Shen Dao in the Daodejing

Text of Shen Dao.

Translation of Shen Dao (slightly different text.)

Many passages in the Daodejing remarkably resemble passages in Shen Dao. The dating of the Daodejing (which was produced in stages) is only approximate (roughly 350 BC to 250 BC is my guess), and the dating of Shen Dao is also uncertain, though he is thought to have  flourished sometime before 300 BC, making him senior to the final contributors to the Daodejing.

In this piece I have assumed that these late contributors to were responding to and developing themes found in Shen Dao. I think that it’s more likely that the Daodejing philosophizes practical wisdom from sources like Shen Dao, Shen Buhai, and Sunzi than it is that the pure truths of philosophy informed political and military strategy. Furthermore, some passages in the Daodejing seem to assume and refer back to fuller statements in Shen Dao. The Daodejing does not necessarily perfectly agree with Shen Dao said; I only claim that the Daodejing author was familiar with the works of Shen Dao and developed them.

Below are seven groups of parallel passages, followed by my conclusions. 

資苞畜

Cherish your materials

Thompson (p. 527) recognizes the relationship between Shen Tao F35 and chapter 27 of the Daodejing. This is one of the cases when the expression of a theme in the Daoedejiing seems to refer back to a fuller statement of the theme elsewhere,  in Shen Dao in this case. The use of the same key words in all four passages makes coincidence almost impossible.

是以大君因民之能為資

盡苞而畜之

無去取焉

So the great ruler accepts the people’s capacities as his material , and protects and cares for all of them without favoring or rejecting any.

Shen Dao F35

是以聖人常善救人

故無棄人….

不善人者善人之資

Hence the sage is always good at saving people, and so abandons no one…. the bad man is the material for the good man.

Daodejing chapter 27

大國不過欲兼畜人

Thus all the great state wants is to care for others”

Daodejing  chapter 61

善人之寶

不善人之所保

人之不善何棄之有

 [Tao] is the treasure of the good man and that by which the bad man is protected ….  Even if a man is not good, should he be abandoned? 

Daodejing  chapter 62

NOTE: 苞, 寶, and保  were all pronounced similarly, and their meanings are related and overlapping.  苞 and 保 may stand for exactly the same word. (Sunzi XIII p. 164: 君之寶).

Loyalty / Dedication

忠 is usually translated “loyalty”. That is often but not always its meaning (see Goldin, 2008). In many contexts it means something like “conscientiousness” or “diligence” or “attentiveness” and even “fervor”. In my opinion the best single translation is “dedication / dedicated”, which overlaps with both conscientiousness and loyalty.

The general point being made is not dependent on the translation:  The problem with loyalty / diligence is that it cannot save a badly-ordered state, so that if such a state relies on loyal and heroically diligent ministers to save it, it will fail. A well-run state does not need to rely on exceptional efforts: if ordinary men correctly do their assigned tasks, that will be enough. If a state needs to rely on heroic effort, that is a sign that it is in trouble.

忠盈天下

害及其國

If loyalty fills the world, harm comes to the state.

Shen Dao H54

由是觀之忠未足以救亂世而適足以重非。

This shows us that loyalty is not enough to save a chaotic age, but instead can be something that multiplies its problems.

Shen Dao H49

國家昏亂有忠臣.

When the state is in chaos, then you have loyalministers.

Daodejing, chapter 18

Beyond that, heroically loyal ministers are a kind of worthy 賢 and might become usurpers. In we read:

將治亂在乎賢使任職而不在於忠也

The ordering of disorder lies in worthy (賢) officers accepting their assignments, and not in their loyalty  忠.  

Shen Dao H54

For a worthy to accept his assignments is to accept subordination and to limit himself to the performance of specifically assigned tasks, rather than to heroic efforts and passionate devotion to the prince. For Shen Dao and the Legalists this is the road to order, whereas reliance on loyal ministers and worthies are the roads to contention and disorder. The Daodejing ’s  idea of order is far different than the Legalists’, but they are alike in rejecting heroic striving. (More on worthies here).

