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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 12” by Lao Tzu

Chinese5

The five colours blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavours cloy the palate.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Rare goods tempt men to do wrong.

Therefore, the Sage takes care of the belly, not the eye.
He prefers what is within to what is without.

This is one of those times that I am grateful for the internet. When I read this passage, the general theme was obvious enough—do not focus all your energy on material gains, but instead, seek within for spiritual treasures. But I knew I was missing something critical and that something must be associated with the number five, which is echoed in the first three lines. From my western perspective, I could not think of any significance that the number five would have in the context of this passage. So I resorted to Google.

I learned that in Chinese thought, the number five is significant because the Chinese believe there are five elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire, and Metal. From my western perspective, I have always considered there to be four elements: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire. Now the meaning of the first few lines made sense. It is the distraction of the elements to our physical senses that draws our focus away from the internal and towards the external.

This is an example of how ideas and symbols can be interpreted differently based upon the cultural context. Whenever we attempt to uncover the meaning of something, we should always consider the context in which it was created.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 11” by Lao Tzu

ChineseWagonWheel

Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the center that the use of the cart hinges.

We make a vessel from a lump of clay;
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.

We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.

Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.

I found this passage to be somewhat cryptic, so I will offer only my interpretation.

It seems that the empty space, or the void, is the unknowable source of all existence. While we cannot perceive this ineffable emptiness, it has a direct impact on our physical beings and our daily lives.

I also have the impression that Lao Tzu is cautioning against attachment to material things. Trying to grasp and hoard things in life tends to create mental clutter and creates a barrier between ourselves and the divine essence.

Finally, I can apply this to my meditation practices. I see all the tangible things as the thoughts that clutter the mind. When I meditate, I try (often unsuccessfully) to quiet that mental chatter and open myself to the profound silence which is the subconscious mind. It is impossible for me to describe this connection. As soon as I try to analyze or think about it, the conscious mind takes over and the connection is lost. But those brief moments of deep mental quietude help put the rest of my life and thoughts into perspective.

I would love to hear your thoughts and impressions on this passage. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 10” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

In keeping the spirit and the vital soul together,
Are you able to maintain their perfect harmony?
In gathering your vital energy to attain suppleness,
Have you reached the state of a new-born babe?
In washing and clearing your inner vision,
Have you purified it of all dross?
In loving your people and governing your state,
Are you able to dispense with cleverness?
In the opening and shutting of heaven’s gate,
Are you able to play the feminine part?
Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Rear your people!
Feed your people!
Rear them without claiming them for your own!
Do your work without setting any store by it!
Be a leader, not a butcher!
This is called hidden Virtue.

In this passage, Lao Tzu provides guidance to leaders on how to best govern. But since this advice is based upon spiritual principles, it applies to all of us in our daily affairs.

Many of us have a tendency to rest upon our laurels. We work hard to reach spiritual harmony, and when we reach it, we run the risk of thinking we are done. We begin to neglect that which we worked to attain, just as the leaders who attain power often begin to neglect their people. When Lau Tzu advises rulers to rear and feed their people, he is also advising the sage to nurture the spiritual enlightenment that the sage has found.

There is something else that I think Lau Tzu was warning against, and that is self-righteousness. Consider the last lines of the first verse:

Enlightened and seeing far into all directions,
Can you at the same time remain detached and non-active?

Throughout my life, I have met many spiritual seekers who, once they reach a spiritual goal, assume a holier-than-thou attitude. They allow the self to revel in the spiritual advances that they made, and as a result, begin to lose what they gained. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and I confess that it happened to me at one point also. The key then is humility, allowing yourself to remain detached enough to remain centered on the path and continue growing spiritually. And stay vigilant, watching for when feelings of superiority or self-importance seep in and become obstacles.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope you have a truly blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 9” by Lao Tzu

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

As for holding to fullness,
Far better were it to stop in time!

Keep on beating and sharpening a sword,
And the edge cannot be preserved for long.

Fill your house with gold and jade,
And it can no longer be guarded.

Set store by your riches and honour,
And you will only reap a crop of calamities.

Here is the Way of Heaven:
When you have done your work, retire!

This is very practical advice for living life in the material world. We are spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and we must work and do certain things to take care of ourselves in this life. But what Lao Tzu is saying here is that we should not let our earthly desires dominate our lives. We all must work, and we all need a certain amount of wealth in order to survive, but the key to happiness and the “Way to Heaven” is to be content with just enough, and not to keep constantly striving for more. When we reach fullness, it is time to stop and rest. When a bird has finished building a nest, it does not keep building other ones. Likewise, when the bird has eaten enough, it stops eating. If it were to continue eating after it was full, it would no longer be able to fly.

We can spend our lives chasing after things that mean nothing in the end, but will that bring us happiness? I personally do not think so. I encourage you to pause, rest, and reflect on what is really important in your life. I suspect that it will not be material gains.

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