Thursday, December 09, 2010

Tao Te Ching (Penguin Classics)
Tao Te Ching 


by Laozi

I can only say there we have been: but I cannot say where

The Tao Te Ching is a book that cannot be read directly. Unfortunately, I have little experience reading books indirectly, so I found this a difficult book to read, end even more difficult to discern what was being said by the author.
A friend told me that he thought Heraclitus, the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, was somewhat like Lao Tzu. Heraclitus said "you can't step in the same river twice". He believed that reality was a flux composed of a unity of opposites. I suppose it is possible to consider Lao Tzu's "the way" in this manner and see it as a unifying force. I liken it to the ancient Greek notion of substance that underlies all things but does not have a separate existence.

The Tao te Ching seems to suggest action is good, except when inaction is required; that it is good to experience things with an open mind, but do not become too attached to one way of looking at reality for it may suddenly be going in the other direction. In other words, it is difficult to determine exactly what this book is saying, especially when it suggests that words cannot describe the way; thus the way is not that which is called by that name (don't worry - I don't know what that means either).

The best thing about the Tao te Ching is that the act of reading it stirs your mind, gets you thinking about deep questions and others. That alone makes it worth the effort, even though it may take a lifetime to make some progress toward answers.

Perhaps it is appropriate to turn to a twentieth century poet and thinker for some Tao-like advice. Here is a stanza from "Burnt Norton"

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.


T. S. Eliot, FOUR QUARTETS


Tao Te Ching by Laozi, trans. Lau. Penguin Classics, New York. 1964 (500bc)


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2 comments:

parrish lantern said...

THE DESERT
Space without time
The moon is the same colour as the sand.
Now, at this precise hour,
The men of Metaurus and Trafalger die
Borges
From 15 coins

James said...

Parrish,

Thanks for the Borges poem. I am not acquainted with it but here is the last stanza of another that seems apropos:

LIMITS

At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
they are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.

from The Self and Others, Borges