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5 The Dao of Heaven and the Dao of Man



The distinction between the Dao of Heaven and the Dao of man is set out in striking contrast. The former demonstrates itself as a symbol of naturalness, selflessness and equality in a virtuous sense, according to Lao Zi. It is therefore viewed as a measurement or frame of reference for the latter. The respective services and differences of the two are basically reflected in chapters 77 and 79 (DDJ).

5.1 (Chapter 77)
Does not the Dao of Heaven resemble the drawing of a bow?[1]
When the string is taut, press it down.
When it is low, raise it up.
When it is excessive, reduce it.
When it is insufficient, supplement it.
The Dao of Heaven reduces whatever is excessive
And supplements whatever is insufficient. [2]
The Dao of man does the opposite.
It reduces the insufficient
And adds more to the excessive.[3]
Who is able to have a surplus to offer to the world?
Only the one who has the Dao.[4]
The sage does not accumulate for himself.
The more he shares with others, the more he possesses.[5]
The more he gives to others, the richer he becomes.[6]
The Dao of Heaven benefits all things and causes no harm.
The Dao of the sage acts for others but never competes with them .[7]

Annotations:
[1] By "the drawing of a bow" is allegorically meant the process of drawing a bow while aiming an arrow at a target, which requires some form of corresponding adjustment described subsequently by Lao Zi as an illustration of how the Dao of Heaven works.
[2] Lao Zi arrives at this conclusion from his intuitive as well as empirical observation of natural phenomena. In his eyes, such phenomena as the transition from day to night, the succession of the four seasons, the life and death of all beings, etc., appear to feature paradoxically antithesis and identity, in addition to equality and unity. Viewed from an immediate perspective, they all seem to be naturally or spontaneously what they are instead of being forced or dominated by an external power. Hence Lao Zi generalizes this situation as the Dao of Heaven for it corresponds to his philosophy of "following the way of spontaneity" and "take-no-action."
[3] This depiction intends to show in contrast how the Dao of man as a social law or code of human conduct functions and differs from the Dao of Heaven. This can be traced back to the historical background of the Spring and Autumn Period (722-481 B.C.) in ancient China, when conflicts and clashes were of frequent occurrence, actually stirred up by desires for more land, power and property. Therefore, Lao Zi reveals the Dao of man from a critical viewpoint.
[4] In many Chinese versions of the Dao De Jing, the rest of the text from this line onward is included in Chapter 81. We rearrange it here according to a contextual analysis and with regard to possible misplacement of the separable bamboo slips on which the original texts were inscribed in Lao Zi's day (also see Gu Di and Zhou Ying. Lao Zi Tong, pp. 594-604). The "Dao" (in quotes) refers to the Dao of Heaven as advocated by Lao Zi.
[5] and [6] These are the virtues of a man in harmony with the Dao or a Daoist sage. They could be relevantly comprehended from the actual effects of moral education and universal love.
[7] "The Dao of the sage" is a contextual rendering of the Chinese term sheng ren zhi dao in the original text.

Commentary:
From his intuitive and empirical observation of natural phenomena, such as transition and change, motion and replacement, growth and decline, rise and fall, and life and death of all beings in the world, Lao Zi comes to the conclusion that there is such a thing as the Dao of Heaven, which, in its function as the law of nature, lets all things be what they can be and become what they can become without imposing, dominating or taking any action. The Dao of Heaven is the heart of the universe that keeps all things in balance.
Then, based on his observation of the reality of that chaotic competitive and harsh age in which he lived, rent by repeated clashes and wars between the kingdoms, Lao Zi delineates the Dao of man as a general social law or code of human conduct similar to the "law of the jungle." He postulates rapacity and possessiveness as fundamental characteristics of the Dao of man.
According to Lao Zi's thought as a whole, the Dao of man itself, if practiced and worshiped, will surely excite insatiable greed and desires for more possessions; this will inevitably lead to exploitation of man by man and class discrimination, and then to inter-personal clashes and struggles, and eventually to social disorder and suffering.... In a word, it is conducive to a vicious circle. That is why it must be condemned and abandoned.

 

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