Sunday, January 31, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 42

Poem 42

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.

Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female

and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.


Flowers, Ardgillen Park, Skerries, Easter, 2014
Numerology made up a significant part of ancient religions. One, Two and Three are well known sacred numbers.  One represents unity or wholeness. Two is especially symbolic for Taoists:  followers of Taoism believe in the complementary and opposing forces of Ying and Yang. Threes, triads and triangles were always important in both ancient and modern religions, too. The 'Three Pure Ones' are the highest ranking gods in the Taoist trinity, they are The Grand Pure One, The Jade Pure One and The Supreme Pure One.  It is in the sense of the symbolism of numbers that three is seen as generative of all life.  These reflections may give some insight into stanza one above.

I have mentioned many times in these commentaries that the Tao is very much based on the balance of opposites, on the tension between obvious polarities, e.g., light vs dark, day vs night, white vs black, fire vs water, expanding vs contracting, height vs depth and so on and so forth.  Another polarity is undoubtedly male vs female. In Taoist philosophy this balance of polar opposites is called Yin (dark, feminine, open to life and possibility) and Yang (bright, masculine, defensive, protective and, therefore, somewhat closed).  Basically, this healthy tension of opposites describes how contrary forces are actually complementary or interconnected or interdependent in the natural world and in our experiences of that world. Indeed, they are so mutually bound up with one another that they seem to give rise to one another. This basic duality is a major trait of classical Chinese science and philosophy. Further, it is central to the understanding and practice of traditional Chinese medicine and a major principle of the practice of different forms of Chinese martial arts and physical exercise of all types.

Mountains over Delphi, March 2008

Chinese philosophy argues that everything has both yin and yang aspects (for instance shadow cannot exist without light.) Either of the two major aspects may manifest more strongly in a particular object depending on the criterion used as a basis for our observation. The yin-yang (as shown in the taijitu symbol shown herewith) shows a balance between two opposites with a portion of the opposite element in each section. A basic rule regarding the relationship between yin and yang is that the YANG (masculine) protects the YIN (feminine) and the YIN nurtures the YANG and that together they form a complete whole.  Everyone has a max of yin and yang qualities. Men are essentially more YANG - in body, temperament and behaviour while women are essentially more YIN.  Again, each of us has some of the other energy, and in each of us our yang protects our yin. 

Solitude is a much misunderstood condition or experience.  Religious and spiritual folk of all denominations and none understand what solitude is.  Indeed, so do all creative people whether they belong to the Sciences or the Arts.  In solitude the "creative juices" or "inspiring muses" work effectively.  If the present author does not get at least a couple of hours of solitude daily he will be out of sorts and will become grumpy.  It is a special time for me to "re-charge my batteries" and re-empower myself to do my daily work as a Resource Teacher responsible for the education of some ten autistic adolescent boys.  I love the job, and thrive on it, but if I do not get my two hour daily dose of time alone in solitude, I am useless both to myself and to all with whom I work.  Real solitude has nothing to do with loneliness or being alone in the sense of being abandoned by others.  Loneliness is all about absence of others and the feeling of absolute loss of their presence in your life.  On the other hand, solitude is all about presence - about being present to oneself in a deep way, about even being present to others though they are not with you as you simply do not miss them as they are their in your heart.  This is where the spirituality of solitude comes in: I am here sitting alone, and yet I feel the presence of all the people who mean much to me in my life. In the stillness of my heart and in the solitude of my soul I truly feel their presence in my life.  Now, with these thoughts and feelings in my mind, I am re-reading the final stanza of the above poem: You see the Master, or any meditator who is serious about his periods of stillness embraces his aloneness or solitude and realises that he is truly one with everything and everybody in the universe.  In other words, meditation and mysticism in all spiritual traditions calls us into a realisation that we are merely just one little insignificant part of a more significant whole. 

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