Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Thoughts on the Tao Te Ching 77

Poem 77

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn't enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don't have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn't think that she is better
than anyone else.


Oscar Wilde in his play The Importance of Being Ernest has one of his characters declare with respect to the pure and simple truth of things that "the truth is rarely pure and never simple."  In a politics that prizes soundbites over nuanced and careful statements, it is hard to know what the truth of any particular situation is.  Soundbites simplify things far too readily and easily and in doing so warp the truth beyond all recognition.  There are at least two sides to every story as the cliche runs.  Finding that elusive balance with respect to life is a task each one of us has to face in the course of our existence.  Understatement and exaggeration are often much abused by those in power to convince their followers.

It takes much discernment, a process of deliberate and even critical reflection upon one's perception of life, to arrive at balance, to arrive as it were at a "viewing point" where one can calmly assess the journey up to that point and at least some of the pathway that lies before us.  I often like to call this "vantage point," my "still point," my "centre of gravity" and even my "centre of equanimity."  The same with any crisis in our lives, or at the time of a big decision, what we most need is the power of discernment a skill much advised by St Ignatius of Loyola and the Jesuit Order which he founded.

And so let us return to the image in our first stanza above, namely the balanced distribution of force throughout the action of a bow and arrow.  I especially like the last two lines of this first stanza that run:  It takes from what is too much//and gives to what isn't enough.  Indeed, it is hard to see any such balance at work in the world, especially in the financial sectors.

Forcing control really never works out in the end - it may in the immediate future, but never in the long-term future.  Most oppressed peoples do eventually, often after much suffering and blood loss, manage to attain their freedom.  Micro-management in a work situation is often used by very poor managers who like to over-criticise and over-supervise their "underlings" and they proceed as if they have all the answers.  There is much room for the balance of the Tao in most work places.

Again, our third stanza proceeds by way of hyperbole and exaggeration.  There is much paradox in the sentiment that the Master or Mistress "can keep giving" as "there is no end to her wealth."  She is also exceedingly modest and when she succeeds at anything she never wishes to take any credit for her good action.  Again, this strikes the present writer as complete wishful thinking.  Yet, in the context of the whole poem, and, indeed, in the context of the whole book, we are ready to cut the author some slack and say, "Well, yes, I could possibly go along with a little of that, but it is completely contrary to my experience."

In conclusion, then, when we meditate, we should be open to balance and perspective as we proceed. Here's praying that both of these qualities, balance and perspective, will rule in our lives.  Namaste, friends and thanks for reading.

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