Saturday, August 26, 2006


Attain complete emptiness.
Hold firm to a steady calm.
As all things rise and flourish,
we can already see their impending return.
All things flourish and grow, and each one returns from whence it came.
By returning, it finds peace. This is destiny: the law of nature.

This destiny is the one constant in the world; understanding it gives you perspective; not understanding it brings recklessness and misfortune.
When you have perspective, you can be impartial.
Impartiality makes you noble.
This nobility means you are in accord with Heaven.
Heaven is in accord with the Way.
Being in accord with the Way, you will be free from danger all your life.

This verse seems to be all about one topic, although the second half may have been added later to reinforce the first half. The verse emphasizes a recurring motif in the TTC: the cyclical nature of all things. If you think about things falling apart and creatures dying, it's depressing, but only if you think about it in a linear way. Seeing it as part of a cycle, you see that as some things are dying, others are being born. As some things are being born, others are flourishing and yet others are approaching their end. According to the authors of the Tao Te Ching, this should instill in you a sense of calm and equanimity.

At the end of the verse we can also see a kind of phrasing very common in the TTC: "X leads to Y, Y leads to Z, Z leads to the Way, the Way will do something." Personally, I'm not sure how much attention to pay to the literal logical meaning of these passages; I get the feeling they are meant to be largely poetic, with their primary purpose being to express the desireability of the items on the list, without making serious claims about one necessarily leading to the other. Nevertheless, I've tried to render them in such a way that it's at least logical how attaining one item could lead to attaining the next, and so on. When dealing with something so far removed from our cultural experience, we should be careful about premature decisions about meaning.

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