Thursday, June 01, 2006


Cultivating your soul, can you embrace the oneness of things?
Collecting your breath, can you become as soft as an infant?
Cleansing your inner vision, can you make it without flaws?
Caring for the people you govern, can you dispense with cleverness?
As Heaven's door opens and shuts, can you remain receptive?
Seeing all around with clarity, can you practice non-action?

They Way produces things and nourishes them;
produces but does not claim them.
It acts without self-interest,
leads but does not dominate.

This is true virtue.

Various commentators, including Michael LaFargue, have suggested that the first section of this verse is taken from meditation instruction, and each sentence refers to a special type of meditation which would be familiar to students of the Laoists. In other words, there was a type of meditation which Laoists knew by the phrase "opening and shutting Heaven's door." I can see why people are tempted to say that these phrases represent some special meditation jargon: they're hard to interpret! Most of them aren't mentioned anywhere else in the TTC, like the concept of "cleansing your inner (hidden) vision." There's no mention of this anywhere else in the book, and in fact this is the only place the character for "vision" appears. However, just imagine how much of the Laoists' practice must not have made it into the TTC. Eighty-one short verses is hardly enough to lay out an entire worldview, and we shouldn't assume that the vague, hard-to-interpret passages are intentionally so. They may just be small parts of a larger concept which didn't make it into the version of the Tao Te Ching we have today.

No comments: