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  2. The Uncarved Block vs. Simplicity

    In the end, I think of true understanding as being intuitive. So, if one really knows what "simple" or "plane" imply, one knows these words describe an essence of nature; they strike at the heart of the matter being addressed. The 'uncarved block' is a more romantic allusion to this. Of course, I always loved the term, but then realize now how the term avoids the truth by using the artistic device, i.e., you can picture in you mind an uncarved block. I find it puzzling that serious translators would 'cheat' us out of the actual and most direct meaning. My only theory to why is that they are borrowing from some distant source commentary/translation that took hold because it went over better on non-taoist minds. So again, in the end, I think one must have a taoist mind first in order to understand what the Tao Te Ching is saying. Of course, that is not saying there shouldn't be points of entry into the shallow end of the pool, e.g., The Tao of Pooh, Stephen Mitchell, Alan W. Watts, Wayne Dyer, etc. The more the merrier. I just happened to click on the Community and saw your reply here. The Forum doesn't seem to be very good at notifications. We're planning to drop this and do 'Discourse' forum. Seems much better.
  3. The Uncarved Block vs. Simplicity

    Carl, this is why I like your translation, it tends to strip away the adornments. I have found that in my small amount of researching the history and background of the TTC it has given me some new insights into its meaning. I have noticed a lot more continuity than I ever have, and I lot stronger affront to the thinking of the "masses". You mentioned the character for "disease" being translated as the much softer, "difficulty", "defect" or "flaw". This is an example of the effrontery the exists in the TTC, where it might have been softened by some translations. I will admit to still puzzling over the "pu" (uncarved block) thing. Where, "simple" or "plain" really do seem better for our uses, I somehow think there is this concept of containment or "wholeness" that Dian mentions that is not quite captured with those words.
  4. The uncarved block

    Very interesting information. Thanks, Kirk and Carl. I checked out the Wikipedia article on Pu and found this perspective, which I feel explains a lot: Returning to the central Daoist meaning of pu, Pas and Leung (1998:351) challenge the stereotyped "uncarved block" translation of pu: "The idea implied in it comes closer to "wholeness," which is also contained in "uncarved block," except that "uncarved block" has been reified. As a result, what was an excellent analogy of the Tao has become sterile and counterproductive."
  5. The Uncarved Block vs. Simplicity It is interesting to compare the lines in the Tao Te Ching that refer to the ‘uncarved block’ with the Chinese original Chinese character to see what this character actually translates as. For example, in our last chapter (19), the last two lines of D.C. Lau’s translation go like this: These three, being false adornments, are not enough And the people must have something to which they can attach themselves: Exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, Have little thought of self and as few desires as possible. The more literal goes like this: “These three, considering culture, are not enough. For this reason, make something to belong to; See simply, embrace the plain, and have few personal desires.” The characters and their meanings for these last lines go like this: this three (several) (者), think (believe; consider) language (culture; civil) no (not) foot (enough; ample). 此三者,以为文不足 incident (cause; hence) command (decree; make; cause) have (there is; exist) what one belongs to, 故令有所属, see (catch sight of) simple (quiet; vegetable) embrace (hug) simple (plain) few (little; lose) personal (secret) few (scant; tasteless) desire (wish; want). 见素抱朴少私寡欲。 Comparison: D.C. Lau’s phrase, “embrace the uncarved block” I translate as “embrace the plain” i.e., embrace (hug) simple (plain). The two characters involved, 抱朴, translate as 抱 (bào) hold or carry in the arms; embrace; hug; 朴 (pǔ) simple; plain. These are common run of the mill characters used in daily speech. Referring to simple and plain as an uncarved block is all fine and well — poetic license, as it were. However, does using poetic license get the point across better, or does it obfuscate the simple thrust of the Tao Te Ching somewhat? For me, it is the latter. This tendency to obfuscate is most noticeable in chapter 71, where D.C.Lau, V.Mair, R.Henricks translate the character for disease (病) as difficulty, defect, flaw respectively. Now this character, 病 (bìng), translates as ill; sick; disease; fault; defect. These men are not ‘wrong’ per se, they just dance around the disease. Why? If one is not of Taoist mind, calling it a disease probably feels too weird. In a sense, they don’t actually believe what they are translating. They don’t need to because their duty is to translate the Tao Te Ching, not to have the Tao Te Ching serve as “something to belong to”, as chapter 19 puts it. By the same token, their mission is to make their translation palatable to the public, and not too blunt or off-putting. Of course, this is very useful because it provides an entry point for a beginner into ‘the way’. Perhaps at some point a few beginners yearn for something less comfortable, more simple and raw. As chapter 19 says, "See simply, embrace the plain, and have few personal desires". Here are all the other references to D.C. Lau’s uncarved block followed by a more literally way of putting it. Chapter 15 Thick like the uncarved block; Vacant like a valley; Honest such as simple; broad such as the valley; Chapter 28 If you are a valley to the empire, Then the constant virtue will be sufficient And you will return to being the uncarved block. When the uncarved block shatters it becomes vessels. The sage makes use of these and becomes the lord over the officials. Therefore