Verse 3 - Weaken the Ambition, Strengthen the Bones

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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.

Damien Walter


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.’




是以圣人之治,虚其心,实其腹, 弱其志,强其骨


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。




通过现代唯物主义可以很明显的看到,高价物品和跟其他人做攀比确实导致感性、灵性和财务的苦难。第三章的建议——实行“无欲”,听起来很有道理。我们越发觉自己的欲望、观察我们的思维,我们越能够实行无为,且更好地约束现代的多巴胺环从动系统(dopamine-loop-driven systems)。





达米安·沃尔特(Damien Walter)


Verse 2 – Recognise Beauty and Ugliness is Born

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When the world speaks of beauty as being beautiful, ugliness is at once defined.

(Walter Gorn Old)

Here we learn that everything is relative – that there are no absolutes. It’s only in describing something as easy that the idea of difficult is created. And we’re told that by recognising this fact, and moving away from our subjective viewpoints, we’re able to employ ‘Non-action’ - the Daoist concept of ‘action without action’ or ‘effortless doing’.

Non-action (wu-wei 无为 in Chinese) is often erroneously understood as passivity. However, its better understood as taking just the right action at just the right time. Stephen Mitchell writes:

A good athlete can enter a state of body-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. This is a paradigm for non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can't tell the dancer from the dance.

Through non-action, we allow things run their course, trusting in the natural processes that govern all things; and thereby moving closer to serenity and ultimately yielding the benefits our striving minds would have had us take miscalculated action to try and achieve.

I was inspired to create this piece in response to verse two when I came across an abandoned painting that had ended up in my apartment building’s waste area. It reminded me immediately of a different translation of the opening lines, which reads:

When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.

(John C. H. Wu)

In this reading of the ancient characters, a universal aesthetic standard is condemned, and beauty can be defined not by a common ugliness, but by a myriad of other individual definitions of beauty.

I decided to take action by hanging the painting on the wall of the dump where it was found. In doing so I like to think I’ve subtly re-evaluated its and the dump’s beauty, in some way.

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第二章 - 斯恶已


有时候,人们把“无为”误解为一个过分被动、懦弱、不能采取任何行为的概念。但它更加是指随时能够采取最合适的行为来面对事情的一种意识的状态。翻译家史蒂芬·米切尔(Stephen Mitchell)形容“无为”如下:




 When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.


译:John C. H. Wu