Chapter 12

五色令人目盲,

五音令人耳聋,

五味令人口爽,

驰骋畋猎令人心发狂,

难得之货令人行妨。

是以圣人,

為腹不為目,

故去彼取此

The eyes of the person gone wild on the five sights, are blind.

The ears of the person driven wild by the five cries, are deaf.

The taste of the person driven wild by the five savours is intoxicated.

The mind of the person driven wild by the chase is crazy.

The practice of a person driven wild by rare goods is hindered

Therefore the sage acts from the belly, not from the eye;

Dying to the one, he chooses the other.

COMMENTARY

The text favours a simple, down to earth life. When hungry, eat. When cold, chop wood and make a fire. When tired, sleep. This is to act from the belly. The basic instincts perform their task and we should attend to them. They are a reliable guide.

There is a tendency in translating texts into modern languages to introduce our scientific bias, but in doing so we lose some of the flavour and animation of the original text. For instance, the first three lines mention sight, sound and taste, but we should take this as referring to all the senses. The first line literally says “Five colour compelled man eyes blind”. Colour, however, has the same double sense as it does in English, as when we say, for instance, that a person led a colourful life and the characters 色令 taken as a unit mean “to lose one's head” over something.

It may well be that there is no intention here to make reference to a list of five sounds or a list of five tastes; the five may simply be an abbreviation for five senses. In any case, the general meaning is clear enough, that there are innumerable things that can lead to us getting carried away into states in which we lose all sense of proportion and cease to experience things as they actually are. The sage is one who lets these intoxications die away so as to return to a more sane and sober life.

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