the greatest cutting Does not sever. Being a valley for all under heaven, Constant virtue will be only then sufficient, And you will again return to simplicity. Simplicity loosens normalcy and allows a wise person to be a public elder. This is how even the greatest control never cuts Chapter 32 The way is forever nameless. Though the uncarved block is small No one in the world dare claim its allegiance. The way constant is without name. Simple! Though small, nothing under heaven can subjugate it as well. Chapter 37 I shall press it down with the weight of the nameless uncarved block. The nameless uncarved block Is but freedom from desire, And if I cease to desire and remain still, The empire will be at peace of its own accord Press it down using nameless simplicity. Of nameless simplicity, man also supports without desire. No desire and still, all under heaven will settle themselves. Chapter 57 Hence the sage says, I take no action and the people are transformed of themselves; I prefer stillness and the people are rectified of themselves; I am not meddlesome and the people prosper of themselves; I am free from desire and the people of themselves become simple like the uncarved block For this reason, the holy person says, I do nothing and the people change themselves. I love stillness and the people straighten themselves. I am without responsibility and the people thrive themselves. I am without desire and the people simplify themselves.
  6. The uncarved block

    You could be on your way to making your own translation Kirk! I've heard it is the most translated book after the Bible. I'd just mention that radicals are much less rational than I’d wish, so having 木 show up in two characters means less than we’d wish. I feel one can't truly know what the Tao Te Ching is saying unless one is a taoist, i.e., a small 't' taoist. (https://www.centertao.org/2010/12/23/small-t-taoists/). Being an academic may even be a drawback, at least from the Tao Te Ching's point of view. Ironic perhaps. Nevertheless, exploring the field and striving to get to the bottom is a perfect "make something to belong to" way of hunting and gathering modern style. Perhaps I'll make a comparison of the "uncarved block" with the raw translation. It would be interesting to check them out side by side I guess. For some reason I didn't get notified of your post here and only saw it when I clicked on the community by chance. Have to fix that!
  7. After our Tao session yesterday I spoke with Carl a bit about D.C. Lau and Victor Mair's use of the word uncarved block and unhewn log respectively in their translations. I traced the reference to the Chinese character 朴 which Carl translates as "simple". I'm at my point in my understanding of the Tao Te Ching where research is very important to me and I also find research a very good exercise in letting go of the self. Whatever pre-conceived notion you may start with or whatever you may want something to be, research may challenge those things you hold on to. So this is what I found out so far about the Chinese character 朴 and its use in the Tao Te Ching. It is pronounced "p'u" in MSM (Modern Standard Mandarin) but would have been pronounced "phluk' in OS (Old Sinitic) which is how the language was spoken in the time of the Mawangdui silk manuscripts (two of the oldest written versions of the TTC) There was an older version found in 1993 but it seems to be an abridged, incomplete version. (just as an aside; most translations of the TTC use what is referred to as the "received version". This is the version that has been handed down through the centuries)This is according to Victor Mair who as a Sinologist seems to be one of the most respected source references regarding ancient Chinese linguistics.He also states that the word "phluk" is almost certainly related to the English word "block" which is derived from the Indo-European root bhelk (beam). In the Mawangdui manuscript B (the earliest of the two version) the Chinese character 樸 is used instead of 朴 (a 6 stroke modern version of the 16 樸). Their usage appear to be very similar. In the Mawangdui Manuscript A however a different character is used in place of 樸 it is 楃. This character tends to have a different usage. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pu_(Daoism) states that 屋 refers to a room or house and in conjunction with 木 it could mean "wood canopy". This Wikipedia article translates 樸 as "unworked wood" and 楃 as "house tent". Wikipedia refers to 木 as "the semantically significant tree radical" because this is a component of both 樸 and 楃 it seems that it is not a stretch to think this character has something to do with wood. I think most of this is irrelevant to our Tao gatherings and discussions because Carl's use of the word "simple" seems fine, though "plain" is also a common variant. Perhaps in modern Chinese this is the go-to usage of the character, I have no idea. But the historical background interests me greatly. The use of "uncarved block" (Lau) or "unhewn log" (Mair) shouldn't be considered a complete fabrication. I'm not sure about Lau but from what I have read about Mair he has an amazing base of knowledge regarding Chinese cultural and language. Robert G. Henricks is another scholarly translator who works from the Mawangdui Manuscripts he uses the phrase "embrace the genuine". But I think his background is in comparative religion. Mawangdui B uses 樸 8 times in 6 chapters. Mawangdui A uses 楃 6 times in 4 chapters though there are missing characters where it is indicated in Chap 19 and 57. So it is an often returned to and important theme in the TTC. I think Carl your objection to the use of "uncarved block" or "unhewn log" is that is poetic imagery. Whether or not the TTC originally used poetic devices is probably a different discussion. I would certainly agree with your position and Victor Mair's by the way, that the poetic license used by the hundreds, maybe thousands of translators of the TTC over the years is really a way of twisting it around towards their own point of view.
