Wednesday, November 30, 2005

tao teh ching 46

When the Tao is present in the universe,
The horses haul manure[1].
When the Tao is absent from the universe,
War horses are bred outside the city[2].

There is no greater sin than desire[3],
No greater curse than discontent,
No greater misfortune than wanting something for oneself.
Therefore he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough.

[1] Lau has his fleet-footed horses ploughing the fields, but both the Ma wang tui text and Wang Pi have their horses manuring them, which makes much more sense. Cheng reads that stray horses are kept away from the tilled fields.
[2] Lau has '... on the border', the Ma wang tui text and Wang Pi, like Gia-fu Feng, ' the suburbs', but Cheng reads, '... in fields grown wild'.
[3] This line is missing in the Wang Pi version.

Wang Pi's commentary reads: 'When the Tao prevails amongst all under Heaven' means contentment and knowing when to stop. Avoiding all ventures abroad, each one cultivates that which is at home, thus relegating even coursers to the manuring of the fields.
When covetousness becomes insatiable, this is not cultivating what is at home but rather engaging in ventures abroad.

Cheng is equally brief: When the Tao prevails, everyone knows what is enough. The fields are cultivated and stray horses chased out. However, 'there is no disaster greater, etc...' This chapter continues the idea expressed in the previous chapter, that knowing what enough is is to always have enough.

But there's more to it than that. The 8th. c. Indian Buddhist teacher, Shantideva, says in his Bodhisattva Charya Avatara - 'Entering the Path of Bodhisattva Activity' - that all misfortune stems from seeking one's own well-being, and all good fortune from seeking the well-being of all others. This is a fairly radical idea until one remembers that the single most obstructive thing to the free flowing of the Tao is one's idea of selfhood with its 'me' and 'mine', its needs, wants, likes and dislikes, and its singularly limited and limiting point of view.
ANYthing that can be done to open up this 'tight fist of grasping' is worth the time.
The lama who taught me my first steps in Tibetan once taught me an exercise for generating open-handedness and and open-hearted generosity. 'Take a stone in your left hand,' he said, 'and then say to your right hand "Here. Please take this. I would really like you to have it". Let your right hand receive the stone and thank the left hand for it. A little while later, having examined and enjoyed the stone, let the right hand offer this same stone back to the left hand in the precisely same manner.
'When you can do this with some ease, take something a little more valuable, a small coin, for example, and then a larger one... maybe a note or two, something precious like your favourite book or your guitar, a statue of the Buddha, and so on.
'When you can do this with perfect ease, start with the stone again and a beloved member of your family or a close friend...'
Completely blew my head.
I was discussing the Merleau-Pontian idea of chiasm with my friend Mike Cope the other day. 'Put your hands together in prayer', he said. 'Which one is the toucher, and which one the touched?'
A fair old exercise for a swift tumble into non-duality. And particularly if practiced with a friend.

Knowing one has enough! What a wondrous idea in this consumer universe!
And how strange it is that those who have most are almost invariably those who have the least 'enough'!

Not that any of us escape this.


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