Tao Te Ching Part IV 道德经英文版

The way is empty, yet use will not drain it.

Deep, it is like the ancestor of the myriad creatures.

Blunt the sharpness;

Untangle the knots;

Soften the glare;

Let your wheels move only along old ruts.

Darkly visible, it only seems as if it were there.

I know not whose son it is.

It images the forefather of God.

What is it that lies at the centre of your own mind? What is the foundation on which your concept of self has been built? Is there some part of your persona that is innate and unchanging, around which your personality and conscious thoughts have been shaped?

Philosophers, religious leaders and scientists have expressed many opinions on the subject of inner self. Buddha said that each living thing contains within itself an inner Buddha nature. We all have within ourselves the potential to put aside desire, attachments, distractions and conditioning and connect with this innermost compassionate and enlightened aspect of our self, to become as Buddha.

Since we all possess this inner Buddha nature, and the potential to embrace it, we can take the attitude that we are all connected through this potential for compassion and enlightenment. Therefore, everything we do to others in life, we also do to ourselves. This concept of connectedness has been seen as an important philosophical link between Buddhism and Taoism.

In ancient Greece the Sceptics suggested that no proposition should be accepted on face value, and that in response to any assertion of truth a philosopher must always ask “why”? This attitude can be applied to assessing the foundations of self. Descartes, following a sceptical train of thought regarding the nature of reality, eventually responded with the proposition “I think therefore I am”, but then why is this statement necessarily unquestionable?

Freud proposed, and modern psychology agrees, that the conscious mind is like the tip of an iceberg. Only a small fraction of our thought processes occur on a conscious level, the rest flow beneath the surface, submerged in our unconscious mind. Reflections of subconscious thought processes can be found in dreams, under hypnosis or in meditation, or through observing behaviour which occurs without conscious direction.

Freud theorised that the innermost level of the mind, the “id” predates the development of higher levels of consciousness and contains no moral restrictions or guidelines, no concept of social expectations, little information even on strategies which may be employed to achieve goals, or negative consequences of actions. According to Freud this basic and innermost level of the mind is concerned with desire and nothing else.

Biology and evolutionary theory point towards levels of the mind corresponding to phases of our evolution. According to these schools of modern science the most basic level of the human mind, developing first and possessing the ability to motivate behaviour and reactions without direction from or consultation with “higher” levels of mind, is the “reptile mind”.

This most basic aspect of our mind corresponds with that part of our brain most directly connected with the brain stem and focuses on regulation of body temperature, appetite and thirst, biologic rhythms and sexual desire, reflexes, sleep patterns and emotional feelings such as fear and rage. It’s the part of our mind that in times of danger and stress provides us with strong animal like motivation to either fight, or take flight depending on circumstances.

Some philosophers and religious figures have suggested that the innermost aspect of our mind may contain moral guidelines and important personality traits, and may be immortal and pass on into another realm upon our death. The concept of inner self is intriguing and many people with diverse opinions have debated the topic with great determination throughout human history. This passage of the Tao Te Ching gives a Taoist perspective on the issue.

The way is empty, yet use will not drain it.

Deep, it is like the ancestor of the myriad creatures.

The way, the Tao, is empty and deep and can never be exhausted or drained. It comes before and is like an ancestor to the myriad living creatures of the world. We could describe the Tao as the “nothing” from which the many objects and creatures of the universe have emerged, yet it is also the laws of nature which determine the processes of formation and development of all living things.

Remember that in Taoism the concept of a person or thing being truly separate from the universe itself, the “one”, is an illusion encouraged by language, and thinking in terms of categories of things. In reality we are connected with the void and all other things of substance which have emerged from it and have been given form by the Tao. We are one with the emptiness from which we have emerged, never truly separate from it, or the world around us.

Literally, from a human perspective we come from nothing. We can argue that we develop from a foetus in the womb, and before that we develop from the intersection of a sperm and egg, and before that we were both the sperm and the egg. The sperm itself, and the egg itself, formed in the bodies of mother and father through biological processes which required the supply of various nutrients and components, and these components themselves were ultimately taken in as food from the external world.

