Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 68

Poem 68

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don't love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.


In the West non-competition would practically never be seen as a virtue. It's hard to see from our experience in the modern Western world where non-competition would fit in at all. Certainly, our professional sports are competitive as careers and a lot of money depend on the success of the various players or teams. Indeed, even the amateur sports people here in the West are nothing if not competitive.  Competition is so entrenched in our psyche that it is hard to see how we can transcend our competitiveness and become non-competitively playful.  Our schools, universities and our businesses all subscribe to the rules of competition as only the best in their field are chosen to partake in the courses  or jobs on offer. And yet, in the context of the existential nature of life, which involves much sorrow as well as joy, we know that everyone around us will pass on as we will, too.  We are often driven, through ill-health, mental breakdown or some other catastrophe that befalls us to question the purpose of our lives, and then we begin to put things in context.  What is the point of being so driven? Surely there are limits to success? Surely there is a limit to the money we can earn? If one wins Wimbledon five times, is it really important to win it a sixth? 

Again, we must remind ourselves that spiritual tracts or texts all attempt to provoke us into deeper thinking.  In that sense, the questions posed, the suggested answers are often necessarily exaggerated.  It is very hard to see how there could have been any progress and advancement historically in any society without there having been a sense of competition and competitiveness around.  While I find some wisdom in the above poem, its sheer impracticality bowls me over.  However, having spent an amount of years studying theology, philosophy and spirituality, I like to be challenged and pushed to the edge.  In a certain impractical but wise way the author of the poem is right - if only we could always take a bird's eye view of things.  If only our perspective were that of the director of the play or film, then we should see where everything fits in.  Likewise as we get older we (hopefully) gain more perspective.  We begin to see that quality and not quantity is what matters in life; the value of something is more important than its price; our time is more important than any extra money we can earn.  It is that perspective pushed to the nth degree that the poet is pushing us towards.  Life pushes us towards wisdom and if we are open and swim with and not against its tide we will be happier and wiser.

Bar the above thoughts, I am singularly lacking anything else to say.  Therefore, I will stop here.


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