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"Cling to the mother."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 52

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


52

The world's beginning is its mother.

To have found the mother

Is also to know the children.

Although you know the children,

Cling to the mother.

Until your last day you will not be harmed.


Seal the openings, shut the doors,

And until your last day you will not be exhausted.

Widen the openings, interfere,

And until your last day you will not be safe.


Seeing the small is called clarity.

Holding on to the weak is called strength.

Use the light to return to clarity.

Then you will not cause yourself misery.

This is called following the eternal.



Return to Clarity

The small and the seemingly weak are what truly rule the universe. This we know quite well from modern science. The characteristics and behavior of matter is decided by its smallest components, found in quantum physics.

       The weakest of the basic forces is gravity, but in the large scale of the universe its power is vast enough to subdue anything. The small is the core, and the weak is what endures.

       When Lao Tzu states that the light is the key to clarity, we would like to think that he unknowingly refers to the importance of light and its speed in the theories of Einstein. That's hardly the case, although light has lately received significance beyond its symbolical use in ancient thought.


Light and Clarity

Light, kuang, may in Lao Tzu's use of it refer to Tao, the Way and the mother. Either it's the light in itself, or its patterns that can be found and examined in the light – when obstructions are removed and we are able to perceive the small. We need light to reach clarity.

       Actually, the word used for clarity, ming, can also mean light, as well as brightness, brilliance, and understanding. We might use the word insight. Its pictogram is a combination of the sign for the sun and that of the moon. That's just about all the significant light found in the world, at the days of Lao Tzu.

       Kuang means light, ray, brightness, brilliance, and shine. Originally, its pictogram showed a man carrying fire, in the form of a torch or something similar. This image suggests the idea that light should be brought and used in order to bring clarity to what we examine. By bringing light we see the things as they are, and thereby we reach clarity.


Safe, Not Saved

Another part of this chapter is also complicated to interpret: "until your last days you will not be safe." Traditionally, the last word has been understood and translated as "saved." This is an idea that seems far more Christian than Taoist.

       In the 1990's, the oldest Tao Te Ching manuscript we have was found in Guodian. It dates back to around 300 BC. There, this sentence instead reads approximately: "you will not reach your last days," meaning that you will die before old age.

       I settled for a compromise between the two, with the word "safe" instead of "saved." The meaning in the Guodian version and that of later versions meet somewhere there. If you open wide and meddle with your surroundings, you are at risk. That's true in many ways.

       Sealing the openings and closing the doors can also be interpreted in several ways. Some claim that it points to the human senses, but Lao Tzu had enough humor also to imply the bodily cavities. Just like the soldier needs armor, every human being needs to take care and hold back, when appropriate. Also in our homes, there are many moments when we do best to keep our doors shut.

       We should be careful with what we invite, and for what we open.

© 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





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. 389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.

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Other Books by Stefan Stenudd:


Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

I'm a Swedish author 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 ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.

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