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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.
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