Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 12

Poem 12

Colours blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavours numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.


My father used often say that too much of anything is never good for us.  It is a truism worth repeating that moderation is possibly the best key to life in order to open up all its possibilities.  There is something in us that drives us to want more and more and more. That drive is more than likely part of our primordial instinct to survive. We all want success in life and some of us equate that with status, position in society or wealth.  One just has to take a few steps back and observe how obsessive people become about all of these things. Human beings, in building up an identity, accumulate all of the aforementioned and further a lot of our number become driven to acquire more and more.  And yet none of these things in themselves, either singly, or together necessarily brings us happiness.  Something else is needed.  Onto this scene, then, enter the various religions and spiritualities that seek to offer paths to happiness.   

Attachment and Detachment

Once again, let us return to the Second Noble Truth of Buddhism which reflects the message intended by the above Taoist poem.  This truth insists that there is a definite cause to human suffering and, that is, that all our desires and cravings are based on our ignorance of reality. This ignorance causes us to cling to the things of the world like wealth and success and all their appurtenances  as that which is truly valuable and real.  This Second Truth, also known as Samudaya, tells us that we will be hurt proportionately to the intensity of our attachment or clinging to all these things. Craving can be for sensual experiences like love, money, comfort, success, fame, power and all sorts of pleasant feelings.  Or there can be a craving for being/becoming that leads to a craving that life will continue forever, that there will be an eternal life.

The standard rendering of the Second Noble Truth is that dukkha (suffering or stress) is caused by greed or desire.  Apparently, the actual word for this desire is "tanha," but it is more accurately translated as "thirst" or "craving."  This truth is not telling us that we must give up everything we love and then go live an ascetic life in order to find happiness.  The real issue for us here is far more subtle - it is the issue of our attachment to what we desire and it is this attachment that we must learn to control because if we don't it gets us into trouble (stress or suffering). 

Trees: Newbridge House

In commenting on the above Taoist poem in a rhetorical way, we may say that more and more colours won't necessarily make our lives more colourful; more and more sounds won't necessarily add to the harmony; more and more flavours won't necessarily make the food tastier; more and more thoughts won't necessarily make the mind more intellectually profound nor will more and more desires necessarily make the heart grow fonder. 

Inner versus Outer

St Augustine tells us that he searched for God (we may use this term as a metaphor for meaning if you like) everywhere in the world, through the satisfaction of all the senses and his intellect, but finally found him within, in his own inner self or soul.  He described his way of meditating as that of "interiority." Like the Taoist poet he trusted his "inner vision." All of meditation is about going on that inner or interior journey, that journey down to the real or inner self or still point of being below or above (depending on your preferred spatial metaphor) all our agitated and agitating thoughts.

Candles: Vienna Cathedral


It is so hard to be open about things: to be open to the self, to others, to the world, to life, to the universe or to whatever is its underlying power.  And yet, that openness is the fruit of much meditation and the promise of all great traditions of spiritual practices.  The intention of this poem is that our hearts too will be "as open as the sky."


In these final lines, I will once again invite the reader to peruse the above poem and let any word, phrase or line strike your attention and then to use that as a mantra for a short ten minute meditation.

Namaste, Friends. 

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