Sunday, November 8, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 21

Poem 21

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that's what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she does not cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is, 
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.


The Yin Yang is perhaps one of the most known of the symbols of Taoism.  It is a symbol made up of two halves that together make wholeness. Yin and Yang are also the starting point for change. When something is whole, by definition it is unchanging and complete. So when you split something into two halves – into its Yin  and its Yang, it upsets the equilibrium of wholeness. This starts both halves chasing after each other as they seek a new balance with each other. As you will notice from the diagrammatic representation of this symbol one half of the circle is white (or Yin = masculine, logic, head and so forth) with a small black dot (that is a small amount of the Yang = feminine, feelings, heart and so on); the other half is black or dark (or Yang = feminine, feelings, heart and so on) with a small white dot (that is a small amount of Yin = masculine, logic, head and so forth).  It is interesting to note that the word "Yin" comes out to mean the “shady side” or mysterious side of something like the dark side of the moon and Yang “sunny side” or bright side of something.  

It is also worth noting that neither Yin nor Yang are absolute in themselves alone. In short, nnothing is completely Yin or completely Yang. Each aspect contains the beginning point for the other aspect. For example: day becomes night and then night becomes day gradually as one welcomes the other to the fore and vice versa. Yin and Yang are interdependent upon each other so that the definition of one requires the definition for the other to be complete. And so in keeping with this healthy tension of opposite our translator links two sexual poles male and female in calling the "Master" a she, i.e., in referring to "her mind."  Also the Tao or its truth is ungraspable in its entirety.  This Master is "at one" with the Tao insofar as she does not "cling to (hard and set) ideas."  Another polarity is that of the Tao's being dark and mysterious on the one hand and yet fully radiant on the other.  Here we are at the very heart of what the Yin Yang symbol represents - the complexity and mysteriousness at the very heart of existence.  Another opposing pair in this spiritual reality is "is" ("being") and "is not" ("non-being").

Man contemplates life on Monasterace Beach, August 2015

Looking inside is no mere navel-gazing or solipsism as meditation requires one to check one's experiences with those of the community of meditators, with the various traditions and their teachings to which the meditator belongs in the first place.  Wisdom arises or is experienced within a culture or a community and simply cannot be accessed alone. (Here, I am not, of course ruling out the thrust towards eremitism as this latter only occurs when the hermit has been fully schooled within the community in the first place: all hermits break away from monasteries or sanghas where they first learnt to meditate with a master in a community setting.)

Once more, by way of conclusion, I invite the reader to reflect contemplatively on the above short poem.  Perhaps a word or a phrase or a line may suggest itself to you as a mantra for a short five or ten minutes meditation here.

Namaste, Shalom, Peace!!

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