Onkur Sen

"The way to be is to do." Confucius

Reflections on Tao Te Ching

Nov 23, 2009

If you can empty your mind of all thoughts,
Your heart will embrace the tranquility of peace.
Watch the workings of all creation,
But contemplate their return to the source.
Chapter 16

Emptiness leads to peaceā€¦almost sounds like an argument Schopenhauer would give. This is true given the premise that knowledge is painful; it disturbs the tranquil essence of the Tao, which is itself manifested in us. Yet, humans are curious beings by nature. Does that mean that our natural instinct leads us to deviate from the Tao? Then again, I suppose this reinforces the message of Taoism: we are born as uncarved blocks of wood, and through our curiosity we carve the block. To align with the Tao, however, is to return to our initial tranquil, uncarved state.

Embrace simplicity.
Put others first.
Desire little.
Chapter 19

Those whose desires are few get them,
Those whose desires are great go astray.
Chapter 22

This sounds like the mantra of Zen Habits. It calls for a very rudimentary yet satisfying life. This is another way of expressing the way of the Tao: by embracing simplicity, one lets go of the unnecessary and returns to the original, primitive, yet complete life. By putting others first, one removes the arrogance that blinds him and returns to his humble and wise self. It also positions him to be a great leader because he observes all and behaves altruistically. Desiring little is another way of restating the first though because as one desires more, his mind becomes cluttered, and his simplicity is subsequently eradicated.

The greatest virtue you can have
Comes from following only the Tao;
Which takes a form that is intangible and evasive.
Even though the Tao is intangible and evasive,
We are able to know it exists.
Chapter 21

Then is Taoism presented here as a form of monotheism? True, the Tao does possess some variation of a divine affinity, but does it reach the level of or even supersede a God? I do not think so, at least not in the conventional sense, primarily because the Tao is passive: it by itself cannot alter the state of the world. A god, on the other hand, usually has a purpose and dictates a specific course of action. In addition, the Tao serves more as an ideal or a path than an actual living being and thus is not a god.

If you want to become whole,
First let yourself become broken.
Chapter 22

This struck a powerful chord with me. Having suffered through a bad relationship and its horrific, heart-tugging aftermath only to see it renewed and in a much better state this time, I believe I can relate to this. Essentially, to truly appreciate the good, one must have knowledge of the bad. More specifically, this knowledge must be acquired not by means of musing and theorizing, but by direct experience, i.e. one must have dabbled in such affairs. Through this experience, one will realize that one should deviate away from the bad and gravitate towards the good. However, the phrasing is so unique and powerful that Lao Tzu presents the message in a much more direct and compelling manner than I could have ever conjured.

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