Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 18 Commentary

This is part of a series examining the Tao Te Ching from an LDS, Christ-centered perspective. I am not a spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are only my opinions. 

Chapter 18 of the Tao Te Ching examines the opposites that show up when unity is dismissed in favor of duality. 

Chapter 18
The great Tao fades away
There is benevolence and justice
Intelligence comes forth
There is great deception

The six relations are not harmonious
There is filial piety and kind affection
The country is in confused chaos
There are loyal ministers

The Great Tao Fades Away

The "Tao" means the "way," or "path," and it refers to the way of the Universe. The way of the Universe is non-dual--duality is subsumed within the greater whole of the Tao (as an example, consider the taijitu, the yin-yang symbol, that contains both the masculine and feminine energies in their duality, as a single non-dual whole).

When we abandon the higher, non-dual view of the universe, we are susceptible to feelings of self-righteousness ("benevolence" and "justice"). Think of how Jesus once preached: "There is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10:18). Earlier in the verse, Christ even chastises those around Him for calling Him good--and He is the Christ! It can be easy and tempting for us to think of ourselves as benevolent or just, but that is deception: As Jesus said, there is one who is good, and that is God.

The next two lines state that when intelligence comes, so does deception. Alternate translations use the words "cleverness" and "hypocrisy" instead. Both translations build on the idea that when we lose the non-dual mindset and allow what the yogis call "maya," or the "illusion" of duality to set in, we fancy ourselves clever or somehow smarter than those around us--which leads to hypocrisy and deception. Particularly, to me, stands out the idea of self-deception. Thinking we are smarter than anyone else is a form of self-deception that is avoided when we are centered in reality (the Gospel, the "Tao," the reality of the Universe).

Alternate understandings of this stanza indicate that Lao-Tzu means that when people abandon the Tao, they focus more on benevolence and justice and cleverness because those things have largely disappeared--absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that. Because benevolence and justice is part of the Tao, when people abandon the Tao, it makes those things that much harder to find, and therefore that much easier to spot in the rare instances when they show up.

The six relations

These are graphs of the six relations from Confucianism (source). In keeping with the Tao Te Ching's discussion of yin and yang, or dominant and subordinate, that's what these relationships are all about.



What Chapter 18 is saying here is that when the Tao is abandoned, and there is therefore disharmony in the six relationships, filial piety and kind affection are talked about because they are harder to find and easier to spot. It is the same with the country when the Tao is abandoned: all of a sudden, the few loyal ministers stand out.


Chapter 18 discusses the nature of duality: in a dual world, good and bad are illuminated by each other.

In a world that embraces the Tao, there is no distinction between good and bad, because everything is good and everything is well-governed and all relationships are in harmony. By embracing the Tao and shedding the illusion of maya, we cease to be roped into the illusion of duality and begin to live in the world of reality. 

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