Friday, November 25, 2005

tao teh ching 41

The wise student hears of the Tao and practices it diligently.
The average student hears of the Tao and gives it a thought now and again[1].
The foolish student hears of the Tao and laughs out loud.
If there were no laughter, the Tao would not be what it is.

Hence it is said[2]:
The bright path seems dim;
Going forward seems like retreat;
The easy way seems hard;
The highest Virtue seems empty;
Great purtity seems sullied;
A wealth of Virtue seems inadequate;
The strength of Virtue seems frail;
Real Virtue seems unreal[3];
The perfect square has no corners;
Great talents ripen late;
The highest notes are hard to hear;
The greatest form has no shape;
The Tao is hidden and without a name;
The Tao alone nourishes and brings everything to fulfilment[4].

[1] Lau expresses this as the idea that it seems to be there one moment and gone the next. Both these ideas are rather intriguing. The Ma wang tui text reads it as '... some things they retain and others they lose...'
[2] Lau says: Hence the Chien yen has it... The Ma wang tui text reads chien yen as ' a set saying' which is borne out by Wang Pi who says, 'Chien (established) is similar to li (established)'.
[3] The Ma wang tui text has '... The simplest reality appears to change...'
[4] Lau's version of these lines differs slightly in expression, for the third, for example, he gives '... The way that is even seems rough...' and, for the fourth, '... The highest virtue is like the valley...', but generally speaking the sense is the same. He reads the last six lines as:

The great square has no corners;
The great vessel takes long to complete;
The great note is rarified in sound;
The great image has no shape.
The way conceals itself in being nameless.
It is the way alone that excels in bestowing and in accomplishing.

which gives a slightly different flavour to things.
The Ma wang tui text, however, reads the last two lines as:

The Way is great but has no name.
Only the Way is good at beginning things and also good at bringing to completion.

Wang Pi points out that the reason the best student practices diligently is because he has the will to do so.
On the lines beginning (in Gia-fu Feng's translation), 'The bright path seems dim...', and right down to the end, he comments, line by line, as follows:

He is bright but does not shine (cf. ch. 21).

The sage places himself in the rear yet finds himself in the forefront. He puts aside his person, yet his person is preserved (cf. chs. 58, 14 and 20).

Lei (knotted) here means k'uai (rough). The great and smooth Tao follows the nature of things and does not grasp the carpenters level in order to make them smooth. Because its own smoothness and evenness cannot be seen, people take it for the complete opposite...

Because it does not regard virtue as virtue, it is devoid of content.

It is only by 'knowing the white yet sustaining the black' (cf. ch. 28) that great whiteness can be achieved.

Vast virtue is not filled with anything - it is so formless and capacious that it cannot be filled.

... Established virtue follows the natural bent of the peaople and does not set itself up and work on them. Thus it appears secretive and congenial.

It is square but does not cut, and this is how it has no corners (that is to say, it does not attempt to 'square' others).

The great vessel forms all under Heaven without holding on to anything as completely separate from it or setting itself up as a model to follow, thus it is necessarily slow to form.

'When we listen for it and do not hear it, this is what is called inaudible' (cf. ch. 14). The great note is the note we cannot manage to hear. If it had a sound, it would be distinct, and, once distinct, if it were note the note kung, it would be the note shang (these being the equivalents of our doh and re). If it were distinct, it would be able to govern all the other notes. Thus, if it has a sound, that is not the great note.

As soon as there is a form, distictions exist, and, with distinctions, if something is not warm it must be cool. Thus an image that has a form is not the great image.

All these manifestations of excellence are achieve by the Tao. When it exists as an image, it is the great image, but the great image is formless. When it exists as a note, it is the great note, but the great note is inaudible. Things are completed by it, but they do not see its form. Thus it is hidden and nameless. When it bestows, this is not limited merely to supplying what something specifically needs. Its bestowal complete, this is sufficient to cause the virtue of that something to endure until its end... The way it brings to completion is not like the carpenter making something. With it, not a single thing fails to fulfil its form to perfection.

Professor Cheng mentions that, if 'great wisdom seems like stupidity', poor scholars are bound to laugh at it. How would they ever understand?

The basic warning here, of course, is that study of the Way is subtle. Extremely subtle.
Also that it is only the Way that brings things into being and then brings them to perfection. The Teh is always and only the manifest energy of Tao.

The fact that, for middling students - ourselves, for example - the Tao 'seems to be there one moment and gone the next', and that they retain some things while losing others, giving thought to it only now and again brings us to the question of Taoist meditation and what meditation actually is.
Meditation as defined by the Oxford English Reference Dictionary ('exercising of the mind in [esp. religious] contemplation; focussing upon a subject in this manner') plays a very small, if extremely important but preparatory part in what is generally referred to by this term (by occidentals) as practiced in the Extreme Orient (India, China, Tibet and so on).
Generally speaking, one first learns (by listening or, less optimally, reading) what the particular meditation entails. One then reflects upon these teachings until such time as one fully understands them, going back and checking details with one's teacher or source text as necessary, and committing them fully to memory such that one will not forget the particularities while engaged in, the third stage, profound transic meditation. This has outer, inner, secret and extremely secret dimensions, generally arranged in ever-deepening order of profundity but sometimes tossing one in at the deep end or at some other point along the path.
From outer to inner, these facets may be described, for example, as 'shamanic', 'tantric', 'yogic' and ultimate, or, in terms of their content and intention, as

* external rituals dedicated to pacifying non-conducive conditions and creating situations of support for the practitioner or for the person for whom the ritual is being conducted
* rituals of external invocation and worship of deiform energies in order to purify intention
* rituals of viusualising oneself and one's environment as the deity and its mandala in order to purify ordinary (and very often negative) grasping to what one assumes is 'reality'
* internal practices working with the subtlest energies of the body in order to dissolve blockages in and - ultimately - also attachment to these
* concurrent with all of these, meditations intended to dissolve increasingly subtle attachments to 'relative reality'
* extremely subtle practices to reveal the identity of relative and ultimate reality and how this identity manifests.

Each of these phases has its own technical name - a technical term which refers to precisely that sort of meditation and no other.
Some meditations entail concentration on outer objects, some, concentration on internally generated images and 'visualisation', and some concentrate only upon openness or are said to have 'no object', but all of these are known as 'contrived' meditation.
Ultimately, meditation is simply relaxing into what is as it is, which is a lot more difficult than it sounds.

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