Laotzu's Tao and Wu Wei, by Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel, , at sacred-texts.com
I LOVE LAOTZU! That is the reason I offer another interpretative translation, and try to print and bind it attractively. I want you to appreciate this wise and kindly old man, and come to love him. He was perhaps the first of scholars (6th century B.C.) to have a vision of spiritual reality, and he tried so hard to explain it to others, only, in the end, to wander away into the Great Unknown in pathetic discouragement. Everything was against him; his friends misunderstood him; others made fun of him.
Even the written characters which he must use to preserve his thought conspired against him. They were only five thousand in all, and were ill adapted to express mystical and abstract ideas. When these characters are translated accurately, the translation is necessarily awkward and obscure. Sinologues have unintentionally done him an injustice by their very scholarship. I have tried to peer through the clumsy characters into his heart and prayed that love for him would make me wise to understand aright.
I hate scholarship that would deny his existence, or arrogant erudition that says patronizingly, "Oh, yes, there doubtless was some one who wrote some of the characteristic sonnets,
but most of them are an accumulation through the centuries of verses that have similar structure, and all have been changed and amended until it is better to call the book a collection of aphorisms."
Shame on scholarship when, sharing the visions of the illuminati, they deride them!
There are three great facts in China to-day that vouch for Laotzu. First, the presence of Taoism,--which was suggested by his teachings, not founded upon them. This is explained by the inability of the scholars, who immediately followed him to understand and appreciate the spirituality of his teachings. Second, Confucian dislike for Laotzian ideas, which is explained by their opposition to Confucian ethics. Third, and the greatest fact of all, is the characteristic traits of Chinese nature, namely, passivity, submissiveness and moral concern, all of which find an adequate cause and source in the teachings of Laotzu.
An interesting fact in regard to the thought of Laotzu is this. Although for two thousand years he has been misunderstood and derided, to-day the very best of scientific and philosophic thought, which gathers about what is known as Vitalism, is in full accord with Laotzu's idea of the Tao. Every reference that is made to-day to a Cosmic Urge, Vital Impulse, and Creative Principle can be said of the Tao. Everything that can be said of Plato's Ideas and Forms and of Cosmic Love as being the creative expression of God can
be said of the Tao. When Christian scholars came to translate the Logos of St. John, they were satisfied to use the word "Tao."
It is true that Laotzu's conception of the Tao was limited to a conception of a universal, creative principle. He apparently had no conception of personality, which the Christians ascribe to God, in connection with it, but he ascribed so much of wisdom and benevolence to it that his conception fell little short of personality. To Laotzu, the Tao is the universal and eternal principle which forms and conditions everything; it is that intangible cosmic influence which harmonizes all things and brings them to fruition; it is the norm and standard of truth and morality. Laotzu did more than entertain an intelligent opinion of Tao as a creative principle; he had a devout and religious sentiment towards it: "He loved the Tao as a son cherishes and reveres his mother."
There are three key words in the thought of Laotzu: Tao, Teh, and Wu Wei. They are all difficult to translate. The simple meaning of Tao is "way," but it also has a wide variety of other meanings Dr. Paul Carus translates it, "Reason," but apologizes for so doing. If forced to offer a translation we would suggest Creative Principle, but much prefer to leave it untranslated.
The character, "Teh," is usually translated "virtue." This is correct as a mere translation of the, character, but is in, no sense adequate.
to the content of the thought in Laotzu's mind. To him, Teh meant precisely what is meant in the account of the healing of the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe: "Jesus was conscious that virtue had passed from him." Teh includes the meaning of vitality, of virility, of beauty and the harmony that we think of as that part of life that is abounding and joyous. The third word is the negative expression, "Wu Wei." Translated, this means "not acting," or "non-assertion." When Laotzu urges men to "wu wei," he is not urging them to laziness or asceticism. He means that all men are to cherish that wise humility and diffidence and selflessness which comes from a consciousness that the Tao is infinitely wise and good, and that the part of human wisdom is to hold one's self in such a restrained and receptive manner that the Tao may find one a suitable and conforming channel for its purpose. The title of Laotzu's book, Tao Teh King, is carelessly translated, The Way of Virtue Classic, or The Way and Virtue Classic. This is very inadequate. The Vitality of the Tao is very much better.
Most commentators think that Laotzu's teachings fit in especially well with Buddhist philosophy This conclusion is arrived at by the common interpretation of wu wei as submission that will logically end in absorption of the spirit in Tao as Nirvana. This understanding of wu wei, which Henri Borel shares in a measure,
is, we believe, incorrect, inasmuch as Laotzu consistently teaches a finding of life rather than a losing of it. Laotzu's conception of Tao as the underived Source of all things, finding expression through spiritual Teh in universal creative activity, is very close to Plato's doctrine of the good as the One ineffable Source of all things, whose Ideas and Forms of Goodness, Truth and Beauty radiated outward as spiritual logos in creative activity through Spirit, Soul and Nature to the farthest confines of matter.
While it is true that Laotzu's teachings would find little in common with the Old Testament anthropomorphic autocracy, and would find almost nothing in common with the modern Ritschlean system of ethical idealism which has for its basis a naturalistic evolution of human society by means of philanthropy, laws, cultural civilizations, and human governments backed by force of arms, nevertheless his teachings are entirely in harmony with that Christian philosophy of the Logos, which is a heritage from the Greeks, through Plato, Philo, St. Paul, Plotinus, and Augustine, and which is the basis of the mystical faith of the Christian saints of all ages. While Laotzu would find little in common with the busy, impertinent activities of so-called Christian statesman building by statecraft and war, he would find much in common with Apostolic Christianity which held itself aloof from current politics and refused to enter the army, content to live simply, quietly, full of faith and humble benevolence.
And most of all would he find himself in sympathy with the teacher of Nazareth. At almost every Sonnet, one thinks of some corresponding expression of Jesus, who had a very similar conception of God, but who recognized in Him that personal element of Love which made God not only Creative Principle but Heavenly Father.
Laotzu's vision of the virile harmony, goodness, and Spirituality of the Tao was what Jesus saw as the Fatherhood of God, self-expressing his love-nature endlessly in all creative effort, and, through universal intuition, endlessly drawing his creation back to himself in grateful and humble affection. Laotzu saw in a glass darkly what Jesus saw face to face in all his glory, the Divine Tao, God as creative and redemptive Love.
As you read these verses, forget the words and phrases, poor material and poor workmanship at best, look through them for the soul of Laotzu. It is there revealed, but so imperfectly that it is only an apparition of a soul. But if by it, vague as it is, you come to love Laotzu, you will catch beyond him fleeting glimpses of the splendid visions that so possessed his soul, visions of Infinite Goodness, Humility and Beauty radiating from the Heart of creation.