If we define our “self” in terms of the physical mass contained within our body, we face the difficulty that very little of the mass we currently possess was contained within our body at the time of our birth, yet that “birth self” is included in our definition of who we are, and were. By the time we die the actual “substance” contained within our body will have changed again. We take in nutrients and we lose body mass through sweat, waste and hygiene processes, injuries and other means.

The more deeply we consider the boundaries of self, the more apparent it becomes that we are actually the product of an ongoing process, governed by genetic and biological laws and environmental forces. We are by no means a static self-contained entity and cannot become so. Our physical self is in flux, constantly changing, and the same can be said of our mental self, although we may not always be consciously aware of changes taking place. This being so, how then can we trace a path back to the core of our concept of “self”?

Blunt the sharpness;

Untangle the knots;

Soften the glare;

Let your wheels move only along old ruts.

In Taoism, as in Buddhism, meditation is considered to be essential to attaining an enlightened and comprehensive view on an issue. Intellectual and logical analysis of an issue by itself will not be sufficient to reveal the deeper truth, since language will always inhibit the perception of reality to some extent. The real world is both more complex and more simple than the world described by language.

Meditation allows the realisation of connectedness between things, and the release of concepts of boundaries which divide language defined reality into exclusive categories. In meditation the boundaries of concepts lose their “sharpness”. Rules which previously dictated a certain chain of reasoning in assessing a problem become “untangled” and less restricting, allowing insights and new viewpoints.

How should a person meditate? There are many methods, both stationary and moving, standing and sitting, but common elements seem to be to keep your spine as straight as possible, from the base right through the back and neck and up to the top of the skull. Then relax, put aside worries, concerns and desires, and give up language based thinking as far as possible.

Soften the glare; Let your wheels move only along old ruts. This is the path to follow for a person seeking to be connected with the inner self, and with the Tao. If we acknowledge that we emerge from nothing in a physical sense, then why should our mental self not also have emerged from nothing? Before “Buddha nature”, before the “ethical self”, before the “reptile brain”, before the “Id”, before we possessed the ability to consider the idea “I think therefore I am”, who were we?

Darkly visible, it only seems as if it were there.

I know not whose son it is.

It images the forefather of God.

If we acknowledge that our body can emerge from nothing, then our mind can also emerge from nothing, from emptiness and darkness. This emptiness, the way, can be perceived as something darkly visible and intangible, present in our origin and also in our present state, at the core of our nature. The origin of the Tao itself is unknown, it has no apparent parent or creator and indeed it may have no beginning.

Nowhere in the Tao Te Ching is the possibility of God denied, but even if one or more Gods exist in heaven, it could be argued that even they must have an origin, and all things that have an origin by necessity originate from a state of non existence, nothing and emptiness. This idea that the Tao itself is at the origin and centre of all living things is, like the concept of Buddha nature, a binding and connecting element.

If you and I both emerge from the Tao, and if we are both connected to the Tao and have at our centre the Tao, then from this viewpoint we are actually the same person, part of a single entity, and what I do to you I do to myself. The concept that we emerge from nothing and have at our centre emptiness may initially appear disturbing to those raised in faiths which deny such a proposition, but the concept has attractions.

For instance, if at the core of our nature is an emptiness around which our present day self has been shaped, then there is no aspect of our self that is unchangeable. This view is consistent with Taoist thought, throughout the Tao Te Ching the author confirms that the only constant in the universe is change itself. It can be liberating to take the view that every aspect of your present day nature is both changing and changeable.

More importantly than being attractive or unattractive, the Taoist view of the origin of mind is true. Blunt the sharpness, untangle the knots, soften the glare and assess for yourself what lies at your centre. Attempt to feel rather than just acknowledge intellectually your connection with your surrounding environment and the universe as a whole. All living things have the ability to connect with the Tao, indeed it is inevitable that we do so, eventually.

Visualise the Yin Yang diagram which is the symbol of Taoism. If Yin represents the emptiness from which we have emerged, and Yang represents life and our present state of existence, then we can see that existence and non existence, life and death flow into each other in a cycle, and each will always contain at its centre the essence of the other. That which emerges from the one will flow back to its origin.

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