He who holds the Great Symbol will attract all things to him.
They flock to him and receive no harm, for in him they find peace, security and happiness.
Music and dainty dishes can only make a passing guest pause.
But the words of Tao possess lasting effects,
Though they are mild and flavourless,
Though they appeal neither to the eye nor to the ear.
This passage is a wonderful example of the beauty of this text. Lau Tzu expresses a wealth of wisdom in a mere six lines.
In the first stanza, we are presented with a leader who has incorporated balance into his life. The Great Symbol is the yin and yang, representing the balance of opposing energies and ideas. Because this ideal leader embodies balance, people feel comfortable and safe around the leader. They know that this person will govern from a place of fairness and not from ego or the desire for power.
In the second stanza, Lau Tzu uses “music and dainty dishes” as a metaphor for lavish entertainment intended to distract individuals from what is truly important. Truth and wisdom are often less enchanting to the casual observer, but this is the place from where lasting goodness and compassion spring. Sound and steady guidance may be less appealing to the eye or ear, but it is much more appealing to the heart and spirit.
While this passage was intended as guidance for a leader, on a personal level I find it applies to my own spiritual path. It is easy to be dazzled by transcendent visions, or ecstatic states of consciousness, but these can often distract a seeker from the path to wisdom and enlightenment. It is the steady practice of meditation, of incorporating spiritual values into everyday life, that will ultimately bring you the greatest spiritual growth. I have had some intense spiritual experiences in my life, but I try not to focus on recapturing those states. Instead, I do the less appealing spiritual work: study, meditation, self examination, and so forth. I see this passage as an affirmation of the path I am on.
Thanks for sharing in my musings. I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage. Feel free to post in the comments section below. Cheers!