  8. " Without existence entering without space between, I know non-action has the advantage ." The illusion of self, the sense that we have existence, makes wu wei (无为) elusive. The result of surrendering to one's duty gradually dilutes that illusion by being replaced by the duty, one's dharma. < Sanskrit: custom, duty, akin to dhārayati holds, maintains. Interesting how dharma is associated with "holds, maintains". That parallels the Taoist "constant". Constancy maintains, constancy holds to the way. The constant (cháng - 常 ): ordinary, normal; constant; invariable; usually. So, it is easy to see why constancy plays such a central role for Taoist, Buddhist, Hindu... probably all spiritual paths. Wu wei is the 'mountain peak' we seek, while our feet strive on 'here below'. Giving oneself to one's duty is a step further toward the "Without existence entering without space between". There lies the rub. The reward comes after you begin to "without existence enter without space between". To do that, one must 'give up control', so to speak. Giving up control goes against our survival instincts (especially in the hierarchical framework in which we live), e.g., more is better, strong wins, special trumps mundane, and so on. Oh, and let's not forget that overarching hunt & gather instinct. It 'constantly' drives us to look for greener pastures. That constancy, while a boom in nature's wild, becomes a serious obstacle to balance in civilization's circumstances. Hence, the cultural value civilizations place upon duty / dharma. The rub here lies in how duty easily becomes entangled with hierarchy.
  9. " Constancy is what helps gradually pull us into sanity and balance. I assume people often don't give their 'duty thing' enough time to notice the benefit, and so quit. One must invest enough time to reap the reward. " So true. It can be hard to see if what we're doing makes a difference, or enough of a difference to maintain the effort. On the other hand, if all of our actions are effortless actions (wu wei), doing our "duty thing" would be only natural.
  10. My thoughts after Sunday's discussion, continued along the lines of contrasting Taoist thought with Confucianism. Not because I think Confucianism is in anyway pertinent to our social context but because the same foundational concepts apply to our current social context. When thinking of Taoism I think of "seeking the truth inside of us". When thinking of Confucianism (not that I know very much about it) I think of "seeking the truth outside of us". This "seeking the truth outside of us" in my mind is clearly the dominate theme of our current social context. One is needed for our survival as individuals, but the other is needed for a more esoteric but no less important reason. The thing Carl sometimes refers to as our "sickness", I think of as our challenge in trying to bring these two different quests together in our lives. Or maybe that challenge is "The Way". If only we were hunter-gatherers, or animals, or toddlers, our quest would be easier. I have made choices in my life (I think most people have) that when looking back, I realize I would have been a lot wealthier, or a lot more comfortable or of a higher social status, if I had made a different choice. But I don't regret those choices, because I know those choices came from seeking the truth inside myself. It is a hard thing to define, probably undefinable. That's why we keep talking about it.
