Sunday, May 07, 2006


Heaven and Earth are not overly sentimental
They treat the ten thousand things like straw dogs.
The wise person is not sentimental either.
He regards the hundred families as straw dogs.

The space between Heaven and Earth is like a great bellows,
Empty and yet always full.
The more you move it, the more it produces.

Too much talking leads to exhaustion;
It's better to just remain centered.

"Straw dogs" were items used for rituals in China around the time the Tao Te Ching was written. Woven of straw into the shape of a dog, they were protected carefully before the sacrifice, but after being burned they were considered spent and no more attention was paid to them. Many translators have a word like "dispensable" in place of "straw dogs," but it doesn't really capture the meaning. A paper plate or a rock is dispensable, but a straw dog is something that was carefully handcrafted, only to be abandoned without sentimentality after it has served its purpose. What does it mean for the wise person to regard "the hundred families" as straw dogs? In this case, it seems to mean that he doesn't value other peoples' status, just as he disregards other peoples' opinions of him.

In the second part of the verse we have another reference to the Way being useful but inexhaustible, similar to the mention in Verse 4. Finally, we have an appeal to the concept (wu wei in Chinese) variously translated as "non-action" or "not doing." Here we can clearly see the intended meaning: don't try and do too much, you'll just get exhausted.

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