It has been quite a while since I haven’t written anything about Taoism, particularly the Tao Te Ching, which as many might know is by far the quintessential collection of wisdom teachings we have not only in Taoist philosophy, but possibly throughout human history.
I want to keep this post short. The intention is to allow more space to contemplate on the piece I have chosen from the Tao Te Ching rather than using too much the language and analytical part of the brain by reading a long text.
The below is from the 36th verse of the Tao Te Ching:
That which shrinks
Must first expand
That which fails
Must first be strong
That which is cast down
Must first be raised
There must be giving
This is called perception of the nature of things
soft and weak overcome hard and strong
The first message that comes to me while reading this verse of the Tao Te Ching is the complementarity of opposites which is also a central theme in the Taoist philosophy most famously iconised with the yin and yang – the complementary balancing forces that work throughout all levels of the Cosmos, including our lives.
I feel that the verse is calling for a clearer perception, and perspective, on the nature of things. In our ‘normal’ way of seeing things we tend to overlook how seemingly opposite qualities and forces work harmoniously together, often coming together in cycles where one aspect follows its opposite but complementary quality. That which is now shrinking had to pass through a natural cycle of expansion first and so on. In this particular example, expansion does not happen all the time. There must necessary be periods of contraction.
As always, the messages in the Tao Te Ching have multiple levels of meaning and wisdom embedded in the most parsimonious way possible. Another understanding brings to our attention a hidden lesson in life – that of impermanence and attachment. When things start going good or bad, we tend to perceive it as being constant and perpetual. Good times will go on forever and bad times will seal our fate till eternity. And of course this is obviously not so yet this way of seeing things bring suffering, disappointment and frustration. The Tao Te Ching loves to point out these obvious oversights and explains the real nature of things through contradiction or paradox so we can correct our perspective.
So therefore, one has to take a more natural stand in line with how the Universe really works. Understand its cycles and rhythms and that what we perceive as being so, is only part of a natural cycle that will come to an end before starting a new one.
Life and time, as the ancient have known before us, is cyclical. Our modern day view tends to see life in a linear and fixed fashion.