Chapter of the Week: #81

Quite so. Every time I wander away from the security of the tao (this is one way I think of it anyway), I always come back feeling like I've increased my intuitive understanding... or, I suppose, that I've expanded my own interpretation of the Tao Te Ching in some new way that fits my experience better.

Now, centertaoist I like, a lot. The middle of the middle path. Balancing on the median of existence while traffic whizzes past in either direction. Well, as you rightly point out, any name is not the constant name. Makes me wonder how Jesus' name would have been pronounced in his time. Not the way we have it, in any case.


  • edited December 1969
    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 81
    Truthful words are not beautiful; beautiful words are not truthful.
    Good words are not persuasive; persuasive words are not good.
    He who knows has no wide learning; he who has wide learning does not know.

    The sage does not hoard.
    Having bestowed all he has on others, he has yet more;
    Having given all he has to others, he is richer still.

    The way of heaven benefits and does not harm; the way of the sage is bountiful
    and does not contend.

    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.]

    The chapters fly by and here we are at the end again, and again I wonder why ‘Truthful words are not beautiful’? First, Beautiful anything always leaves out its [chref=2]ugly[/chref] counterpart. That’s alright, though it neglects the whole picture. Put another way, beautiful is simply that which makes me feel ‘good’; moreover, I know that [chref=2]the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad[/chref]. In other words, allowing what I ‘like’ to inform my judgment on truth makes no sense. Beauty, being in the eye of the beholder, is ultimately biased by personal [chref=37]desire[/chref]. Alas, that is one of biology’s primary [chref=65]hoodwinks[/chref].

    ‘He who has wide learning does not know’ has long stumped me. As the years go by I can’t help but attain wider and wider learning. Now then, does the problem really reside in this wide learning, or how intensely I have (hold on to) this wide learning? The pitfall for ‘he who has wide learning’ must lie in the clinging to and the hiding behind wide learning. In the end, it is not what or how much I have that is telling, but how desperately I cling to what I have. In my traveling years I had a small shoulder bag with all my worldly possessions, yet I emotionally clung to it more than all property I ‘have’ today. The same applies to learning. Though my learning is wider today, I clung more to the narrower learning I had as a youth. It is not the ‘thing’, it is the [chref=46]covetous[/chref]-ness behind the thing that is determinative.

    Now having the original Chinese to ponder puts the wide learning part of D.C. Lau’s translation in a broader and more subtle light. Abundant can be interpreted as meaning wide learning, but not necessarily. It is more [chref=14]indistinct and shadowy[/chref] now. It feels like knowing not abundant, abundant not knowing decouples knowing from quantity, i.e., we are biologically biased to often feel ‘more is better’. :roll:

    I also prefer ‘The holy person does not accumulate. Already he considers people's own well-being his own’ over D.C. Lau’s. The original hints at why ‘The sage does not hoard’. Simply put, when I feel other people's own well-being my own, I [chref=33]know contentment[/chref]. When I’m content, I’m naturally not driven to hoard.

    The more 'beautiful' translation:
    True speech not beautiful.
    Beautiful speech not true.
    Goodness does not argue.
    Argument is not goodness.
    Knowing not abundant
    Abundant not knowing.
    The holy person does not accumulate.
    Already he considers people's own well-being his own.
    Already because of giving people's own well-being more.
    Nature's way sharpens, yet does not harm.
    The holy person's way acts, yet does not contend.

    The less 'beautiful', literal translation:
    true (trust; word) speech (word) not beautiful (pretty; good).
    beautiful (pretty; good) speech (word) not true (trust; word).
    goodness (kind; friendly) not argue (dispute; debate).
    argue (dispute; debate) not goodness (kind; friendly).
    knowing (realize; be aware of) not rich (abundant; plentiful; win; gain).
    rich (abundant; plentiful; win; gain) not knowing (realize; be aware of).
    sage (saint; holy; sacred) person not amass (store up; accumulate).
    already (since; as) think (believe; consider) person one's own (personal) heal (recover) have.
    already (since; as) use (according to; because of) give (get along) person one's own (personal) heal (recover) more (excessive).
    sky (heaven; weather; nature) of way sharp (favorable; advantage) yet not evil (harm; destructive).
    sage (saint; holy; sacred) person of way do (act; serve as; be) yet not contend (argue).
  • JoeJoe
    edited December 1969
    I see Lau's use of wide learning as simply having a wealth of information/facts. As opposed to having a broad perspective, with some wisdom to use the info. that has come to one's attention.

    If I'm focused on my perspective only, the info. I possess that supports my current desire only, then problems come up. If I have a broader perspective on things, acknowledging others' desires/needs, and not thinking that I know everything and thus we should do what I happen to think is right, then I'm able to work with the situation.

    This really is important for me when I'm dealing with my 13 yr.old daughter. When we're trying to juggle her various activities in our overall schedule, it stresses us both if my position is that I have all the knowledge about how our schedule should go, and she just needs to fit into that. Versus we work together to figure it out, because schedules aren't etched in stone, and need to be "mysterious and formless". (Too bad my needy side wants a concrete schedule for the rest of my life, so I'd always know what to expect.)
  • I think the oposition of wide learning - knowledge is the same one as Montaigne makes between "une tête bien faite" (a good head, capable of reasoning thinking for oneself) and "une tête bien pleine" (a head full of bookish learning).

    With wide learning you got the answers to a lot of questions but this doesn't mean you are able to ask new questions. It's the new questions that let you progress. I agree with Carl, wide learning is not a problem as such, it's when this wide learning is preventing growth.
Sign In or Register to comment.