Lao Tzu and Tao, Part II Why a Cultivation Guide to Taoism Was Handed Down As a Work of Literature

Wang Yi Feng

PureInsight | July 29, 2002

3. The “Tao” of Lao Tzu

The first section of Lao Tzu contains thirty-seven chapters on “Tao,” also known as The Classics of Tao, while the second section has forty-four chapters on “De,” or “Virtue,” also known as The Classics of Virtue. The two sections together make 81 chapters of the book, Lao Tzu, also known as The Classics of Tao and Virtue, or The Tao Te Ching in Chinese. The complete book is based on the two concepts of “Tao” and “De.” Later generations combined both the words to build a new phrase, “Tao De,” which means “moral values” in Chinese. “Tao De” became the standard by which the moral quality of a man or a society is evaluated.

As I pointed out previously in “Lao Tzu and Tao, Part I,” those, who were born after the time of Lao Tzu, interpreted Lao Tzu from the perspective of everyday people. They had deviated far away from Tao, and created connotations completely different from its original meanings.

“When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.
When the entire world recognizes good as good, this in itself is evil.”
(From Chapter Two of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

In the past, there was a completely different interpretation of these words:

The world can recognize beauty as beauty, and thus can tell ugliness from beauty.
The world can recognize good as good, and thus can tell evil from good.

Rivalries were created over the standards of beauty versus ugliness, and good versus evil. The results of the disputes were neither beautiful nor good. This was literally drawing a forced interpretation to match an understanding at their level. These words mean what they say. The genuine meaning is that whatever the world holds to be of beauty is actually an ugly concept, and whatever the world holds as good is actually not a good concept.

Man always refuses to admit that whatever he deems beautiful is ugly, or whatever he deems good is evil. That was also the root cause of why the scholars misinterpreted Lao Tzu’s words in the past.

Why did Lao Tzu say such things? The great enlightened beings have a completely inverted view or rationale compared to that of everyday people. Beauty is deemed ugly from above and good is deemed evil. This is because good and bad [in everyday society] are regarded differently from the heavens. A cultivator is aware of the differences between heavenly law and the conventions of everyday society. That was why Lao Tzu wrote them down at the beginning of Chapter Two. The ultimate goal of cultivation for an everyday person is to completely elevate himself from the level of the everyday people, and to advance to the higher levels. Therefore one must discard all conventional mentalities of ordinary human society and eliminate all attachments. From the very beginning of the book, Lao Tzu has pointed out the difference between the logic of high levels and that of the everyday people. The Tao School emphasizes the cultivation of Truthfulness; therefore, Lao Tzu clarified the essence of Truth right at the beginning of The Tao Te Ching.

“As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!
Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.
Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.
Set store by your riches and honor,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.
Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!”
(From Chapter Nine of The Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu.)

Next Lao Tzu elaborated the human desire for fame and profit. Most people think fame and profit are reasonable, but soon they will find out that these are self-inflicted misfortunes. Only by cultivating the Tao will one conform to the heavenly principles. “Retire after you have done your work” has been generally interpreted in history as “Courageously retreating in the face of turbulent currents.” or “Retire when you have reached the peak of your success.” Such interpretation is a complete distortion from its original meaning. What is the meaning of “courageously retreating in the face of turbulent currents?” Doesn’t it suggest that one should strive for fame and profit in his life first, then complacently retire to preserve his interest? This mentality is certainly not in line with what Lao Tzu advocated.

In fact, Lao Tzu forbade cultivators from seeking fame and profit or so-called success. Therefore, “retire after you have done your work” definitely does not mean “Courageously retreating in the face of turbulent currents.” The word “Gong” is a specific term in cultivation. [In Chinese, “Gong” as in cheng Gong, or success, shares the same Chinese character with “Gong” as in cultivation. Many Chinese scholars thought Lao Tzu referred to “Gong” as in “success” when he said, “done your work”, but the author argues that Lao Tzu referred to Gong in cultivation instead.] The “Gong” here refers to the cultivation level, or fruit status. It is a real substance in another dimension. One longs for, and acquires Gong in his cultivation. One who cultivates in the Buddha Fa or Tao cultivates “Gong” at the top of his head when he elevates his “xinxing” during cultivation. “Gong” is generated when one assimilates himself to the fundamental characteristic of the universe: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance.

At the same time, the teacher of a cultivation practice will help to transform the “De” into “Gong.” “Gong” is a high-energy matter that exists in another dimension. When one attains the predestined target level, then he has attained the required “Gong.” That is when he “attains the Gong and reaches consummation” according to the Buddha school, or “retire after you have done your work” according to Lao Tzu, the founder of the Tao school. [The word-by-word translation of “When you have done your work, retire” is “Attain the Gong and reverse your body to its original state.”]

The Tao School cultivates both mind and body. That is, during the cultivation of the Tao, one keeps upgrading his “Gong,” the level that determines one’s fruit status. In addition, one cultivates his “xinxing,” as well as his body. Because the Tao School cultivates both mind and body, it sets the goal of transforming one’s physical body and bodies in other dimensions into high-energy matter. That is when one “retires.” When Lao Tzu said “retire,” he meant “to return one’s body to its original state,” which became “Tao Body.” When one attains the targeted Gong, he “has done the work”. When one has transformed his body into high-energy matter, he has “retired.” When one “has done the work” and “retire,” he has completely assimilated himself to “The Way of Heaven” according to Lao Tzu. That is why Lao Tzu said, “Here is the Way of Heaven: When you have done your work, retire!”

