Chinese Characters for "diversity"

watercolor of garden flowers, original art by lisbeth

Gods have many faces,
But true divinity has no face.

There are so many gods in the world. Taoists have their pantheon. The Buddhists, Hindus, and other religions have theirs. The Islamic and Judeo-Christian schools may be monotheistic, but their sects differ vastly from one another. Those who follow Tao assert that each of us sees the divine in our own way. Is there one
god, or many?

Among those who follow Tao, there are those who say that if there are gods, then everyone is a god. You are a god. There is nothing in the sky, and no one lives your life but you. Whatever one believes in terms of deities is fine. It’s all individual preference, and it ultimately means self-awarenesss. But there is something beyond the diversity of gods, and that is the absolute.

That which is absolute is formless. Thus Tao is nameless and faceless. We cannot consider Tao our god. That would be to give it form and therefore bring it back into the world where the myriad things have names. We use the word Tao for convenience only, but in fact, we are referring to a deep mystery. As long as we lie in the world of diversity, whether it is the frantic pace of our professional lives or the involvement with all the gods of the world, we will not be with Tao. It is only when we leave the diversity of existence and find the formless absolute that we reach Tao.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao

“Mountain Hermit”
Lisbeth West
Photograph with photoshop enhancement
actual size 8" x 12"

Stanford Studies on Daoism


  • The Laozi Story
  • Date and Authorship of the Laozi
  • Textual Traditions
  • Commentaries
  • Approaches to the Laozi


Like Heshanggong, Yan Zun also subscribes to the yin-yang cosmological theory characteristic of Han thought. Unlike Heshanggong's commentary, however, the Zhigui does not prescribe a program of nourishing one's qi-energy or actively cultivating “long life.” This does not mean that it rejects the ideal of longevity. On the contrary, it recognizes that the Dao “lives forever and does not die” (8.9b), and that the man of Dao, correspondingly, “enjoys long life” (7.2a). Valuing one's spirit and vital energy is important, but the Zhigui is concerned that self-cultivation must not violate the principle of “nonaction.” Any effort contrary to what the Laozi has termed “naturalness” (ziran) is counter-productive and doomed to failure.

The concept of ziran occupies a pivotal position in Yan Zun's commentary. It describes the nature of the Dao and its manifestation in the world. It also points to an ethical ideal. The way in which natural phenomena operate reflects the workings of the Dao. The “sage” follows the Dao in that he, too, abides by naturalness. In practice this means attending to one's heart-mind (xin) so that it will not be enslaved by desire. Significantly, the Zhigui suggests that just as the sage “responds” to the Dao in being simple and empty of desire, the common people would in turn respond to the sage and entrust the empire to him. In this way, the Laozi is seen to offer a comprehensive guide to order and harmony at all levels.

An early commentary that maximizes the religious import of the Laozi is the Xiang'er Commentary. Although it is mentioned in catalogues of Daoist works, there was no real knowledge of it until a copy was discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts (S. 6825 in the Stein collection). The manuscript copy, now housed in the British Library, was probably made around 500 C.E. The original text, disagreement among scholars notwithstanding, is generally traced to around 200 C.E. It is closely linked to the “Way of the Celestial Master” and has been ascribed to Zhang Daoling, the founder of the sect, or his grandson Zhang Lu, who was instrumental in ensuring the group's survival after the collapse of the Han dynasty. A detailed study and translation of the work in English is now available (Bokenkamp 1997).

The Xiang'er manuscript is unfortunately incomplete; only the first part has survived, beginning with the middle of chapter 3 and ending with chapter 37 in the current chapter division of the Laozi. It is not clear what the title, Xiang'er, means. Following Rao Zongyi andCapital O with macronfuchi Ninji, Stephen Bokenkamp suggests that it is best understood in the literal sense that the Dao “thinks (xiang) of you (er)” (1997, 61). This underscores the central thesis of the commentary, that devotion to the Dao in terms of self-cultivation and compliance with its precepts would assure boundless blessing in this life and beyond.

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daodejing verse 58

Where government stands aloof
the people open up
Where government steps in
the people slip away

Happiness rests in misery
Misery hides in happiness

Who knows where they end
there is no direction
Direction turns into indirection
good turns into evil
The people have been lost for a long long time

Thus the sage is an edge that doesn't cut
a point that doesn't pierce
a line that doesn't extend
a light that doesn't blind.



