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Monday, October 10, 2011

Living Simply by the Tao 2

pt 1 | pt 2<<you  are here | pt 3 | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7

(This will make more sense if you read earlier parts first - see above!)

The law of reversed effect

The law of reversed effect concerns the principle that the harder we struggle to achieve something, the more hopeless the task tends to become.

 The swimmer who panics will not be able to save himself even though he would have the capacity to do so in a relaxed state of mind. The singer who strains for the high note, fearing failure, often fails to achieve it; he or she has to learn the natural process of producing high notes. When you try to float on the water, you sink; but if you relax, it comes naturally.

 Or, in spiritual terms, 'whosoever would save his soul shall lose it'.

  Yield and overcome;
  Bend and be straight;
  Empty and be full;
  Wear out and be new;
  Have little and gain;
  Have much and be confused.

 The implication in all these examples is not that people don't have the capacity to achieve what they want, but that they usually go about it the wrong way. They fail to understand the real nature of the thing they are trying to do. If an inexperienced butcher tries to carve up a beast, he will hack with tremendous effort and poor results, but if he understands the physiology of the beast, he can dismember it expertly without even blunting his knife.

 The Taoist is the person who attempts to understand the true nature of things, and where one stands in relation to those things.

 By contrast, modern society tends to seek the solution of force rather than understanding. That is the very nature of the modern phenomenon of ecological pollution. For example, the earliest forms of soap were composed of natural substances such as animal fats and abrasives, but present day specialised detergents contain all sorts of powerful and inorganic chemicals. Certainly the product may make the sink sparkle, but what happens to the waste beyond the drainpipe?

 Modern science develops drugs - refined chemicals which tend to have side effects the researcher may not be aware of. The Taoist seeks herbal and other natural remedies, which can produce the useful effects of the refined drugs without the unhealthy side effects. Even so, there are times when there is no choice but to take on a drug regime or undergo radical surgery, but this is a matter of choosing the best possible outcome for those circumstances.

 The herbal basis of Chinese medicine and the wonderful knowledge of human physiology and nervous system which goes into the medical technique of acupuncture were strongly influenced by Taoist philosophy throughout Chinese history.

 Western society with its philosophy of science tries to classify knowledge and compartmentalise it, and this approach carries over into every aspect of life. To compartmentalise knowledge to the Taoist is rather like trying to wrap up a parcel of water, because all categories of things are likely to be inaccurate and incomplete. To every rule there is an exception.

 The Taoist solution is deceptively simple; make no rules and you will have no exceptions. Make no laws and you will have no wrong doers. (I have to come back to this as it seems crazy!)  Understand the true nature of things and there is nothing more that you need to know. 'All can know good as good only because there is evil.'

 This of course, will sound unsatisfactory to those who have been conditioned to living in our sort of society, but there is much more to it than this.

 The point Taoism stresses is that striving at the wrong time or in the wrong way will lead to the wrong result. The oak tree, says the Tao te Ching, will be uprooted in the fury of the tempest, although it has tremendous strength. The reed, soft and flexible, will bend with the most violent wind and survive.

  Attending fully and becoming supple,
  Can you be as a newborn babe?

 A baby does indeed 'attend fully' i.e., it is totally aware. Its senses and instincts have not been blunted yet by the socialising process through which life will take it. If people can retain the naturalness of the infant as far as that is possible, then true awareness combined with rationality will be part of normal consciousness and not just buried somewhere deep in the subconscious mind.

 It is easy to discern in Taoism the realisation that to understand the laws of the universe, the individual self must be understood as well - otherwise one's place in the order of things will never be appreciated. Many of the verses of the Tao te Ching on this theme sound remarkably like Buddhist philosophy, and this is hardly surprising because the essential message is the same.

  Knowing others is wisdom;
  Knowing the self is enlightenment.
  Mastering others requires force;
  Mastering the self needs strength.
  He who is attached to things will suffer much.
  He who saves will suffer heavy loss.
  A contented man is never disappointed.
  He who knows when to stop does not find himself in trouble.
  He will stay forever safe.

 The general idea is that ill considered changes made by humans to their total environment will ultimately produce the wrong result, and unhappiness is bound to follow. To the Taoist, non-action is the principle to guide one's life.

 And it's this totally misunderstood principle that I want to talk about next!
pt 1 | pt 2 <<you are here | pt 3 | pt 4 | pt 5 | pt 6 | pt 7

(This will make more sense if you read earlier parts first - see above!)

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