The Taoist Trader: Tao Te Ching (Chapter 3)
Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.
The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies,
By weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not
Try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.
( By Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English)
Marxism before Marx
Unfortunately, this chapter reads more like a political text for manipulating people than a spiritual treatise. It appears to be espousing a Marxist philosophy. “Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling” could mean not rewarding excellence or talent. Have people embrace a false equality to avoid intra-psychic, interpersonal, and societal conflict. “Not collecting treasures prevents stealing” could mean no one should have any more money than anyone else. “Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart” reminds me of one way present-day North Korea controls its people.
“The reason that people were forced to live in the countryside during Mao’s Cultural Revolution was so that they could learn from the peasants. What is it that the peasants were supposed to teach them? China’s antiquated agricultural techniques? Of course not! City people were supposed to learn how to become members of a society with relatively little change” (Marx’s Dream – China’s Nightmare by George Jochnowitz).
Speaking of a more modern China, Jochnowitz states, “Marxism may be dead, but its ghost rules a billion Chinese.”
“The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies.” Even though other translations talk about “emptying minds” rather than “emptying hearts,” it is still more Marxist thought (before Marx even lived and developed his ideas, a precursor to China’s embracing of Marxism?). In this context, “emptying minds” could mean “Don’t think for yourself!” “Let the government think for you.” “Emptying hearts” could mean “Don’t believe in spirituality or religion.” The State is God. “If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.” No possible change of government.
I could have said like Stephen Mitchell that “emptying people’s minds” means “He empties them of concepts, judgments and desires. Thus they can return to a state of child-like simplicity” (tao te ching ; A new English Version by Stephan Mitchell, p. 87). But that would not be doing justice to chapter three’s text.
A Political Text or a Spiritual Text?
Some people believe the Tao Te Ching was a political text.
“The tomb texts are inherently interesting and apparently suggest that the Tao Te Ching was originally conceived, at least by some interpretive schools, as a political text rather than the Taoist voyage of self-cultivation and metaphysical discovery it has long been considered” (the Tao of War by Wang Chen and Ralph D. Sawyer, p. 7).
I think the Tao Te Ching is a creation of both political and spiritual influences. And we should treat it as such.