Read this new English translation of the Daodejing to learn more about the timeless wisdom of Laozi, one of China’s most famous philosophers.
Daodejing Chapter 1
The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way;
The name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth;
The named is the mother of the myriad things.
Therefore, by always remaining free of desire you can observe its secrets;
While by always remaining full of desire, you can observe its manifestations.
The two emerge from the same source,
But they have different names;
Call them both mysteries;
Mystery upon mystery;
The gateway to all secrets.
Continue reading Daodejing: New English Translation
One of the great benefits of China’s High Speed Train network is that it makes it so much easier to visit places that not so many years ago were a long way off the beaten track.
After three hectic days at the 2018 World Conference on VR Industry in Nanchang (南昌), it was a huge pleasure to be able to wind down by taking the short train ride to Yingtan (鹰潭) and head out to Longhushan (龙虎山/Dragon Tiger Mountain), one of the birthplaces of Daoism. Continue reading Magical and mystical Longhushan: Part 1
Zilu fell behind while traveling with Confucius. He met an old man who was carrying a basket hanging from his staff over his shoulder. Zilu asked him: “Have you seen my master?” The old man said: “You don’t toil with your four limbs, and you can’t even distinguish between the five types of grain. Who is your master?” He planted his staff in the ground and started weeding. Zilu stood respectfully, his hands clasped in front of him. The old man invited him to stay with him overnight, killed a chicken and cooked some millet for him to eat, and introduced his two sons to him. The next day, Zilu resumed his journey and reported to Confucius. Confucius said: “The man you met is a hermit.” He sent Zilu back to see the old man, but when he reached his place Zilu found that the old man had gone. Zilu said: “It is wrong to withdraw from public life. The codes that govern the rightful relationship between the old and young cannot be discarded. How can the rightful relationship between ruler and subject be discarded? You cannot disrupt the most basic human relationships just to preserve your purity. A leader takes office and performs his rightful duties even if he already knows that the Way will not prevail.”
This final allegorical tale warms up nicely with its lyrical opening scene – only to end on a false note in the final section. Zilu’s closing comments are way too harsh to ring true and have only the most tenuous of connections with the rest of the story. Indeed, it’s not even clear who Zilu is meant to be talking to at the end because in the previous section the old man had already disappeared. Continue reading A false note
Changju and Jieni were plowing the fields together. Confucius passed by and sent Zilu to ask where the ford was. Changju said: “Who is in the chariot?” Zilu said: “Confucius.” “Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “Then he already knows where the ford is.” Zilu then asked Jieni the same question. He replied: “Who are you?” “I am Zilu.” “The disciple of Confucius from Lu?” “Yes.” “The whole world is inundated by the same flood. Who can reverse its flow? Instead of following someone who keeps fleeing from one man to the next, wouldn’t you be better off following a man who has forsaken the world?” All the while he kept on harrowing the field without stopping. Zilu went back and reported the incident to Confucius. With a furrowed brow, Confucius sighed: “I can’t associate with the birds and beasts. If I can’t associate with men, who can I associate with? If the world were following the Way, I would not have to try to reform it.”
A well-aimed barb from Jieni, one of the two Daoist hermits that Zilu encounters on his wanderings: why is he hanging on to Confucius’s coat tails as he conducts his fruitless quest to find an employer? Wouldn’t Zilu, and by extension Confucius, be better off giving up their worldly cares and retiring to the countryside? Continue reading The birds and the beasts
Jieyu, the Madman of Chu, walked past Confucius singing: “Phoenix, oh Phoenix! How your virtue has withered. The past is beyond repair, but the future is still worth pursuing. Give up! Give up! Those who serve in court are in peril.” Confucius stepped down from his chariot and wanted to speak with him, but he hurried away and disappeared. Confucius did not succeed in speaking with him.
This is the first of three allegorical tales of encounters between Confucius and Daoist hermits he supposedly happened to come across during his wanderings. Curiously, and probably deliberately, Confucius doesn’t actually speak directly with any of the hermits himself. He either fails to talk with them, as in this case, or his disciple Zilu acts as the intermediary.
Continue reading A Daoist insurgency
I am beginning to see why the Daodejing appeals to so many people in the west seeking spiritual inspiration. Passages like this one in Chapter 14 do a masterful job of evoking the myriad mysteries of the Dao, which stretches back to the very “beginnings of antiquity”. The richness and ambiguity of the text, no matter whether it’s in Chinese or English, certainly send the brain cells spinning in multiple directions! Continue reading Daodejing: the unbroken thread
Know when enough is enough. Stay humble no matter how successful you are. Pride comes before the fall.
Holding a cup while filling it to the brim,
Is not as good as stopping in time;
Hammering a blade until it is sharp,
Will not preserve its edge for long.
When your hall is stuffed with gold and jade,
Nobody will be able to protect it.
When riches and honors lead to arrogance;
Disaster will inevitably follow;
Retire when you have accomplished your goal;
This is the way of heaven.
There is not much I can add to this: the way is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent if only you choose to acknowledge and follow it.
The way is an empty vessel;
But as much as it is drawn from, it never fills up.
It’s so deep that it is like the origin of all things.
Blunt the sharpness;
Untangle the knot;
Soften the glare;
Let your wheels move along old ruts;
Invisible and formless, it always seems to be present.
I have no idea who gave birth to it.
It seems to have existed before the Lord did.
As human beings we tend to take a very judgmental view of what we see around us. We either like something or we don’t and are quick to compare it with other items.
Continue reading Daodejing: transcending the polarity
It’s no big surprise that the Daodejing (道德經) holds a much stronger grasp over Western imaginations than the Analects. Mystical ambiguities are a lot more fun to mull over than the moral absolutes that Confucius espoused.
Continue reading Daodejing: enjoy the mystery