Monday, November 30, 2009

Wen Tzu - Verse 41, Part IV

from Verse Forty-One
The body is the house of life, energy is the basis of life, spirit is the controller of life: if one loses its position, all three are injured. Therefore when the spirit is in the lead, the body follows it, with beneficial results; when the body is in the lead, the spirit follows it, with harmful results.
~ Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries ~
It's often been written that no person can serve two masters. In his own way, Lao Tzu says much the same thing. In this instance, however, we must understand that the term "body" constitutes not only our physical forms, but also our emotional selves.

When we allow our emotions to take the reigns, we flip and flop all over the place. Small slights become huge mountains or glaring omissions. Simple joys get blown out of proportion. We cascade from one extreme to the other and finding balance becomes next too impossible.

This is not to say that there is something inherently evil about emotions themselves. Our emotive states are part of who we are and often motivate us to ascend great heights, put the needs of others before our own or flee from dangerous situations. The problem comes when we allow our emotions to run unfettered.

The centered individual -- the sage -- experiences all the emotions that the rest of us experience; the difference is that their emotions aren't behind the wheel -- they are in the back seat!

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


  1. While your comments about the problems of emotions taking the "reigns" are certainly obvious, I'm not sure "we must understand that the BODY constitutes...also our emotional selves."

    It seems pretty clear to me that this is a standard reference to the "vitality, energy and spirit" of Taoism, and the vitality (the body,the house of life) is the lower dantian. There has to be balance and control between the jing, the qi and the shen.

    The translation doesn't mention EMOTIONS at all. I would love to see the Chinese or at least the pinyin for this passage.

  2. For me, if we postulated that the body and the emotions are separate, then we would be supporting a dualistic view of the world.

  3. I've been thinking about this. I think the body here really means the physical body--the house of life, the structure the bones, the tendons,muscles, blood; in the Chinese system, the emotions are associated with xin, the heart-mind, which is not the physical body, more associated with energy and spirit. It doesn't really matter, your point about being controlled by emotions is still well taken.

  4. In all honesty, I don't pretend to offer a strict commentary on what the author meant. My commentaries are more what springs to mind in me more than anything else!


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