Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 69

Poem 69

The generals have a saying:
"Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard."

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.


Once again our Taoist poet is pushing us to the edge of incredulity and asking us to jump.  It is so hard to jump into the sheer irrational! There is a link here somewhere with Kierkegaard's "Leap of Faith," though commentators say that he spoke rather of a "Leap to Faith." It would appear that Kierkegaard was appealing to his reader, and to himself, to stop over-thinking, to stop thinking about thinking and getting all tied up in knots - as we are  so prone to getting caught up in philosophical, theological and even spiritual knots, it is surely better to just have faith, that is, take the leap to faith.  All of this is so hard to do as we lesser mortals need to prove so much to ourselves; we need to have the dubious satisfaction of having worked it out on our own; we simply are gripped so often by the childish need to shine up our egos.

Once again our Taoist poet is appealing to the wisdom of generals.  However, I don't know what generals he may be referring to as in the little I have read about war, mostly about World War I and World War II and the generals that were around then very few if none acted like the generals our poet mentions above. Those referred to above would never win any war with such a ridiculous strategy.

And yet, once again as we are becoming adjusted to the perspective of a Taoist take on life, we can glimpse a certain amount of truth and wisdom.  Even if all that's written above contradicts our reasoning we suspect there is a deeper wisdom being adumbrated by the poet.  I have always loved the wise saying: "This, too, will pass."  This piece of wisdom has been attributed to so many that it is hard to be exact about its provenance.  It bears similarity to the phrase "sic transit gloria mundi," or "thus passes the glory of the world," a phrase used at papal enthronement ceremonies from the fifteenth century right up until 1963, namely a warning to the Pope to realize that he too is very mortal indeed. However, these small points of not so useful information can be duly forgotten, but not their meaning or import, namely, that life is all too transient and fleeting.  With this wisdom in the back of our minds we may now read our poem again.  With this perspective or bird's eye view attained, we may swallow what has been presented to us in the above poem.

It is hard to take much of the above seriously with respect to war in the twentieth century, especially the lines:

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

Hitler and Stalin especially gave the lie to the sentiments expressed here. Think of Neville Chamberlain coming back to London, having swallowed all of Hitler's lies, saying to his nation and to the world from the steps of Downing Street on the 30th of September, 1938: "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."

Once again, this poem is pushing us to the edge of the cliff and asking us to jump; asking us to have faith; or to take the leap to faith; asking us to trust in a deeper or higher wisdom despite the evidence of our all too human eyes.  

In the final analysis we are a people of contradictions, and one suspects that Friedrich Nietzsche was right when he opined that we are only fruitful when we are "rich in contradictions.

The rest, my friends, is SILENCE.


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