Tao Thought: Immediacy and daodejing 67

When washing your face, can you see your true self?
When urinating, can you remember true purity?
When eating, can you remember the cycles of all things?
When walking, can you feel the rotation of heaven?
When working, are you happy with what you do?
When speaking, are your words without guile?
When you shop, are you aware of your needs?
When you meet the suffering, do you help?
When confronted with death, are you unafraid and lucid?
When you meet conflict, do you work toward harmony?
When with your family, do you express benevolence?
When raising children, are you tender but firm?
When facing problems, are you far-seeing and tenacious?
When you are finished with work, do you take time to rest?
When preparing for rest, do you know how to settle your mind?
When sleeping, do you slip into absolute void?

365 Tao
Daily Meditations

Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

Stanford Studies on Daoism
• The Laozi Story
• Date and Authorship of the Laozi
• Textual Traditions
• Commentaries
• Approaches to the Laozi

The transcendence of Dao must not be compromised. To do justice to the Laozi, it is also important to show how the function of Dao translates into basic “principles” (li) governing the universe. The regularity of the seasons, the plenitude of nature, and other expressions of “heaven and earth” all attest to the presence of Dao. Human beings also conform to these principles, and so are “modeled” ultimately after Dao.

Wang Bi is often praised in later sources for having given the concept of “principle” its first extended philosophical treatment. In the realm of Dao, principles are characterized by “naturalness” (ziran) and “nonaction” (wuwei). Wang Bi defines ziran as “an expression of the ultimate.” In this regard, attention has been drawn to Yan Zun's influence. Nonaction helps explain the practical meaning of naturalness. In ethical terms, Wang Bi takes nonaction to mean freedom from the dictates of desire. This defines not only the goal of self-cultivation but also that of government. Wang Bi's Laozi commentary has exerted a strong influence on modern interpretations of the Laozi in both Asia and the West. There are three English translations available (Lin 1977, Rump 1979, and Lynn 1999).

Among these four commentaries, Heshanggong's Laozi zhangju occupied the position of preeminence in traditional China, at least until the Song dynasty. For a long period, Wang Bi's work was relatively neglected. The authority of the Heshanggong commentary can be traced to its place in the Daoist religion, where it ranks second only to the Daodejing itself. Besides Heshanggong's work and the Xiang'er, there are two other commentaries entitled the Laozi jiejie (Sectional Explanation) and the Laozi neijie (Inner Explanation) closely associated with religious Daoism. Both have been ascribed to Yin Xi, the keeper of the pass who “persuaded” Laozi to write the Daodejing and who, according to Daoist hagiographic records, later studied under the divine Laozi and became an “immortal.” These texts, however, only survive in citations (see Kusuyama 1979).

From the Tang period, one begins to find serious attempts to collect and classify the growing number of Laozi commentaries. An early pioneer is the eighth-century Daoist master Zhang Junxiang, who cited some thirty commentaries in his study of the Daodejing (Wang 1981). Du Guangting (850-933) provided a larger collection, involving some sixty commentaries (Daode zhenjing guangshengyi, Daozang 725). According to Du, there were those who saw the Laozi as a political text, while others focused on spiritual self-cultivation. There were Buddhist interpreters (e.g., Kumārajīva and Sengzhao), and there were those who explained the “Twofold Mystery” (chongxuan). This latter represents an important development in the history of interpretation of the Daodejing.

daodejing translated by current scholars

The world calls me great great but useless
because I am great I am useless
If I were of use I would have stayed small

But I possess three treasures
I treasure and uphold
First is compassion
Second is austerity
Third is reluctance to excel

Because I am compassionate I can be valiant
because I am austere I can be extravagant
because I am reluctant to excel
I can be chief of all tools

If I renounced compassion for valour
austerity for extravagance
reluctance for supremacy
I would die

Compassion wins every battle
and outlasts every attack
What Heaven creates
let compassion protect.



Everyone under heaven says
that my Tao is great, but inconceivable.
It is its very greatness that makes it inconceivable!
If it could be conceived of, how small it would be!

I have three treasures to hold and protect:
The first is motherly love.
The second is economy.
The third is daring not to be first in the world.

With motherly love one can be courageous.
With economy one can be expansive.
With humility one can lead.

To be courageous without motherly love,
To be expansive without practicing economy,
To go to the front without humility - this is courting death.

Venture with love and you win the battle.
Defend with love and you are invulnerable.
Heaven's secret is motherly love.



Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you all beings in the world.

also available at

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