Tao Te Ching — Chapter 52
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
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
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
, 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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