Taoism IV - Taoist Wisdom



Taoist Wisdom

These are extracts from the ďThe Masters of Huainan.Ē They were composed over two thousand years ago in the style of Lao Tsu and Chuang Tzu. The subjects embraced a range of topics: natural, social and spiritual sciences and they also link with environmental husbandry, personal development and socio-political evolution into a comprehensive vision of human life.

The book is traced to an inner circle of eight Taoist sages in the court of King of Huainan, a small principality within the vast empire of Han dynasty China in the second century B.C.E. The works of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu were products of Chinaís Warring States and it reflected the corruption and turmoil of their times. The Huainan masters in contrast, lived in a time of national reconstruction following the end of centuries of civil war. Their teachings are thus more positive and constructive than those of the wartime Taoists. These extracts are grouped into four sections: State and society, warfare, peace, and wisdom.

The extract on wisdom deals with the inner and outer life of Taoist sages or the means and ends of Taoist wisdom. They outline the ways by which the ancient Taoist sages attained their knowledge, sustained their well-being, and realized their freedom.

On Wisdom

(This entire extract is translated by Thomas Cleary)

Sages contrive nothing, and so spoil nothing.

They cling to nothing, and so lose nothing.

                                                                                     Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

Real people are those whose natures are united with the Tao. Therefore, they exist yet seem not to; they are full yet seem empty. They abide in oneness and donít know anything else; they govern themselves inwardly and do not make note of externals.

Perfectly clear, utterly plain, and without contrivance, they return to simplicity. Comprehend the fundamental and embracing the spirit, they thus roam on the edge of heaven and earth. Wandering in the vastness beyond mundane clutter, they work freely without making an issue of it.

Real people know without learning, see without looking, achieve without striving, and understand without trying. They sense and respond, act when necessary, and go when there is no choice, like the shining of light, like the emanation of rays.

The harmonious joyfulness and peaceful calm of ancient sages were their nature, while their deliberate attainment of practical application of the Tao was their way of life.

So it is that nature can act only in life, while life can only be clear when nature is realized.

Sages respond to being by non-being, unfailingly finding out the inner pattern; they receive fullness by emptiness, unfailingly finding out the measure. They live out their lives with calm joy and empty tranquillity. Therefore, they are not too distant from anything and not too close to anything.

The mind is the ruler of the body, while the spirit is the treasure of the mind. When the body is worked without rest, it collapses. When the spirit is used without cease, it becomes exhausted. Sages value and respect them and do not dare to be excessive.

When perfected people are in a chaotic society, many of them keep their virtue, their way, and their inexhaustible wisdom hidden, finally to die without saying anything. The world does not know to value their silence.

When everything goes naturally, what does a sage have to do?

What sages learn is to return their nature to the beginning and let the mind travel in openness. What developed people learn is to link their nature to vast emptiness and become aware of the silent infinite.

The learning of ordinary worldlings is otherwise. They grasp at virtues and constrict their nature, inwardly worrying  about their physical organs while outwardly belabouring their eyes and ears.

Sages send the spirit to the capital of awareness and return to the beginning of myriad things. They look at the formless and listen to the soundless. In the midst of profound darkness, they alone see light; in the midst of silent vastness, they alone have illumination.

Sages use the mind deliberately, based on its essence. With the support of the spirit, they finish what they begin. Therefore, their sleep is dreamless, and they awaken untroubled.

Blessings arise from noncontrivance; troubles arise from covetousness. Harm arises from lack of preparation; filth arises from failure to clean.

            Sages do good as if they fear there is not enough of it and prepare against calamity as if they fear they cannot avoid it.

            Even if you want to keep from being blinded in a cloud of dust or want to keep from getting wet as you wade across a river, you find that you cannot do so.

            Therefore, those who know themselves do not resent others; those who know their destiny do not resent heaven.

Those whose words are inconstant and whose acts are inconsistent are small people.

