Book Review

The Practical Tao

October 31, 2018

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi

The Tao has two halves, it would seem. The chapters in the Tao Te Ching ("Book of the Way,") alternate between those describing the internal workings of the Tao itself - the unseeable, unknowable - and those describing how the external world works.

The Tao Te Ching, which appeared in the 6th Century D.C., could have been authored by Laozi or it could be the work of many hands. But those principles it offers about the world feel lucid and universally applicable.

The following quotes are taken from Stephen Mitchell's recent translation of Tao Te Ching. This group is not so much about the Tao itself, but how the Tao is reflected out in the world. They are, IMHO, the best place to learn of the subtle but powerful forces on life that Laozi (and company) teaches.

“He allows things to come and go, his heart is open as the sky.”

“We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.”

“Can you step back from your own mind, and thus understand all things?”

“Can you love people, and lead them, without imposing your will?”

“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi

“Naming is the origin of all particular things.”

Free from desire, you realize the mystery; caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source: darkness.

“The Tao doesn’t take sides, it gives birth to both good and evil.”

“When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.”

“If you over-esteem great men, people become powerless; If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.”

“For every force, there is a counter-force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi

“He who rushes ahead, doesn’t go far.”

“If you want to be reborn, let yourself die”

“When the body’s intelligence declines, cleverness and knowledge step forth.”

“Weapons are the tools of fear. A decent man will avoid them, except in the direst necessity, and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint.”

“...And the law would be written in their hearts.”

“When you have names and forms, know that they are provisional. When you have institutions, know where their functions should end.”

“If you realize you have enough, you are truly rich.”

“If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.”

“The moral man does something, and when no one responds, he rolls up his sleeves, and uses force.”

"The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish."

"The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world."

"When you realize there nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you."

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi

"Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe."

"The more you know the less you understand."

*"He holds nothing back from life, therefore he is ready for death, as a man is ready for sleep after a good day's work."

"If you close your mind in judgments, and traffic with desires, your heart will be troubled."

"Those who know don't talk. Those who talk don't know."

"Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself."

"The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be."

"Try to make people happy, you lay the groundwork for misery. Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice."

"The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas."

*"He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts."

"Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them. Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe."

"If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them."

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi

*"The best athlete wants his opponent at his best."

*"There's no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy. Underestimating your enemy means thinking that he is evil."

"Not knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease."

"Plants are born tender and pliant. Dead, they are brittle and dry."

"Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet, for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it."

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom”

"I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures."

"When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion. When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority."

"If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to."

Translation from Stephen Mitchell's interpretation of the Tao Te Ching:

The sculpture of Isamu Noguchi Accompanying photos are of the sculpture from Isamu Noguchi, taken at the Noguchi Museum.