Monday, August 31, 2009

Verse 46: Way-Making

Verse Forty-Six
When way-making (dao) prevails in the world,
The finest racing steeds are used to provide manure for the fields;
But when way-making does not prevail in the world,
Warhorses are bred just outside the city walls.

There is no crime more onerous than greed,
No misfortune more devastating than avarice.
And no calamity that brings with it more grief than insatiability.

Thus, knowing when enough is enough
Is really satisfying.

~ Roger Ames and David Hall translation ~
Again, we return to two recurrent themes in the TTC: 1) The importance of balance and 2) The problems that excess (imbalance) cause. In terms of nation-states, the picture drawn here is clear -- a country out of balance too often is involved in warfare.

As Ames and Hall state in the commentary for this verse,
One of the central themes of the Daodejing is how the human need to own, to get, to possess, throws the natural rhythms of life into convulsions. While the horror of war is perhaps the most dramatic consequence of wanting what you do not have, words such as "crime," "misfortune," and "calamity" are all common consequences of greed and avarice.
It is important to note that, while this verse may appear to be referring solely to nations and governments, it really applies to each and every one of us. One could easily make the argument that the warhorses could be a metaphor for our own skills and talents. When we're at peace with the world, we use our abilities to benefit ourselves, our family and our community. When we're angry or embroiled in a conflict, we're more apt to utilize our abilities for conniving and deceitful purposes.

As Diane Dreher points out, when balance in life is missing, it has a tendency to perpetuate endless cycles of extremes.
Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao Tzu realized the dangers of excess, both individually and collectively. For individuals, excess causes sensory overload, imbalance, disease. Collectively, excess consumption by some causes deficiency for others, perpetuating cycles of poverty, injustice and warfare. Extreme yang leads to yin, excess to deficiency.

...The Chinese character for wisdom, hui, shows a broom held over the mind-heart. For the Chinese, wisdom literally means sweeping away clutter.
It is this ego-based clutter that constantly affects our sense of internal harmony. Every time it shifts its weight, we become imbalanced. To compensate, we shift the weight back toward the other extreme only to find ourselves still out of balance in a different way.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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