Saturday, October 18, 2014

Beginning: Tao Te Ching, Chapter One

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, Translation by Derek Lin (comments by me) Chapter One

Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu has succinct wisdom that I have considered worth applying to my life. There is one other book I found more accessible but less spiritual which I plan to cover: A Manual for Living by Epictetus, A New Interpretation by Sharon Lebell.   I am just typing the words from the cover as it appears to be just a compilation of other sources. The book came to me through a coincidence and has been sitting on my desk at work ever since. I researched a bit about Epictetus but really do not trust history from that period of time (or most periods of time); so I find myself with a bunch of words (like I do with the Tao Te Ching) whose source is probably unimportant in that it will remain unknown or questionable while the wisdom of the books seems near indisputable in positive application to my life. I look back and I see how I have changed and how my thought has been based logically on the concepts I learned to trust..

This translation of the Tao.. that I have chosen looks to be very good based on the few entries I have read, but there are many translations that have good points, sometimes completely different points. I have a paperback somewhere in a box which has the most accessible version of the Tao.. that I have found and that was written in the 50's, I believe. It is less mystical. I need to find that translation and post it if it is unavailable online because it was a find that helped me so much through a different perspective.

Tao Te Ching:

Chapter 1
The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
The nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth
The named is the mother of myriad things
Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations
These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders
The Tao incorporates all the doubt one may have about the world or what one is told about the world. And this is an extremely important concept to me. It is the hook that drew me in.*

 "The Tao that can be spoken..." is not the actual Tao, or, by logical extension, the Tao that is written here is not the actual Tao. I use the word "actual" but the word "eternal" does have meaning beyond this simpler idea in that it indicates the importance of time in the equation. Things change in time. Our experiences change, our beliefs change, and even reality changes. As surely as an atomic particle decays so does reality change as well. We will see later that the Tao is constantly in motion.

If you have read another of my blogs: "Documented Insolence," you would understand more about just how deep my doubt is of what I have been told, or of what people try to convince me to believe. I have been lost in this maze most of my life. I never turned to atheism, though it is easy to understand why that is a choice people make. I will not turn to non-belief as the only answer, or as the converse, to flawed belief. I cling to one grain of hope just this side of faith that the world is not strictly without some design or approachable knowledge of purpose. Without this I would be entirely lost because I cannot just live some purposeless life with or without moral values. When I was deep in doubt, a hurtful debilitating doubt, I came across Alan Watts and then the Tao Te Ching. My doubts appear healthy to me now and not exasperating. I do not owe this to Alan Watts or to Lao Tsu, but to an idea passed to me that made sense to me. I am thankful therefore to those who passed the idea.

"The name that can be named is not the eternal name." Language itself, our ability to communicate, is probably not worthless but is so limited as to never attain the goal of describing truth. My doubt of almost everything was sealed when I came to believe this idea. I began first with the doubt of what I was taught by my parents which seemed too often to be contradicted by what I was being taught at school. I was young, obviously, and searching for myself. My parents died when I was in my early 20's  and so their wisdom did not have a healthy chance of getting through to a more mature mind. Later, much later, I began to doubt science itself. My extreme doubt began in college and guided me towards a degree in Computer Science rather than Psychology, the love of my early life. Computers were man-made. Their only purpose was in their designed purpose. I could handle that. As surely as I hated accounting because of arbitrary rules, computers later showed their arbitrary nature, but I am still happy with my choice and much happier still in the small liberal arts education I had alongside my major. **

"The nameless is the origin of the Heaven and Earth" "The named is the mother of myriad things"

I do love this translation. As we have learned, language cannot describe the Tao. The "Tao" has a meaning but it only becomes apparent later and this meaning is not understood on the level of word thought but more on the level of intuition. For now we probably must assume the Tao means some kind of truth or force. It is a truth that is beyond our understanding, at least if we are thinking with language. Heaven and Earth originates from this Tao. I would dare to put into words that the path of reality, "the way," the Tao, comes from the nameless eternal force which we cannot hope to egotistically "name" or set limits upon because at that point we would get it wrong. The Tao is just there, unknowable by our limitations, but approachable because it is the essence of everything. 

And so the Tao is something that relies on a beginning in the desire for faith. We can never understand the supernatural reference here as we can never truly define the word "supernatural" in this sentence. If we try to define the Tao, we use words. Naming things, with words, creates a universe of thought in which we all seem to live, but yet, the Tao is of a higher nature than can be described in this world. Naming gives rise to a myriad things. To the extent that our ego tells us we are correctly viewing the world, we are lost in mere manifestations that we may just describe as the shadows on the wall of Plato's cave.

