Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 27

Poem 27

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.

He is ready to use all situations

and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.


Skeleton of a coracle, Dingle Interpretative Centre - 
Another staple recommendation, indeed tenet, of anyone involved in the spiritual quest from whatever religious background is surely that the journey itself is more important than the destination. Today pilgrimage is becoming important once more as many people discover anew the spiritual quest through making a journey.  Accordingly, even here in Ireland, the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago or the town or Cathedral Church of St James in Catalonia, Spain. The physical journey is a solid outward sign or symbol of the inward journey of the self, or soul indeed.The greatest story of pilgrimage was perhaps written in verse by the famous Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 - 1400), the text of which most of us studied at some stage in our academic career, or at least read excerpts from.

We know these stories as The Canterbury Tales which Chaucer began working 0n from 1386 onwards. They recount, in verse mostly, the stories told by way of a friendly contest between a group of pilgrims as they travel together on a journey from London to Canterbury in order to visit the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral.  The prize for the winner is simple indeed: a free meal at the Tabard Inn in Southwark.  Chaucer's take on the idea of pilgrimage is humorous, a tad raunchy in parts, but for all that very appreciative of the importance of pilgrimage in the social life of the people among whom he lived at the time. Many other books have recounted the importance of pilgrimage and have pointed  out that life is a journey in many senses: in the physical sense as we grow up and move from one phase to another in our lives and often travel about the world in so doing; in the psychological sense as we journey to get to know ourselves; in the spiritual sense as we seek to make sense and meaning of our lives in an often inimical world. John Bunyan's (1628–1688) Pilgrim's Progress (1678) is a good example of a more serious presentation of pilgrimage in the spiritual life from an evangelical Protestant point of view.  It is a wonderfully profound read written in the simplest and most direct of language.

Oceanic Tapesty Ionad an Bhlascaoid - Kerry

Again, the verses of the above poem are full of paradoxical writing.  Setting up oppositional points of view is a preferred method of our author, and indeed one of the methods mostly used by writers of spirituality or mystical theology in any tradition.  It is important, indeed, to plan out any journey we wish to undertake as well as we can, though it is often wonderful to take a few diversions on our way here and there along our path - diversions that make our travelling far more interesting.  However, our Taoist writer does not mean just doing that as he suggests that we have no fixed plans at all.  That advice is ridiculous in worldly terms, though not in a deeper spiritual sense.  Indeed, we can make the greatest of plans in our lives and then have them ruined totally by accident or by chance. These unexpected happenings, even tragedies, do befall us as we make our journey.  Perhaps, the author is getting at the truth of that as it unfolds in our lives, that is, by making his exaggerated demands on us so that we don't become too ambitious and ego-driven to the extent that we lose a healthy intuition about what really matters in life - loving and being loved by others and so on.
John Bunyan (1628 - 1688)

Inspiration and intuition are undoubtedly very important in art.  Of course, so is talent and hard work to achieve a certain mastery in it.  The hard work does pay off as the more the artist practises the more s/he is open to being inspired and being intuitive.  Our Taoist author sees the scientist as being open to inspiration and not being too tied down by traditional concepts.  Openness to the new is the order of imagination.

Likewise, the Master of meditation is open to everyone and in totally non-judgemental and accepts everyone as they are in an unprejudiced and unbiased fashion.  All situations he finds himself in is looked upon as "grist for the spiritual mill."  

In the final stanza of the above poem our Taoist writer shows that there is really very little difference between the good and the bad man in a sense as we all are made up of good points and bad points. The so-called good people just manage to control their baser instincts and more evil desires better than the so-called bad people do.  That reminds me of the old moral poem we learnt as children: "There is so much good in the worst of us// And so much bad in the best of us// that it hardly behooves any of us//To talk about the rest of us." (Edward Wallace Hoch)  And indeed, here we must agree vehemently with our Taoist poet that this piece of wisdom can guide us well through life: in our parenting of children, in our teaching of children, in our leadership of others: in short, in how we greet others as being as important as we ourselves are in the overall scheme of things.

Finally, as is my usual habit in ending these short posts on the Tao Te Ching, I invite the reader to go read slowly over the above poem and let whatever line, phrase or word offer itself to you as a possible mantra for a short five minute meditation.

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