Wisdom and cleverness

The word智  “wise / wisdom” is a little uncertain, sometimes meaning “wise” and other times merely “clever” or “learned”. Both the Daodejing  and Shen Dao are ambivalent about智, in some places rejecting or doubting wisdom and the wise, and in others accepting and praising them. In the negative passages, the wise, the loyal and the worthies are associated as virtuous but problematic players.

道理匱則慕賢智

慕賢智則國家之政要在一人之心矣。

When the principles of government are lost, people look to the worthies (賢) and the wise (智); if the worthies and the wise are relied on, the state’s major decisions are left to the discretion of a single man.

Shen Dao C20.

智慧出有大偽

When wisdom and cleverness arise, you get the great deception.

Daodejing   chapter 18

絕聖棄智民利百倍

Cut off the Sage, get rid of the wise, and the people will benefit a hundredfold.

Daodejing   chapter 19

私親

Selfishness and nepotism

With almost no exceptions except Yang Zhu and his followers, Chinese philosophies denigrate selfishness. The Daodejing and Shen Dao are no exception. Shen Dao goes a step further and also is suspicious of family feeling 親 when it interferes with government by leading to corruption, nepotism, and internal power struggles. For him all private initiative by state officials of the state is also selfish 私,and one of his forms of selfishness is private benevolence 私善 — when individual officials on their own initiative use public resources to do good.

Shen Dao’s principles in this respect are much like those of Mozi, for whom governmental actions should decided within a public 公 , impersonal, top-down decision-making procedure and passed down a chain of command.  This is far different than the system proposed by Confucius and Mencius, in which personal benevolence and family considerations were legitimate and influential, making Confucians government throughout history highly susceptible to graft and nepotism and inefficient for the attainment of any particular public goal.

The political parts of the  Daodejing take an attitude similar to that of Shen Dao, but in the passage from Chapter 7 we see a different, more mystical kind of selflessness oriented more towards personal self-cultivation than to the political order. Shen Dao apparently had a mystical side, which is described in the “Under Heaven” chapter of Zhuangzi, but there’s little evidence of this side of Shen Dao in the text reconstructed by Thompson.

無勞之親不任於官

官不私親

Do not appoint lazy relatives to office, and do not let officials favor their own relatives

Shen Dao K67

故有道之國法立則私善不行

In a state following Dao, the law is established so that private benevolence 私善 does not develop. (私議in the linked text: private or secret discussions, perhaps conspiracies).

Shen Dao L77

凡立公所以棄私也

In every case a public form is established, and private codes rejected.

Shen Dao D73

天道無親

常與善人

The Dao of heaven has no kin ; it’s always with the good man.

Daodejing  chapter 79

見素抱樸

少私寡欲

Exhibit plainness, embrace simplicity, reduce selfishness and make the desires few.

Daodejing  chapter 19.

非以其無私耶

故能成其私

Is it not because he is selfless? Thus he can perfect himself.

Daodejing , chapter 7.

The Sea

The rivers and the sea, and water in general, are recurring themes in Chinese philosophy —  in the Daodejing above all, but not only there:

海與山爭水

海必得之

When the sea and the mountain fight for water, the sea always wins.

Shen Dao E101

譬道之在天下

猶川谷之於江海

The way is to the world as the river and the sea are to rivulets and streams.  

Daodejing   chapter 32

Therefore the big rivers do not despise the little brooks as tributaries.

Mozi, Ch. I, “Qin Shi”

For people’s attitude toward profit is just like the tendency of water to flow downwards, without preference for any of the four sides.

Shang Yang, Book V, Duyvendak tr. P. 316

Shen Dao’s may be the first statement of this common theme (the first chapter of Mozi is eclectic and probably late). Confucius and Mencius thought quite differently about low-lying areas, which is where filth gathers.

Anger

There’s nothing much to say about these two passages, which say about the same thing.

有勇不以怒

反與怯均也.

If one possesses courage one does not act in anger but behaves as though one were cowardly. Shen Dao M112

善為士者不武

善戰者不怒.

One who excels as a warrior does not seem formidable; one who excels in fighting is never roused in anger .

