BY STEFAN STENUDD
I'm a Swedish writer, and instructor of the peaceful martial art aikido. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other Chinese and Japanese traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. My personal website: stenudd.com
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.
Lao Tzu (Lao Zi), the legendary writer of Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), left the Chinese emperor's court on a water buffalo, after growing tired of politics. He wrote the Tao Te Ching on the request of a border guard. Here is my translation and explanation, chapter by chapter. From the book:
Translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
Tao Te Ching - the Book