Friday, 14 January 2011

Power of the Dao (Lao-Tzu)

Verses 26-41 of Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) in haiku form. This completes the section on the Tao (Dao) and includes the first four verses on the Te (Virtue).

The image is "Streaming Wind" by Jia Lu.

Centred at the root,
Heavy and still in one’s self,
The world becomes light.

The skilled leave no mark.
So the wise king neglects none
And values the raw.

He knows right and wrong,
Yet returns to origins
And does not cut up.

Some strive to control.
I see they will not succeed.
The world is sacred.

Putting aside arms,
He achieves without cruelty.
In victory, he stops.

Weapons bring bad luck.
Gentlemen do not relish war.
In victory, they mourn.

Nameless, seeming small,
Like the streams that fill the seas,
Dao cannot be grasped.

Know others to last.
Know self to die to yourself.
And last in the Dao.

Unrestrained, innate,
Clothed in the ten thousand things,
Though meek, Dao is great.

Sanctity of peace,
Plain to taste, unseen, unheard,
Its reserves endless.

To lay low, raise high.
Mildness overcomes proud strength,
So powers should hide deep.

Dao takes no action.
When maintained, and desires calmed,
Things transform themselves.

Unconscious, unplanned,
Virtue’s the fruit of the Way,
Ethics its brief flower.

Remembering the One,
Rather than tinkling like jade,
Rumble like the rocks.

When they hear the Dao,
Some poor souls burst out laughing.
Else it wouldn’t be Dao!

Soft means are its ends.
Dao teaches by example.
Through non-being, it is.


  1. Thanks Lee! This compression was a lot harder than it looks... so I'm really glad to have completed the book of Tao (verses 1-37). I'm not sure if I'll get back to the Te (meaning Virtue, the rest of the Tao Te Ching, which is applications of the Tao to governing one's own life and that of a country). I'm putting it aside for now. These need to be appreciated one at a time (as you've been doing) or at most in groups of 3 or 4. The verses from 1-41 split quite naturally as 3, 4, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 3, 4, for example.

    I have two pet theories I'd like to share though... Firstly, that verses 1-41 are actually the book of Tao (in the order I presented them following the Ma-Wang-Tui manuscripts). My reasoning is that verse 40, which in the older manuscript comes after 41, is very short and is a natural end-point, summarizing all that has gone before. And my other reason is numerological... it felt like there were natural groupings... 41=25+16. The first 25 also seem to split quite naturally into 16+9... 9, 16, 25 are the squares of 3, 4 and 5, and the first Pythagorean triple. The Chinese for sure would have been very aware of this, and I can't help thinking that even the number of Chinese words used in each verse is something they might have made sure were special numbers. Indeed the total word-counts of all verses were carefully noted and used to distingush different versions! And writing was really a lot harder in those days and more precious. So it sounds crazy, (like who would care how many words were in the Bible), but in this case it really might not be. It turns out that verses 1 and 42 have exactly the same number of words in the Ma-Wang-Tui version B, so this my other rather flimsy reason why verse 42 might possibly be the new beginning for the second part. But... that is for the Chinese experts to investigate one day, and I wouldn't be surprised if they hadn't already. But it's easy to dismiss any such findings as pure coincidence, and very hard to prove. And I don't speak a word of Chinese, so what do I know?

    My second pet theory (far more reasonable) is that this book reads just as well backwards as forwards. Verse 40 is all about reversal. Dao works in reverse, the high are made low etc. (verse 36), but maybe it refers to the manuscript as well, and that can also be read backwards. Try it! Tell me what you think... In haiku version, this makes it a lot easier, just reading the verses in reverse order up the page instead of down. ;^)

  2. Taoism is surely one of the most beautiful systems of thought :)

  3. Yep, but ironic in that systems of thought and Confucianist ethics is exactly what Lao-Tzu has a real problem with. The Dao is beyond concepts. The names and concepts and trying to explain the Dao is the thinning of the Dao and the beginning of hypocrisy. He keeps saying throw away the books and technology and go back to what is natural. But we're hooked! So we keep reading:)

  4. ((((okei)))) I've really missed reading your stuff!

  5. (((((((Erica))))))) All the best this year!