When the government is dull and sleepy,
people are wholesome and good.
When the government is sharp and exacting,
people are cunning and mean.

Good rests upon bad.
Bad hides within good.

Who knows where the turning point is?
Whether government or person,
if you aren't tranquil and honest,
the normal flips to the abnormal,
the auspicious reverts to the bizarre,
and your bewilderment lasts for a long time.

Therefore the sage does what is right
without acting righteous,
points without piercing,
straightens without straining,
enlightens without dazzling.



If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn't pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.



Tao Thought: Solstice and Tao Te Ching Verse Fifty-Six

When the true light appears,
The entire planet turns to face it.

The summer solstice is the time of greatest light. It is a day of enormous power. The whole planet is turned fully to the brilliance of the sun.

This great culmination is not static or permanent. Indeed, solstice as a time of culmination is only a barely perceptible point. The sun appears to stand still. Its diurnal motion seems to nearly cease. Yesterday, it was still reaching this point; tomorrow, it will begin a new phase of its cycle.

Those who follow Tao celebrate this day to remind themselves of the cycles of existence. They remember that all cycles have a left and a right, an up side and a down side, a zenith and a nadir. Today, day far surpasses night, and yet night will gradually begin to reassert itself. All of life is cycles. All of life is balance.

So celebrate, but be not proud. For whenever you celebrate high achievement, the antithesis is also approaching. Likewise, in misfortune, be not sad. For whenever you mourn in grief, the antithesis is also approaching. Those who know how to reach the peak of any cycle and remain glorious are the wisest of all.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao (author)
ISBN 0-06-250223-9


Those who know don't talk
those who talk don't know

Seal the opening
close the gate
dull the edge
untie the tangle
soften the light
join the dust
This is called the Dark Union

It can't be embraced
it can't be abandoned
it can't be helped
it can't be harmed
it can't be exalted
it can't be debased

Thus does the world exalt it



Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Close your mouth.
Block the door.
Quiet your senses.
Blunt the sharpness.
Untie the tangles.
Soften the brightness.
Be one with the dust,
and enter the primal oneness.

One who has merged with Tao in this way
can't be courted,
can't be bought,
can't be harmed,
can't be honoured,
can't be humiliated.

He is the treasure of the world.



Those who know don't talk.
Those who talk don't know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can't be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.



That Snowy Day

home movies
showed me following dad
out of a pine forest
hopping in the snow
behind the tree he
cut for Christmas… I was
three. The movies play
in my memory over and over

I looked out of the oxygen tent
distorted plastic images
dad and Uncle Jimmy, hat
in hand, looking resigned
I knew I had died once then
I was four.

Summer of the Beatles
Red Rocks ’64 how I wanted
to see them, so I stayed with
daddy that summer in Denver
fresh paint on the wall of my
very own room, we spent the days
together and we giggled and read
books and talked about not seeing
things one way,

more became my
horizon and I grew strong

A few visits since that time
at the cabin in Coal Creek, he would
drink and I would go outside
smoke reefer, come back to giggle
with Wanda and dad

by that time the stories were dearer

Wanda called one night ’79
dad was in the VA hospital dying
cancer of lung then liver
I gathered tapes of swing music
photos that my sisters ordered me
not to show him,

his grandsons
in 16 x 20 sat next to his bed
a ward filled with dying veterans
he had life to show off

and we listened and laughed
and I heard questions I could not
answer and four months, every night
I sat by that bed, learning why
mother had loved him

The last day at the hospital
nurses pointed to a single room
last hour on earth and we held
hands and we cried and we giggled

and he died and I will never forget
that snowy day, bobbing behind that
fallen tree and catching up to
my daddy to grab his gloved hand
and follow


Tao Thought: Shrine daodejing55

Chinese Characters for "shrine"

Wade the warm stream to
The shrine across the river of golden sound,
Where a drunken bee drones the holy syllable
Over a crimson lotus.
Rich mango magenta and spice offerings
Are piled high by the devout.
Entering into hut of blue stone—
Cool black interior smeared with incense and
Pierced with tiny triangles of candle flame—
Ordinary cares fall to the crystalline floor.
Fiery letters appear in the air
And reappear in your heart.