            Those who observe one thing and understand one art are mediocre people.

            Those with a comprehensive purview and inclusive grasp of things, who assess abilities and employ them judiciously, are sages.

Sages have within them the means to contact higher potential; they do not lose their self-mastery on account of high or low status, poverty or wealth, toil or leisure.

Sages overcome mind; ordinary people overcome greed. Ideal people act sanely; petty people act insanely. Sanity means inward comfort with nature, outward accord with duty, reasonable action, and non-entanglement. Insanity means addiction to sensuality and emotional impulsiveness heedless of subsequent problems.

Insanity and sanity wound each other; greed and nature hurt each other. They cannot coexist; when one governs, the other wastes away. Therefore sages reduce desire and follow nature.

Sages are not controlled by names, not governed by plans, not burdened by affairs, and not ruled by intellect. They are concealed in formlessness, their acts are traceless, and their roamings are trackless. They do not introduce fortune or start calamity; they maintain open selflessness and when it is unavoidable.

Sages can be negative or positive, weak or strong. They act or remain still according to the time; they accomplish achievements based on resources. When people act, sages know what the reflections will be; when events begin, sages perceive how they will evolve.

With the art of the Tao it is not possible to seek fame through promotion, but it is possible to develop to gain advantages by it, but it is possible to avoid injuries.

            Therefore, sages do not seek fame by their acts and do not seek praise for their wisdom. They emulate nature itself, so the ego is not involved.

Sages do things while they are still small and thus can overturn the great. They perceive things near at hand and thus can be mindful of things at a distance.

Sages are not ashamed of having low social status, but they are ashamed of not putting the Way into practice. They do not worry about their own lives being short, but they do worry about the distress of the common people.

When it is so clear that sages are so concerned about people, is it not contradictory to call them inactive?

Sages are not worried or defensive: they do not welcome what comes or send off what goes. People may be of the East, West, South, or North, but sages stand alone in the centre. Therefore, they can be in the midst of a warped society without losing their straightness.

            The whole world is influenced by external forces, while sages alone do not leave their sacred ground. Therefore, they do not strive to be liked and do not flee disdain, following the Way of heaven. They do no initiate and are not self-centred, according to the Principle of heaven. They do not plan ahead yet do not abandon opportunity, making a pact with heaven. They do not seek to gain yet do not reject fortunes, following the example of heaven.

At the very beginning, people were born from non-being and formed at being. Once they had form, they constrained by things. If they can go back to where they were born and be as if formless, they are called real people. Real people are never separate from the great unity.

Sages are inwardly, concealed and do not act as initiators for others. When things come up, they manage them; and when people come to them, they respond.

Sages do not dress or behave ostentatiously. They wear what no one looks at, do what no one watches, and say what no one disputes. In times of ease they are not extravagant; in times of hardship they are not fearful. They do not show off when successful and are not desperate in retirement. They are different but do not seem weird; they appear ordinary, but there is no way to name them. This is called great mastery.

Sages emulate heaven and go along with its conditions. They are not wedded to conventional customs and are not influenced by people.

Sages have no thoughts to abandon, so there is no ugliness in their minds. There is no beauty they grasp, so beauty is not lost to them. Therefore, they do not think of obtaining blessings or rewards through their religious and social activities; their purpose is to develop gratitude and respect. Only those who do not seek can have this.

It may be impossible to plan ahead for some events, and it may be impossible to think ahead about some things. They come up suddenly, without warning, so sages develop the Way and wait for the right time.

When sages do good, it is not as a means of seeking honour, yet honour follows; it is not in hopes of gain, yet gain results.

The beginnings of fortune and calamity are subtle, so people are heedless of them. Only sages are the beginning and know the end.

Sages conceal their good deeds and keep their benevolence anonymous.

Sages worked at various things that were different in concrete terms but united in principle and logic. They went by different roads to the same goal. In all the vicissitudes of their lives they were as of one will, never forgetting the desire to benefit people.

