I think this:
Say what you want - I still don't like the word.
summarizes the fundamental issues admirably. It's about people liking and not liking words and what they imply. That's understandable, without words we have nothing, but those words are in a context and that context helps to define them. Part of the context is the structure of the passages and also how they fit into the overall structure of the DDJ and its doctrines and style. When I first read the Tao Te Ching in D. C. Lau's translation be when I was sixteen in the mid sixties, I was not particularly troubled by chapter five, I can't remember how Lau translated it, and I don't feel like digging out that copy, but one reason I was not troubled was because I looked at its structure and even then saw part of the way out of the dilemma in this very aspect of structure, this of course is part of my proof, which I will get to today. Really I will, but first I want to summarize a little more what is at issue.
Two things bother people about this passage, first the implication that the sage is not a "sugar daddy" and second, well those straw dogs. If only Laozi had said "The sage is a sugar daddy, he treats the people like precious puppies", everyone would love this passage, well maybe not everyone. The thought makes me nauseous. I hate cute, but a lot of people would have just loved it and thought Laozi a fine fellow.
Being told, as some do, that really “Straw Dogs” are, like Zhuangzi says, part of a religious rite:
孔子西遊於衛。顏淵問師金，曰：「以夫子之行為奚如？」師金曰：「惜乎，而夫子其窮哉！」顏淵曰： 「何也？」師金曰：「夫芻狗之未陳也，盛以篋衍，巾以文繡，尸祝齊戒以將之；及其已陳也，行者踐其首脊，蘇者取而爨之而已。將復取而盛以篋衍，巾以文繡， 遊居寢臥其下，彼不得夢，必且數眯焉。今而夫子，亦取先王已陳芻狗，聚弟子游居寢臥其下。故伐樹於宋，削跡於衛，窮於商、周，是非其夢邪？圍於陳、蔡之 間，七日不火食，死生相與鄰，是非其眯邪？
When Confucius was travelling in the west in Wei, Yan Yuan asked the music-master Jin, saying, 'How is it, do you think, with the course of the Master?' The music-master replied, 'Alas! it is all over with your Master!' 'How so?' asked Yan Yuan; and the other said, 'Before the grass-dogs are set forth (at the sacrifice), they are deposited in a box or basket, and wrapt up with elegantly embroidered cloths, while the representative of the dead and the officer of prayer prepare themselves by fasting to present them. After they have been set forth, however, passers-by trample on their heads and backs, and the grass-cutters take and burn them in cooking. That is all they are good for. If one should again take them, replace them in the box or basket, wrap them up with embroidered cloths, and then in rambling, or abiding at the spot, should go to sleep under them, if he do not get (evil) dreams, he is sure to be often troubled with the nightmare. Now here is your Master in the same way taking the grass-dogs, presented by the ancient kings, and leading his disciples to wander or abide and sleep under them. Owing to this, the tree (beneath which they were practising ceremonies) in Sung was cut down; he was obliged to leave Wei; he was reduced to extremities in Shang and Zhou: were not those experiences like having (evil) dreams? He was kept in a state of siege between Chen and Cai, so that for seven days he had no cooked food to eat, and was in a situation between life and death: were not those experiences like the nightmare? (Zhuangzi, Outer Chapters: The Revolution of Heaven, Four at the Chinese Text Project, Emphasis mine, ZYD)
doesn't help much either, because it still has the people being “sacrificed” for the sages purposes.
As I collected and read many different translations of the Dao De Jing in the late 60s and early 70s, Chapter 5 become something of a touchstone for evaluating these translations. I would always turn to it and a couple of others to see how that author handled it and I noticed that it was more troublesome to some translators than others. The more a person was involved in “Taoism” the more they hemmed and hawed about it, but an “impartial” scholar like Waley could simple say that “the sage is ruthless” and be done with it.
As I went along I began to wonder if a look at the original Chinese would be helpful, something that was not easy in the mid 70s. When I finally could look at the original Chinese it didn't help at all and at best showed that a simple literal translation was misleading and a complex one full of the ideological commitments of the author, but none of these people paid much attention to the structure of the passages, nor asked the question, “if neither “Heaven and Earth” nor the Sage are Ren, what are they?” and further is that question answered in a way that expands understanding, in the text of the Dao De Jing? The only useful thing that the Chinese text did was show that the text involved a “not” statement rather than an identity statement, actually for proof purposes, more useful then it sounds.
Having brought up Waley I want to examine his commentary Chapter 5 and his comments on Ren in particular, which are very interesting and I would like to look closer at that commentary because it brings up important aspects of what I said earlier about my “proof”:
Among its highlights will be that using Daoist definitions, both the Ten Thousand Things and The People would be worse off if Heaven and Earth and the Sage were Ren. Not as bad as they could be, but not as good off. That is of course using Daoist terminology which is not exactly the same as Confucian terminology, though comparisons can be made once the terms are looked at a little closer. (Emphasis added, ZYD)
especially about Confucian terminology, but this post has already been long enough and so that discussion will have to wait. Since I have kept promising it for so long, my next post will be my “proof”, because of all that has been said from its present form needs slight revision in exposition, in particular I have wondered how formal to make it, but probably for most people keeping it less formal will be better than putting it in a formal logical framework.
So, sometime in the next eight to twelve hours, its proof time, right now I have to go out and do "stuff".