"If there were no laughter it would not be the Way."
Tao Te Ching 41
The Lao Tzu Taoist Classic
Translated and Explained
The superior student listens to the Way
And follows it closely.
The average student listens to the Way
And follows some and some not.
The lesser student listens to the Way
And laughs out loud.
If there were no laughter it would not be the Way.
So, it has been said:
The light of the Way seems dim.
The progress of the Way seems retreating.
The straightness of the Way seems curved.
The highest virtue seems as low as a valley.
The purest white seems stained.
The grandest virtue seems deficient.
The sturdiest virtue seems fragile.
The most fundamental seems fickle.
The perfect square lacks corners.
The greatest vessel takes long to complete.
The highest tone is hard to hear.
The great image lacks shape.
The Way is hidden and nameless.
Still only the Way nourishes and completes.
Laughing Out Loud
What Lao Tzu says about students is true for all
mankind. Some listen and learn, others do it sporadically, and
those with the least respect just laugh and call it absurd. If
there were no people reacting like that, it would probably not
be Tao, the Way. Tao is absurd to the thoughtless mind.
Certainly, not only Tao meets this response in minds
unwilling to ponder. Almost every breakthrough in science
has met the same reaction – not just among the unknowing
public, but also from several fellow scientists. Revelations
are easily ridiculed by those who didn't come up with them.
It happened a lot to Charles Darwin, when he
presented his theories about the evolution of the species. There
were lots of caricatures in which he was portrayed as an
ape, since people misunderstood him as saying that we
evolved from them.
What he did say, of course, was that we as well as
the other apes have evolved from common ancestors. But
loads of people, even many who regarded themselves as
both learned and reasonable, were outraged at the idea.
When Albert Einstein presented his idea that time is
not a constant, but has a speed depending on the speed of
the object on which it is measured, there were few who
could grasp it. Many scientists doubted it for years, until
measurements could be made that supported his theory. He got
his Nobel Prize for something else, because his theory of
relativity was still in dispute.
Actually, when we examine the history of science
we notice that almost all significant breakthroughs have
met with resistance and ridicule.
The reception of Tao among Lao Tzu's
contemporaries had little chance of being any different. Mankind is
reluctant to accept change, whether that change is one of thought
or one of material circumstances.
What We Expect
We look at the world with prejudice, because we don't
see what is, but what we want and expect. Tao in its
yielding humility seems dim, whereas we expect great truth to
shine like gold. Its progress seems retreating, because it
makes little noise and shuns the spectacular. Its course
seems curved and twisted, because it accomplishes its goals
indirectly and discreetly.
Virtue is perceived similarly. Its highest form is the
most humble, wherefore it seems as low as if cherished only
by failing people. That's also why its grandest
perspectives seem lacking, and its firmest rules seem faltering. We
tend to expect the supreme to have the most impressive
features, so we doubt any truth that lacks magnificence.
We expect grandeur, but the Way leads to the
infinitesimal. That's where the secrets of the universe hide, as is
currently confirmed by the science of quantum physics, not
to mention string theory. The world is so grand, we go to
telescopes to explore it, but its essence is ever-present
and should rather be searched in microscopes.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained.
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I'm a Swedish writer and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. Click the image to get to my personal website.