Tao Te Ching Part III 道德经英文版

Not to honour men of worth will keep the people from contention; not to value goods which are hard to come by will keep them from theft; not to display what is desirable will keep them from being unsettled of mind.

Therefore in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.

Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.

If you have enough food to eat and enough water to drink, a place to go to shelter from the weather and sleep at night, clothes to wear in the day to protect you from the sun and wind, and if you are living in an environment that does not threaten you with danger and injury, then from a Taoist viewpoint you have everything you need to live a satisfying and fulfilling life.

To put it more simply, I am alive therefore I must have everything I need to live. I do not need what I have not got.

Why is it then that throughout history, and certainly in society today, there are so many people who possess all these things and much more, yet cannot feel satisfied or fulfilled in their daily life? This passage, and the Tao Te Ching as a whole, suggests that the answer lies in frame of mind, or mental attitude.

If I desire something that I do not possess, and this unfulfilled desire brings me unhappiness and frustration, there are two solutions available to me. I may undertake an action or series of actions to obtain the object of my desire. Once I obtain the object of my desire however, what is to stop me from desiring some other thing that I do not possess, and feeling renewed unhappiness and frustration?

Furthermore, consider whether possession is something actually real and lasting. If a thing is mine because it is physically located in my place of residence, then can it not be moved? If a thing is mine because those around me perceive it as being my property, then can they not change their minds? If a document has been issued to state that a thing belongs to me, cannot another document be issued to the contrary?

Buddha also recognised that desire is the cause of human suffering, and said that in order to obtain Nirvana we must extinguish the flame of desire and be content in our selves. This brings us to the second solution to the problem of desire, which is to find a way to be satisfied with what we have. It sounds easy, but monks can dedicate their lives to achieving this one goal.

Not to honour men of worth will keep the people from contention; not to value goods which are hard to come by will keep them from theft; not to display what is desirable will keep them from being unsettled of mind.

Even in ancient China, Lao Tzu recognises that unfulfilled desires very often spring from social expectations. Society recognises and honours men of worth, and looks down on those who do not exhibit similar virtues. Society places high value on goods which are difficult to obtain and not possessed by the common person.

The elite of society will delight in displaying to the common people the trappings of their wealth and position, ornaments and garments and objects signifying rank and position. This creates in the minds of common people envy and dissatisfaction, feelings of inadequacy and injustice, and contention in general. Displaying and promoting a desire for goods which are hard to come by will at best encourage people to commit morally questionable acts in the pursuit of the wealth needed to obtain such luxuries, and at worst outright theft.

Those who govern a society have it at their discretion to encourage either a social atmosphere which heaps honour, glory, wealth and luxury on a chosen elite and promotes feelings of inadequacy in the general population, or alternatively an atmosphere which recognises that each member of society should be valued for their contribution regardless of whether they command an army or prepare food in a market stall, oversee a successful commercial venture or sweep rubbish from the streets.

After all, no matter how important the self appointed social elite may consider themselves, if all other members of society withdrew their contributions and ceased their work, for how many days could the society continue to function before falling into chaos? A society is a complex organism and requires all of its limbs and organs to operate in a healthy way. For those governing a society to ignore the wellbeing of the common people is like a human being deciding that some organ or limb may no longer be necessary.

Regarding the creation of desire for luxury goods and status symbols, if my coat provides me with the same warmth and protection as your coat, does it really matter that mine is made from cotton and yours is made from silk? If my cup holds water the same as your cup, does it matter that mine is made from clay and yours from jade? What do luxury objects do that common objects do not, other than inspire envy?

Therefore in governing the people, the sage empties their minds but fills their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free from desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.

It is important to remember that from a Taoist perspective, being clever or knowledgeable is different from being wise or enlightened. A person who studies conventional texts and acquires conventional knowledge will not have the same viewpoint as a person who follows the Tao. There is a saying, each day the clever person learns something new, each day the wise person gives up some certainty, perhaps. This illustrates the difference.

The Tao Te Ching suggests in a number of passages that knowledge is actually something impossible to obtain. It is easy enough to obtain the illusion of knowledge through study and cleverness. However, if you express any piece of knowledge to another person you will use language to do so, and as soon as language is used and the universe is divided into categories by words and names, then we move away from perceiving things as they really are.

Language and knowledge of things, facts and rules take away from the ideal Taoist perception of the world in which all things are connected to one another and everything is part of a whole. This is not to say that a Taoist is uninterested in the world which surrounds them, or unable to make accurate predictions regarding the outcomes of chains of events.

A Taoist recognises variation, and realises that no two situations or event chains are ever identical. A leaf floating down a stream may tumble over a small waterfall, become wet and sink. Another leaf appearing very similar to the first may tumble over the same waterfall, but then float on downstream. Why make a rule which states that a leaf tumbling over a waterfall must behave in a certain way? Each leaf is different, and the stream itself is changing.

A Taoist may notice that leaves of one colour will normally float on, and leaves of another colour will normally sink, but he will also recognise that in fact every leaf is coloured differently from every other, to some degree, and that variables such as weight and shape and smoothness are not correlated completely with colour but vary in proportion to other factors as well.

Therefore no set of rules expressed in language, however detailed and well researched, will be able to produce certainty or knowledge in relation to a real event. Language will always be inadequate in attempting to explain the complexity of the universe by breaking down reality into neat categories. Even in modern society where objects appear to have such clear edges, uncertainty and connectedness exist.

Coming back to the passage, the author argues that the ideal when governing a society is to look to meeting the basic needs of the people first. Ensure that the people are healthy and well fed, and not filled with desire for things that they do not possess and do not actually need. Encourage an attitude in society which turns away from arrogance, knowledge and cleverness and towards the Tao, and an enlightened way of life.

Do that which consists in taking no action, and order will prevail.

This concept reoccurs throughout the Tao Te Ching. The author suggests that non intervention will very often produce the most desirable result. As this passage is concerned with the governing of society, the suggestion is that in order to create a peaceful society and give the most benefit to its various members, the ideal is non interference in the daily lives of the common people.

This runs counter to an authoritarian viewpoint, which argues that people must be actively governed and coerced into correct behaviour for a society to run effectively. This attitude of non interference of government has sometimes lead to Taoism being associated with anarchy and a turning away from legal and moral authority.

Every person is different, no two identical. Every life is unique, no two the same. History is filled with authority figures who claim to know the right way of living, and who seek to bring others into their way of thinking and living, by argument or by coercion. Taoism, in contrast to many religious viewpoints, promotes personal freedom and a turning away from the concept of right behaviour. How can one way of life be more virtuous than another when moral virtue does not exist?

As an individual I have a personal sense of what I want to achieve in life, the way I want to live and react to situations, things I want to experience, people I wish to associate with, places I want to travel to. If I replace my natural attitude to life, ambitions and habits with a set of moral or legal rules which dictate a different type of behaviour, then my life will move in a different direction, towards a set of goals dictated by an authority outside of myself.

This being so, how can I have confidence that my new path in life will benefit me as an individual to the same extent as the path I would have chosen without interference? Taoism suggests that if a person is allowed to choose their own path in life, in accordance with their own nature, then they will be more satisfied with the outcome. Interference from legal and moral authorities will only cause a person to deviate from their natural way of life and create dissatisfaction, therefore such interference should be minimised.

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