Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Tao Te Ching
Heaven's Way, T'ien chih Tao, is a concept that was old and established already at the time of Lao Tzu. Mankind has always observed and awed at the many movements in the sky. Clouds of different shades and shapes sail through it, occasional rain or snow falls from it, the sun and moon travel it in fixed cycles, and the stars appear in millions at clear skied nights.
It's a marvel, indeed, with significant importance to earthly life.
Heaven has been studied for at least as long as we have historical records of human thought, probably much longer than that. People searched to explain these events and to foresee them. Although the sky was way out of reach, or maybe just because of this, mankind feared it and struggled to understand its dynamics. Astrology is just one of those efforts.
The search for the way in which the sky behaves is what once formed the concept of Heaven's Way.
In Chinese tradition, and many others around the world, Heaven was regarded as the ruling force of the whole world, shaping everything else to conform to its ways.
This power of Heaven was not necessarily seen as belonging to some kind of divinity. It could be described as divine in itself, but just as impersonal as the Tao of which Lao Tzu speaks. It was regarded as a sovereign power, indeed, but more of a natural law than an entity with its own thoughts and wishes.
That's why even the sage has problems understanding some of its traits. Why would a natural law have preferences that seem to be moral ones? Still, when Lao Tzu observes the world around him, he comes to the conclusion that Heaven's Way clearly prefers some directions, and avoids other ones as if with disgust.
He draws the conclusion that the laws of Tao are for the best, not because they benefit the most, although they do, but just because the laws of Tao have formed the world.
One could say that the laws of Tao are for the best, simply because there is nothing else.
The expression Heaven's Way in this chapter is most likely to stand for Tao, the Way. It's cause for thought that Lao Tzu would use this expression instead of just calling it Tao, as usual. This appears in the chapters 9, 47, 73, 77, 79, and 81. There might be an influence from other sources involved, maybe an addition in a later copy of the text.
In other Chinese traditions, Heaven's Way was supreme to any other Way. In Lao Tzu's universe, Tao is the first cause and the master of all. Already in the first chapter, he has established that Tao is the beginning of Heaven and Earth, so Heaven's Way must be something later and inferior.
Therefore, I would not be surprised if future findings of older manuscripts show that Heaven is a later addition to this chapter, or the whole chapter might be a later construction.
The oldest manuscript of the Tao Te Ching found so far is that from Guodian, which dates back to around 300 BC. There, none of the chapters 67 to 81 can be found. The manuscript is far from complete, so nothing is certain, but the absence of this big chunk of the text suggests later additions. That would also explain why many of the thoughts in the Tao Te Ching are repeated in several chapters of its present form.
On the other hand, it might simply mean that this chunk somehow got lost from the rest of the Guodian manuscript.
Chapter 9, which also uses the expression Heaven's Way, is included in the Guodian manuscript, and so is this expression at the proper place. The other chapters where the expression occurs are absent from the Guodian manuscript.
We need additional findings to make any solid conclusions about the matter. Still, in the following I assume that Heaven and its Way in this chapter is synonymous to Tao.
Refusing those dares is another kind of courage, which might be despised by some. It's not an inferior kind of courage, but it reduces the risk of harm.
Strangely, society seems to praise the attitude that seeks danger, as if welcoming disaster. It's as if society as a whole, similar to many of its members, nourishes some kind of death wish.
In traditional Christianity, suicide was a serious sin. Such corpses were buried outside the cemeteries, and in his Divine Comedy, Dante placed them in the very worst part of Hell. Suicide was despised because it was seen as throwing away the gift from God, who was the source of all life. Committing suicide was ungrateful. Also, it was a kind of sabotage of God's plan, which applied to each and every living creature.
Tao's disapproval of people risking their lives may be something similar. It goes against the plan, the pattern and direction constituting the Way. People should try to stay alive, as a way of conforming to their nature.
The more we cling to life, the less we are inclined to act irresponsibly and put ourselves at risk. The world would be a much more peaceful place if we learned this. Some would say boring, but that remains to be seen.
It's the Way nature is.
Its structure covers all, but not tightly like the peel encloses the orange. Tao is hiding in the background and in the minute. It's better described as a net connecting all things in the world, but still allowing them to move rather freely. Its meshes are so sparse that it seems to consist only of holes, but nothing escapes it, since it's the fabric of which the universe is made.
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