The Tao Teh Ching:
Revealed by Lao Tzu
Rendered by Charles Scamahorn
Last night [1997/08/22] [2014/03/23] I picked up my old Tao Teh Ching and read it for the first time in years and was pleasantly surprised at just how vital a book it is. I worked on it so very long ago that it seems as if some other person wrote it. Whenever I happen to pick up one of the other translations, I always feel that there is something wrong with them but not this one. It has a style that really appeals to me. I do think it might be helped some by a short introduction [or local comments] which explained that the book is intended to be read by a prince or other sovereign person, or at least by a person responsible for the overall well-being of a group of other people. However, it can be used by a person who is functioning as an individual, such as a sage. Most people do not function in their daily lives at that level of sophistication, and therefore do not have much reason to apply the principles. However, if they were to do so they would no doubt be uplifted and made into more fully functioning individuals. This of course is circular reasoning, but in a good positive-feedback way. There is a problem with the central concept of this book, of course, and that is that it requires an intelligent person with a great deal of time and focused interest to develop the personal control necessary to apply the principles purposefully. Personally I think I did very well years ago, approximately 1965, when I was only thirty, when I chose to work on this book. My goal at first was to understand it, but the more I read the existing translations the more it became necessary to make written-in clarifications in my own copy. After a while these required copying out into a clean page to maintain readability. This was in the days before word processors and I had to do this many times. The present copy is therefore a working copy produced after some ten years of observing and rewriting.
Perhaps I should tell the story now of how I got into such a multiyear task. My relationship with this book began as a search for Wisdom one afternoon in about 1965 at the Mediterraneum Caffe’‚ in Berkeley, California. I was talking to an old friend, Bob Westerburg, about various subjects, probably Gurdjieff, [G] Kant, Jesus, Vedanta and other folks of that ilk when Bob quoted the Biblical injunction, “Get wisdom, my son, and with all thy getting, get understanding.” He liked to make pronouncements like that and there was nothing particularly powerful about the way he said it at that time. It was just a part of the ongoing flow of the conversation, but I thought and said at the time, “That is a good idea! I am going to do just that.” Well we both chuckled a bit and then I said, “How shall I go about it?” I realized from our conversations that neither he nor I, nor anyone we knew, really knew what wisdom was. A lot of my friends were studying Gurdjieff, but not one of them had followed the preface to All and Everything: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson in which G said to read the book three times in a very specified manner. They had, instead, all joined groups and were studying the materials that way. I had in fact followed G’s instructions, which took several years, and had come to a very different understanding than they had and I believe a more profound one although one not filled with so many knowing looks and so much jargon. I often wondered if the time was well spent but one thing that study did do for me was convince me that I personally shouldn’t follow a guru, at least not in the usual servile, master speak and student obey, manner that you see most people doing. That if I were to travel with G at all, it was to be as a companion and not as a slave. An equal, that is, following only in the sense that I was thinking through the same mental processes as one who had gone before me. We were exploring together and comparing our observations. I might get some clues from G’s observations, but I had to do the thinking and the experiments myself, and observe the results myself and draw my own conclusions myself.
It has always amazed me how much people believe what they see and hear and read even though they claim to be critical thinkers. I too fall into this same trap, most of the time. But I did do a lot of the experiments that G recommended, myself. It is not too difficult and it gave me, the experimenter, a feel for checking things out for myself. A lot of the scientific attitude, which I value highly, I can trace back to my personal studies at the time I was reading G and observing myself in action and performing the experiments which he suggested. The results are very interesting but I would be doing you a great disservice to tell what my results were. You are much better off if you do the experiments yourself and draw your own conclusions. It really is the only way to come to real understanding of some types of material.
When Bob said “Get WISDOM” I was mentally prepared to attempt to do just that. But how? I acknowledged to myself that I possibly didn’t know what wisdom really was; after all one probably has to have it to know what it is. The problem can be compared personally to my experience in running; I knew what running an 8-minute mile is like, and what a 7-minute mile is like and a 6 and a 5:30, and I can guess at what a 5 is like but I don’t think I have but the vaguest idea of what a 4-minute mile feels like. It is totally outside of my experience. Perhaps, I considered, the concept of wisdom had a similar quality and that realms of wisdom were available to some individuals which were not accessible to me at this time. But, if I got out and practiced wisdom on a daily basis, much like running on a daily basis, I could grow into some understanding of what it was all about even though I couldn’t reach the highest levels. This gave me at least an orientation to try and find a direction to pursue. I decided, early on, not to join a group, even though they claimed to be seeking higher consciousness, because it was easy to see that these people were not going where I wanted to go. I wanted a personal wisdom not a group-think, even if it was a noble think-tank.
Once I acknowledged to myself that I didn’t know what Wisdom was I set out a search strategy to find it. If it was so valuable a possession to have that the phrase has echoed down through the ages then it must be valuable enough to seek it out. And as many people were offering it in a way that was obviously not delivering the effects which I sought, it must be difficult to obtain, and intentionally corrupted by some for their own personal profit. Thus I set out a basic strategy — I would spend one month researching what the concept was before even attempting to pursue it. Thus I began a strategy which I have used many times. I read all the dictionaries I could lay my hands on, looking up the various definitions, and then all of the encyclopedias, especially the Britannica. I don’t remember much else about this month of search and at that time I didn’t leave much of a paper trail. What I do remember was that I liked Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s definition the best. “Wisdom is just common sense to an uncommon degree!” I liked that definition because it seemed to offer a direction which would steer around much of the hocus-pocus associated with the pursuit of wisdom. At first glance it seems to be just substituting several words for one, but when I started searching the concept of common sense the results were entirely different, so the words are not interchangeable, at least not for the way my mind processed them. What I am attempting to do with this story is to tell, as best I can, what I in my late 20s was trying to do.
