Download The Living Dao PDF

TitleThe Living Dao
File Size1.4 MB
Total Pages94
Document Text Contents
Page 1

The Daodejing of Laozi 1


The Living Dao:
The Art and Way of Living

A Rich & Truthful Life

with annotations


Lok Sang HO
Lingnan University

First Version: September 1, 2002
Revised 2009

Page 2

The Daodejing of Laozi 2



I am indebted to all the earlier translators of Laozi, many of whom had translated in a
beautiful language and had succeeded in conveying much of the essence of Laozi’s
teachings. I am particularly indebted to Prof. James Hsiung of New York University,
Prof. Yew-kwang Ng of Monash University, and Prof. Laurence Wong of Lingnan
University for reading through my manuscript and offering very useful suggestions and

Naturally, different translators had interpreted Laozi differently in places. I am lucky in
that I have the benefit of referring to all these different interpretations, dwelling on
them, and in the end unlocking many puzzles that had remained in many of the existing

My task is simple: to preserve the meaning of Laozi, to write in plain language, and to
let the world know that Daodejing is a practical, down-to-earth guide for any one who
aspires to live a rich, peaceful life in harmony with nature.

Lok Sang Ho
Hong Kong

September 1, 2002

Page 47

The Daodejing of Laozi 47


Don’t these practices demonstrate loud and clear:
that it is through the lowly
that the stately hold their positions?

Pursing honor and counting them will not give you honor;
(Just follow the Dao and be yourself: )
It is no use trying to take on the quality of jade or even that of an ordinary stone.

40. The Uncommon Dao


The reverse of expectations is the Dao in action.
The weak in appearance is the Dao in application66


All living things67 are born of interactions in the world of existence68
Interactions in the world of existence are born of emptiness or non-



66 “in appearance” is not in the original text. However, Laozi obviously means “weak in appearance.”
True strength often appears to be weak. What looks strong often is actually weak.


67 In the original, “all things” are in the text, not “all living things.” But in ancient China “tens of
thousands of things”(萬物) often refers to all living things. For example, in the Iching, there is the
sentence: “Heaven and earth found their places; all living things were nurtured and thrived”(天地位焉,
68 In the original, rather than “interactions in the world of existence” Laozi used the words
“having” or “being” for brevity. In Buddhism, anything in the phenomenal world is called 有為法(the
relative reality) and arises from the interactions between main and subsidiary factors and contrasts with
無為法(the absolute reality), which transcends actions and interactions.
69 This latter statement is of course scientifically proven. Matter can be created and can be

Page 48

The Daodejing of Laozi 48


41. The Dao and Its Real and False-Followers



Superior men, hearing about the Dao,
Will work diligently under its guidance.
Mediocre men, hearing about the Dao,
Remembers and then forgets about it.

Inferior men, hearing about the Dao,
Laughs and jeers at it.
If people do not laugh or jeer at it,
It is unlikely to be the Dao.70

Thus it is said:

Those whose mind shines with the Dao
Appear to be dull and stupid.

Those who make progress along the Dao
Appear to be falling behind.

Those who go astray
Appear to be following the Dao.

The truly virtuous are humble like a valley,71
The truly stainless souls appear sullied.

A man with many virtues

appears to be inadequate.
Those who are establishing their virtues
look like thieves.

The truthful look like good quality turned bad,
An infinite space will have no corners.
A man becomes a great instrument accomplishes through long

70 That is why line 1 in Chapter 40 says: “The action of the Dao is contrary to common expectations.”

71 This line provides a basis why I translated line 1 in Chapter 6 the way I did.
72 There is some controversy over whether the text should read 大器免成 “a great instrument never
aspires or strives to be such” or 大器晚成 ( “a great instrument becomes such only after long

Page 93

Religiions and Spirituality 93


Religions and Spirituality

Lok Sang HO

There are many religions in the world, but there is only one spiritual practice.
Religions owe their origins to their different cultural traditions and they were born in
historical contexts which make them distinct. Notwithstanding their apparent
differences, however, when it comes to spiritual practice if they are to serve their
intended goals, which is to enhance happiness and the quality of the human life by
awakening the spiritual consciousness of their practitioners, they have to work on the
same principles. Spiritual practice must involve being truthful and honest and thus
achieving peace with one’s inner spiritual yearnings. It must involve compassion or
“loving thy neighbor as thyself”: an impartial and thus totally equal respect for life,
whether that life belongs to oneself or to others. It must involve disciplining the mind,
so that one will not give in to the mind’s wanton desires and tendencies. It must
involve a willingness to make sacrifice for more noble goals. It must involve devotion
and concentration.

