Like you, I long wondered what the original was for “invest in loss.” I finally learned that Zheng Manqing’s phrase in Chinese is “chi kui.” The translation of this phrase as “invest in loss” has become something of a pet peeve for me, not because it is poor English (it actually has a nice ironic ring to it), but because it misleads in its English entailments. The word “invest,” to my ear, already has overtones of greed for advantage. To paraphrase Martha Stewart, that’s not a good thing.
The most literal rendering of chi(1) kui(1) is “eat loss,” and that’s the rendering I prefer. The Chinese phrase is used figuratively in business, as in to “take a loss,” or “sustain a loss,” and interestingly we even find a similar expression in idiomatic English: “We’ll just have to eat the loss.”
The phrase is related to a much more common Chinese expression, “chi ku,” which means, “eat bitter,” or “eat bitterness.” In the taijiquan context, it’s common to encounter the phrase, “ku lian”: bitter practice. When students begin to get greedy, and show signs of impatience about getting results, teachers are likely to admonish them to “eat bitterness,” that is, to just concentrate on the discipline of their course of study—to do their “bitter practice.” In taijiquan, and especially in push hands training, this has crucial neurophysiological implications. In order to yield effectively, one has to completely let go of the impulse to resist against the other. This is the concept expressed in the taiji aphorism, “she ji cong ren”: “to give up oneself and follow the other,” or “yield to the initiative of the other.”
This is one of the most difficult things to master. It seems counterintuitive, perhaps even more so to Americans, who expect quick return on their dollar. This may in part explain why the expression as used by Zheng Manqing came to be rendered with the convention, “invest in loss.” Or maybe it’s because Professor Zheng taught in a city with a place called Wall Street. (Just joking!)
This actually brings to mind something I posted recently in the “double weighting” thread—the Zhuangzi story that’s also recounted in the Lushi Chuqiu:
“Play for tiles and you soar; play for belt-hooks and you become combative; play for gold and you are flustered. Although your luck is the same in each of the games, the reason you become flustered must be the value you place on external things. Valuing external things makes one become clumsy within.” (Knoblock & Riegel, trans., The Annals of Lu Buwei, p. 288)
Could this be the same concept?