Monday, December 31, 2007

The Tao of Things 2

I return again and again to my translation of the Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell which is beautifully illustrated by many artists.  Like Blake's illustrations the pictures and drawings are themselves contemplative.  Each line in each stanza has a Zen-like quality which draws one ever deeper.  Stanza 10 has just caught my eye and now my heart.  It is worth quoting in full here:


Can you coax your mind from its wandering

and keep the original oneness?

Can you let your body become

supple as a newborn child's?

Can you cleanse your inner vision

until you see nothing but the light?

Can you love people and lead them

without imposing your will?

Can you deal with the most vital matters

by letting events take their course?

Can you step back from your own mind

and thus understand all things?

Giving birth and nourishing,

having without possessing,

acting with no expectations,

leading and not trying to control:

this is the supreme virtue.

There us a lot of meaty "stuff" to contemplate here.  Twice in the above stanza, the writer refers to power and control.  In many other stanzas throughout the Tao Te Ching the author returns again and again to this factor.  From my own 50 years experience of life the "will to power" or the "desire to control" - call it what you will - is a central drive in most human beings.  It's probably there residing in our ancient brain, a primal desire going back to the caveman or cavewoman in us!  I have no doubt about this as I observe my colleagues at work and how they play games of control with each other.  I have also seen it in use in several families whom I know very well indeed.  This drive is deeply rooted in us like all those other drives alluded to by Freud and the host of psychiatrists and psychologists with all their varying schools that followed in the great master's wake.

And so let me ask of myself this instant with Lao Tzu: "Can you love people and lead them without imposing your will?" Only the person to whom the question is directed can answer that!  I hope so.  I dearly hope so.  I also ask myself, again with Lao Tzu: "Can you act with no expectations, lead and not try to control?"  Leadership is always difficult.  Oftentimes it's a lonely place to be as you have to make decisions which will be pleasing to some and unpleasing to others.  It's very hard to change people - indeed, it's probably impossible.  However, the leader can change his own "modus operandi"; he or she can lead by example and encouragement rather than imposing his or her will which will be seen as autocratic and authoritarian and while it may effect a temporary change, it certainly won't bring about long-term change at all.

What Lao Tzu terms "the original oneness" has always intrigued and inspired me ever since I started to study philosophy and theology way back in 1976.  I have come across so many terms for this concept - The Unity of the Godhead, The One behind the Many, The Unity behind the Multeity (S.T. Coleridge), The Ground of Being, The Ultimate Being, The Holy,  The Ultimate Concern, The Good, The Truth, The Ultimate Horizon, the Ultimate Mystery, The Mystical Unity etc.  There are many terms for the "original oneness" which all spiritual traditions say is the aspiration of their adherents.  In this connection several traditions refer to a "mystical union" with this Godhead or Ultimate Concern etc. I suppose more agnostic or "polytheistic" or "eclectic", and even atheistic, psychotherapists, psychiatrists, analysts and psychologists might call this by such terms as "individuation" (C.G. Jung); "integration of the personality" (Anthony Storr); "Making the unconscious conscious" (Freud); "Self-realization" (Carl R. Rogers).  Anyway whatever we call it, I believe and feel that the phrase "mystical union with the Ultimate Good or God" is a religious metaphor for these last terms used by these psychologists.  I'm not decrying religion or any spiritual tradition.  I recognize the validity of all paths to wholeness whether that be devout religious, monotheistic or polytheistic, Gnostic, agnostic or even atheistic.  All humans who are on the path to wholeness are life-givers and are life-enhancers and will be healers and of others and builders of community wherever they are.  Okay, so I may be a bit of a relativist or pluralist or a perspectivist at least.  I abhor any system or persons within any system who seek to control both the beliefs and the behaviours of others.  I abhor the strangle-hold of fundamentalism whether religious or scientific, whether theistic or atheistic.  Let us be open to all that enhances and builds up human life and human community.  Let's go further still and build up all life - animal and vegetable.  Let's even be green or even greener than green.

Above I have uploaded a picture I took of a stained glass window in St Cronin's Church Roscrea last February 2007. Stained glass I find very mystical indeed!

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