Friday, February 19, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 46

Poem 46

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear will always be safe.


Stained glass window, St Vitus Cathedral, Prague, 2016
Our translator Stephen Mitchell is using his translator's licence in his above rendition of poem 46. To illustrate how one translator's version differs from another's, I give here immediately that of Derek Lin which is available at the link given after it.  It runs thus:

When the world has the Tao
Fast horses are retired to till the soil
When the world lacks the Tao
Warhorses give birth on the battlefield.
There is no crime greater than greed
No disaster greater than discontentment
No fault greater than avarice
Thus the satisfaction of contentment
is the lasting satisfaction
Mitchell speaks of the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and Lin that of horses being prepared for battle.  He also chooses to use contemporary or modern images of prosperity and war, that is, tractors and nuclear warheads while his fellow translator chooses the more historic images of agricultural workhorses and warhorses to put across the same message, namely that harmony with the Tao leads both to individual, social, national and international peace and harmony.

Ancient means of war: Prague Castle, February 2016
Evil stalks our world when we as individuals are not "at home " or are not comfortable with ourselves as persons; when we are always envious of others, and when our hearts are shackled, if not shattered, by negative feelings.  If, as individuals, we find it hard to live with ourselves, how can we ever find it easy to live in some peaceful acceptance with others?Whatever happens in our hearts at this micro or personal and social level must surely be magnified if a whole people or nation are not "at home" or comfortable with their identity as a people.  It is no wonder, then, that when crises arise, these opposing nations can see no peaceful solution to their conflicted sense of their own identity and that of the hated other and take recourse to war.  

Therefore, if more and more people are in harmony with themselves they will live in consequent harmony with others.  This micro, personal and social situation will then be replicated further at national and international level.  Hence, the more people practise mindfulness, meditation and prayer as individuals and as small groups there will be a knock-on effect on the world.  When people are "in harmony with the Tao" prosperity comes about.  One could say that peace and prosperity "break out," instead of its direct opposite, namely the inevitability of fighting and war.  Material prosperity follows inevitably on the heels of spiritual prosperity, if one may express the idea thus.

Hitler, and indeed all other dictators whether of the right or left, knew all too well how to manipulate people by playing to their baser instincts like fears, anxieties, memories of old rivalries; by re-opening old wounds; by inspiring the negative feelings of greed and avarice, discontentment, jealousy and envy and thereby fomenting racism, hatred, murder, mayhem and war.

However, to see through all fear is a very difficult thing to do.  The Tao Te Ching is suggesting a path for us to follow, a way of practising reflection and mindfulness, a way of meditating on life, a way of positive action in the world that springs naturally from such practice.  Once, when the great Irish poet, W.B. Yeats was asked how a person becomes a good writer, he replied that he or she must practise continually their craft.  If we are to become mindful people we must also follow the advice given by Yeats, namely to practise the craft of meditating as often and as regularly as possible.  Nothing less is required.

Namaste, friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment