Friday, January 29, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 41

Poem 41

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.


Scene on the Garovogue River, summer 2006
Once again, we are in the realm of myth and mysticism, and consequently we are immediately in the domain of poetry with its metaphors, images, paradoxes and seeming contradictions.  Quite simply, when we are in these environs we have to let go of all literalism.  Philosophers of the analytic school of philosophy seek to reduce reality to statements that either make sense or don't, to a reflection on experience that seeks to analyse it conceptually and express those concepts in logical statements.  From their point of view none of the above poem makes any rational or reasonable sense and is merely a flight of the imagination.  For us folk who have a religious or spiritual sense which we believe opens us to a mystery or a unity or a truth beyond our finite human reason and reasoning, the above poem brings us into a sense of wonder at the very mystery and often the painful beauty of life.  For the sceptic or the atheist such is mere delusion.  However, that is the way life is.  As the great scholar and theologian, John Henry Cardinal Newman, once remarked, "one can neither argue a man into or out of a religious commitment or belief" as it is as much, if not more, a question of the heart as well as of the head.
Scene from the Garavogue River, Sligo, Summer 2006

To achieve the status of the "superior man" is no mean feat and requires a lot of practice and discipline.  So few of us are able to so "embody the Tao."  To embody the Tao equates with what the Buddhists term "enlightenment."  It would be nothing short of hubris to insist that such a state is achievable with ease and facility.  This is the import of stanza one. Stanza two is the one that abounds in well balanced polar images: light vs dark; forward vs back; strong vs weak; pure vs tarnished; permanence vs change; clarity vs obscurity; sophistication vs simplicity; wisdom vs stupidity; love vs indifference and being lost vs being found.

In conclusion, I invite the reader to read the above poem reflectively and to let whatever word or phrase suggests itself become a mantra for a short meditation.

Namaste, friends. 

No comments:

Post a Comment