Friday, August 21, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 5

Poem 5

The Tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn't take sides;
She welcomes both saints and sinners.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the centre.


Our systems of justice and indeed our systems of government in the West are adversarial and taking sides comes so naturally to us.  Some few minutes ago I listened to politicians from both sides of the divide in Northern Ireland arguing as to whether the IRA had really "left the stage" or not in that little corner of life on this wonderful, if at times so wounded, planet, often "knee-high in blood" because of one conflict or another.  One could not but indulge in a fleeting moment of despair as one remembered all the wanton bloodshed of some thirty years of Troubles that bedevilled this little island in my own lifetime.  And so when one reads that the Tao does not take sides, one is brought into a spiritual world of promise and of hope, of aspiration and inspiration, and one could, in times of desperation, entertain another fleeting thought as to how unrealistic our spiritual desires may be.

And yet, we all entertain the hopes of a better life, of justice and peace being possible if we really get our act together as human beings.  We write much about these ideals and many brave numbers of us have given their lives for the dream of peace which is, in fact, the work of justice.  And so we have many volunteers who give the sweat of their brow and often their very life's blood for the ideals of the betterment of other human beings. Indeed, some of our number are even willing to spend our energy and indeed our lives for the betterment of planet earth and its very fauna and flora.  Again, spiritually this is understandable as spirituality may be defined as the inherent native desire within every human being to engage in a tripartite connection, i.e., to connect with (i) the self, (ii) others and (iii) the very source of life, some of us dare call God.  In embracing this spiritual desire to connect, one realises that one is but an insignificant, but very conscious, speck with infinite desires and hopes among some 7.5 billion other such conscious specks with equally infinite desires to know and to connect. 

And so our spiritual desire to connect pushes us to what the Tao calls a position of "not taking sides."  This spiritual stance is no easy one to achieve and only some of us will attain that.  Indeed, we all know how hard it is to get rid of our native prejudices which obviously prevent the achievement of such a spiritual state.  However, many of us realise that the attainment of that state of consciousness is the ideal.  Another way of putting this, I suppose, would be to say that such a state of consciousness is the state of enlightenment or even sainthood.

Once again the Tao welcomes both "saints and sinners," but unlike the Bible of the Abrahamic religions, it does not call for repentance, though one assumes that there is an unwritten call to right action assumed by the text.

Once again, like all good poetry, these lines are replete with images and in the second stanza of this poem, the author uses the image of the bellows to represent how the Tao works in the world in an invisible but very capable way.  In this sense it fans the fires of life, inspiration, exhortation and aspiration in all of our lives.

Yet again, the poem warns us that all our talking and writing about the Tau is often so much hot air as really it is only something we can apprehend and appreciate by the route of meditation in action and contemplation of human experience.  Language once again is seen as such a poor tool to express the mystery.

Finally, a lot of spiritual practices emphasise the fact that it is important for the meditator to centre themselves and to find and hold onto that centre.  In short, the Tao may be found by centering ourselves.  To misquote our national poet, William Butler Yeats, it is only when we learn to meditate that we will find that the "centre will hold."

Namaste, friends.

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