Common Sense? Where to find common sense? I also used the recycling method, rather similar to what is now called the Delphi Technique; that is, I asked everyone I encountered who and what they considered to be filled with common sense. I did keep track of this and kept getting remarkably consistent answers and then asked these same people again. Their answers consisted of some clusters of ideas surrounding religion, philosophy, psychology, etc. As I didn’t feel I could read the whole of human knowledge, it seemed necessary to truncate the search somehow. What I did was choose to read quotation books and carefully observe the individuals who manifest common sense to an uncommon degree. After about a month of this library research I realized that H. L. Mencken’s book Quotations Based on Historical Principles was the best for my purpose. So, I acquired a personal copy and started reading it carefully. I read the book several times, dotting the choice passages, and it takes a good month to do a single reading. It became apparent that few people were writing in a manner which would bring me to the information I sought. At one point I had narrowed the search to a dozen writers whom I intended to research thoroughly. However, even this became too big. One can spend a lifetime studying Kant or Shakespeare. Strangely enough, many of the people I ended up with were ones which I already had some familiarity with. But, what I wanted were those people who had condensed their works into a memorizable form. In fact, this is a classic technique of education and it is still practiced in the Orient. Some cultures still memorize long texts of their great masters. That is great, but I believe one should choose for oneself what one is going to program into one’s own mind. This technique was also practiced in the west until the 1600s when it was replaced by the study of the classics as proposed by Balthazar Gracian. He happened to be on my slightly longer list of people worth studying. He wrote The Art of Worldly Wisdom, which I read several times. He is interesting and worthwhile but he has a technique of directly contradicting himself. That is okay but he never really comes to grips with the self-contradictory problems and his resultant suggestions require pre-existing personal wisdom to apply his ideas with success.
There were better folks. I decided to memorize the four which were short enough to be memorized and which possessed common sense in an ultimate degree, if read with understanding. They were, and in this order, (for you really can’t understand each one until you have a good grip on the previous one: I realized this early on and so I studied them in this order, spending a year or so on each.) I read all of Machiavelli, but studied The Prince, Sun Tzu, The Art of War, Jesus, especially the Sermon on the Mount, and Lao Tzu, the Tao Teh Ching. I read all of Machiavelli and saw his play Mandrogola over 20 times, always reading it before and after each performance. A very fruitful experience. After the first couple viewings I faced the audience and observed how they reacted to the obvious falsehoods carefully worked into the play. Although Machiavelli is considered devious, and sometime is, the Prince is written in a straightforward manner about how to govern a group of people using methods which cannot always be made visible. For him to confess this publicly is what made him considered to be an evil genius. For the most part he was a patriot just writing a job application and trying to show the Pope how able he was to understand the true principles of governing. It may have been the worst resume in all history, and he didn’t get the job but instead got exiled to his family’s farm.
Sun Tzu at the time I studied him was almost unknown in the West, but since the advent of successful Japanese business practice he has become very well known to the business community. Sun Tzu’s Art of War gained him a reputation which made both his first and his last name epithets for evil. Titles which Machiavelli alone of all people has also earned. Sun Tzu deals with how to govern an army, and why it is necessary to do so. His advice has some devious aspects; after all, how can you get people go out and kill other people? Most humans are reasonably friendly towards their fellow creatures and it requires some doing to get the ordinary person to kill someone. Sun Tzu deals with these issues in a superlative manner, vastly beyond Clausewitz, or Mahan who are considered to be our best western equivalents. He does deal with life and death issues on the grandest possible scale, short of Darwin, and so he is vilified, but the sovereign who does not read and heed the principles of these two fellows does so at the deadly peril to every one of the people over whom he has gained responsibility.
The next person of exquisite common sense whom I studied was Jesus. This becomes very difficult for me to talk about to people who have been aware of this man’s “teachings” from their childhood. They can no longer see what he has to say, because it has been overlaid with so much historical fact and contrived cant. Let me just quote one thing he said at this time and let it go at that. “I come to give life so that mankind can live and live more abundantly.” That is as noble a world orientation as one could ask for, isn’t it? What has become of those ideas in the hands of the self-aggrandizing teachers of billions of people who have followed them, since Jesus spoke, makes it difficult to see and to understand what he originally said. This is compounded by the fact that it was necessary for him to speak in parables so that hearing they (his destroyers) will not hear, or understand etc. In my Proba-Grail you can get a glimpse of the direction I was going with his ideas.
The last of the four which I sought to gain the deepest possible understanding was Lao Tzu through his Tao Teh Ching. He was the most difficult and the most profound. He develops a world view and a method for controlling the world that requires some background experience to even approach it. Even Confucius, who is reported to have met him, considered him the greatest and that is some praise, considering that Confucius was one of the most influential people of all time. I recommend you spend a year studying the previous three authors before you approach studying the Tao Teh Ching.
Having said that I do hope you enjoy it, and apply it to the benefit of all. ——- The TAO TEH CHING Revealed by Lao Tzu ——- Copyright 1982 The Imperfect Way Box 962 Berkeley, CA 94701 U.S.A. ISBN #____________Library of Congress #______________ This book is dedicated to the SECRET SOURCE in you. —
[ The original was written in the 1970s, and had a limited publication of 1000 copies. It is now going to be placed online in short chapters on the 25th of each month, following the previous group of Sun Tzu’s, Art of War on the 25th. This process will complete the 82 posts on the Tao in 2021, with perhaps a few touch-ups, as I too am changing. ]