Ch 3 - a totalitarian dark place?

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I think the study of such ancient documents should not be obsessed with unclear places

Because of the unclear place, it is likely to be caused by the distortion of the literature

should focus on clear

Avoid creating too many mazes for yourself

Energy is limited and should be put where it is useful

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On 13/05/2022 at 9:43 PM, SirPalomides said:

I believe the earliest extant commentary on the DDJ is that by Hanfeizi, who indeed interpreted it as advocating his legalist approach to statecraft. 

Interesting. I think the concept of ‘wuwei’ is also “legalist” and brought in by “Hanfeizi”.  


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On 09/05/2022 at 9:45 AM, wandelaar said:

… as a result of technological developments people no longer live in natural circumstances while their natural instinctual reactions are mostly the same as they were in prehistoric times, … (and this problem already manifested way back in Lao tzu's own time). …

Yes, I agree.


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@Taoist Texts Could you please tell me how you do substantiate your claim, “DDJ is a manual for governing a bronze age state .. and quite brutally too!”?










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11 minutes ago, Cobie said:

@Taoist Texts Could you please tell me how you do substantiate your claim, “DDJ is a manual for governing a bronze age state .. and quite brutally too!”?

The Bronze Age of China

The bronze age of China, as far as present knowledge goes, ranges from the middle of the second millennium B.C. to the middle of the first millennium B.C.



The first reliable reference to Laozi is his "biography" in the Records of the Grand Historian (63, tr. Chan 1963:35–37), by Chinese historian Sima Qian (c. 145–86 BC), which combines three stories. In the first, Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius (551–479 BC).


are we ok on the bronze age?



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22 minutes ago, Taoist Texts said:

… are we ok on the bronze age? 

Is it in any way relevant if it was bronze or Iron Age?


“Since King Qingxiang was the Chu king when Qin sacked their old capital Ying in 278 BC, the Chu slips are dated to around 300 BC.” 


The Iron Age began in China during the Zhou Dynasty's reign around 600 BC, 


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@Taoist Texts Could you please tell me how you do substantiate your claim, “DDJ is a manual for governing a state .. and quite brutally too!”?

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The problem with this thread is that the various translations is that they non-contextual, and thus are little more than English word salads made from Chinese greens, in other words people choose their meanings for the characters based on their "sense of taste", what they think the characters should mean based on their own preestablished thinking.  Compare the negative ones here to A. C. Muller's translation here:


3. If you do not adulate the worthy...





If you do not adulate the worthy, you will make others non-contentious.

If you do not value rare treasures, you will stop others from stealing.

If people do not see desirables, they will not be agitated.


Therefore, when the sage governs,

He clears people's minds,

Fills their bellies,

Weakens their ambition and

Strengthens their bones.


If the people are kept without cleverness and desire

It will make the intellectuals not dare to meddle.



This is much less foreboding than any proposed here, yet quite within acceptably meanings for the characters in the text.  What I mean by a contextual translation and discussion is illustrated here in a discussion of Chapter Five's problematic translations such as "The Sage is ruthless", or "the Sage is not humane".  In it I reference other chapters with in the Dao De Jing to contextualize the text:


On 11/7/2014 at 8:03 PM, Zhongyongdaoist said:

Proof that given Daoist terminology and basic cosmology, neither Heaven and Earth or the Sage could be ren, and that both the Ten Thousand Things and humanity would be worse off if they were.


As I have said the trouble is in the first four lines and in particular the second and fourth lines. just a quick fairly literal translation:


Heaven, Earth, not benevolent

take the 10,000 things like straw dogs

Sage, not benevolent

takes the people like straw dogs.


These four lines set up a formal analogy between the subjects and objects of the first and second lines and the third and four lines. The sage is related to heaven and earth, both are characterized as not benevolent and treating certain things in certain ways. An similarity between Heaven and Earth and the sage is strongly implied. This can be supported by citations from other Chapters such Chapter 2 in which the sage is given attributes that are like those attributed to the “Great Tao” in Chapter 34, thus:

Chapter 2:



All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is. So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see;

'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be. (Dao De Jing, Chapter 2, at the Chinese Text Project, Emphasis mine, ZYD)


and Chapter 34:



All-pervading is the Great Dao! It may be found on the left hand and on the right.
All things depend on it for their production, which it gives to them, not one refusing obedience to it. When its work is accomplished, it does not claim the name of having done it. It clothes all things as with a garment, and makes no assumption of being their lord; - it may be named in the smallest things. All things return (to their root and disappear), and do not know that it is it which presides over their doing so; - it may be named in the greatest things.

