23 November 2007

Chapter 14

Look, and it can't be seen.
Listen, and it can't be heard.
Reach, and it can't be grasped.

Not as a separate entity, anyway...

Above, it isn't bright.
Below, it isn't dark.
Seamless, unnameable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

It can't be conceived of, as it is beyond the realm of ideas. The first two lines sound like a specific dismissal that Tao is the earth itself. When the sun is up, the earth is bright above, and it's always dark if you dig deep into the earth. The realm of nothing is where all things have their beginning. A friend of mine calls nothing the "infinite potentiality." It's not an image itself, because it contains all images.

Approach it and there is no beginning;
follow it and there is no end.
You can't know it, but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from:
this is the essence of wisdom.

The first two lines sound a lot like learning taiji. Parts of it seemed infinitely familiar to me, hence "no beginning." Other parts, I will continue to work on for my whole life, and perhaps beyond, hence "no end". Knowing the form in the mind is worthless unless the body also knows it; then you can become the form.

07 November 2007

Chapter 13

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

Both hope and fear involve resistance, and it's difficult to have one without the other. If you hope for something, then you also fear that it won't happen. If you fear something, then you hope that particular something won't happen. Both require moving away from your center, leaving an empty space which then demands filling. Hope and fear, though, will only make it emptier.

What does it mean that success is a dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
you position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

The higher you climb, the further you have to fall.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don't see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

When I become dissatisfied in some fashion, a voice in my mind starts asking me, "What do you want?" It seemed for a long time that no matter what I answered, the voice would come back, sooner each time. Finally, I found the answer: nothing. An immediate sense of satisfaction came over me, and even when the voice tried to come back, the same answer satisfied it.

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.

Getting too wrapped up in our 'cage of flesh and bones' can make us forget that there is a world "outside" ourselves. If we can find the "world outside" inside our own hearts, what can't we accomplish?

30 October 2007

Chapter 12

The five colours make our eyes blind
the five tones make our ears deaf
the five flavours make our mouths numb
riding and hunting make our minds wild
hard-to-get goods make us break laws
thus the rule of the sage puts the stomach ahead of the eyes
thus he picks this over that

I went with Red Pine's translation this time. Mitchell's seemed too...prettified to me. What I get out of this verse is to be cautious with distractions. Bright colors are pretty, but stare at them long enough and they tire the eyes. Strong flavors may taste good, but they can wear out the taste buds. Putting "the stomach ahead of the eyes," then, would refer to putting what you actually need over the things that appeal to your senses. Cleary's translation has this as the last two lines: "Therefore sages work for the middle and not the eyes, leaving the latter and taking the former." Choosing what you need over what you think you want.

29 October 2007

Chapter 11

We join spokes together in a wheel,
but it is the center hole
that makes the wagon move.

We shape clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.

Non-being, emptiness, nothingness, vacancy, hollow, nonexistence... all of these have been used in various translations for "nonbeing". If there were no emptiness, how would we move? You can argue that there is air, so the space around us is not empty, but there is room enough for the air to move around us. All of life is about looking for the openings, for the empty spaces, for the places where there is room. Parking a car? You need an empty space. Baking bread? You need an empty bowl, and empty pan, and an oven with enough empty space for the pan. Looking for a job? You need a place with a vacancy, an empty slot to fill.

22 October 2007

Chapter 10

Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child's?

Buddhism and Taoism would agree that "from the outset, your nature is pure." If there's a "fall," it's after an individual is born. But it's more like coming off of balance, off of the still-point. If we stop resisting, we naturally come back to that still point. Note that this passage precludes any idea that the mere fact of being flesh and blood is itself somehow "bad".

Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?

Can we see what's really there, and not what we think should be there? Can we see the light even when things are at their darkest? Can you see people for what they are and provide tasks that they can do naturally and joyfully, without resentment?

Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?

Do nothing and nothing is left undone. Can you wait for the empty spaces to show you where to step? Watch your thoughts. Where do they refuse to go? What can you learn there?

Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leading and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.

Do what needs to be done. Fill the empty spaces. An expectation leaves an empty space in you; trying to control forces you inside where you cannot see the empty spaces.

Sorry for the break in updates; first a bad cold, then a supremely busy week, and to cap it all off, stomach problems. Hoping to be back to regular posting again now.

05 October 2007

Chapter 9

Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.

Know when enough is enough. Even a useful action becomes pointless if taken too far.

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Anything that you hold fast to ultimately becomes a trap, whether it be an idea or an object. If you pursue money, even when you have enough it becomes very difficult to stop that pursuit. Worrying about the approval of others is an even worse trap, as fashions change so rapidly. What was expected one day becomes a horrid faux pas the next.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Know when you've accomplished your goal, and stop. When you've reached the bottom, stop digging. When you're on the summit, stop climbing. When the bowl is full, stop filling.

03 October 2007

Chapter 8

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

A lot of the Tao te Ching really doesn't need much comment. Water, or the Watercourse Way, is a common image for Tao. Water follows the path of least resistance, down to the low spots. It doesn't seek to elevate itself.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

Good advice. ^/^

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Most people don't have even the slightest clue who they really are, deep down. They have a bundle of ideas and reactions that they think of as themselves, but those are just ripples on the surface of the water.