Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 15

Poem 15

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle,
their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful 
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfilment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.


Image of Lao Tzu

The clarion call of the Eastern religious and spiritual systems and traditions is to "wake up!", to "become aware!" or  to "open our eyes and unblock our ears!"  Awareness is all.  Indeed, Socrates' call to his hearers to "know themselves" and not to live an "unexamined life" shares in this call to awareness to a great extent.  T.S. Eliot penned an interesting line in his great poem, The Four Quartets viz., "the sudden illumination - //We had the experience but missed the meaning" is a sentiment that shares in this common call to reflecting on our experiences or to self-reflection.  When we meditate we are learning to become aware, to wake up, to open our eyes and unblock our ears.

T. S. Eliot

To cross a stream that's covered with ice requires very careful attention to where one places one's feet.  Our author in the above Taoist poem also admits that the really aware person exercises the careful attention of a warrior on enemy territory.  Such an aware person is certainly never rude or angry as s/he is "courteous as a guest." Awareness calls not just for the keen skills of observation, but for a gentleness of being, a congruence and authenticity of living that openness to all the sentient creatures of the world requires.

There is an interesting and important contrast between rigidity and fluidity brought out in the above poem.  Modern psychology notes that those who are at risk of developing health problems, both physical and mental, belong to a group of persons who have a certain characteristic of temperament, namely rigidity.  The above ancient text recognizes this fact and it says that the old Masters showed great "fluidity" or flexibility in their approach to living.  There is also the related saying from Confucius that recommends the same flexibility or fluidity that goes: "The green reed that bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm."  We could learn much from this simple wisdom.

Image of Confucius

When we meditate we learn slowly, indeed very slowly to still our senses and our mind.  In this regard we need much continued practice.  In doing so, we allow, as the Taoist poet says in the above  lines, "the mud to settle and the water to become clear."  However, this is no easy or quick process but one that requires our continued application to meditative practices that promote awareness.

By way of conclusion, let me invite the reader to reflectively read the above Taoist poem and let a word, phrase or line offer itself as a mantra for ten minute period of meditation.

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