Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 16


Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don't realise the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realise where you com from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.


Once again, the writers of the Tao Te Ching return to an old and constant theme, namely the achieving of a state of emptiness.  The writer of the above poet recommends that his hearers and readers empty their mind of thoughts.  The intention is to slow down the racing thoughts, to still the mind and eventually with practice to empty it of the distractions of continuous and interrupting thoughts.  The whole effort of meditation then is to allow the meditator to become an observer of life and of the thoughts that come and go, and in so observing to get beyond them to a state of stillness or emptiness or serenity.  Some modern traditions call the meditator the Witness.  This stillness or emptiness or serenity allows the meditator to be objective and to watch unmoved and not to become taken in by the turmoil of the lives and minds  of those who chase the impulses and ambitions of the ego.

Another word for meditation is contemplation.  In some traditions, like that of the spirituality associated with the Roman Catholic Church, these two words represent different approaches to prayer.  Here, I am using them synonymously and interchangeably.   There are many metaphors used for the path to the state of Enlightenment: striving to reach the Still Point; attempting to experience true emptiness; the return journey to the source or walking the path to serenity.  In our dying and death we will certainly be entering the portals leading to Serenity if we have the courage to embrace it.  We have all originally come from the one and the same source, whatever that may be, whether we call it by the name of God or any other appellation, and indeed we will all return to it at the last breath of our mortal lives. Realising that both our source and destination are the same for every sentient and conscious being, we readily leave aside all confusion and sorrow, become way more tolerant and compassionate to both self and others, objective, amused even, and kindhearted as "a grandmother." 

I have already mentioned many times in these pages the old quotation that Plato attributed to Socrates, namely that all true philosophy begins in wonder.  It is not very unusual then  - given the links between what we may term the perennial or practical wisdom side of philosophy on the one hand and spirituality and religion on the other -  that the Tao Te Ching should declare that once the disciples of meditation have immersed themselves in this basic attitude of wonder that they will be able to much more easily deal with whatever "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" life throws at them.  Moreover, our Taoist poet maintains that "when death comes" these disciples of the Way/Tao will be ready.

By way of conclusion, I once again invite the reader to peruse the above poem and allow a word, phrase or line to present itself as a mantra for a five or ten minute meditation period. 

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