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Taoist Philosophy - Chapter 113

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Arriving At The Great Accord


Those who practiced the Tao in antiquity
Did not use it to enlighten the people.
They used it to make them dumb.
The reason why people are difficult to rule
Is because of their knowledge.
As a result,
To use knowledge to rule the state
Is thievery of the state.
To use ignorance to rule the state
Is kindness to the state.
One who constantly understands these two,
Also understands the principles of Nature.
To constantly understand the principles;
This is called Profound Virtue.
Profound Virtue is deep, it is far-reaching,
And together with things it returns to its source.
Thus we arrive at the Great Accord.

(Few modern readers can be in sympathy with this nihilistic rejection of knowledge and the teaching of “keeping the people ignorant”. It should be remembered that the whole Taoist philosophy is against over-development of knowledge and learning, and insisted that not only the people should return to primitive simplicity, but the King and the Sage himself also should do so. Furthermore, it was from a period of political world chaos, in which man’s intellectual progress showed no commensurate moral advance, that such nihilistic philosophy developed as a protest. Wars, taxation and conscription had impoverished the people. Famous scholars traveled from country to country to offer their solutions for peace. Idealistic philosophers preached humanity and justice, and realistic politicians offered fertile plans for achieving peace. Both types made a great reputation for themselves, and it was the fashion for the rulers to make a great deal of fuss about the famous scholars and teachers.)

The Origin Of World Chaos

Nowadays anyone can make the people strain their necks and stand on tiptoes by saying, “In such and such a place there is a Sage.” Immediately they put together a few provisions and hurry off, neglecting their parents at home and their master’s business abroad, going on foot through the territories of the princes, and riding hundreds of miles away. Such is the evil effect of the ruler’s desire for knowledge. When the rulers desire knowledge and neglect Tao, the empire is overwhelmed in confusion.

How can this be shown? When the knowledge of bows and cross-bows and hand-nets and tailed arrows increases, then there is confusion among the birds of the air. When the knowledge of hooks and bait and nets and traps increases, then there is confusion among the fishes of the deep. When the knowledge of fences and nets and snares increases, then there is confusion among the beasts of the field. When cunning and deceit and flippancy and the sophistries of the “hard” and “white” and identities and differences increase in number and variety, then they overwhelm the world with logic.

Therefore it is that there is often chaos in the world, and the love of knowledge is ever at the bottom of it. For all men strive to grasp what they do not know, while none strive to grasp what they already know; and all strive to discredit what they do not excel in, while none strive to discredit what they do excel in. That is why there is chaos. Thus, above, the splendor of the Heavenly bodies is dimmed; below, the power of land and water is burned up, while in between the influence of the four seasons is upset. There is not one tiny worm that moves on Earth or an insect that flies in the air but has lost its original nature. Such indeed is the world chaos caused by the desire for knowledge!

The simple and the guileless have been set aside; the specious and the cunning have been exalted. Tranquil inaction has given place to love of disputation; and disputation alone is enough to bring chaos upon the world.

The Harm Done To Man’s Nature

In the days before man became obsessed with knowledge the people did nothing in particular at their homes and went nowhere in particular on their walks. Having food, they rejoiced; tapping their bellies, they wandered about. Thus far the natural capacities of the people carried them. Then the learned ones came to make them bow and bend with ceremonies and music in order to regulate the external forms of intercourse, and dangled humanity and justice before them in order to keep their minds in submission. Then the people began to labor and develop a taste for knowledge, and to struggle with one another in their desire for gain, to which there is no end.

The Danger Of Showing Oneself

There was a master who became famous for his wisdom, and the people began to venerate him as a Sage. He avoided their homage and refused their gifts. He kept himself hidden and would not let them come to see him. His disciples remonstrated with him, and declared that it had been the tradition for wise men to accept veneration, and thus exercise a good influence.

The master replied, “Come here, my children, listen to this. If a beast large enough to swallow a wagon should leave its mountain forest, it will not escape the hunter’s trap. If a fish big enough to swallow a boat lets itself be stranded by the outgoing tide, then even ants will destroy it. So birds fly high, beast remain in trackless solitudes, keeping out of sight; and fishes and turtles go deep down, down to the very bottom. The man who has some respect for his person keeps his carcass out of sight; hides himself as perfectly as he can.

