Of old he who was well versed in the way
Was minutely subtle, mysteriously comprehending,
And too profound to be known.
It is because he could not be known
That he can only be given a makeshift description:
Tentative, as if fording a river in winter,
Hesitant, as if in fear of his neighbours;
Formal like a guest;
Falling apart like thawing ice;
Thick like the uncarved block;
Vacant like a valley;
Murky like muddy water.
Tentative, Hesitant, Formal, Falling apart, Thick, Vacant, Murky describe my (our) real nature. As a youth, instead of settling into my nature, I saw it as a problem and sought fixes. Coffee helped with the murky, alcohol helped with the formal, and disciplines and dogmas with the rest.
Why does society look down upon thick, vacant, murky and such? These are not survival strengths, and so we struggle to overcome them. But these qualities lie at the heart of humility and connecting with the whole. These seeds of wisdom promote sanity.
Tentative, vacant, and murky don’t stand in the way of action as much as I thought they would. Action just takes place as needed without the self righteous moralistic certitude I used to bring to it. The more tentative and hesitant I am, the less arrogant I am in justifying any particular action; this helps me avoid willfully innovating while ignorant of the constant [see ch. 16].
Minutely subtle, mysteriously comprehending, And too profound to be known seems to describe the sage. I find, however, that this describes my sense of reality. I constantly ponder life in an attempt to tighten up it’s tentative and murky reality. When I sense truth, I feel it in every pore, yet when I try to nail it conceptually, even as a makeshift description, I lose the big picture, and continue the pondering.
Tentative, Hesitant and such may be more tolerated in older societies than America. We, more than any other people on the planet, advocate the opposite. Is this because of our unique experience of coming over to tame this rather virgin land? We responded like any group might at a free for all… we went for it. And this approach has now become a cultural ethic.
Who can be muddy and yet, settling, slowly become limpid?
Who can be a rest and yet, stirring, slowly come to life?
He who holds fast to this way
Desires not to be full.
It is because he is not full
That he can be worn and yet newly made.
Who can be a rest and yet, stirring, slowly come to life? Again, I find this to describe my (our) true nature, except when I’m overcome with desire and rush about to fill myself to the brim. Modern society has made being limpid and alive a virtue, and so I try to hide being muddy and at rest.
Worn and yet newly made reminds me of feeling ALIVE. There is a sparkle to the moment. I have my wits about me when I’m hungry; I’m more creative and responsive. When I’m full, I want to lie down and sleep. While this is most apparent in relation to food, it also applies to anything else I desire. Delaying gratification heightens my sense of being newly made. Of course this has a price—letting go of the immediate gratification I lust for. I just can’t have my cake and eat it too.
Desire in the primordial jungle setting would seldom lead to filling it to the brim[see ch. 9]. Natural conditions would provide the counter balance to my desire. Civilization allows me to avoid many of these natural limiting forces and this throws me off balance. I desire not to be full when my need to return to a deeper sense of balance is stronger than my need to satiate every transitory desire.
Desires not to be full reminds me of Buddha’s Middle Path. Intense desire pushes me until I’m full. Once full, all that’s left is the downward crash—one extreme followed by another. In youth, this was exciting; now it’s just wearisome. Therefore the sage desires not to desire [see ch. 64]. Buddha’s Fourth Truth helps with this: ‘There is salvation for him whose sole desire is the performance of his duty’. This redirects some desire away from stimuli and the inevitable fullness which follows.
Be worn and yet newly made is a blending of opposites, instead of embodying all one or the other. Of course, I still go through the ups and downs of life, but not to the full extreme. I find sorrow in joy and joy in sorrow. I suspect that many would dislike this way; we are more attracted to paths that promise full joy without sorrow. The way of nature, alas, is otherwise.
I think of things as wearing out until finally needing to be renewed. Birth, growth, decay and death. Being worn and yet newly made bypasses wearing out. It touches eternity. Eternity neither begins (new) or ends (wears out). The closer I conform to this, the nearer I feel to eternity.
I desire not to be overtaken by my desire. When I allow myself to have desires in order to observe its manifestations[see ch. 1]., but desire not to be full, life is more manageable.