Individual suffering, resulting from desire and comparison, as well as societal ills such as theft, both find remedy in verse three of the Dao De Jing.
The Master leads by emptying people's minds and filling their cores, by weakening their ambition and toughening their resolve.
Tr: Stephen Mitchell
Stephen Mitchell’s translation of 圣人 as ‘master’ feels a little lofty, and the often-used direct translation of ‘sage’ is a little dated, which is one of the reasons I liked Brian Browne Walker’s translation, where ‘wise person’ points to a trait attainable by all. At a time in Chinese history when Confucianism provided moral “cures for civilization” through strict rules governing social interaction, the Dao De Jing didn’t oppose a top-down doctrine, but rather presented individuals with pointers to help them recognize their own connection with the universe. This individualist approach is one of the reasons the text is so accessible to us today. Its teachings fit with the ideas we have around creating our own reality - the idea of each person’s reality being constructed within the bounds of their consciousness.
When exotic goods are traded and treasured, the compulsion to steal is felt.
Tr: Brian Browne Walker
Seen through the lens of current materialism, its clear that highly-prized goods and comparison with others do cause emotional, spiritual and financial suffering. And the advice given in verse three - to practice detachment - seems sound. Becoming aware of our desires and watching our thoughts, means that we will be better placed to practice non-action and curb the manipulation we endure from dopamine-loop-driven systems.
My response to verse three was to create a series of manipulated digital photographs with particular sections - products, adverts or objects of desire - censored using pixelation. Some of the images feature expensive products such as cars, which are over-priced in China and highly-prized, and often considered as prerequisite items when proposing marriage. But I found it interesting that other pixelated material, such as the toys and nick-knacks on display at a children’s flea market, also trigger in us that response to buy, consume, posses.
I also really enjoyed the action of pixelating the objects, the process of censorship. The resulting images are a collection of very everyday photos, at once colourful, but unsympathetic in the information they reveal. And its interesting to note that the desire we have as a species to consume, is in many ways very similar to the desire we have to know, to want to understand, to need to get all of the information.
It's the compulsive need to answer unanswerable questions that is, in Taoist philosophy, the mind's great dysfunction.
And so the images i’ve presented here can be used as tools for your own practice of detachment and the ‘conquering of your own cunning.’
翻译家斯蒂芬·米切尔（Stephen Mitchell）把此章节的“圣人”翻译为“master”，给现在英语读者一种过于高远的感觉，而另外比较普遍的翻译“sage”则挺老式，因此我蛮喜欢布赖恩·布朗·沃克（Brian Browne Walker）的翻译方式，他把“圣人”翻译成“wise person”（智者），指出所了有人可以习得的一个特质。在孔子思想派推出严格的社会法规时，《道德经》则没采用自上而下的层级规定，而给了大家比较客观的启示，让读者意识到个人跟宇宙的奥妙关系。