  11. Cheryl

  12. (This is longer than I’d hoped. If only I could distill it down to a pithy few lines. Oh, that’s right. The Tao Te Ching does that already.) A few words came up during the meeting that lingered for me to mull over: supplicant and surrender. Supplicant reminds me of disciple which brings up discipline. These all bring up the value of ‘duty’ mentioned in Buddha’s 4th truth. Seeing how these words share a similar root deepens the meaning. This brings me to the ‘conformity’ referred to in chapter 65 and ends with, To the outside world, contrary indeed. Then, and only then, reaching great conformity. Conformity refers me back to supplicate, surrender and discipline. Simply put, these all point to conformity to the way. Alas, that tells us next to nothing practical about how to deal with the day to day. How does one ‘reach great conformity’? All animals in the wild hunter-gatherer existence (except for people and domesticated animals) have their sole duty established by nature — circumstances and survival drives. Again, as Buddha put it, There is salvation for him whose self disappears before truth, whose will is bent on what he ought to do, whose sole desire is the performance of his duty. Circumstances compel animals to ‘have their will bent on what they ought to do’. Their ‘sole desire is the performance of their survival duty’. We have lifted that burden of keeping our noses to the survival grindstone. Circumstances no long compel us to have our will bent on what we ought to do. Often we don’t know what we ought to do. In the end, the circumstances we find ourselves in can make it very difficult to feel natural, whole, and balance. The cultural voices in the outside world clamor for our attention… for our conformity, supplication, and discipline. They promise us happy solutions. All the cultural voices of the outside world are not of Mother Nature, but rather simply outside world projections of folks touting the benefits of their particular ‘brew’. Those who believe one of these voices can find a niche in which to conform to an extent. The tipoff that it is a weak substitute for nature’s call lies in the conviction and fervency displayed by proponents of their ‘brew’. (Re: Symptoms Point Of View). The only answer I’ve found that works is to begin by taking a step, no matter how small, in a direction you suspect may become an action where your will can be bent on what you ought to do. This means your ‘duty’ will be what ever you make it, and you make it one step at a time. The direction toward the duty that fits this purpose lies against your personal grain, contrary to your worldly desires, as chapter 65 hints…. Always investigate the patterns. That is called profound moral character. Moral character, profound indeed, distant indeed! To the outside world, contrary indeed. Then, and only then, reaching great conformity Examples: If you tend to be late… being a little more on time can be your ‘duty’. If you are sedentary… a little more exercise can be your ‘duty’. If you shop a lot… a little less shopping can be your ‘duty’. If you eat to much… eating a little less can be your ‘duty’ … Ad nauseam Of course, all these are obvious, yet we easily fail at the precise route that could bring us more into balance with our selves. A balance which we came by more readily before we found a way to escape nature’s rules (escape… at least on the surface!). We fail because it is much easier to plan a way to live than it is to actually live the way. (See Free Will: Fact or Wishful Thinking?) It seems doing what we ought to do only comes about when we deeply realize there is no escape, and that we don’t know. Thinking that there is a way out of whatever difficulty we face only accentuates the difficulty. Re: Realizing I don’t’ know is better; not knowing this knowing is disease. To the outside world, contrary indeed. Then, and only then, reaching great conformity PS: I left out a critical aspect in the observation above — the necessity of constancy. Constancy is what helps gradually pulls us into sanity and balance. I assume people often don't give their 'duty thing' enough time to notice the benefit, and so quit. One must invest enough time to reap the reward. Here are some quotes about constancy, or as the good book puts it, "the constant". The way possible to think, runs counter to the constant way. The name possible to express runs counter to the constant name. … Ch. 1 Answering to one's destiny is called the constant; knowing the constant is called honest. … Ch. 16 Being a small stream for all under heaven, constant virtue will never leave you, Being a pattern for all under heaven, constant virtue will never be in error, Being a valley for all under heaven, constant virtue will be only then sufficient, … Ch. 28 The way constant is without name. … Ch. 32 Of the way respected and virtue valued; no one decrees, yet constant and natural. … Ch. 51 Use the light, and again return to clarity, not offer oneself misfortune. This serves as practicing of the constant. … Ch. 52 Knowing harmony is called the constant. Knowing the constant is called clear and honest. … Ch. 55 Nature’s way is without match, Constantly helping the charitable person. … Ch. 79
  13. Describing chapter 56's "profound sameness" has always been a hobby of mine. I guess you could call it a hobby. After all, I don't make any money from my philosophical musings. My daily yoga and tai chi at the beach clears out my mind nicely. The other day as I was biking home afterward, I got to contemplating the difference between "difference" and "sameness". It occurred to me that when I'm most tuned into "profound sameness", "profound difference" is also in view. My best description now is that feeling "profound sameness" is simply experiencing both sides of the coin simultaneously. Only feeling one or the other, sameness or difference, is emotionally skewed. By that I mean the view is serving one personal emotional agenda (bias). I've long felt that seeing difference was tantamount to seeing illusion: difference = illusion. On the other hand, seeing sameness was seeing things closer to reality: sameness = reality. That is how they correlate (see Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations). I feel making a closer connection between "difference" and "sameness" comes closer to the truth, to reality. When you think about it, there can be no "sameness", profound or otherwise, without "difference". They are really two sides of the same coin. The "profoundness" occurs when you see/feel them both at once. It is like Schrodinger's quantum cat, both alive and dead, until observation causes one or the other to occur. Experiencing "profound sameness" is seeing the cat in it indeterminate quantum state, both alive and dead in a state of "profound sameness".
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