This short Chapter 40 breathes long on esoteric metaphor and translated words that have meanings quite different from our western understanding of them. Returning. Weak. Being. Non–being. Four challenging concepts in four lines, just twenty-one characters. I have to hand it to him, Lao-tzu must have stayed up late mystifying this conundrum. Too much enigma? Some would say too much riddle. But thanks to Derek Lin, et al, we have a guide through this wonderful and fanciful maze of ancient original thought.
Derek’s comment #1 attaches clearer understanding to his translation, returning is the movement. The words reverses course, reflects back, returns origin, cyclical and pattern all enhance the line #1 translation. Taoist concepts of cycles and patterns and origin return to our consciousness and excites our thoughts as to the meaning of this laconic poetical descriptor. Next, line #2, the word weak ignites strong protest in Western minds, but here it means flexible. Pliant. Mr. Lin further stimulates us, chillingly, with the remark that dead things are stiff and unyielding.
Humorously, lines #3 and #4, when translated by Microsoft Word, yield
Everything is born in the world/There are born in none.
Fortunately, DL expands on this with four paragraphs. He first delineates his translated words of being and nonbeing. Then he explains further with an example using a tree metaphor. Seed, fruit, parent are iteratively presented until non-existence seems to be proved and, then, the exciting idea of pure potential lays at our foot. To me, this commentary seems to be an expanded and expressive way of telling us the answer to the age-old question, “Which came first: the red junglefowl or the amniote?”
Wayne Dyer’s translation of chapter 40 originated and exists here due to the pen and prodigy of one team, the very accomplished couple Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. The only place where the two translations vary significantly occurs when we find in line two where Derek’s weak opposes a Dyer yielding. Since the Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation consists of no introduction or afterword, there be little more to add. However, each translated chapter includes a nature photo meant to enhance the verse’s meaning. What did the English picture for forty? How do you envision chapter 40, as a whole?
The Chapter 40 Commentary kept with the long-winded expansions we are used to from Wayne Dyer. He titles this verse as Living by Returning and Yielding…lets see how well he delivers. The first sentence dubs this chapter as one of the greatest teachings, and promises the happiness, contentment, and centeredness of any sage – upon mastery. OK. I’m in. As in the past, we must piggyback on Wayne as takes huge leaps in logic, such as the back and forth to and from contemporary quantum physics and the originating spirit. Wayne says that, whether “you die while alive” or “wait until your body dies”, you must make a trade. Ego for spirit? A big lumbering speck for an infinitesimally small speck? Rocky Colavito for Harvey Kuenn?
WD pulls Christianity into the mix here, notably the former Saul of Tarsus. Quite a guy there. Preaching Christianity, let alone telling the truth, can be hazardous to one’s health. It’s a no small thing that Saul/Paul had friends in high places. Continuing on, one of his paragraphs is packed with death metaphors to the extent that even Wayne recognizes it as humorous, even remarking that it’s an “amusing viewpoint”. That ever-present smirk was intentional, aye? The use of metaphors such as “round-trip tickets” and “return ticket” smack of airy concepts such as reincarnation, rebirth and, oh no, resurrection.
Wayne implores us to “Mentally make an effort to assess every step you’re taking in all aspects of your life.” (Sting, 1983, A&M Records)[i] Do the Tao Now…someone will be watching.
[i] Every breath you take and every move you make
Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you
Every single day and every word you say
Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you
Every move you make, and every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you
In some ways, being succinct gives us more to talk about. Exploring meaning and intent and individual perception can be a bonding event when conducted intelligently and with consideration. Engaging in dialogs about weakness that explore its range from rigidity to resiliency open individual minds to possibility. When being and non-being and existence get a careful group collaboration, those terms come to life, even when the subject is death. Cycles and patterns when discussed in philosophic terms, bring us metaphors of our lives having seasons, our seasons having storms and rainbows, and those extreme events giving meaning to all of it, to each of us.
What Lao-tzu really intended to communicate with his ancient symbolism, I have no real idea. Perhaps sitting on a mountain cliff, hands folded in meditation – reality might surface. Seeing earth’s inhabitants traversing the indifferent road with their heavy burdens, with their innate strengths – reality might be obscured. Some creatures – more symbol than substance. Others – more internal strength with age. Chop wood carry water. Each must bear the burden to drink of life’s sometimes cruel stream of truth. At times the sky seems to smile but none can avoid her slap when the heavens go brooding. Down it comes. The stars aren’t mean, and neither are scorpions. They just are. Raise your grain. Feed your stock. The four seasons aren’t against you, but neither will they wait. Get moving. Take what is offered in proportion to your needs. Use your hands to plant. Use your feet to dance. And, at last, sit. And wonder.
Sting (1983, A&M Records). Every Breath You Take [Recorded by T. Police]. Santa Monica, California, USA.