiate ourselves from the rebellious. Perhaps such instincts would be a little more manageable if we were a little less ignorant of their power, rather than clinging to wishful ideals like 'peace on earth' and 'free will' (of course). However, even here, I imagine there exists the instinct, 'hope springs eternal'.

    Finally, of course, even our ignorance is also rooted in instinct. Animals, including us, are innately set up to regard weakness and loss through death as completely opposite to victorious and powerful. Life would not function if it were otherwise; life is driven to resist the obvious. Simply put, life is an illusion built upon a fantasy that strong overcomes the weak. And so, as this chapter puts it, ‘straightforward words (i.e., the weak overcomes the strong) seem paradoxical’. I find that it is only by [chref=71]being alive to [this] difficulty that one can avoid it[/chref] (at least somewhat). 'Alive' meaning a moment to moment awareness of the instinct-based [chref=65]hoodwinks[/chref] nature pulls on us. How 'somewhat' this turns out depends upon how 'alive' I am. Hmm, that is oddly ironic, which figures. :roll:

    As literal as my English would allows:
    Under heaven nothing is more yielding and weak than water.
    Yet for attacking the hard and strong nothing can surpass,
    Because of its nothing-ness and ease.
    Of weakness and loss through death, victorious and powerful.
    Under heaven there's no one who does not know — no one can do.
    Because of this, the holy person says,
    Accepting the humiliation of the state means host of the state.
    Accepting the state's misfortune serves for all under heaven great.
    Straight and honest words seem inside out.

    Literal word for word, except that I place 'of' in front rather than behind:
    heaven under none soft (flexible, yielding) weak (feeble, lose through death) than water.
    but attack hard (strong) strong (strive, stubborn), nothing ability (can) surpass (victory, be equal to),
    use (take; according to; because of) its nothing (nil, not have) and (as well as) easy of.
    weak (feeble, lose through death) of surpass (victory, be equal to) strong (strive, stubborn).
    soft (flexible, yielding) of surpass (victory, be equal to) firm (strong, indomitable, just).
    heaven under no one not know no one ability (can) go (travel; temporary; do; perform).
    this use (take; according to; because of) holy person say,
    accept (endure) of nation humiliation call (mean) state host (owner, master, manage, main).
    accept nation ominous (inauspicious) this do (act; serve as; become; be; mean) heaven under great.
    straight (situated in the middle; honest) words like (seem; as if) turn over (inside out; on the contrary)
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