It is good to have a holy places in the world, and it is good for us to go on pilgrimages. Ultimately, it isnot the place that is important; it is what you feel that is lasting.To visit a place is minor; to change within yourself is greater.

When people visit a holy place, some say that the spirits of the place speak to them. Others remember the exotic pageantry. When it comes to sacred sites, it’s better to be a pilgrim than a tourist. Go with a humble attitude, and let your heart be moved by what you experience. Then you will receive the true treasure of the

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao

Stanford Studies on Daoism


  • The Laozi Story
  • Date and Authorship of the Laozi
  • Textual Traditions
  • Commentaries
  • Approaches to the Laozi


Commentaries to the Laozi offer an invaluable guide to interpretation and are important also for their own contributions to Chinese philosophy and religion. Two chapters in the Hanfeizi (chs. 21-22) are entitled “Explaining the Laozi” (Jie Lao) and “Illustrating the Laozi” (Yu Lao), which can be regarded as the earliest extant commentary to the classic. The “bibliographical” section of the Hanshu (History of the Former Han Dynasty) lists four commentaries to the Laozi, but they have not survived. Nevertheless, Laozi learning began to flourish from the Han period. The commentaries by Heshanggong, Yan Zun, Wang Bi, and the Xiang'er commentary will be introduced in what follows. Some mention will also be made of later developments in the history of the Daodejing. The late Isabelle Robinet has contributed an important pioneering study of the early Laozi commentaries (1977; see also Robinet 1998).

Traditionally, the Heshanggong commentary is regarded as a product of the early Han dynasty. The name Heshanggong means an old man who dwells by the side of the river, and some have identified the river in question to be the Yellow River. An expert on the Laozi, he caught the attention of Emperor Wen, who went personally to consult him. Heshanggong revealed to the emperor his true identity as a divine emissary sent by the “Supreme Lord of the Dao” — i.e., the divine Laozi — to teach him. The emperor proves a humble student, as the legend concludes, worthy of receiving the Daodejing with Heshanggong's commentary (Chan 1991a).

Recent Chinese studies generally place the commentary at the end of the Han period, although some Japanese scholars would date it to as late as the sixth century C.E. It is probably a second-century C.E. work and reflects the influence of the “Huang-Lao” (Yellow Emperor and Laozi) school, which flourished during the early Han dynasty (Chan 1991b). Called in early sources the Laozi zhangju, it belongs to the genre of zhangju literature, prevalent in Han times, which one may paraphrase as commentary by “chapter and sentence.” Its language is simple; its imagination, down-to-earth. The Heshanggong commentary shares with other Han works the cosmological belief that the universe is constituted by qi or “vital energy.” On this basis, interpreting the text in terms of yin-yang theory, the Laozi is seen to disclose not only the mystery of the origin of the universe but also the secret to personal well-being and sociopolitical order.

daodejing verse fifty-five: translations


He who contains virtue in abundance
resembles a newborn child
wasps don't sting him
beasts don't claw him
birds of prey don't carry him off
his bones are weak and his tendons are soft
and yet his grip is firm

He hasn't known the union of sexes
and yet his penis is stiff
so full of essence is he

He cries all day
yet ever gets hoarse
so full of breath is he
who knows how to breath endures
who knows how to endure is wise

Who lengthens his life tempts luck
who breathes with his will is strong

But virility means old age
this isn't the Way
what isn't the Way
ends early



She who is filled with goodness
is like a newborn child:
wasps and snakes will not bite it,
fierce beasts will not attack it,
birds of prey will not pounce on it.

Its bones are soft and its muscles weak,
but its grip is firm.

It hasn't yet known the union of male and female,
yet its organ stirs with vitality.

It can howl all day without becoming hoarse,
so perfect is its harmony.
To know harmony is to know the eternal.
To know the eternal is to be illumined.

Prolonging life is not harmonious./
Coercing the breath is unnatural.

Things which are overdeveloped must decay.
All this is contrary to Tao,
and whatever is contrary to Tao
soon ceases to be.



He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn't know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master's power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.