The Great Myths #47: Sacred Language & the Limitation of Words (Taoism)

Two chapters from the Tao Te Ching, and each in three different translations, on the limitations of even the best words:

Tao Te Ching #70

My sayings are very easy to recognize,
and very easy to apply.
But no one in the world can recognize them,
and no one can apply them.
Sayings have a source,
events have a leader.
It is only through ignorance
that I am not known.
Those who know me are rare;
those who emulate me are noble.
This is why sages dress plainly,
and conceal what is precious.

– Thomas Cleary

 

My words are easy to understand
and easy to practice
but no one understands them
or puts them into practice
words have an ancestor
deeds have a master
the reason I’m not understood
it’s me who isn’t understood
but because so few understand me
thus am I esteemed
sages therefore wear coarse cloth
and keep their jade concealed

– Red Pine

 

What we say is easy to know
And easy to do,
But the world does not know its worth
And does not act upon it.
Though we speak with an ancestral sanction
And serve on high authority,
Yet this remains unknown
And so we remain unknown.
And the less that we are known,
More precious our followers.
For this reason men of wisdom
Wear rough garb and the gem in the heart.

– Moss Roberts

 


Tao Te Ching #81

True words are not beautiful,
beautiful words are not true.
The good are not argumentative,
the argumentative are not good.
Knowers do not generalize,
generalists do not know.
Sages do not accumulate anything
but give everything to others,
having more the more they give.
The Way of heaven
helps and does not harm.
The Way for humans
is to act without contention.

– Thomas Cleary

 

True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true
the good aren’t eloquent
the eloquent aren’t good
the wise aren’t learned
the learned aren’t wise
sages accumulate nothing
but the more they do for others
the greater their existence
the more they give to others
the greater their abundance
the Way of Heaven
is to help without harming
the Way of the Sage
is to act without struggling

– Red Pine

Words to trust are not refined.
Words refined are not to trust.
Good men are not gifted speakers.
Gifted speakers are not good.
Experts are not widely learned;
The widely learned are not expert.

Wise rulers for themselves keep naught,
Yet gain by having done for all,
Have more for having freely shared;
Do good not harm is heaven’s Way;
The wise act for and not against.

– Moss Roberts