Sages do not use people for their own personal ends; they do not let their desires disturb harmony. Therefore, when they are happy, they do not rejoice too much, and they are sad, they do not grieve too much.

When people desire to prosper, it is for their own sake--- what benefit is it to others? When sages carry out justice, their concern comes from within---What personal profit is in it for them?

When sages consider human worth, all they have to do is observe a single activity. Then the worthy and unworthy are distinguished.

Sages do not do acts that can be repudiated, but they do not resent it if people repudiate them. They cultivate virtue worthy of praise, but they do not seek peopleís praise. They cannot cause calamity not to come, but they trust themselves not to beckon it. They cannot ensure that fortune will come, but they trust themselves not to repel it. When calamity occurs, it is not that they have sought that whereby it arises; so even in extremity they are not troubled. When fortune occurs, it is not that they have sought that whereby it comes about, so even in success they are not proud. They know the control of calamity, and fortune is not up to them, so they live happily at ease, governing without contrivance.

            Sages conserve that they already have and do not seek what they havenít attained. If you seek what you donít have, what you do have will be lost. If you cultivate what you already have, then what you want comes about.

            Therefore, in military operations you first become invincible and then wait for vulnerability in opponents. In government you first become secure and then wait for insecurity in opponents.

Sages inwardly cultivate the fundamental and do not outwardly adorn the secondary; they preserve their vital spirit, laying their cunning to rest. They are free and do nothing, and yet there is nothing they do not do; they are aloof and govern nothing, yet there is nothing they do not govern.

            That they do nothing means they do not act before others; that there is nothing they do not do means they go by what others do. That they govern nothing means they do not change what happens naturally; that there is nothing they do not govern means they go by what is appropriate for others.

            All things have their outcomes, but only sages know how to keep to the root; all events have their implications, but only sages know to keep by the gate. Therefore, they fathom the fathomless and reach the end of the endless. They notice things without being blinded; they respond like echoes without wearing out. This is called celestial understanding.

            Therefore, those who attain the Tao are weak in ambition but strong in works; their hearts are open and their responses appropriate.

Sages do not need authority to be noble, do not need wealth to be rich, and do not need power to be strong. Peaceful and empty, they are not subject to outside influences; they fly freely with evolution.

            Thus they leave gold hidden in the mountains; they leave pearls hidden in the sea. They do not see profit in material possessions; they do not covet power and fame.

             They do not take pleasure in ease; they are not saddened in straits. They do not find comfort in high social status; they do not find peril in low social status. Their body, mind energy, and will each rests in its proper place.

            The body is the house of life; energy is the basis of life; mind is the regulator of life. When one of these loses its place, the other two suffer.

            Sages teach people to keep the body, energy, and mind in their places so that they carry out their functions without mutual interference.

            The body is ruined if it is kept in a situation that is not comfortable. Energy is drained if it is used in a way that is not conducive to fulfilment. The mind becomes dim if it is used in a way that is not appropriate. It is imperative to be wary of these three things.

The reason one does not wear a leather coat in summer is not to spare the coat but because it is too warm. The reason one does not use a fan in winter is not disdain for fans but because it is too cool.

            Sages eat according to the size of their bellies and dress according to the size of their bodies, adjusting to the needs and no moreóso how could a mind defiled by greed arise in them?

            Therefore, those who are capable of landing the world are those who have no ambition to use the world; those who are capable of sustaining fame are those who do nothing excessive to seek it.

When you truly understand human nature and destiny, kindness and justice are naturally included. Ups and downs cannot disturb your mind.

            When nothing covers the spirit and nothing burdens the mind, you experience penetrating clarity and expansive outreach. Serene, without preoccupation, not fixed on anything, dealing with everything calmly, you are not susceptible to corruption by sensuality.

            Rhetoric cannot move you; power-mongers cannot frighten you. This is the freedom of real people.