Unlike spiritual practice, however, religious practices can be divergent and conflicting.
Thus a Jew would eat only kosher meals and would abide by the Jewish holy days. A
Muslim would refrain from eating pork and would pray 5 times a day respectfully
facing the direction of Mecca. A Christian observes Good Friday and Christmas and
goes to church on Sundays. A Buddhist reads Buddhist sutras and chants mantras. A
Hindu draws spiritual guidance from the Vedas. A Taoist (Daoist) follows Taoist rituals.
A Shinto follower would pay reverence to a Shinto God. These diverse religious
practices and rituals reflect the richness of the human culture and traditions in different
lands among different peoples and should not become barriers and causes of conflict
among their different adherents. Unfortunately, most people tend to regard other
religions as alien, and historically the religions from different cultures have contested
for supremacy, even to the extent of fighting and killing the adherents of other religions.

Unlike religion, which is a kind of human institution, spirituality is universal. Going
back to and considering only their essential spiritual teachings rather than their
ritualistic manifestations and theologies, the great religions of the world are not much
different from one another. To live out the spiritual practice handed down to us by our
ancient spiritual teachers, we need, of course, to respect the traditions and religious
practices of others, and equally we should take comfort in respecting and following our
own. In so far as we are truthful and honest with ourselves, each of us is on a journey
that is uniquely adapted to his own life and stage of spiritual development.

Such essential spiritual practice, unfortunately, would be impossible if we take the
teachings of our respective “holy books” literally. In the Old Testament, for example,
the first of the Ten Commandments asks of its readers: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou
shalt not have other gods before me.” Reading the scriptures literally, paying worship
to a Shinto God or a Hindu deity would violate the first commandment. The Old
Testament says Jehovah is the Creator of the universe and all living things known to us

Page 94

Religiions and Spirituality 94


including ourselves. This is in violation with the Buddhist belief and denial that there
is a Creator and universal Lord that rules the universe. But these “teachings” need to be
understood spiritually rather than literally. Once we have done that, there will be no
contradiction between the different teachings.

We have to appreciate that all the “holy books” of the world had their origins in their
different cultural historical contexts and really should not be read literally. To read the
Bible literally we would be making a fool of ourselves. As we all know, day and night
are the results of the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun. So God could not have
created the universe in seven days as described in the Book of Genesis, since there had
to be the sun and the earth before even the concept of the day makes sense.

Instead of reading the Bible literally, we need to read between the lines and to seek
spiritual guidance. In any case, what does “worshipping God” mean? If we understand
worshipping God means being thankful for what we have, being generous and thus
willing to share with others what we have, being truthful, and lending an ear to our
inner conscience which is God’s voice, someone who draws spiritual guidance from the
Bible need not have objection to someone else who prays to a Shinto God.

Living in the 21st

century, we should understand that natural calamities do not represent
God’s punishment for sinners, as suggested by the Bible. The tidal wave that struck the
shores of the Indian Ocean in December 2004 killed people of different religions and
cultures indiscriminately. Similarly, the hurricanes that struck the shores of Florida in
the summer of 2004 killed indiscriminately and ruined the homes of different religious
backgrounds. These forces of nature are telling us that we all live in the same world
and are all in the same boat. There is no presumption that if you pray to Allah or the
God of the Christian Bible or if you pray to the Hindu Gods you would be spared. Just
as natural disasters will not differentiate us based on our religious beliefs, so the
blessings of a mild weather and much needed rain nourish us without making any
distinction based on our religious beliefs. We were all born and we will all die. We
were all born into different circumstances and different cultural backgrounds and we
will all die from different causes. The important thing that really determines the quality
of our existence is whether or not we follow the spiritual teachings of truthfulness,
honesty, humility, and loving kindness.

Thus notwithstanding the divergent religions of the world we can all follow the same
spiritual practice, the only true spiritual practice there is. We can all benefit from such
practice just as in the biblical story all those who one time attended Jesus’ sermon—a
big crowd it was reported—separately got their fill when he asked them to share five
loafs and two fish, the only food that they had. The world will become more united and
peaceful, and people can live more happily and harmoniously together.��

Similer Documents