In the old days, those who were well versed in the practice of the Tao did not try to enlighten the people, but rather to keep them in the state of simplicity. For, why are the people hard to govern? Because they are too clever! Therefore, he who governs his state with cleverness is its malefactor; but he who governs his state without resorting to cleverness is its benefactor. To know these principles is to possess a rule and a measure. To keep the rule and the measure constantly in your mind is what we call Mystical Virtue. Deep and far-reaching is Mystical Virtue! It leads all things to return, till they come back to Great Harmony!
First off, I have to say it feels a little strange to hear someone referring to “the old days” in a text that was written around 400 BC. But what this says to me is that people are always nostalgic about the way things used to be. I think that says something about human nature.
In this passage, Lau Tzu encourages leaders to govern through simplicity and with “Mystical Virtue.” Doing so will return a nation to a state of “Great Harmony.” Clearly, this is advice that many of our modern leaders could benefit from. When I look at the world, it seems to me to be the antithesis of a Great Harmony.
There is really nothing that I can add to this short passage. I hope you found it as insightful as I did. Thanks for stopping by, and keep on reading.
Drop wisdom, abandon cleverness,
And the people will be benefited a hundredfold.
Drop humanity, abandon justice,
And the people will return to their natural affections.
Drop shrewdness, abandon sharpness,
And robbers and thieves will cease to be.
These three are the criss-cross of Tao,
And are not sufficient in themselves.
Therefore, they should be subordinated
To a Higher principle:
See the Simple and embrace the Primal,
Diminish the self and curb the desires!
This passage appears to be related to Chapter 18. The difference appears to be that this chapter seems to be directed at leaders and how to apply the Taoist principles when governing.
By imposing one’s wisdom and cleverness upon others, you deny people the chance to learn and develop on their own. By forcing one’s ideas of humanity and justice upon others, you deny them the chance to develop compassion and empathy. Finally, when ruling shrewdly and with sharp discipline, people will become resentful and will ultimately steal from you or openly rebel.
It seems counterintuitive that doing things which seem positive will foster negative results, but this is what the Tao teaches. Everything balances itself, and there must always be equal amounts of positive and negative energy. So, “diminish the self and curb the desires” and allow nature to guide individuals as it deems fit.
When the Great Tao was abandoned,
There appeared humanity and justice.
When intelligence and wit arose,
There appeared great hypocrites.
When the six relations lost their harmony,
There appeared filial piety and paternal kindness.
When darkness and disorder began to reign in a kingdom,
There appeared the loyal ministers.
This is a very short but powerful passage describing something that I see manifesting every day. This chapter describes how nature is constantly adjusting itself to maintain a balance.
In the passage, Lau Tzu provides examples of instances where things happen—whether they be positive or negative—and as a result, the opposite occurs to a degree equivalent with the original occurrence. The reason for this is because yin and yang must remain in balance; one cannot assume dominance over the other. Nature maintains a perfect equilibrium, regardless of what we as humans do.
We see examples of this in our present world. Politically, one party moves farther to an extreme, and consequently, the opposing party moves farther to their extreme. Environmentally, humans attempt to subjugate nature, and nature in turn unleashes more powerful storms. Economically, wealth increases for some, and proportionally decreases for others. The examples go on and on.
I used to be very concerned about what was happening in the world; but now, I am less concerned. It is not that I am apathetic or do not feel sadness when I see what humans are doing to themselves and the planet, I just also see nature responding and correcting. Humanity may not survive in its current state, or may not survive at all, but nature will continue and maintain harmony. I hope we can realize this and learn to live in balance, but whether we do or not remains to be seen.
Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lovest thou that which thou receivest not gladly,
Or else receivest with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tunèd sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”
As a musician, this poem really works for me. I connected with the musical metaphors used to convey familial harmony.
Shakespeare is again addressing the fair youth and asking why the songs (or poems) encouraging marriage and children make the youth sad. As with most youths, he likely views marriage as the loss of freedom and liberty. He does not want to be tied down to responsibility. But as Shakespeare points out, marriage is more than just responsibility and commitment; it is about the joy of being in harmony with other human beings.
If we look deeper at the metaphor of musical harmony as used to express marital happiness, we can see just how appropriate this is. In music theory, a basic chord is built on a triad, which is comprised of three notes: the root, the third, and the fifth. The traditional family structure is also based upon a triad: “sire and child and happy mother.” While each individual string can create a note, it is the combination, the strumming of multiple strings, the shared vibrations, which create rich chords. Likewise, it is the family, the shared love, which creates richness and harmony in life.
In music, the combination of the various parts creates something that transcends the individual elements. It is the same with a loving family. When humans bond and share their feelings, it creates something that surpasses the sum of the individuals, and this is what Shakespeare is encouraging the youth to discover.
Thanks for stopping by, and may your day be filled with joy, music, and harmony.
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