Monday, November 9, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 22

Stanza 22

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn't display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn't know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goad in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
"If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,"
they weren't using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao can you be truly yourself.

My father's headstone in Fingal Cemetery, Balgriffin


It is difficult to avoid repetition in these short commentaries because like most poetic and spiritual texts there is much recapitulation in the Tao Te Ching. Once, when the modernist poet T.S. Eliot was asked to comment on his constant repetition of several themes, he replied that while he may have re-iterated those topics he never recorded them in the same way.  There is much wisdom in Eliot's words as one can approach a theme from many different angles and give different perspectives on the one subject.  In that sense, one is never, as such, engaging in a boring repetition.  In fact, you are adding to the theme's nuances and resonances, to its denotations and connotations.

Again, the author engages in making lists of opposites:
  • partial vs whole
  • crooked vs straight
  • empty vs full
  • birth vs death
  • receiving vs giving
  • showing vs hiding
  • self-denial vs self-indulgence
and so on.  Once again, it is in the tension of opposites that truth lies.  This is a deep wisdom because there is no such thing as either extreme on its own.  It would seem that most realities contain some of both polarities.  In other words, to cite a simple polarity by way of illustration: how can be know what dark is if we don't know what light is and vice versa?

There are also parallels in the above stanza to certain verses from the New Testament, e.g., the statement by Jesus that " whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?" corresponds to the verse in the above Taoist stanza that runs: "If you want to be reborn, let yourself die."

Identity of the self comes through finding oneself by living in the Tao.

By way of conclusion, once more, perhaps there is a word, a phrase or a line that catches your attention.  Repeat that quotation as a mantra for a short meditation.


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