A great scholar hears of the Tao and begins diligent practice.
A middling scholar hears of the Tao and retains some and loses some.
A inferior scholar hears of the Tao and roars with ridicule.
Without that laugh, it would not be the Tao.
So there are constructive sayings on this:
The way of illumination seems dark,
going forward seems like a retreat,
the easy way seems hard,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.
The Tao is hidden and nameless;
the Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfillment.
It is one thing to hear of these teachings of the Tao and understand them. It is another to take these teachings and apply them in your life. The first stanza is a metaphor for how far you are taking the teachings of the Tao. Are you scoffing at them as being ridiculous and a bunch of mumbo jumbo, are you incorporating some and letting others fall away, or are you incorporating them all into your daily life.
There are those that would ridicule its teachings and render them useless in the real world. This verse says that “Without that laugh, it would not be the Tao”. I take two things from this sentence. First, there is an inherent duality in life; a ying and a yang. If ignorance did not exist, how would we recognize wisdom? Therefore, without those that would ridicule that Tao, we would not be able to recognize the necessity of its teachings.
The second thing the line conveys to me is that the Tao allows that laugh to occur. The Tao is not some jealous God that would strike down any that opposes its rule and laws. No, the Tao is the way it is by its nature. Its teachings can be taught, but each of us must determine the path we are going to walk in life.
Stronger is the force that can withstand ridicule without the need to eradicate the source of that ridicule.
The second stanza describes some of the dualistic nature of life and how the appearance on the surface of the Tao is not always the truth of its teachings. For example, the way of illumination seems dark because we must let go of the old habits of the ego in order to take on the teachings of the Tao. This can be a scary step into darkness until the new wisdom of the Tao illuminates the dark places of the mind. Going forward may seem like a step back because shedding the old habits of the ego can seem like a step back according to what we are taught in the materialistic world. The easy way seems hard because in reality living according to the Tao is easy because it is our natural way. However, we make it hard due to the layers of ego that we wrap around it. True power seems weak because qualities like grace, peace, and love seem weak to those that are caught up in the teachings of the ego.
The last stanza reminds us that the Tao is the underlying energy of all things. It is the creating source and the provider of all that is truly needed. It is not visible and cannot be known to our human senses. As we learned in the first verse, “The Tao that can be named is not the Tao”.