Chapter 34 needs a title. Section I, lines 1 & 2, invokes the simile of Tao as great water as in a flood. The first two lines approximate The Tao with the nature and physics of water. In Section II, Laozi further personifies water and The Tao, noting that all living thing depend on it and the work never exhausts, the shelter never ceases and the success of life in nature satisfies this humble, flowing non-entity named Tao. Section III names Tao simultaneously both insignificant and great because of its magnanimity and humility. scrutiny should be applied for this paradoxical interpretation. Section IV appears to be a summary of Chapter 34, seemingly defining greatness as a lack of recognition on the part of Tao and a lack of knowledge of it on the part of the myriad things.
Derek Lin’s comments invites interpretation. First, we might embrace our obstacles in order to achieve contentment or even elevate mutual adaptation. Giving takes a great many forms with us humans and as a consequence, giving hardly resembles it definition. Using water…nature…Tao as a model of a giving entity delivers a stark contrast to the “giving” that has evolved among men. In a single paragraph (3), DL balances the terms insignificant, imperceptible, hidden and easy against greatness, fundamental force, reality and exist(ence)…lots of food for lots of thoughts. Though Laozi seems to personify both Tao and water in this chapter, Lin insists we are talking about the transcendental, emotionless and guileless. He goes on to suggest we emulate that which has no form or substance.
Wayne Dyer’s take on Laozi’s Chapter 34 seeks to examine the concept of greatness rather than the metaphor of water. Wayne sees the Tao as a kind of reluctant leader who provides and protects and persuades but allows individuals to take the ill path of large resistance. When you and I take the position that “life is NOT all about me”, we can acknowledge the quality of others and the generosity of nature. WD touches on some other Taoist themes, such as “don’t waste anything, anyone” (TTC 27): the importance of everyone – possibly antagonists or obstacles – embracing obstacles and taking lessons or maturation from toleration and acceptance.
Wang Bi (226–249), was a Chinese neo-Daoist philosopher who died of sickness at the age of 23. Wang Bi’s most important works were commentaries on Laozi’s Tao Te Ching and the I Ching. Wang’s commentary speaks of Tao as The Way. The Way exists all-encompassing and, most important, is not known to the myriad things. Since The Way is not known, it may be “named” small by man, but it is in reality, great. By not being known and referred to as small, The Way acts without opposition on big things. Difficult things. The Way exhibits an example for each of us…if we only knew.
First there was reality. Then metaphor. Then pictures. Eventually words and distortion. Laozi wrote poetry which exalted nature with characters constructed from pictographs which originally drew from nature’s progeny. Derek Lin compared our embracing of obstacles as akin to water’s natural embrace of its habitation. Wayne Dyer felt that greatness can be reimagined but as in nature not in humanity. Wang Bi says we are best left in the dark as to what guides us, protects us, punishes us. Did you come up with your own title for Chapter 34?
What are your first thoughts? With what did you come to this Chapter 34? With what are you leaving? Reflecting back on the pages presented by the sages Laozi, Derek Lin, Wayne Dyer, Wang Bi and Kahlil Gibran, can bring on a flood of thoughts. But reduce that flood to a flow and that flow to a few sparkling droplets. Small jewels. Gems. Words are inadequate to describe what these wrote, but that’s all we have, most of what we know. Laozi saw The Way, experienced the flood, embraced nature. Derek Lin looked up to the sky and Laozi for inspiration and brought down a rain of cleansing clarity for us from this nebulous, laconic verse. Wayne Dyer saw in those droplets the idea that greatness could be more than self-aggrandizement and plotted a path to follow. Wang Bi pulled back from even metaphor and wanted us to know what we can’t know – the dark. That which is behind the curtain. Kahlil Gibran delineated the physical from the ethereal with regard to children for whom parents can care for but cannot think for, or dream for, or hold on to. Don’t try to know it all, just try to know.