Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 3 Commentary

This is a series on the Tao Te Ching from a Christ-centered, LDS perspective. 

Chapter 3 of the Tao Te Ching focuses on de-emphasizing materialism, caring for both the physical body and spirit, and acting without ulterior motives. Enjoy:
Do not glorify the achievers
So the people will not squabble
Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain
So the people will not become thieves
Do not show the desired things
So their hearts will not be confused
Thus the governance of the sage:
Empties their hearts
Fills their bellies
Weakens their ambitions
Strengthens their bones
Let the people have no cunning and no greed
So those who scheme will not dare to meddle
Act without contrivance
And nothing will be beyond control
Treasure! Image here

Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain

The first few lines of this chapter are pretty straightforward. Don't put your heart into achievements or riches and don't show off, in order to prevent conflict.

This is said in such a straightforward way, it might be easy to forget that the Bible and Book of Mormon teach the same thing, particularly in verse 19 here (Matthew 6:19-21; 3 Nephi 13:19-21): 

  19 ¶Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:  
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
These verses command the reader to avoid treasuring earthly things, in favor of treasuring righteousness. Which is exactly what this chapter of the Tao Te Ching is saying.

Really, this edict, besides being a commandment from God, is also just a recipe for happiness. When your joy is unaffected by material goods, you are free to be happy in a way that hearts constrained by materialism can never be.

The governance of the sage

Purifier of silver. Image here.
Chapter 3 teaches that the sage "Empties their hearts / Fills their bellies / Weakens their ambitions / Strengthens their bones." Literarily, I find this parallelism beautiful. But aside from that, who does it remind you of? Because it reminds me of King Benjamin.

The Tao Te Ching has a focus on emptiness--a focus that is not couched the same way in Christian scripture. Yet, the scriptures teach it. Moroni commands us to "Deny yourselves of all ungodliness," the Psalmist writes of having transgressions and sins purged, and the Lord is often referred to as the purifier and refiner of silver, emptying the body of imperfections. When you do a topical search for the word "empty," the scriptures don't turn up phrases like you find in the Tao Te Ching. However, if you search on the word "purge," for example, a lot of things come up. The Christian scriptures talk a lot about removing sin from oneself--or, you could say, emptying oneself of sin.

But to go back to King Benjamin--and his son, King Mosiah. These two men are great examples of sagely governance. Their inspired preaching and examples of righteousness helped empty the hearts of their people, and weaken their unholy ambitions, while keeping them well-fed and physically prosperous. You can read about those two prophet-kings and their remarkable reigns here

King Mosiah. Image here.

Those who scheme will not dare to meddle

Fun book! 

"Let the people have no cunning and no greed / So those who scheme will not dare to meddle."

One of my favorite authors is Ally Carter. Her Heist Society books are so fun. In those books, there's a repeated idea that you can't con an honest man. That idea is repeated in a number of con-related movies and other media I've seen. This site contains a discussion of the idea. When people have no greed or cunning, they are not so easily taken advantage of--they are not blinded or fooled by riches, and not driven by a desire to cheat or take advantage of their neighbors.

Often, those who desire unrighteous dominion over others achieve their control by manipulating others through their greed or cunning. The greed for anything from riches to food to clothing to a comfortable home can lead to all sorts of unbecoming behavior in a populace. 

The Book of Mormon, particularly Mosiah through Alma, over and over again explains how people get the governance they deserve. An honest people will not allow themselves to be led by dishonest men. And dishonest people are led by dishonest men. And when there are dishonest men at the top, you can be sure dishonest people at the bottom are keeping them there.

When the people are pure, they will have pure leaders. When they have no cunning and no greed, those who scheme will not dare to meddle.

Nothing will be beyond control

"Act without contrivance / And nothing will be beyond control."

A contrivance in literature is something created that contains a sense of artificiality. This couplet cautions against acting with dishonesty or pretense, so that "nothing will be beyond control."
Image here.

To me, the scripture that pops into my head here is Proverbs 3:5-8

 ¶Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
 In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
 ¶Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil.
 It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones.
Okay, really, I was just thinking of verses 5 and 6, but 7 and 8 are reminiscent of the idea of purging oneself of sin for physical health, which was kind of just talked about in Chapter 3 of the Tao Te Ching also.

When we trust fully in God, and cut out all pretense, enmity, contrivance from our hearts, He directs our paths.


As we empty ourselves of materialism and sin, we are blessed.

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