71 – The form number for the United States Office of Personnel Management for requesting a leave of absence.
If one is sick of sickness, then one is not sick.
The sage is not sick because he is sick of sickness.
Therefore he is not sick.
There are rumours that Lao Tzu wanted the Tao Te Ching to be an epic doorstopper. He had envisioned 8100 chapters. But he got to 71 and started rambling like this. The city guard let him go on for another ten chapters then had enough. In the courts martial, his plea of self-defence was accepted and he was promoted to Sergeant. Such is the way of the world.
Ursual Leguin points out that this chapter contains the hidden jewels that Lao referred to in the previous one. She refers to his obscured clarity. In other words, it’s obvious with a bit of thought. Cerrtainly, her translation is a bit more straightforward than the above. Lao is once more advising the teachers and students of the world that too much conscious effort to know something will lead to sickness. But he’s not advocating a rejection of knowledge. Wise people are the people who want to learn more, but who realise that they are never going to get to grips with the singular truth because it doesn’t exist. Formulaic knowledge is detrimental to the pursuit of mastery. At some point, the formulae need to be abandoned and knowledge has to be left to grow, as if it were in a petri dish. Knowledge is a bacterium, but of the kind that can cure all ills. I remember grafitti in Spain that said, “El fascismo se cura leyendo.” Fascism can be cured by reading. At that age, I always wanted to spray paint it onto the wall of the nun-run primary school opposite my flat. Potential employers will be glad to hear that I refrained. I have always respected authority and hierarchy. My boss is my ruler.