The Tao-Te Ching
Around the time of the unification of all China, some two-thousand two-hundred years ago, this small text the Dao-de Jing (The Book of the Way and its Energy} appeared. Revised and authorized by the later Han scholars (c. 200 AD), during the first great flourishing of the Chinese imperial rule, it became a seminal text for the Daoists, a motley crew – who could only have been born in China.
The middle Kingdom, as China knows itself, is undoubtedly the world’s eldest civilization – written records stretch into the second millennium BC and while the Egyptian, Sumerian and Babylon, and Indus cultures are of equal antiquity, it is only in China that a continuous, unbroken and responsive line is preserved. Locked in by the Himalayas, by northern deserts and southern jungles, China became a cauldron for a unique ferment of proto-scientific inquiry and superstitious practice, whilst adhering to an earlier Neolithic sensitivity to the natural world. This was Daoism. At the center an officialdom embraced Confucian ideals of propriety and correct behavior, while all around the Daoist world was alive, building a model of the cycling seasons, the sun, moon and stars, the mountain and the water-fall; representing a harmony and deep intimacy with nature, and reverence for the yielding feminine principle. They took in all that was neglected, outcast, downtrodden, out-of-fashion with the times, magical even, slightly eccentric, foreign.
The Dao-de Jing, as preserved, exists in some eighty-one chapters (eighty-one is nine times nine, nine was the number of Heaven to the Daoists, being 3 to the power of 2, so involves all possible numbers (Daoists don’t count further than 1,2,3…!); and is divided into two halves – the first concerned with the Dao, the Way and Path, the second describing the De, inner virtue, power or energy.
It has always been a work of inward cultivation, a spiritual tract, giving veiled instruction in breath-control and meditative practice; as well as a treatise on government and personal behavior. Philosophy in China was concerned with how to live; how to be a good ruler over the people. It never saw much need in being speculative, metaphysical. They were so busy living!
Tradition states that Lao Zi (literally ‘the old fellow’) wrote the book in a single night, as he was passing through the mountains to the West. The Dao-de Jing was born during the decline of the Zhou state, when a cultural extravagance was winning over the simple life. Disgusted at the customs of the time he traveled to the borders of his land and there met the Gatekeeper to the pass into the Himalayan massif. We have to thank this man for convincing Lao Zi to produce this profound work.
The story is no doubt fanciful. But it communicates exactly the spirit of this work. ‘The Dao that can be told is not the constant Dao’ (Ch.1). There is little the Daoist feels he can communicate. Self-discipline and self-discovery are close to his heart. And it is a philosophy for troubled times: a quietism which believes in the action of non-action, meaning that to strive for personal, political or societal change must be less effective than trusting to the inner radiance of the spirit.
‘Cultivate virtue in the yourself and it will be real, in the family and it will abound, in the neighborhood and it will endure, in the nation and it will be abundant, in the world and it will be everywhere (Ch.54)’.
I commend this book to the reader. Take time to dip in to savor it. In a troubled world, an ounce of good thought is worth a barrow-load of action.
The Wild Goose Short Form
Nine Springs Studio Summer 2012
(please enquire as to instruction, or pictures, I will send…..)
– be loose and natural,
– move quietly, quiet but moving,
o remain empty above (head), whilst full below
o mind and breath should act as one.
-thinking without thinking
– moving without moving,
– breathing without breathing,
– quiet without being quiet