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Wen-tzu | Understanding the Mysteries | 156


Lao-tzu said:

In matters of learning, if you can understand the division between the celestial and the human, penetrate the roots of order and confusion, keep this awareness by clarifying the mind and purifying the attention, see the end and the beginning, and return to open non-reification, this can be called attainment.

The roots of order are humaneness and justice; the branches of order are laws and regulations. Human life is based on the roots, not on the branches. The roots and the branches are one body; their duality is in the nature of preference. Those who give priority to the roots before the branches are called superior people; those who give priority to the branches before the roots are called petty people.

Laws are originated to assist justice; to take laws so seriously that justice is abandoned is to value the hat and shoes while forgetting the head and feet.

Humanness and justice are broad and high. If you extend the breadth of something without increasing its thickness, it breaks; if you increase the height of a building without broadening its foundation, it topples. So if you do not make the beams large, they cannot sustain heavy weights. For bearing a heavy weight, nothing compares to a beam; for bearing responsibility for a nation, nothing compares to virtue.

The people are to a ruler as a foundation of a citadel, as the roots are to a tree. If the roots are deep, the tree is stable; if the foundation is thick, the building on top is secure.

So whatever business is not rooted in the virtue of the Way cannot be taken as a norm; words that do not accord the ancient kings cannot be taken as a guide. The art of facile talk picking up on a single deed or a single work is not the comprehensive Way for the world.

Translated by Thomas Cleary

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