Thursday, December 24, 2015

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 28

Poem 28

Know the male,
yet keep to the female:
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black:
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can't do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal:
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the the block:
thus she can use all things.


Old, partially rotted wood, Newbridge House, North County Dublin
Once again we find the Taoist balance of opposites most apparent in this short poem. Modern popular psychology and psychotherapy speak about men needing to integrate their feminine side and about women needing to integrate their masculine side.  The late great Professor Carl Gustav Jung would have certainly popularised that idea.  There is indeed much sound argument to support the fact that males and females contain a "seed" of the opposite sex to speak metaphorically.  In the human psyche the Mother archetype looms large, is almost all encompassing.  We speak of Mother Earth, the Motherland and call almost everything we hold dear by the feminine pronoun.  "She's a lovely little boat/car/bicycle or whatever..." I read somewhere that Jung made much of the fact that Nazi Germany spoke of the Fatherland and that this archetype was the main common psychological preoccupation of that fascist regime.  There is possible more than a grain of truth in that observation.

Our Taoist author advises the pilgrim on his/her journey to self-knowledge "to know the male" yet to "keep to the female."  Perhaps one could do worse than suggesting that here in this poem the male could represent the head (intellect/mind/the rational) whereas the female could represent the heart (feelings/emotions/intuition/the non-rational).  A blend of both is needed.  In other words, the call is to an integration of opposites yet again as a way to the Truth.

Another quality often associated with femininity is that of openness and receptivity - an openness like that of flowers blossoming into the rays of the sun.  In like manner, our poet philosopher is inviting us to be open and receptive to everything in the world, all objects, all animals. indeed to all beings, not just the human ones.

The Réalt na Mara (Star of the Sea) monument on East pier, Howth
Again, the poet uses the images of black and white.  He calls upon us to know the white (the masculinity and the possibility of growth) and yet to keep to the deep mystery of the black (femininity and fertility).  In such a way, we become a pattern for the world.  In being so whole and open - in other words, being so wholly open or so openly whole, we become patterns for the world and will attract all beings to us in our acceptance of them.  All of this means that we have to accept the world largely as it is, because, truly, we can change no one but ourselves.  It is in changing ourselves that we can change the world almost in spite of our best efforts.   In accepting the world, the Tao begins to live inside us.  Now, this is not a call to passivity or to the state of inertia where we do nothing.  It is a call to radically look inside ourselves, change what we can change and accept what we cannot.  From there on we are called to be compassionate to self, others and to the world.  In this way, we change ourselves and, in the course of doing that, change the world for the better.  Again, here we are right in the very heart of enigma and paradox.

By way of conclusion, I invite the reader to read over the above poem slowly and meditatively and to let any line, phrase or word suggest itself as a possible mantra for a five or ten minute slot of meditation.

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