Daodejing,  chapter 67

不害

No harm

The phrase 不害 “does not harm” comes from the Yijing, but at some point it became a theme in descriptions of the Sage 聖人.  I have discussed this here, arguing that the stress on the harmlessness of the Sage and of Dao was probably a trace of an ancestral Sage, not necessarily benign, of the shaman / wizard type.

故聖人處上能無害人

The Sage in high position does not harm men.

Shen Dao A5

是以聖人處前而民不害

Therefore the sage takes the lead but the people suffer no harm.

Daodejing  chapter 66

天之道利而不害

The Dao of Heaven benefits and does not harm.

Daodejing  chapter 81

Conclusion

Of the 11 chapters of the Daodejing in which I have found echoes of Shen Dao, only one, chapter 32, is in contemplative, less-political layer of the text, and the theme in this chapter is very widespread in Chinese philosophy and not usually identified with Shen Dao. The other ten are found in the more-political parts of the book, either in the section which I think was last added (chapters 67, 79, and 81 in chapters 67-81) or in the remainder of the book, which I have not yet looked at closely (chapters 7, 18, 19, 61, 62, and 66).  These chapters form the core of  what I call the strategic layer of the Daodejing, a subtle and distinctly different approach to politics, government, and life.

Bibliography

John Emerson, “A translation of Thompson’s Shen Dao, http://haquelebac.wordpress.com/2011/09/11/a-translation-of-thompson%E2%80%99s-shen-dao/

Paul R. Goldin, “Persistent Misconceptions about Chinese ‘Legalism’”,  Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Volume 38, Issue 1, pages 88–104, March 2011

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-6253.2010.01629.x/full

Paul R. Goldin,   “When Zhong Does Not Mean ‘Loyalty’”, Dao, vol. 7, pp. 165-174, 2008.

Chad Hansen, Shen Dao, http://www.hku.hk/philodep/ch/shendao.htm

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, tr. Lau, Hong Kong Chinese U., 1982.

Vitaly Rubin, “Shen Tao and Fa-Chia”, JAOS, Vol. 94, #3, 1974, pp. 227-346. (http://www.jstor.org/pss/600068 )

Shen Dao, Chinese Text project.

P. M. Thompson,  The Shen Tzu Fragments, Oxford, 1979.

P.M. Thompson, A Translation of the Shen Tzu Fragments, vol. 3 of unpublished dissertation, U. Washington, Seattle.

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Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. My two cents.

    Haven’t you left 兼 untranslated in Laozi 61?

    With regards to Zhong 忠, must there be a connotation of exceptional or heroic effort? I know it helps with interpreting Shen Dao’s point, but couldn’t 忠 refers to an inner devotion to one’s lord, which, if not backed up by actually doing one’s duties, is useless? This is what I take from H54.

    re: “The Dao of heaven has no kin (天道無親)”

    This is an interesting translation, and gets the point across. You may be aware that this is a variation of a famous (and old) Shangshu passage.

    re: “Is it not because he is selfless? Thus he can perfect himself” (非以其無私耶故能成其私)

    I find this translation masks the meaning, that is, it should be “Is it not because he is without 私; Thus he can perfect his 私?”

    You’ve mispelled Daodejing a bunch of times. ;-)

  2. It’s been awhile, but anyway.

    I find 兼 tricky. Most translations skip it. “The large state only wants to nurture all men….[all others? all other states???]. That doesn’t seem right to me.

    My interpretation of 忠 is (per se) possible but not necessary, I think. My translation choice is based on my understanding of Shen Dao. The move to routinization, clearly defined tasks, and interchangeable officials is pretty central to his message. As I understand it, 忠 is suspect for three reasons: it doesn’t necessarily include competence or skill, it depends on the feelings of the loyal officer, which can change, and as a personal virtue, it can serve (along with other virtues and powers) to elevate the officer’s prestige to the point that he’s a threat to the throne.

    • Cleary, Wagner, Roberts, Red Pine, Hinton, Hall & Ames, Huang, Chan, Henricks, Legge, Mair, Lafargue, and Lynn all translate 兼, some as “unite” and some as “annex.” Lin Yutang’s “shelter” might include both 兼 and 畜.

  3. I’ll concede the 兼, which I was trying to read as a grammatical particle rather than a full verb.


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