Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 3, Part II

from Verse Three
The government of complete people abandons intellectualism and does away with showy adornment. Depending on the Way, it rejects cunning. It emerges from fairness, in unison with the people. It limits what is kept and minimizes what is sought. It gets rid of seductive longings, eliminates desire for valuables, and lessens ruminations.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
In discussing the second half of this verse, I could take one of two roads. I could talk about how the US federal government governs in a manner adverse to the Way. It would be a very simple thing to do. However, I've decided to traverse down the other road. While there is no question that this verse lends itself well to a discussion of national governments, I believe it is just as germane to look at it from the perspective of how each of us governs ourselves.

The first thing mentioned is the abandonment of intellectualism. I don't take this to mean that we should quit learning and then sit around as sleepy imbeciles; it's more that we should quit trying to force things to unfold in ways that satisfies our egos. Intellectual knowledge is not a bad thing in and of itself, but it becomes a negative force when we utilize it in the attempt to manipulate things in our favor. This, of course, goes hand in hand with cunning.

The abandonment of showy adornments is reminiscent of several verses in the Tao Te Ching. When we possess gaudy things to show off to others, we must concurrently be ever conscious of protecting our largess from theft and so we move away from Tao to protect our ego-infused lifestyle from the less fortunate.

The last two lines return to one of Lao Tzu's recurring themes -- knowing when enough is enough. When we have enough and no more, others aren't coveting what we have and we aren't constantly striving to possess more. Life becomes more tranquil when we decide to step off of the possession treadmill because we have removed the stress of obtaining and maintaining that which we don't really need in the first place.

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


  1. Interesting angle and yes far more worth while to aim the advice inwards than just point and jeer at those who get it wrong.

    Again I'm being drawn to the bookshop at every further verse you post...

  2. The insteresting thing (but not surprising!) is that the Taoist principles for self-government and national government are identical. It's always easier to criticise an unpopular government, so well done for choosing the more difficult path of introspection.

  3. Tao,
    What you waiting for? :D

    C & M,
    I agree. It's always easier to criticize that which is external than internal.


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