In The Classics of Tao, Lao Tzu advocated three things, “Drop wisdom, abandon cleverness,” “Drop humanity, abandon justice,” “Drop shrewdness, abandon sharpness.” (From Chapter Nineteen of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.) There have been many controversial arguments over the correct interpretations of these phrases in history. In addition, Lao Tzu even disapproved of learning conventional knowledge.

“Have done with learning,
And you will have no more vexation.”
(From Chapter 20 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

“Learning consists in daily accumulating;
The practice of Tao consists in daily diminishing.
Keep on diminishing and diminishing,
Until you reach the state of Non-doing.
No doing, and yet nothing is left undone.”
(From Chapter 48 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

Here, Lao Tzu advises Tao practitioners against “wisdom, cleverness, humanity, justice, shrewdness, sharpness, learning” in the human realm. They are selfish notions, personal desires, or human concepts that need to be purged. His theory here echoes that in Chapter Two of The Tao Teh Ching about the rationale in the human realm is completed reversed in heaven. Only when one discards all these concepts can he finally returns to his original true self. Lao Tzu added:
“These three are the criss-cross of Tao, and are not sufficient in themselves.
Therefore, they should be subordinated to a higher principle:
See the Simple and embrace the Primal, Diminish the self and curb the desires!”
(From Chapter Nineteen of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

The Tao School requires one of abandoning the concepts and notions of everyday people, embracing purity and simplicity, as well as forgetting himself and his personal desires.

In thirty-seven chapters of The Classics of Tao, Lao Tzu talked about rationale, which is completely opposite to that of the everyday human society. He described the situation of a high level of cultivation, the truth that ought to be known to all who wish to cultivate the Tao. However, people in later times were at a much lower level than Lao Tzu. Therefore, they could not really understand the true meanings of his words. Some said that Lao Tzu used reversed logic to inspire human thinking or alternative thinking. Some has even gone to the extent of saying that his logic was “negative, and evading reality.” Some even misjudged Lao Tzu by his words, “Retire after you have done your work,” and regarded him as an elusive, cunning and shifty old fellow. It is a very sorry sight.

A cultivator must upgrade his xinxing in order to advance to higher levels. If a cultivator guides himself with conventional values, which are promoted in everyday society, he will never pull himself out of everyday society. Lao Tzu promoted no self, no desire, and no doing. “No doing” means, “eliminating all earthly attachments.” A cultivator does not pursue what others desire, and abandons things that others yearn for. Lao Tzu described such mentality as:

“All men have enough and to spare:
I alone appear to possess nothing.
What a fool I am!”

“All men are bright, bright:
I alone am dim, dim.
All men are sharp, sharp:
I alone am mum, mum!”

“All men settle down in their grooves:
I alone am stubborn and remain outside.
But wherein I am most different from others is
In knowing to take sustenance from my Mother!”
(From Chapter 20 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

Now that I understand why Lao Tzu described himself as “a fool,” “dim,” “mum,” “stubborn and remain outside” [the thinking of everyday people], and different. By arriving at such a mentality, Lao Tzu is abiding himself by the “Tao.”

4. Tao Is Not the Ultimate Truth of the Universe
“Man follows the ways of the Earth.
The Earth follows the ways of Heaven,
Heaven follows the ways of Tao,
Tao follows its own ways.”
(From Chapter 25 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

“Hidden in the depths,
Yet it seems to exist forever.
I do not know whose child it is;
It seems to be the common ancestor of all, the father of things.”
(From Chapter Four of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

Generations of Chinese scholars believe that the Tao is the ultimate truth of the universe. In their interpretation, “Tao follows its own ways” means that the truth is beyond the realm of the Tao, which the Tao takes as a model, is “natural phenomena.” Apparently these scholars are limited within their levels of the Tao; therefore, they regard everything they cannot comprehend as “natural phenomena.”

Lao Tzu admitted that he did not know whose child the Tao was. He also pointed out that the Tao seemed to have existed forever, even before the father of all things. Lao Tzu declared that he disclosed to the world the Tao he has attained, but that was not the ultimate truth of the universe, or the origin of the universe. He had no access to truth above the Tao. It has been an unsolved mystery for centuries: what is the truth above the Tao?

According to Lao Tzu, the Tao creates all things. But what or who created the Tao? Falun Dafa answers this unsolved mystery. The fundamental characteristic of the universe: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, is the origin of the Tao. Physical matter, the human body, life, the universe, and everything else have their forms of physical representation. In addition, there exist Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance in all matter in very complex expositions. The Tao School and the Buddha School each have their respective understandings of the physical world. They both have different levels of understandings of the exposition of the characteristic of the universe, Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance, 'expressed at different levels with different layers of meaning' (Lunyu). The ultimate truth of the universe may be summarized by three words: Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance. The Tao is one of the expositions of the characteristic of the universe, Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance at a level. Put simply, Lao Tzu’s Tao represents the truth within our universe, but his Tao may not be correct outside the scope of our universe.

“The movement of the Tao consists in Returning.”
(From Chapter 40 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)
Note: this is the origin of a Chinese term, reaction.

The Tao should be constant, and should not be subject to change. However, if everything is the world progresses in the direction opposite to the Tao, the Tao will start to “move” everything back to its origin. Why is that? Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance creates all and subdues all. It is the law of the universe that the world will accelerate the rate of its destruction when it progresses in the direction against the Tao. That is when the Tao “moves.”

“Vast is Heaven's net;
Sparse-meshed it is, and yet
Nothing can slip through it.”
(From Chapter 73 of The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.)

It does not mean that the Tao punishes sentient beings when it “moves.” Everything follows the law of the universe because the law of the universe created everything. If the world deviates too much away from its original nature, it will simply cease to exist.

Translated from:

Add new comment