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Saturday, January 07, 2006


Heaven and earth aren't civilised;
they take the ten thousand creatures for straw dogs.

The Sage is not civilised, either;
he takes the ten thousand clans for straw dogs.

The space between heaven and earth,
is it not just like a bagpipe?
For all its being empty, it doesn't cave in;
the more you press it, the more comes out.

Many words - a lot of waste;
better keep your tongue at rest.

(Tao Te Ching, chapter V)

In ancient China, they used to ritually burn animals made out of bundled straw - to avoid sacrificing real animals (out of compassion maybe, but certainly to save expense). Those were the "straw dogs" - carefully made, decorated, sometimes even clothed, but no good at all except for being destroyed with great ceremony, worth nothing. Taking something for straw dogs means you don't give a shit for it.
Also, "ten thousand" means "all"; ten thousand creatures means all animals, human or otherwise; and ten thousand clans means all the Chinese people there are, "clan" meaning all those who share the same family name (there are just a bit over one thousand Chinese family names, by the way).

Line 1 and 3 contain the character ren, which consists of a "human being" plus the number "two", and is supposed to denote the "right" relationship between one human being and the other. Most people translate this as "humanity", "morality", even "compassion". Ideally, this should be so - your inner state of mind governing, and being in harmony with everything you do, your heart making you do the right thing to the right person. But this text was written at a time when the true idea of ren had broken down (if, indeed, it had ever existed in that way), and so, what is meant must be a Confucianist kind of ren - the ritualised kind: what you think and feel is a lot less important than what you do. Always treat your little brother as the little brother, and yourself as the big one; always act towards your father as the ideal child, and treat him like the ideal father; if you are a minister, make everyone in the country always feel you are a minister, and if you are a king, ACT like a king, even when sneaking out of the palace at night to sleep with an unofficial concubine.
And the Sage is described as the guy who just won't do any of this.

The space between heaven and earth might be a nicer space if fewer people would go on squeezing nonsense out of the old bagpipe, and just be themselves :-)


Blogger ├ůsa said...

Thank you for an interesting post
I always love hearing thoughts on Tao

1:58 AM  

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