Chapter 46 puts forward a curious dilemma. According to that chapter, when the way prevails in the empire, fleet-footed horses are relegated to plowing the fields; when the way does not prevail in the empire, war-horses breed on the border. However, chapter 34 holds that, The way is broad, reaching left as well as right. Add to this chapter 1’s, The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way. Can we reconcile these seemingly conflicting views?
What does when the way does not prevail truly mean? Take a moment to ponder the reality of Nature versus how we feel about that reality. Saying, the way does not prevail speaks about the latter… About how you or I subjectively perceive the way, and not about The way that can be spoken of.
Regarding Nature, let’s consider the Chinese characters for nature. This can shed light on the immutable authenticity of nature. Nature = dàzìrán (大自然). The characters breaks down thus: dà (大) = big, great; zì (自) = self, certainly, of course, from; rán (然) = right, correct, so, like that. Here are some ways to assemble these English words: (1) great + of course + so, (2) big + self + correct, (3) great + self + so. Right now, I prefer great + self + so. In other words, ‘it is what it is’.
When I think that the way does not prevail, I am really projecting my perceptions onto the way. Essentially, all this amount to a reflection of my personal needs, loves, fears, and hates. This clearly doesn’t meet chapter 16’s Taoist standard of impartiality.
But should one act from knowledge of the constant
One’s action will lead to impartiality,
Impartiality to kingliness, Kingliness to heaven,
Heaven to the way, The way to perpetuity
Moreover, chapter 19 counsels us to, exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, have little thought of self and as few desires as possible.
Returning to chapter 46’s, when the way prevails in the empire, fleet-footed horses are relegated to plowing the fields, etc. How did this view that peace is nearer the way than war come to appear in the Tao Te Ching? After all, neither war nor peace exists independent from each other, i.e., to paraphrase chapter 2, War and peace, produce, complement, offset, harmonize and follow each other. Just because I hate war doesn’t mean war is not of the way. Indeed, as chapter 67 states, The whole world says that my way is vast and resembles nothing. It is because it is vast that it resembles nothing. If it resembled anything, it would, long before now, have become small.
The difficulty in seeing life through Taoist eyes is that the view seldom supports what we desire to see. Yet, desire doesn’t truly deserve the blame. From a symptoms point of view, desire simply reveals a lack of contentment. This deficiency generates desire. As chapter 46 literally says, Therefore, in being contented with one’s lot, enough is usually enough indeed.
Therefore, it helps to see the desire for anything as only a symptom of the lack of contentment. This bio-hoodwink (p.11, p.100) is how nature works. Feeling hunger and thirst arises from a perceived lack of food and water. In humans, this also translates into other symptoms of discontent… A desire, ‘hunger’, and ‘thirst’ to travel is a symptom of not feeling content where you are — whether it is to travel to the toilet to pee, or to travel to an exotic place to play. Chapter 80 addresses this contentment issue.
Bring it about that the people will return to the use of the knotted rope,
Will find relish in their food, And beauty in their clothes,
Will be content in their abode, And happy in the way they live.
Although, how one is supposed to bring that about is beyond me. Feeling content is one of the most mysterious things to do. You can’t just ‘do it’, because doing it would have to arise from a lack of contentment with the status quo.
Remembering that the problem is constant, and solutions come and go helps. Although, you’d think this would be discouraging. Actually, fully accepting the dynamics of life fosters a sober and yielding contentment. Put simply, it is easier to conform to Nature than to fight it. As chapter 65 says, Only then is complete conformity realized.
Finally, Buddha definitely nailed it with his first truth… “First Noble Truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful, growth is sorrowful, illness is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful. Sad it is to be joined with that which we do not like. Sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which cannot be obtained”. If you really accept that, the rest takes care of itself!
Cosmic Keith says
I realize that this reply is long “overdue,” but I just found your site… and enjoy it. Thanks for sharing!
RE: ” When I know the burning is caused by holding on, it is easier to let go, even though I may have reasons for holding on. (e.g., Like, the pan is made of solid gold!)”
So, a small child, never encountering the stove before, yet very curious, grabs the pan and he/she … Does NOT let go? … Because she/ he does not “know the cause”? hmmmm.
Reasons for holding on; a desire, greed for gold? because some outside conditions were placed…? The outside Conditions, enforce an outside idea and ones thinking or acceptance of the idea leads one to override instinct (the letting go of burning object). One’s inherent system; ie:the nervous system, function perfectly well without our involvement (thinking, knowledge, belief in those, and thus overriding).
Like wise with hunger and thirst. Inherent in the body, Hormonal interactions signaling to the nervous system, then the brain, alert ‘you’ to the needs of the body. You don’t try at it. The distortions arise with the thinking about what that signal means, rather than just following it. Habituated thoughts, and false ideas about the topic (like I’ll ignore that cuz i don’t want to get fat, or ‘I’ can’t eat the hamburger my body calls for cuz I’m a vegetarian) seem to create further distortions within the system. Having not supplied the requested/ required nourishment, the signaling mechanisms begin to break down, leading to further distortions in beliefs about thoughts.
