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P'u is usually translated uncarved block, although I think this discussion makes a good point. I think a better translation would be simple (but I don't know Chinese and would like to research this more). My sense, is that p'u can also be used to mean childlike.

Connection to YHWH[edit]

I think there is a deep connection between the concept of p'u and God's response to Moses in Ex 3:14, "I AM THAT I AM." (I found this essay discussing this connection, though I don't think it fully explains what I have in mind.) I think God's response to Moses suggests not only that God transcends our ability to name or define (cf. Adam's naming the plants and animals and having dominion over them), but I think there's a certain child-like simplicity connoted by the name that also relates it to the concept of divine unity. Put in Taoist terms, becoming one with God is to be one with the way (Tao).

Quotes on p'u[edit]

  • Two Visions of the Way by Alan K. L. Chan (1991, ISBN 0791404560), pp. 67-8.
. . . [I]n Wang Pi's commentary wu is also applied metaphorically to the notion of the "uncarved bloc" (p'u). For example, Wang Pi writes:
The way is formless and without ties, constant and annot be name. . . . The "uncarved block" is something with wu as its heart; it is also nameless. Thus if one wishes to reach the Way, there is nothing better than to keep the "uncarved block."
The emphasis of this passage, as the remainder of the commentary on this chapter even more clearly indicates, is on how to obtain the Way. It also explains why the "uncarved block" is an appropriate symbol for the Tao, for it is untouched by what is not "naturally so." The notion of p'u, in other words, signifies a kind of utter simplicity that transcends the world of human action and desires. . . .
  • The Shambhala Dictionary of Taoism by Ingrid Fischer-Schreiber (translated by Werner Wunscher, 1996, ISBN 1570622035), p. 126.
P'u Chin., lit. "rough timber, an unhewn block"; simplicity, plainness, innocence. A symbol used by Lao-tzu in the Tao te ching to describe the original, simple, and unpretentious nature of man. This original human nature is also compared to that of a new-born child (ying-erh) or to raw silk (su). It is the goal we must regain, because p'u is the ultimate destination of the return to our source (->fu). Its predominant characteristic is spontaneous action (-->wu-wei) and freedom from desire. The return to this primordial state is only possible by shedding our desires and attachments. Chapter 199 of the Tao te ching (Wei 1982, p. 152) states,
Display plainness (su), embrace simplicity (p'u),
Reduce selfishness and decrease desires.
Forswear learning
and vexation will vanish.
Lao-tzu considers the desire for wealth, fame, and sensuous pleasures the main hindrance to our development, because they give rise to envy and hatred. A person who attains true inner simplicity thereby gains power over the whole world (Chapter 32, Feng & English 1972):
The Tao is forever undefined
Small though it isi in the unformed state,
it cannot be grasped.
If kings and lords could harness it,
the ten thousand things would naturally obey
Men would need no more instruction
and all things would take their course.
  • R. B. Blakney paraphrase on Chapter 28
You will take glory in your stride but keep your shame too; in the end you will be like the valley which is the favorite resort of the Way and its Virtue. You will there revert to "the Virginal block," the primal simplicity. When the king has men who are fresh as children are, he can make good officials out of them. This is his skill.
  • The Tao of Power: A Translation of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu by R. L. Wing (1986, ISBN 0385196377). Commentary on Chapter 28:
Unwavering Power is bestowed on Evolved Individuals who are able to direct the talents of otherwise unconnected individuals into a collective endeavor. Just as reservoirs collect water, leaders become low spots for the exchange of power and information. They are aware of the instability in aggression and obviousness. To hold their position they are receptive, subtle, and modest.
In physics, the four forces in the universe are those forces engaged in holding matter together (gravity, strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, and electromagnetism). In the Taoist view, leaders who imitate those forces by connecting individuals and evolving society are given the Power to alter reality. In this passage, Lao Tzu uses the images of Infancy, Limitlessness, and Simplicity to describe the intuitive understanding of the Great System: the united field of matter and energy as it existed prior to the beginnings of the known universe. To know this is to perceive the Tao.

Excerpts from the Tao Te Ching[edit]

Peter Merel's interpolotation[edit]

25. Beneath Abstraction
There is a mystery,
Beneath abstraction,
Silent, depthless,
Alone, unchanging,
Ubiquitous and liquid,
The mother of nature.
It has no name, but I call it "the Way";
It has no limit, but I call it "limitless".
Being limitless, it flows away forever;
Flowing away forever, it returns to my self:
The Way is limitless,
So nature is limitless,
So the world is limitless,
And so I am limitless.

28. Becoming
Using the male, being female,
Being the entrance of the world,
You embrace harmony
And become as a newborn.
Using strength, being weak,
Being the root of the world,
You complete harmony
And become as unshaped wood.
Using the light, being dark,
Being the world,
You perfect harmony
And return to the Way.

32. Shapes
The Way has no true shape,
And therefore none can control it.
The Way is shaped by use,
But then the shape is lost.
Do not hold fast to shapes
But let sensation flow into the world
As a river courses down to the sea.

Other links[edit]