“If the virtuous are honored, the world will be filled with envy. If the smart man is rewarded, the world will be filled with thieves. You cannot make men good and honest by praising virtue and knowledge. Since the days of the learned ones everybody has been trying to get rich. A son will kill his father for money, a minister will murder his sovereign to satisfy his ambition. In broad daylight they rob each other, at midnight they break down walls. The root of all this was planted when man began to search for knowledge. The branches will grow for a thousand ages, and a thousand ages from now men will be eating one another raw!”

Symphony For A Sea Bird

You cannot put a big load in a small bag, nor can you, with a short rope, draw water from a deep well. You cannot talk to a power politician as if he were a wise man. If he seeks to understand you, if he looks inside himself to find the truth you have told him, he cannot find it there. Not finding, he doubts. When a man doubts, he will kill.

Have you not heard how a bird from the sea was blown inshore and landed outside the capital?

The Prince ordered a solemn reception, offered the sea bird wine in the sacred precinct, called for musicians to play the great compositions and slaughtered cattle to nourish it. Dazed with symphonies, the unhappy sea bird died of despair.

How should you treat a bird? As yourself or as a bird? Ought not a bird to nest in deep woodland or fly over meadow and marsh? Ought it not to swim on river and pond, feed on eels and fish, fly in formation with other waterfowl, and rest in the reeds?

Bad enough for a sea bird to be surrounded by men and frightened by their voices! That was not enough! They killed it with music!

Play all the symphonies you like on the marshlands, the birds will fly away in all directions; the animals will hide; the fish will dive to the bottom; but men will gather around and listen.

Water is for fish and the air is for birds. Natures differ, and needs with them.

Hence the wise men of old did not lay down one measure for all.

The Man With One Foot

A Sage had gone to the city and saw a maimed official whose left foot had been cut off; a penalty in the political game!

“What kind of man,” he cried, “is this one-footed oddity? How did he get that way? Shall we say man did this, or Heaven?”

“Heaven,” he said, “this comes from Heaven, not from man. When Heaven gave this man life, it willed he should stand out from others and sent him into politics to get himself distinguished. See! One foot! This man is different.”

Edited by Marblehead

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Hi Marblehead; thanks for sharing that.


As you know, when the advice is to the ruler, on how to rule the land, I like to consider what advice there in it, for an ego that is trying to rule the Self. My ego wants to be the ruler, wants to tell all my other parts how to do their jobs.


If my ego tells my heart how to love, for example, then it is only creating neurosis, because my ego has no idea how to love. It only knows how to protect itself.


So instead, my ego can approach my heart, and ask it nicely: "Can you show me how you love?" But my heart will say: "I do not know how", because my heart lives in the mystery, and knows nothing. And so, if my ego is wise, I will say back to my heart: "That's okay. I trust you. Just do what you're supposed to do, and I trust that you will find your way to opening."


I do not need to teach my various parts. I just need to foster them, nourish them, give them the chance to grow on their own. My parts, in gratitude for letting them be, will teach me, and show me the path to life.

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This I like very much. 'dangled humanity and justice before them in order to keep their minds in submission' ... ah yes.


I think this gives a good context for the Taoist texts which seem to be against knowledge.


The inhumane talk of humanity and the dictator talks of justice.


Yeah. When Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu speak of discarding knowledge they are talking about discarding the wisdom of taking care of ourselves and our well-being but rather to the scheming knowledge of how to manipulate and control things and people.


I think that this concept goes more to our not asking "what's in it for me and how can I get as much as I can" but rather to ask ourself "what is the right thing to do?"


I think that "the right thing to do" will almost always be obvious, almost instinctual.

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Hi Otis,


Nicely said.


And I agree, even when the message from the TTC is political we can almost always relate that message to our own personal journey and our relationship with others.


That, IMO, is one of the beauties of the TTC. What is found within can be related to almost every aspect of each of our life.

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