Tao Te King
Keith H. Seddon
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1. i.e. all things in existence.
2. i.e. the Nameless and the Named.
1. ‘Beneath Heaven’ refers to the phenomenal world of everyday experience.
1. Waley (1977, 146) observes, ‘Dust is the Taoist symbol for the noise and fuss of everyday life.’ The Tao exists everywhere – even in ch’en, dust.
1. Straw dogs were made to be sacrificial offerings at religious ceremonies. Afterwards, having served their purpose, they would be thrown away and trampled under foot in the street or burned as fuel. (See Ch’en Ku-ying 1977, 70, P. J. Lin 1977, 12, Wilhelm 1985, 65, Welch 1966, 42, and Wieger 1988, 88.)
2. i.e. all people.
3. presumably, the Tao. But the ‘empty centre’ may well be alluding to the bellows simile already introduced; if this is so, the ‘empty centre’ of the bellows should be likened to the space between Heaven and Earth. This space is where mankind dwells, and this line may be an exhortation discouraging people from presuming too much, or taking on tasks beyond their capacity. This interpretation at least accords with the general philosophy of the Tao Te Ching. Cf. Welch (1966, 44–5) for an illuminating analysis of this chapter.
1. presumably, the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things (which is the Tao itself). This chapter is obscure. Lau (1963, xxxviii–ix) suggests it echoes a primitive creation myth.
1. this may allude to a meditation technique. The ‘profound mirror’ is a simile for the mind; making it ‘free from blemish’ is to avoid making emotional responses to the events and circumstances of the everyday world.
2. perhaps, simply, ‘when things happen’.
3. i.e. remain passive and refrain from acting.
1. The five primary colours are: red, yellow, green or blue, black and white.
2. The five notes of the Chinese pentatonic scale are: C, D, E, G and A.
3. The five tastes are: sweet, sour, bitter, acrid, and salty.
1. i.e. the three qualities of being invisible, soundless, and intangible.
2. or following the principle/system/tradition of Tao.
1. These two lines may allude to a meditation technique (cf. LaFarge 1994, 357).
1. Strictly, ‘when the six family relationships are not in harmony’. These are the relationships of father and son, elder brother and younger brother, and husband and wife. (This conception of family relationships is clearly sexist, leaving out of account mothers, daughters and sisters.)
1. This line probably belongs at the end of the previous chapter.
2. i.e. the Tao.
1. i.e. as all moisture flows to the main river, so all the people will come to the Sage to be enlightened.
2. i.e. he will be in accord with the Tao, in accord with the way things are naturally meant to be.
3. i.e. the most simple of things, uninfluenced by conscious actions.
1. The left-hand side is considered the honourable side, and the right-hand side is considered the less honourable. (See Maurer 1986, 93)
1. i.e. as a very simple, undifferentiated thing.
1. i.e. adhering to Confucian Rites.
1. i.e. the Tao.
1. Perhaps ‘two’ is ‘non-being’, and ‘three’, ‘being’, or ‘two’, ‘yin’, and ‘three’, ‘yang’. But see also Wilhelm (1985, 21 and 73) who suggests that ‘one’ is the unity in which all opposites are ‘intermingled’, and which generates ‘two’ ‘as antithesis (the opposites of light and dark, male and female … ). From these pairs of opposites the phenomenal world is born as the Three’. (p. 21) However we understand the numbers, this part of the chapter points to the multiplicity of things having their source in the undifferentiated Tao.
1. All translators find these lines particularly hard to interpret. ‘Three out of ten’ presumably means ‘one third’ (see Lau 1963, 57). Henricks notes (1990, 122) that these lines can be taken to mean ‘roughly speaking, one-third of humanity seems to be born to … live a long time no matter what they do; another third seems born fated to … die young no matter what they do; and, finally, another third can live long or die young depending on how they live, but they hasten their journey to death with their anxiety to hold on to life’. (Henricks, reluctantly, favours a different interpretation, based on his own, different, preferred translation of this chapter. His reasons for preferring his different translation are quite involved and technical, and cannot be gone into here. See Henricks 1990, 123.)
1. of the senses.
1. i.e. follow Tao.
1. of the senses.
2. of being like a Sage.
1. presumably, ‘Only when there is no other way.’ (31b)
1. The Sage is intellectually penetrating, but he does not show up other people’s muddledness.
1. ‘Mother’ here may mean ‘Tao’. (See Chan 1969, 164, n. 97)
1. i.e. the fish is spoilt if the cook disturbs it or is too hasty. (See Wang Pi’s commentary (in P. J. Lin 1977, 122.) Lau points out (1963, 76) that a small fish is spoilt simply by handling it.
2. i.e. the Sage, and the evil spirits.
3. See Wang Pi’s commentary in P. J. Lin 1977, 112–13.
1. i.e. the centre to which all things tend to gravitate.
1. i.e. the Emperor.
1. i.e., the Tao
1. i.e. the Tao cannot be compared to or likened to any of the things normally experienced.
2. This line is ambiguous between ‘Heaven is compassionate in providing and protecting’ and ‘The way that Heaven provides and protects is by making men compassionate’. (See Feng and English, 1973, and Lau, 1963, for the latter interpretation, and Chan, 1969, and Ch’u, 1985, for the former.)
1. i.e. he overcomes his enemies without the need to fight them.
2. i.e. accomplishing things, like Heaven, without striving.
1. Strictly, ‘I dare not be the host, but would rather be the guest.’ That is, the host, being at home, must take the initiative, and is in this sense active whereas the guest takes the passive role.
2. Wang Pi says that these three treasures are those mentioned in Chapter 67. Underestimating one’s enemy, one runs the risk of resorting to force; doing this is to ‘lose the treasures’. (See P. J. Lin 1977, 127)
1. I follow Henricks (1990, 168) who remarks, ‘Although ping [in this chapter] does mean “disease” … here it is best translated, I feel, as “flaw” (or “fault” or “defect”).’
1. or The people may not stand in awe of their ruler’s authority; But an authority greater than this [Heaven or Tao] will bring them to an end they deserve.
2. i.e. if the people are not oppressed, and are left to conduct their affairs for themselves, they will not resist or resent the authority of the state.
1. There is an ambiguity here between ‘Who would dare break the law?’ and ‘Who would dare put to death the law-breakers?’ In the light of 74c, the latter interpretation seems to make more sense.
2. i.e. Heaven.
1. i.e. they are trying to do too many things, and are not following the Taoist way of non-action.
1. i.e. hard and inflexible is inferior to soft and weak.
1. i.e. when the string of a bow is drawn back, the top of the bow, as it bends, is pulled down (to some extent) and the bottom of the bow is pulled up. This simile is meant to illustrate the way Heaven makes things equal, and evens things out.
2. The simile is continued by referring to the string of the bow. If it is too long it must be shortened, and vice versa.
1. In this chapter, Lao Tzu describes an ideal society.
2. i.e. the more one travels, the more one risks accident and injury. Besides, in an ideal society, affairs would be conducted in such a way that need for travel becomes redundant.
3. historically, a practice prior to, and more simple than, writing.