Tao-te ching Comments

The Partial And The Complete

Chapter 22 of Tao-te ching opens with the following:

    The partial becomes complete; the crooked, straight; the empty, full; the worn out, new. He whose (desires) are few gets them; he whose (desires) are many goes astray. (Legge version.)

In other words, all things are constantly changing to the contrary. Nothing remains unaltered, unchanged, eternally the same. Everything turns into its opposite.

But why does one who has few desires accomplish them? Why the one who has many desires is wandering? Perhaps, on the same logic of transformation, it is possible that few desires have a greater chance of fulfilling, as the empty becomes full.

    Therefore the sage holds in his embrace the one thing (of humility), and manifests it to all the world. (Legge version.)

Here we should probably read instead of "humility", "modesty". When you are modest (that is, you are pleased with a little, you have few claims) you can enjoy what it is. But "the one thing" may well be a metaphor for Tao. And then the meaning of this passage would be quite different: the wise man keeps close to Tao - that is, he has no assumed position, a "parti pris", but follows the Tao. This aspect is usually ignored by translators and commentators.

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Commentary by Jhian

 

 


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