Dao Te Ching Chapter 8

I have been away from blogging on the Dao de Ching but not from studying its chapters. It is time for me to resume sharing my processes of reading, reflecting, thinking, and writing about life as it unfolds.  The idea stated earlier is to be online-in-time – and sensing time is essential! So, I will restate the idea of this blog is to read and comment on Lao Tzu’s book the Dao de Jing which will flow into related themes of study around the issues of the day.  It seems only appropriate that the West understand Lao Tzu’s importance through the only book attributed to him as China reclaims its status as the World’s largest and most influential economy, a position it will soon reclaim after only 200 years of recorded history not holding it. Our text is Tao: a new way of thinking, with a Commentary by Chang, Chung-yuan, and with this blog adding a Dialogue² by Shr Ling-yuan, SAScherling.

Chapter 8
That which is best is similar to water.*
Water profits ten thousand things and does not oppose them.
It is always at rest in humble places that people dislike.
Thus, it is close to Tao.
Therefore, for staying, we prefer a humble place.
For minds, we prefer profundity.
For companions, we prefer the kindness.
For words, we prefer sincerity.
For government, we prefer good order.
For affairs, we prefer ability.
For actions, we prefer the right time.
Because we do not strive,
We are free from fault.

Lao Tzu’s teaching of engaging in daily activities in due degree seems quite close to the basic Confucian principle of propriety. However, there is a fundamental difference between the man of Tao and the Confucian man of propriety. The man of Tao is free form self, free from reputation, and free from claiming credit. It is not that he has no self; rather, his self is the self of no-self. It is not that he has no name; rather, his name is the name of no-name. It is not that he has no achievement; rather, his achievement is the achievement of no-achievement, for which he claims no credit. Thus, the man of Tao adjusts to his daily activities just as the flowers bloom when the spring comes, just as the moon shines upon the lake at night. His adjustment to daily affairs is free from individual ambitions and thoughts of fame.  The Confucian man of propriety, on the other hand, strives to be greater than the ordinary man. …

The teaching of this first section of this chapter is how to be a genuine man of Tao. One must be as humble as the water, staying in a place where nothing is labeled. Although Confucianism also teaches humility, it is humility which is merely a modification of one’s ambition or ego. Primarily, ambition and a strong ego persist in the center of one’s being.

This chapter is very important for dispelling the common belief that Taoism is nihilistic. It teaches men how to engage in ordinary daily activities in due degree. There is a difference between the ordinary man’s attitude toward work and the attitude of the man of Tao. The ordinary man competes with others and worries about achieving or falling behind. The Taoist attitude is that of the no-ego self which is like water. In Ch’an Buddism this attitude is called everyday-mindedness, which is expressed in the words: “when we are hungry, we eat; when tired, lie down.” Everyday-mindedness is also expressed in the words of the Western philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. As he says when a rose blooms under a window spontaneously. It does not bloom because it envies the beauty of other roses or because it wants to please the mistress of the house. Thus, this chapter follows the teaching of Chapter 7 on the achievment of the self through selflessness. Because of selflessness, whenever one acts, one’s actions are spontaneous, direct, and always right. Every response to one’s actions is naturally correct and is always there, without deliberation. Thus in this chapter we have:

For words, we prefer sincerity
For government, we prefer good order.
For affairs, we prefer ability.
For action, we prefer the right time.

In this case where is there need for argument? Then, naturally, there is no fault.

Chang ends the chapter’s commentary telling us that this chapter follows on the teaching of Chapter 7, posted on February 12, 2015,  which is “on the achievement of self through selflessness”, whose actions are spontaneous, direct, always right, naturally correct, and always without deliberation.” Chang completes his commentary reminding us that “words prefer sincerity, government good order, affairs ability, and action right time.” So, to begin Dialogue² we need to review blog post  Dao de Jing Chapter 7  to describe how Chapter 8 relates to “the achievement of self through selflessness” whose actions are characterized as spontaneous, direct, right, correct, and without deliberation. This is obviously much to address in one Dialogue, in fact, our Dialogue² is the process of reading and reflecting on how all chapters and our experiencing-reflecting-thinking-writing processes are unfolding, as Chapter 7 informs us that “The idea of the self-determining present will be further discussed in the commentary to Chapter 28.”

I just now returned to re-read for the 100th time Chapter 7, who’s commentary begins “This chapter teaches that the self becomes a self only by negating itself and identifying with the non-self.” Re-reading the commentary based on Kitaro Nishida’s work and trying to put it into practice requires that “Time must be seen as the self-determining present, meaning that the present, which includes past, present, and future, is a self-determining present”. Now, this is a challenge to understand let alone to practice! However, let’s not let this go unchallenged.

I am 76 years old and recently noticed a difference in my experience of time. Often this difference is experienced when I am driving so, maybe a space-time issue needs to be unpacked. It might be I am on autopilot while driving and my present is temporarily off-line. My experience is that I am spending more time with past experiences of my life than in planning future ones or just experiencing the present drive. Intuitively this seems as it should be, there is more life behind me than in front of me. In trying to think about the future there seem to be no concrete objects to reach. Death does not seem all that inviting. Maybe that is the issue. Raised in Christianity there is pure white heaven or a red hot hell. What is not revealed is that hell is full of ‘rock’n roll’ music and dancing – humm, not so bad. My wife is Buddhist and so that is now my choice, I will be re-born and live through another life experience and give Mr Barney in his history class a run for the money. I will leave this here for us to work on before moving forward. Sleep on this and expect our dreams to help us understand.

Dream 8.3.2020:  I was at FCHS listening to an address being given by Bill Barney, which was very inspiring! Afterward, we met on the school’s stairs and I said “I am very inspired by what you said in class.” Bill responded, “I am glad it was helpful to you.” I then went to shake hands and give him a hug but I felt he was a little hesitant to fully embrace. We continued it seems I walking up and he down the stairs.
Association: Bill was an inspirational teacher for me. It was in his history class that I read the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and the History of the German General Staff – writing two book reports. I went out for wrestling to get in shape for hockey, which Mr Barney did not appreciate.
Amplification: At one of the Class ‘62 Reunions, I think the 40th, Bill came Friday night and there were 20+ classmates gathered around him talking, I stood right to his left side. He said then or at some other time that the Class of 1962 had been a special class for him. I have written before and discussed this with others, not sure what he might have meant by ‘special’. I have suggested that one way to test this is by the accomplishments achieved by each class. It would be a difficult measurement to construct with success in all the ways that class members have lived their lives. I wonder if this measurement has already been constructed? However, the point is not to see which class is more ‘special’ but to assemble the stories of classmates’ lives and discover the common threads in their stories – now here is a project to dream about.

Chang, Chung-yuan (1975). Tao: a new way of thinking. New York: Harper & Row; Translation and Commentary.

Dunne, J.W. (1934). An experiment with Time. London: Macmillian Publishers

Giegerich, Wofgang. (2005). The neurosis of psychology, Vol. 1. Chapter Two: On the neurosis of psychology the third of two, pp 41-67. New Orleans: Spring.

Mahoney, Maris F. (1966). The meaning in dreams and dreaming – The Jungian viewpoint. New Jersy: The Citadel Press.

Nishida Kitaro. (1932). Fundamental Problems of Philosophy (World of Act) and (1933) Fundamental Problems of Philosophy Continued (World as Dialectic).

Siegel, Bruce. (1917). Dreaming the future: How our dreams prove psychic ability is real, and why it matters.  Amazon Books on Kindle.

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