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"Without desire there is stillness."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 37

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


37

The Way is ever without action,

Yet nothing is left undone.

If princes and kings can abide by this,

All things will form themselves.

If they form themselves and desires arise,

I subdue them with nameless simplicity.

Nameless simplicity will indeed free them from desires.


Without desire there is stillness,

And the world settles by itself.



Nameless Simplicity

Tao Te Ching is traditionally divided into two parts. One is called Tao, the Way, simply because its first chapter begins with that word, and the other is called Te, virtue, because that's the word its first chapter begins with. This, the 37th chapter of the book, is the last of the first part.

       In the two manuscripts found in Mawangdui, dating to around the year 200 BC, the two parts have the opposite order. There, the whole book ends with this chapter – quite suitably with the words about the stillness in which the world settles by itself.

       In spite of the Mawangdui manuscripts, I present the book in its traditionally established order. Otherwise it would get complicated for the reader to compare different versions of the text. Also, it's the path taken by most experts on this classic.

       Myself, I find that the first chapter defining Tao, and the last one stating the purpose of the noble man's Tao, make perfect sense as the beginning and the end of the book. So, in spite of the Mawangdui manuscripts, I am inclined to trust the traditional order of the chapters more.


Simplicity

As for the word `simplicity' used in this chapter, its pictogram is the one for the uncarved wood, which is an image of utter simplicity that Lao Tzu favors in the book. He has used it several times before this chapter.

       This image presents simplicity as a rough and unrefined state of affairs, a natural form before altered by cultural or other ambitions. Things as they are before human intervention.

       When Lao Tzu also calls it nameless, he hints on its close relation to Tao, the Way, since namelessness is one of its traits. This was pointed out already in the first chapter, which states that the way that can be walked is not the real Way, and the name that can be named is not the real name of it.

       The uncarved wood lacking a name is similar to Tao, in the sense of being beyond description. The simplicity that can free all things of desire is not just any simplicity, but that of Tao, the simple truth behind all.

       Tao needs not act, since its law decides how everything else has to act. If rulers abide, they follow the same law instead of fighting it. Then things will happen by themselves and the turn of events will be natural, according to the terms of the universe. Things move on as they should.


Desire

The word desire is used in 15 of the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching (chapters 1, 3, 15, 19, 29, 34, 36, 37, 39, 46, 57, 61, 64, 66, 77). The Chinese word, yu, isn't directed just at sexual desires, but at any kinds of longings, wants, lusts, and wishes.

       Lao Tzu doesn't really ban it, but he is clear about the benefit of being free of it. Desire is part of the human character, and therefore hard to avoid. There is no point in trying to suppress it completely, but those who follow Tao will find a way to make it dissolve.

       In the sage, it no longer decides what action to take.

       Desire is what risks interfering with the natural process, this chapter tells us. Greed is a kind of desire. So is hunger for power, and that for making a mark in history. When people interfere with the natural chain of events, they want to change them into more personally profitable outcomes. That disturbs the order of all. It has no chance of succeeding, but it can cause a lot of damage before failing.

       Personal desire is as easy to understand as it is likely to appear, especially with people who have the power to make them imagine that they can fulfill it. We all want to make the most of our lives. If that means countering the natural cause of things, then we will make a lot of noise, cause a lot of trouble, but at the end we will find that we accomplished nothing durable.

       We do better to accept things as they are, and find our place inside these patterns. There is a good place to be found for everyone, without upsetting the harmony. Actually, only by joining with the harmony are we ever likely to find that place.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





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