Friday, February 12, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 44

Poem 44

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?

Success of failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.


Flowers on window sill, Hotel, Rome, Easter 2007
The famous American Nobel Laureate for Physics, Richard Feynman (1918 - 1988) once said that he would prefer to live with unanswered questions than with unquestioned answers. Long ago when I entered college as a young man of eighteen, I remember the then Director of Studies, Rev Dr Patrick Wallace telling us that we would more than likely leave the college with more questions than answers.  While we might not have deep and meaningful or clear answers we would, he insisted, have really good mature questions to ask of ourselves and of the world. There is a lot of wisdom then in both these pieces of advice.  There simply are no easy answers to life's big questions.  In like manner, the questions that are asked in the above Taoist poem are asked in the spirit in which the advice of both scholars was offered us in our opening remarks.

In a deep, spiritual or religious sense, then, the opening questions in our poem are rhetorical as they assume the answers are obvious.  Perhaps, like a lot of poems, the final lines really clinch the argument which the poet is attempting to hammer home.  Let's repeat them here for effect:

When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

Footprints of a dog, Donabate Strand, Feb., 2008
These lines appeal to me more than any of the others in the poem as they plumb the depths of spirituality.  The further we travel along the way of life, the more we realise that life is more about the journey than the destination and that happiness is not the destination, that it is, in fact, the way.  Moreover, the further we journey along the road of life, the more we realise also that everything is linked, that we are all connected, that union, unity, compassion and peace are all interwoven and interconnected; that the present moment is all we have got; that living in the past is to be avoided because it is almost always either filled with regrets or painful memories; that living in the future is almost always filled with anxiety or fear; that if we learn just simply to be in the moment that we begin to realise that "there is nothing lacking and that the whole world belongs to us."

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