I see a "tree." I see an oak tree. I see an oak tree that is descended from a one celled organism in evolutionary theory. I see a green tree, no it is a red tree at times. I see a tree unlike any other because of a deer which trampled a branch just so when it was a seedling.

Naming gives rise to myriad things, all the things we can experience and know about in a limited lifetime. But while an oak is a tree, so a pine is also a tree. We can generalize as to what a tree really is but in this way we will never truly know a single example of a tree. And if we do not generalize, then we can describe each variation, each leaf, through time even as it occurs, until we must finally give up. So it is with the Tao.

The important thing to remember here is that language and description fail us and pretty much all of our ideas are based on this "myriad" of possible truths that our language, or the act of "naming", provides us.

The next part of this first chapter deals with this dichotomy of what actually is eternally true and our manufactured thought universe which is entirely based on attempts to communicate to others and ourselves.

Thus, constantly without desire, one observes its essence
Constantly with desire, one observes its manifestations

We may want or "desire" to tell of the Tao but we cannot. We cannot really know the Tao. We are limited humans. We will be lost if we believe only what we can communicate with words. We perceive then a different thing than the Tao. We see manifestations of the Tao, not the real Tao. However, "without" this "desire" to put the Tao into words or define it by our experiences, there is actually another approach to feeling, understanding intuitively, or having a oneness with the Tao. It all rests on the assumption of the existence of something greater because we are by our nature lesser than perfect.

These two emerge together but differ in name
The unity is said to be the mystery
Mystery of mysteries, the door to all wonders

To have desire and not have desire is a mystery but it is an extremely important mystery. Think of it logically. If I did not desire to understand the Tao, I would never read the book. In reading the book, I am only reading of manifestations that can be communicated to me or that I can understand with my limited vocabulary based on the limited experiences I have had in life. If I at the same time lack the desire to put things into some kind of  text in my mind doomed to failure (corrupting the message), then I can approach or let us say, caress the Tao. (How can one not play with the word "desire?") I can observe the Tao's essence but not the Tao itself. If this does not remind you of Christianity, stop and think. 

So, we are talking about a kind of  faith that is based first upon the doubt of language and science and pretty much everything one can put into words. It is based upon our inherent limitations. In this way, the Tao Te Ching meets my criteria for honesty as stated in my other previously mentioned blog: "Trust those who seek the truth, but doubt those who say they have found it."

Approaching the Tao, we must be so very careful not to fall into the trap of language. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of the egotistic notion that we are somehow better educated than is possible. 

So why the heck am I writing this?

I do have the desire to understand. In trying to understand I find that writing or formulating ideas is helpful. Blogs have helped my thinking process more than any other thing save my early attempts to capture my thoughts into language in school. Had you asked me at the first word of this blog if I was capable of remembering my past understanding of this first chapter of the Tao Te Ching in it's entirety, I would have wondered whether I could actually do that. The words to me were nonsense for so long but I desired to know their meaning. And many years later, I apparently do remember the meanings I attached and they have coalesced in my absence from study. The earlier study became a part of my life, unspoken, but underpinning my developed beliefs and giving me guidance. 

Now, at this point, I truly only wonder whether I have left something important out in my attempt to not go on forever with example, explanation, and endless repetition in slightly different phrasing. (No doubt I will edit even more when I reread). This first chapter, though seemingly short and simple, contains the basis upon which to go forward. Doubt must be maintained.

In blogging, my understanding and my writing sometimes emerge together and feed on each other. And it IS like a door. The door to all wonders. And as in other blogs, I write trying to avoid worry of any disapproval I might come across, or any mistakes I may make because of my limited education and nature. I am changeable and I am adaptable. I am willing to make the journey,


The rest of the first twelve chapters:

Chapter 2
When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and non-being produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short reveal each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other
Therefore the sages:
Manage the work of detached actions
Conduct the teaching of no words
They work with myriad things but do not control
They create but do not possess
They act but do not presume
They succeed but do not dwell on success
It is because they do not dwell on success
That it never goes away

Chapter 3
Do not glorify the achievers
So the people will not squabble
Do not treasure goods that are hard to obtain
So the people will not become thieves
Do not show the desired things
So their hearts will not be confused
Thus the governance of the sage:
Empties their hearts
Fills their bellies
Weakens their ambitions
Strengthens their bones
Let the people have no cunning and no greed
So those who scheme will not dare to meddle
Act without contrivance
And nothing will be beyond control

