stillgoing.net/majc › tag : Tao Te Ching

There is no great need for this stuff to be identified or defined. But if it’s going to be then “Taoism”, as it’s called, is best understood as a martial art: practical, first and foremost. What fascinates people about “The Way” is that it’s only really graspable in doing, and doing skillfully.

What does that mean, “only really graspable in doing”? Introduction to Taoism
Make a fist. Open your hand again. Good work.

Now instruct me. I’m another human being with a hand dangling nervously at my side: tell me the way, explain to me how I should operate my hand, how do I make it move? Can you do better than “uh, well, you just – y’know – you just do it… you just mooooove your fingers, see?”, or even less helpfully, “I dunno, it just sorta happens“?

You’re not broken and you’re not stupid. That is actually how it feels to move your hand as a human being. The Way You Make Your Hand Move never occurs to you.

Kaboom. This is what “only really graspable in doing” means.

Thus… “The Way that can be told is never the Way.”
Indeed… “all its definitions are misleading!”

We’re not invoking magic or mysterious otherworldly origins of power here, and we’re not avoiding the question. It is what it is. The Way is unknowable and indescribable – or un-tell-able. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the divine.

Without explanation, you just do it. Inexplicably, The Way just sorta happens, y’know…?

Introduction to Taoism

Work in progress… more coming.
Probably.

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There’s a common conception of the Tao Te Ching. People characterize it as upholding some sort of self-imposed, nature-loving twist on laissez-faire political theory: “accept, give in, let Nature take Its course and yield to all oncoming consequences – it’ll work itself out in the end”.

This is wrong. Is the Tao Te Ching just about laissez-faire?

The Book of the Way advocates no such thing. When you build a house, for example, to protect yourself from the elements – thus thwarting nature – that’s an intelligent thing to do.

Nowhere in the words of the Tao Te Ching is an argument made against the practice of building and occupying houses, or anything like it. In fact, as it turns out, the opposite attitude is found, in favour of building houses. It’s right here in Chapter 11. So the Tao Te Ching cannot be about instilling in the reader this overly self-disregarding attitude of “let The Wind blow you where It Will”. We build houses to make a windless space.

With some intelligent questioning and doubting of the laissez-faire characterization then… when you look to see if there’s evidence which will render it false, you don’t have to go far.

Is the Tao Te Ching just about laissez-faire?

If, however let’s say, the discourse here was to do with effective technique, in any given context, appreciating when to yield is a fundamental strategic insight. It’s overlooked a lot, but a good deep understanding of when and what to not-do, what to not-oppose or not-force, is something which anyone, in any walk of life, will benefit from.

So yes, in the writing of this book there is demonstrated an appreciation for exactly this effectiveness of space, timely yielding and not-doing, but the Tao Te Ching comes nowhere near commending (much less recommending) a blanket laissez-faire approach to living, which is both impossible and a bit stupid.

It must be something else.

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Tao Te Ching: Ch. 1 Commentary

Posted by majc in Tao on Nov 11th 2011 No Comments »
  1. The Way that can be told is never the Way.
    All its definitions are misleading.

  2. Undefined, it’s full and undivided.
    Any definition makes it separated things.

How is this relevant?

There’s something about human beings. In one way or another, people are and have always been trying to find a definitive way to wrap up what there is and where it’s going, to fix what’s happening in some sort of image or set of ideas. Tao Te Ching In other words, people continuously try to put together a neatly structured understanding of what, here, is indicated by the nonsense syllable – Tao.

Some walk the planet with the idea that they’ve done it, they’ve got it all figured out – that is, captured in a figure. As human beings, part of us seeks this satisfaction of a finished, decided explanation of things which guarantees truth about where we stand and where we’re headed.

With its opening line, the Tao Te Ching informs its audience that intellectual definition is not the goal. Anything tellable – any obtainable definition or image – is the first thing not to expect.

I wonder if there’s a less reassuring way to start a book about the Way than to declare that the Way can’t be told? Yet the apparently contradictory starting point is key. This is not an instruction manual. Nothing comes of whatever this is except in cooperation with a questioning, doubting intelligence. You cannot be told.

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