Seems a shame that nothing has been added here for a couple of years, so I thought I'd just play a little game for a few minutes. I'm going to continue this thread by returning to aphorism five
which I think helps sum a lot of what the Tao fragments are about.
I will approach this particular aphorism by dividing the extract into three main headings: nature and society, cosmology, and language. I am using LinYutan's particular translation to serve my purpose which can be found here: Tao Teh Ching 05 - Church of the East
Nature and Society
Nature is unkind:
It treats the creation like sacrificial straw-dogs.
The Sage is unkind:
He treats the people like sacrificial straw-dogs
The first four lines make up one of the more surprising maxims of the Daodejing, or Tao Teh Ching etc, especially when shadowed by the distinctions and valuations prevalent in Occidental thought.
The European mind has more often equated nature with beauty, love, art, perfection, aesthetics and of being the product of some intelligent, wise, all powerful and benevolent deity. Yet, here, we read that nature has little benevolence for its creations and which from our human perspective treats its creations like the Chinese straw-dogs
once used in ancient festivals and magic rites.
Dogs were sacrificial animals to dieties of nature in old time China, and later their blood was used in the act of swearing on and the honouring of agreements and contracts.
With the passing of time, straw dogs replaced living sacrificial dogs, stuffed puppet figures adorned with colour and splendour and placed in the most visible, important parts of the Plaza and the very next day discarded, trampled upon and forgotten.
Is this not a apt analogy on how we could consider nature 'treating' its creations? Dressing them up in all their splendour, pomp and power and yet, soon enough, knocking them down with ill health, old age, weakness and death.
Although teleological in form, I feel this first stanza ought not to be read as nature having any kind of purpose, because the idea is that nature is uncreated and acts simply by Tao-ing, giving all things their being and sustaining them towards death. In consequence, Taoism has no need to postulate a first-cause creator.
To understand the next two lines we must be aware that unlike the Europeans and Americans, Chinese philosophers have not been predominately busied with substance. Let me explain.
Instead of asking themselves, 'what is this?
' or 'what is that?
' they have asked, 'what is the relation between this and that?
' and the answers drawn are offered in terms of action and reaction, both mutual and conflicting.
So, nature and society are not made up of isolated entities, but rather complex, holistic webs of relationships between the various parts of a unified whole, or referential totality. Thus, the individual who desires to follow a footpath of Tao - the Sage - ought not to cultivate the Confucian virtue of benevolence as a measure to structure society, because this conduct inevitably drives one towards partiality and caring only for one's own. Indeed, once benevolence is recognised evil has also been learned.
For Taoists, then, or more importantly, for the Sage, a morality that assumes that personal and social improvement can be brought about by enforcing that morality onto others is not obvious.
Imposing morality to improve the world may lead to dire consequences, for if one regards someone or an aspect of someone as good or benevolent, other people or other aspects of self may be considered evil and wicked and unworthy.
Hence, just as nature does not take sides but gives to both good and evil, ugly and beautiful, the Sage, too, ought not to take sides. In principle, the Taoist welcomes all people like nature itself: impartially, without distinction and with total equity.
The space between the earth and sky
Is like a bellows,
Empty but unspent.
The more it is worked, the more it brings forth.
Tao is nothing in its self. As there exists nothing that determines or that can explain Tao, Tao is. The best human thought can arrive at is to understand Tao as the evolving source of all phenomena. Being.
Interestingly, this maxim also indicates how we, as individuals, might achieve the ideal state of Tao existence. Empty ourselves, and of the conditions which tint our interaction with the world. A form of achieving total transparency, an absolute absorbtion in the world conducted through our 'working', or better put, I think, our coping. The more we are absorbed in what we are doing, truely in the moment of our love and care, the more we become like the bellows, empty but unspent.
Much talk means much exhaustion;
Better to guard what it is inside.
Talk for talking's sake ends up being exhausting, talk which amounts to the verbal utterances of our very systems of thought will never come to describe or understand reality (Tao) completely. Hence, it is better to remain silent, to keep what is inside. This is the principle of the silent education :eek:
I don't agree with the consequences of my interpretation, but it's been fun playing around with this.