Chapter 4
The Tao is empty
When utilized, it is not filled up
So deep! It seems to be the source of all things
It blunts the sharpness
Unravels the knots
Dims the glare
Mixes the dusts
So indistinct! It seems to exist
I do not know whose offspring it is
Its image is the predecessor of the Emperor

Chapter 5
Heaven and Earth are impartial
They regard myriad things as straw dogs
The sages are impartial
They regard people as straw dogs
The space between Heaven and Earth
Is it not like a bellows?
Empty, and yet never exhausted
It moves, and produces more
Too many words hasten failure
Cannot compare to keeping to the void

Chapter 6
The valley spirit, undying
Is called the Mystic Female
The gate of the Mystic Female
Is called the root of Heaven and Earth
It flows continuously, barely perceptible
Utilize it; it is never exhausted

Chapter 7
Heaven and Earth are everlasting
The reason Heaven and Earth can last forever
Is that they do not exist for themselves
Thus they can last forever
Therefore the sages:
Place themselves last but end up in front
Are outside of themselves and yet survive
Is it not due to their selflessness?
That is how they can achieve their own goals

Chapter 8
The highest goodness resembles water
Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention
It stays in places that people dislike
Therefore it is similar to the Tao
Dwelling with the right location
Feeling with great depth
Giving with great kindness
Speaking with great integrity
Governing with great administration
Handling with great capability
Moving with great timing
Because it does not contend
It is therefore beyond reproach

Chapter 9
Holding a cup and overfilling it
Cannot be as good as stopping short
Pounding a blade and sharpening it
Cannot be kept for long
Gold and jade fill up the room
No one is able to protect them
Wealth and position bring arrogance
And leave disasters upon oneself
When achievement is completed, fame is attained
Withdraw oneself
This is the Tao of Heaven

Chapter 10
In holding the soul and embracing oneness
Can one be steadfast, without straying?
In concentrating the energy and reaching relaxation
Can one be like an infant?
In cleaning away the worldly view
Can one be without imperfections?
In loving the people and ruling the nation
Can one be without manipulation?
In the heavenly gate's opening and closing
Can one hold to the feminine principle?
In understanding clearly all directions
Can one be without intellectuality?
Bearing it, rearing it
Bearing without possession
Achieving without arrogance
Raising without domination
This is called the Mystic Virtue

Chapter 11
Thirty spokes join in one hub
In its emptiness, there is the function of a vehicle
Mix clay to create a container
In its emptiness, there is the function of a container
Cut open doors and windows to create a room
In its emptiness, there is the function of a room
Therefore, that which exists is used to create benefit
That which is empty is used to create functionality

Chapter 12
The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth
Racing and hunting make one wild in the heart
Goods that are difficult to acquire make one cause damage
Therefore the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes
That is why they discard the other and take this

*  This chapter is quite possibly not the actual beginning of the original Tao Te Ching. The nice thing about Taoism and Zen is their readiness to accept the new, a total contradiction for many "religions.". If someone finds a better method  to discover Zen, then it becomes a new way to discover the same thing. The thing about this first chapter of the Tao.. is that an earlier version of the text was discovered in a completely different order. The order in which I will proceed will be this old text thought to be ordered correctly for thousands of years. But the newly discovered texts may well shed some light upon things. This development came at the tale end of my study and I only glanced at it as I had eternalized the original beginning of the Tao..

** It must be stated somewhere that during my early college years, I judiciously studied the four Gospels independently through printed commentaries. I have never totally rejected the God of the Holy Bible, but I certainly rejected the God that was being taught to me outside of these commentaries. Later, while I did feel that the commentaries were more scholarly and correct, I also doubted the commentaries. And I have always had grave doubts about the Bible being a supernatural item as well. Yet wisdom is important, I still believe, and I do not reject wisdom from any source. Personal mistakes and tragedies have been my greatest source of felt wisdom. Those who truly believe something must be important regardless of my opinion of the merits of their beliefs. Yet, the internal logic of their beliefs and my common sense of experience hold sway upon my judgement of beliefs.  More concrete ideas like whether a tornado missed one house by God's hand yet hit another (an internal logic flaw) just astound me. How can this be a belief without a deeper thought? And further the ignoring of some things in the Bible while emphasizing others to create a system of belief of man's own design is just not something I can go along with. As an example, when the Bible says so clearly not to pray in public to be seen by others, should I just go ahead and pray when others do so... in public for the view of others... for the approval of others? I do...but only because I hold "love" to be of extreme importance. It is part of my grain of hope. And it is counterproductive anyway to attack another's belief system in direct confrontation over a roasted turkey.