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existential1 wrote

From Eva Wong's "Lieh-Tzu"


Knowledge and action

THERE WAS A MAN who knew the secrets of immortality. The king of Yen sent a messenger to get this information, but the messenger was tardy, and the man died before the king’s request arrived. When the envoy returned to the palace, the king was angry and wanted to have the messenger executed.

One of the king’s favored ministers, who happened to be standing nearby, counseled the king, “If the man who claims to know the secrets of immortality cannot keep himself alive, how can he have anything to offer you?”

The king nodded and thought that was a good point. He therefore released the messenger.

There was another man who also wanted to learn the arts of immortality. When he heard that a hermit who possessed this secret had just died, he beat his chest and lamented that he had lost a great opportunity.

When a philosopher heard about these incidents, he said, “These people wanted to learn the secrets of immortality. But in each case, the so-called teachers themselves died. This shows that these teachers are frauds. Why regret not being able to learn from them?”

Lieh-tzu’s teacher Hu-tzu disagreed with this. He said, “There are some people who know the principles of a skill and yet cannot apply it. There are some people who can apply the principles without knowing what they are. Once there was a great mathematician who passed on his secrets to his son. The young man memorized the theory but could not apply it. Another person got the informaton out of the son and applied it successfully. There’s nothing unusual about someone who can pass on a theory but not the applications. Therefore, it is not unreasonable that mortals can possess information about immortality.”

Knowledge is the precursor to action, but action is not necessarily the precursor to knowledge. It is a rare case that someone both knows the theory and is able to apply it. As to whether it is easier to derive action from knowledge or induce knowledge from action, it is hard to tell.

From this passage, I think the takeaway could be that whether you're useless or not is contingent on who might use you. For example, in war, someone might very well use a "useless" person as a pawn. Considering this, do you...whatever that means to you. You may or may not be used, but it may not be your choice whether or not that happens so don't worry about it.


existential1 wrote

Yeah, i own that one. Its good. It doesnt have the full texts of most of the books or scrolls mentioned but instead presents key passages of many texts to express why they are prominent in Daoist history and what makes them special. I've legit read all her shit...except a couple books that were outmodded by newer ones.


existential1 wrote (edited )

I don't have a legal copy to link, but i strongly prefer eva wong's version. I think UKLG's effort is decent but she legit was basically an interpretation of a translation as opposed to folks who are capable of reading the original print directly. So, her version should be used as a nice poetic version for english speakers but it shouldn't be used to figure out or cross compare between other versions of native readers/speakers who can understand the nuances of the phrases used in chinese.

Eva on the other hand, does do direct translation as someone who speaks and reads both languages at a high level....and most a practicioner of the daoist arts herself.


existential1 wrote (edited )

Reply to by !deleted31467

I like this for folks new to the subject of Daoism. I have some issues with a few sentiments expressed though.


...we see that Lao Tzu thinks that the only force capable of ruling the world is the Dao. This is crucial to understand within the context of anarchism. When Alex Feldt says that the DDJ does not explicitly make any “rejection[s] of government or the state,” he is half correct (Feldt). What he forgets to say, however, is that Lao Tzu calls for the Dao to control the world — not a state or government.

I think this needs further exposition. The notion that the Dao is the only force capable of ruling the world misapplies the root word "rule" in such a way as to imply that the term Dao should be understood in terms of "ruling" that we normally associate with governments.

This issue is super common in western exposition of Daoism as westerners tend to only focus on "Philosophical Daoism", called Dao-chia and not the wholelistic-ness of what Daoism is nearly everywhere that it's practice outside of the West. Taking into account Dao-chaio, or Religious Daoism, you can use phrases that are a lot more encompassing, like the oft-used "All under Heaven and Earth" or things like that which are used to express that the Dao is inescapable. It is everywhere whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. It is not like the government ruler that you can duck paying taxes or revolt against. And thusly, the notion of "ruling" is kind of inappropriate once you think about it a little further.

This understanding is what leads to the notion of wu-wei and why "ruling" in the traditional government sense is a waste of time. The Dao already has what is prescribed and allotted taken care of...therefor any additional archy only serves to steal from some to horde for others. And that theft is not just material wealth, in many texts it also talks about knowledge that way as well. Which leads to my second thing...


The will of the sage is not important; it is not the responsibility of the sage to impose himself onto the population. If he were to do that, he would potentially detract from the power of the Dao. Instead, he should lead by example, and show how to align oneself with the Dao. In this sense, the sage does not use coercive forces on the population, such as law enforcement and laws. Rather, he leads by guidance, aligning himself with the Dao, the nurturing force that sustains all life.

The Sage doesn't lead at all. Not by guidance, not by morals, not by anything. There are many stories where people who are sagely in the sense that they are completely aligned with the Dao and once someone tells them that they are, they no longer are so. To me, sageliness is simultaneously a narrative prop used by Daoist writers to show what alignment with the Dao looks like AND the recognition that to attain it one must ignorantly be it.

By ignorantly, I mean it is so deeply embedded in your consciousness that it might as well be subconscious and that you don't think about it at all. Like putting your keys wherever the hell you put them when you walk in the door. Or how after you chew gum for awhile, if the flavor doesn't run out, you forget you're chewing at all.

In Liezi, there's the story he tells of a "sage" who wanted to know why people kept bothering him. He felt he didn't deserve special attention but he learns that he gets it because he keeps talking to and helping people. The point of that story is to not do that. Of course, that story is told via another wise person telling his student about this third sage. The way I live out this sort of mix up in terms of what wu-wei seems like is I use a mental check, "If I have to think about it, I probably shouldn't do it." And I don't. But Daoism is full of these contradictions. xD

Lastly, stories about sages were typically about people who had already died or disappeared. Other terms were often used for people extant during the conversation, like advisors, shamans, etc. Think about this similar to how the Catholic church today makes people saints after they die. And then when prescribing how to be more sagely, what others did was often used. So finding people in the mountains not eating the five grains and working on their alchemy where people had been doing that for centuries would clearly signal to someone that perhaps they are working at being sagely.