Hence the sage is able (in the same way) to accomplish his great achievements. It is through his not making himself great that he can accomplish them. (Dao De Jing, Chapter 34, at the Chinese Text Project, Emphasis mine, ZYD)


The similarity of Heaven and Earth and the Sage implied by the structure of Chapter 5 can also be supported by further citations from the text. So let's look at some other chapters and see what else they tell us about Heaven and Earth and the Sage and see why not only are they not benevolent it would be bad if they were, to start let's take a quick look at Chapter 18:



When the Great Dao (Way or Method) ceased to be observed, benevolence and righteousness came into vogue. (Then) appeared wisdom and shrewdness, and there ensued great hypocrisy. When harmony no longer prevailed throughout the six kinships, filial sons found their manifestation; when the states and clans fell into disorder, loyal ministers. (Dao De Jing, Chapter 18, at the Chinese Text Project, Emphasis mine, ZYD)


That this is a process of degeneration in which each succeeding term is worse then its predecessor can be represented in the following way allowing this “>” to represent “better than”:


Great Way>benevolence and righteousness>wisdom and shrewdness>great hypocrisy.


Apparently this degeneration can only happen among people, but if it could affect Heaven and Earth, the Ten thousand things would also suffer. For the purposes of this discussion I am going to invoke Chapter 38 in which benevolence and righteousness are separated and dealt with in two different lines and amend to above to:


Great Way>benevolence>righteousness>wisdom and shrewdness>great hypocrisy.


And it may even be said that “wisdom” is better than “shredness”, but I don't wish to push further comparisons that far.


All we need is the first section, but the rest kind of adds emphasis. It can be assumed that Heaven and Earth have not degenerated in this way, but still embody the Dao. Only humanity can manifest benevolence and righteousness, so when the Dao was lost among humans, benevolence and righteousness appeared, and after that even worse things happened, this means that benevolence and righteousness are a degeneration from Dao.


So it can be assumed that Heaven and Earth embody the Dao and that the sage having returned to the source also embodies the Dao. If this is granted then neither can, or should either be benevolent because they are better then benevolent and since benevolence is a degeneration from the Dao, it would be worse both for the the 10,000 things and for the people, if Heaven and Earth or the sage was benevolent. Thus no matter how odd the image of treating things like straw dogs may strike us, it is better than a benevolent Heaven and Earth or sage treating things or people like precious puppies.


On a purely speculative note, I suspect that straw dogs was used for its humor and shock value and should be seen as part of the the Dao De Jing's tendency to employ paradox and the inversion of “common sense”.


In regard to rulership we can compare this to Chapter 17 where:



In the highest antiquity, (the people) did not know that there were (their rulers). In the next age they loved them and praised them. In the next they feared them; in the next they despised them. Thus it was that when faith (in the Dao) was deficient (in the rulers) a want of faith in them ensued (in the people). How irresolute did those (earliest rulers) appear, showing (by their reticence) the importance which they set upon their words! Their work was done and their undertakings were successful, while the people all said, 'We are as we are, of ourselves! (Dao De Jing, Chapter 17, at the Chinese Text Project)


Where following our early convention:


Hidden Ruler>loved and praised ruler>feared ruler>despised ruler


and create the following equivalences:


Dao = Hidden Ruler

Benevlolence = loved and praised ruler

Righteousness = feared ruler



I won't pursue exact details because of differences between Chapter 18's and Chapter 38's description of the degeneration process.


The Dao and the sage are both like the first Hidden Ruler and the benevolent like the second whom the people loved and praised. The one they feared may have been the righteous ruler and on down the line.


So you see, call them what you want straw dogs or whatever, both people and the 10,000 things are better off not being in a benevolent world, or with a benevolent ruler, as long as both truly embody Dao. It should be noted that they could be worse off then then being ruled by a benevolent ruler, as rulership styles go, it is not the bottom of the heap.




I'm sorry that the whole post is so long, but I wanted people to be sure of what I mean by a contextualized discussion, the whole proof above only cites other chapters of the Dao De Jing, but demonstrates quite clearly that context can clarify meaning in useful ways.


I am working on such a contextualized discussion for Chapter three, it may be ready in a few days, but depending on how busy I am could take longer.



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