“heaven and earth is not humane, because the myriad creatures are grass dogs,
the sage is not humane, because the common people are grass dogs,
the space of heaven and earth is like a bellowed flute,
void and it doesn’t bend,
moving and it only increases,
speaking too much is poverty,
it is not as good as protecting the centre.”
There are many ways to interpret that Dao De Jing and it is a brilliant work whose meaning and symbolism is difficult to fathom and exhaust, and yet there is a threat winding through it that seems to people to be true, and yet what is true about it is equally open to interpretation as its five thousand characters are.
I wish to take up a moral approach to chapter five of the Dao De Jing as an exercise. I am not dedicated to my interpretation being correct, but rather my interpretation is trying to dig at some aspect of what I find to be true about the passage. The exercise is not meant to define what the author meant when he wrote the chapter, but rather to illustrate one of the many essential meanings the chapter has to me.
I will use ideas from Karl Jung’s Seven Sermons for the Dead, as well as concepts from the Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson, and American Art Professor, Camille Paglia, although these ideas will express themselves in symbolism, rather than direct quotation, and so there will be no foot notes included.
Dao De Jing Chapter Five Interpretation Exercise by Robert James Coons:
This chapter discusses the peril of believing in our own ability to teach the truth to others. We can easily fall into the trap of perceiving our own moral beliefs to be a terminal point of an ultimate truth. Regardless of whether this conviction is something we hold as external to our core being, such as a belief in a Deity, or ethical consideration, or something as fundamental as the basic nature of our own consciousness, we are only able to understand that of it which we know, and we do not know, and often do not know of the many dark aspects of it which are hidden from our view.
Because Laozi places the sage as someone who has merged with nature and thus does the most good, simply by doing what nature does naturally, then the sage and nature have no desire to treat other beings in a humane and compassionate manner, because other beings are not even separate from the pleroma, as the pleroma contains nothingness and everything, and is both the smallest and largest part of all things existing and not.
We are left with a problem though, which is that in our action or inaction, there is some consequence, and that nature itself does not change, although anything which is affected in nature changes endlessly and magnifies in stature beyond the original movement that triggers its change.
Since there is no remedy for chaotic change, and because the abyss is always closer at hand than we perceive it to be, all we can do is decide a course and try to maintain it.
If we speak or act, we will always be the recipient of the effect of our action, whether it is good or bad, it will always in some way return to us.
So we thus protect the centre and do not deviate from it.
But what is the centre?
The centre is anything which is true, and so whether the centre is the emptiness of the void, or whether it is holding to a path of moderation and not divesting ourselves of lavish expressions of indulgence, it is still the centre.
There is another centre, which is the centre from which we speak the truth and do true things, but we must know that nothing is inherently true, but rather, the truth is something which is as close to what is real as we can possibly fathom.
So in speaking, we must be fully aware of the potential of our words to have an effect, both good and bad, and recognize that at their root, all binary concepts are singular, so when we speak, we must be careful not to divide too narrowly into our conviction of a belief which we cannot even ultimately define to be truth!
Protecting the centre is knowing what is enough, what is not enough, and what is too much, and not affecting our wishes on others, because what we perceive to be humane and in their best interests are actually our own thoughts of desire to gain something by controlling the course of their reality, which can only yield dire consequences.