" When nothing is done, nothing is left undone, is nonsensical.
Anything not done is left undone. Think about it--its like the
sound of one hand clapping--try it, its not as loud but it still
makes sound when it occurs....
LaoTsu did not recommend laziness or inactivity. That's the problem
with the translation.... ."
I experience great pleasure when I read discussions about the Tao Teh
Ching... one of the 1st manuals on Personal Mastery and on implementing
Learning Organizations, perhaps...
I passed one the happiest periods in my life working on an original
translation of this book with Titus Yu, now living in Berkely. Having
examined about 40 different translations of this book, a striking
observation emerged for me. For several translations I was personally
aware of someone who regarded it as the "best" translation, even though it
was clear that there were significant differences, and major errors in my
view, between them. It became very clear that those translations by
people who only knew the Chinese language, let alone the language as
spoken 2500 years ago, were not very good. Moreover, it also became
clear, that unless the translator had personal knowledge of the deep
distinctions being made by this book, their renderings would not
In Gia Fu Feng's (and Jane English') case, with verse 48, I agree with
Charles that the line "When nothing is done, nothing is left undone." is
rendered poorly. The problem arises in rendering a subtle distinction
which Lao Tse makes a lot in that book. It is a distinction around what
is often rendered as "non-doing" or "non-acting". Behind this is an
ultimate meaning which is being pointed to indirectly, because as the text
itself says, it is pointless to try to say it in words; this meaning is
sometimes called "non-duality". Non-duality is not to be confused with
Oneness which evokes its own opposite, but rather with both the One and
the Many, while yet neither.
Unfortunately, there is a tendency to want to render a single Chinese
character by a single English word, a process which cannot do justice to
either language. The characters have multi-levelled meanings in the
original, which like in the West, have gradually diminished over the
centuries (like going from the Aramaic of Jesus words, to the Greek and
onto modern English). Hence, "non-doing" is not "the doing of nothing",
in the original meaning. It is a doing which is without forcing, without
a personal goal or agenda; it is without the influence of
ego-identifications. But what kind of English word or short phrase can
render this?? Improvising with non-doing obviously leads to
misunderstandings unless the distinction and special use of that ancient
Chinese term (actually 2 characters) is made.
"Taoists are peculiar people, I know a few and they are extremely
powerful with what they know--they are hardly non-doers. They are
instead controllers of natural forces unknown to most people...."
Hence, the meaning I came to understand here in our own translation, was
that this Verse alludes to the process of step by step letting go of
action which comes with personal agendas and identifications. A Taoist
who does this consistently over many years, is able to eventually act out
of their alignment with the Totality of the Universe... and hence, with
the power which Charles Barclay describes (but it is not control or
The point of all of this for Learning Organizations, is that this verse
from the Tao Teh Ching is speaking of how to get into alignment with the
Universe, the natural flow of the Tao. It is just as valid for someone
wanting to work with personal mastery in the transformation of an
organization into a learning organization. Getting into actual alignment
with the way the system and the people actually work, rather than mouthing
or thinking a ritualized incantation of words from a mission statement, is
the direction being pointed to.
-- Doug Seeley: compuserve 100433,133... Fax: +41 22 756 3957 InterDynamics Pty. Ltd. (Australia) in Geneva, Switzerland "Integrity is not merely an ideal; it is the only reality."