Thursday, February 24, 2011

80: Simple Utopia


Let the country be small,
And the inhabitants few.
Although there are weapons
For tens and hundreds of soldiers,
They will not be used.
Let people take death seriously,
And not travel far.
Although they have boats and carriages,
There's no occasion to use them.
Although they have armor and weapons,
There's no occasion to wear them.
Let people return to making knots on ropes,
Instead of writing.
Their food will be tasty.
Their clothes will be comfortable.
Their homes will be tranquil.
They will rejoice in their daily life.
They can see their neighbors.
Roosters and dogs can be heard from there.
Still, they will age and die
Without visiting one another.

Simple Utopia

Making knots on ropes was believed to be a forerunner to the sophisticated Chinese pictogram writing. Lao Tzu expresses a longing back to previous times, when things were simpler...

Here is my full commentary on this Tao Te Ching chapter:
Tao Te Ching Chapter 80 Translation and Commentary

1 comment:

  1. Taoism is that the Way and it's beneficial nature is within everything. Whether you look to find it inward or outward, it remains the same. Use it any way you want. So when he says the master travels the world without leaving home, he is right.

    From here, from our reality today, with advertising and vehicles and people rushing and bills to pay and the sensation of just needing that little bit more to feel at ease, it might sound boring. But we hardly know anything about human relations or ourselves. We're still killing each other off over petty things. Our economic and political systems are bog basic, using the premise that one man's idea is good, and the opposition's idea is bad.

    Notice, too, that Lao Tzu does not instruct us to give anything up. He says, "Throw away X, and the people/mind will Y". It is a concept designed to open the mind to what is not contained in the words, because the Way that exists cannot be told or described.

    If you like to compare it to Christianity, it sounds like Jesus saying, "Give away everything you own and follow me". (Though that is somewhat of a more complex riddle than we find in Taoism, because it was part of a larger story, using the sometimes confusing device of characters as people, whereas Taoist verse is pure concept and largely impersonal.)

    Both ideas are emploring the disciple to resist being "Thinged by the Thing" or being owned by your possessions, in effect, getting your identity from what you own or associate with or aspire to be. If he was specifically telling us to go back to the old days, he would be setting up the disputation of "this and that", good and bad, so throughly rejected by his ideas.

    So he is not saying, "Let us return to grass huts and donkeys for simplicity's sake." He's allowing harmony and getting simplicity, not seeking simplicity to ensure harmony. It is the focus that matters. He is saying: It is all here, right now, in you, where you are, no need to do anything.

    Imagine, if by "sitting still" we found a world so rich, limitless and satisfying that when we shared it for just a moment to just one person beside us, from nowhere in-particular, it was more rewarding than the thought of owning your own corporation, having a private jet ready to fly at any hour, or possessing the power of all nations; more rewarding than thinking, "My identity is that of an extroverted adventurer, the world awaits my arrival!".

    The "I" in us that always wants something more would be gone and "at the centre of the circle" there would be "nothing left to do".