Friday, January 1, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 33

Poem 33

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.


The lifelong task of human beings is surely that of getting to know themselves.  However, that is easier said than done and being "true to oneself" or being "honest to oneself" or being "authentic" or "whole" or "integrated" or "individuated," no matter how one terms full self-knowledge, it is truly a long and painful journey.  That is the essential goal of all conscious life. 

Recent photograph of me

It appears that it is somewhat easier to get to know others, but that is only a superficial perception anyhow.  After all, we really only get to know their social, rather than their "real" selves anyway.  Do we ever master others?  No, indeed.  We possibly might master how to manage our "underlings" or staff or whoever at our places of work, but that is the extent of that.

Our task in life, as we have stated it above, is that of getting to know our true or real selves. This takes courage as we have to stand up to the power and opposition of our egos which are, on the whole, fed with much driving power by society.  Facing down the ego, then, requires much courage!

Greed is one of the basest of desires as we never can get enough of success and possessions and of apparent control of others.  It takes wisdom and the practice of much meditation to arrive at a sense of detachment from others and from the things of this world.  One day we realise that actually we have too much things and that things really don't satisfy our true and real desires.  Even at times the love of others, the we-ness of love itself cannot really satisfy our inner desires for fulfilment.  True detachment and the love that springs from it can be greater than human love.

This is the love that we read about in the Old Testament that is greater than fire and that many waters cannot quench it.  It is a love that stretches beyond death, and we have a hint of eternal life in its expression in that passage.  Likewise, the thoughts of our Taoist poet in the last lines of the above poem are stretching for a similar suggested, if imaginative solution, namely that if we stay in the centre (that is, rooted in the Tao) "and embrace death with (our) whole heart, (we) will endure forever."  In both texts, we have to agree that these are the thoughts of ancient scribes imaginatively reaching towards another world of being - imaginatively reaching to the myth of eternal life.  We remember here that myths are not literal but rather suggest a deeper truth which defies expression.

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