Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 19


Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won't be any thieves.

If these three aren't enough,
just stay at the centre of the circle
and let all things take their course.


The Tao Te Ching, like all serious books of wisdom, works by way of paradoxes and the setting up of oppositional tensions between ideas.  Why? Well, quite simply, wisdom, like truth,  is "rarely pure and never simple.” (That quotation on truth comes from The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde).  John Keats implies this same understanding when he says that we humans must make sense of life's deeper mysteries by what he termed a process of "negative capability" that he described quite paradoxically as that attitude of mind "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."  One could say that this encapsulates something similar to what Eastern spiritualities and practices, especially Zen, mean by the practice of contemplating koans.

Sand on Donabate Beach, summer 2015

With that simple introduction, let us reflect on the above stanzas of Poem 19.  Holiness and Wisdom which parade themselves as proclaiming the answers to big questions are mere sham and pretence.  Real wisdom and holiness don't parade themselves in front of others and belong to a natural and real humility.  Morality and Justice, when likewise paraded before others inasmuch as they signal a superficial application of both virtues, are also mere sham and pretence.  A society where "industry" and "profit" are all that count will inevitable invite more people to commit crime out of sheer frustration at being at the bottom of the heap.

The writer of these stanzas calls the reader back to the centre point or the still point of being where the meditator, the contemplator or the disciple will achieve a state of equanimity, an attitude of mind that is untroubled by life's vagaries.

I will finish this brief post with my usual invitation to the reader to reflect on the above stanzas in a meditative way and allow a phrase or word from those stanzas to stir the spirit within.  Happy meditating.


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