Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 40

Poem 40

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

Water lily on the Garavogue River, Summer 2006
In the fourth of T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets" called "Little Gidding" we read the following piece of wisdom: "We shall not cease from exploration//And the end of all our exploring //Will be to arrive where we started //And know the place for the first time." Eliot had studied Eastern philosophy at Harvard and was certainly au fait with the philosophy of both Buddhism and Hinduism and so these quoted lines capture much of such a spirituality or philosophy.  Spiritual or personal movement is often not linear and can be circular or cyclic in nature and hence, while there may be a "return" to a beginning, there is a new knowledge or a deeper wisdom gained by the traveller who now "knows the place for the first time."  In like manner, this fortieth poem of the Tao Te Ching informs us that return is the movement of the Tao.

Quite often our native resistance or our initial reaction to push against situations or circumstances in life can rebound upon us and thereby frustrate us or increase further the intensity of our problems.  Often going with the flow of life can be a better course of action. That is the meaning of the line "Yielding is the way of the Tao."

Garavogue River, Summer 2006
Being and its contrary non-being are often widely discussed categories in both traditional Eastern and Western philosophies.  The Pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides maintained that being implies immutability, actual existence in itself or in its essence.  Non-being, he declares, refers to non-existence.  However, the contrast between being and non-being has been interpreted in different ways over the course of the centuries.  For example, Plato believed that being refers to the immutable world of ideas (= forms), while non-being is unformed matter; and these two are paradoxically united to compose or constitute the transient world of becoming.  If we turn to Hindu belief/philosophy, we find that it equates being with the enduring reality of Brahman, and non-being with the illusory unreality of the manifested universe or so-called real world of experiences. Turning to Mahayana Buddhism we find written in the Nirvana Sutra: "The Buddha nature neither exists nor does not exist/both exists and does not exist/...being and nothing combined/This is what is called the middle path." For Hegel, being and non-being are two opposing, completely indeterminate logical and also ontological categories which, however, are integrated into a third category of becoming at a higher and determinate level.  For Heidegger, being and non-being are no longer indeterminate categories, and non-being is, in fact, instrumental and necessary for our grasp of the meaning of being.

The philosopher Martin Heidegger
All of the above is, I admit, a highly complex philosophical reflection on humankind's experience of spirituality in its lived expression. Analytical philosophers would rule all these musings out of court as sheer mystical rubbish that means nothing.  For them, these categories used above are far too fuzzy terms for equally fuzzy and wholly unprovable realities.  In short, we are simply wasting our time on undefinable nonsense.  This writer can understand such scepticism because all of the above is nonsense to those who simply have never had a religious or spiritual experience.  I find myself in agreement with the wise words that Shakespeare puts in Hamlet's mouth by way of his response to his friend Horatio's opinions and ideas: "There are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio!"  Analytical philosophers, to my mind, need to declare a little humility and abandon an arrogance that encompasses so much dismissal of what may be beyond their ken.  

No comments:

Post a Comment