LXXV: ” The People are Hungry: (bodily spirits)
It is because Those in Authority(‘I’-Ego desires) eat up too much in taxes that the People are hungry.
The People are difficult to Govern:
It is because Those in Authority are too fond of Action(‘I’ pursue desire) The People are difficult to Govern (neglecting true needs)
Oh yes, I assume we are saying the same thing. Any difference lies in what part of the elephant we are reporting on at the moment ;-). That’s encouraging news that my “version sounds more intelligent”. My efforts are not completely in vain then!
I find this true. A parallel comes to mind: I’m holding on the a hot pan and I feel a burning sensation. When I know (truly understand) the burning is caused by holding on, it is easier to let go, even though I may have reasons for holding on. (e.g., Like, the pan is made of solid gold!)
Without any illusions about the true source of my pain, my path is simplified. I can either hold on and burn or let go, lose, and find relief. Alas, the practice is never as simple as the preaching (i.e., Great perfection seems chipped).
I think we are saying the same thing but mine is Philosophy 099, “Philosophy for Dumbos”. Your version sounds more intelligent.
“A more pressing practical question: How does one let go and make the emotional leap to accept that thought is only a figment of imagination? The closest answer I’ve seen…”
That was the answer for me. Boy, did I hold on! I still do. Now that I understand this, though, there is a greater likely that I will let go sooner.
Wise people tried to tell me but I already knew the truth so I ignored them.
“The word ‘illusion’ is an illusion.” I think I would simply say that the concept “illusion” allows me to consider that my thoughts may not reflect “reality” and allows me to return to a state of not knowing. When I don’t already know, then I am prepared to learn. Then I go through the process again.
Is this the “right” way. I don’t know. But being fixated on what I think I know has done nothing for me but destroy my peace and ruin my relationships. And, living with someone like that is a PITA for me, too.
The word ‘illusion’ is an illusion. All names and words are illusion. So what is illusion really? This is a case where lines of distinction becomes blurrier and blurrier. Certainty gives way to ambiguity – the indistinct and shadowy become reality.
Biologically, it matters less what your mind thinks it thinks. Emotion truly rules awareness’s roost, not only in humans but all animals. Emotionally ‘knowing’ (acceptance?) that all thought is illusion reduces the role thought plays on triggering emotional reactions (to thoughts previously triggered by emotional reactions, to previous thoughts, triggered earlier by emotional reactions to… and so on). In a word, feedback.
As soon as we are able to think, we begin building a reservoir of memories from the blending of emotion and thought that consciousness registers over the years. The more we believe this ‘blending’ truly reflects reality, the stronger the feedback. Accepting that this ‘blending’ is only a figment of our imagination(1) breaks the bonds of trust we have in that ‘blending’. The deeper we feel the acceptance, the weaker our trust. This, in turn, weakens feedback. The weaker the feedback, the more we can leave mental baggage behind and experience life in the original, spontaneously.
Two factors are at play here: (1) Thought, which results in the words I’m writing right now, and (2) emotion, the feeling of certainty I have in the ‘truth’ of what I’m writing / thinking. It is the underlying emotion that really counts here. This is why saying the word ‘illusion’ is an illusion is not as paradoxical as it sounds.
A more pressing practical question: How does one let go and make the emotional leap to accept that thought is only a figment of imagination? The closest answer I’ve seen comes from chapter 36: If you would have a thing laid aside (let go), you must first set it up (hold on)… There are countless cultural short cuts sold to expedite this. Personally, I see none working as advertized. So far all I can see is that we each hold on according to our nature, and then let go, according to our nature. No doubt such fatalistic simplicity is unappealing to anyone who has yet to know the benefit of resorting to no action.
(1) Figment of our imagination = another word for illusion. Judging from my extensive reply here, I sure enjoy playing around with the figments of my imagination. That’s okay as long as they don’t play me! 😉
My first thought is to wonder whether it is illusion if you know it is an illusion. If your mind or senses are not deceived, then is it an illusion? If your mind or senses cannot move beyond the illusion, then it doesn’t really help much to know that it is an illusion. You must distinguish with your mind or your senses the reality within the illusion. Then, there is no illusion for you.
I’d qualify that a little. “Hunger and thirst found in illusion are destructive” if one doesn’t know the illusionary aspect. It is like a person pretending they are a bird. That’s fine as long as they know it is a fantasy. If they start believing they are, chances are they’ll jump off a roof expecting to soar the sky.
All too often we believe what we think… the fantasy… and… splat!
Hunger and thirst play an important role in survival. Hunger and thirst founded in illusion are destructive.
Desire is a very creative force. Desire based in illusion is destructive. For myself, the only distinction I make is the illusion. Otherwise, I see them as the same. However, without the illusion, I can let go of desire and not make it mean anything about me, you, or life. I am left whole and you are left whole, if you choose to be.
sometimes i think too much
sometimes not enough (perhaps)