Without Going out the Door

When I began this review of the Taoteching in preparation for reading the Jesus Sutras, I purposely didn’t go back and review what I’d previously written as I wanted to see if I would come away with new perceptions. Not so much, as it turns out.

When I looked back today, I found that I’d chosen several of the same verses, and I’d said much the same thing, though in different words. Although I like to think of myself as open to new ideas (after all, I have read all those books on the sidebar in the last five years, almost all of them for the first time) after a certain age the tracks seem to get a little deeper, and you find yourself drifting back into them without even being aware you’re back where you started. Of course, I might also attribute it to my INTP personality and my tendency to evolve a consistent philosophy throughout my life, even if that philosophy seems quite different from most of those people who I have grown up with. The fact that I was drawn to the Taoteching in my early 30’s and keep returning to it suggests that I am, indeed, drawn to the kind of life it extols and have been most of my life, even before I knew it existed.

There is, of course, the element of Nature in it that I’ve always been drawn to from my early experiences on Puget Sound and fly fishing in the backwoods. Probably even more important than that is the meditative aspect of Taoism. That, too, may have stemmed from early fishing adventures when my father passed his love of nature on while sitting quietly for long periods of time while fishing. Perhaps it was nourished by long hours spent reading in California when it was too hot to be outside doing anything besides visiting friends’ swimming pools. Heck, if my parents had been wealthy enough to have our own pool I might have never been drawn to those quiet times in my life.

I do know I was drawn to the lifestyle as early as college because I instantly fell in love with Emerson and Thoreau when I took my first college-level lit class. I instantly agreed with Emerson when he said, “Travelling is a fool’s paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.” Needless to say, I thought Thoreau’s Walden was one of the greatest American books ever written.

It should come as no surprise then that I am also particularly fond of verse 47, in this case as translated by John C. H. Wu:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go,
The less you know.

Thus the Sage knows without traveling,
Sees without doing,
And achieves without Ado.

with its obvious parallels to Walden, and even to Blake’s famous grain of sand. It’s not only my frugal ways that keep me from traveling. If it weren’t for the Army and relatives, I would probably have been happy to spend my vacations in the Cascades and at the beach for the rest of my life. Heck, if I’d stayed in Seattle instead of moving to Vancouver, I probably would have been happy spending my vacations visiting the San Juans and the Cascades.

Of course, if you’re not even going out your door, then you’re probably going to have to rely on meditation to discover the essence of the universe, as suggested in Wu’s version of Verse 56 :

He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Block all the passages!
Shut all the doors!
Blunt all the edges!
Untie all tangles!
Harmonize all lights!
Unite the world into one whole!
This is called the Mystical Whole,
Which you cannot court after nor shun,
Benefit nor harm, honour nor humble.

Therefore it is the Highest of the world.

Like much of the Taoteching, or any poetry for that matter, the lines suggest two different interpretations. The first two lines suggest that the Sage who knows the Tao “does not speak” because as we’ve already been told the Way cannot be named, so whoever gives it a name, who speaks, does not understand the Tao.

How, then, does one learn about the Tao? “Block all the passages! Shut all the doors” seem to suggest turning inward, not outward, there to experience the “Mystical Whole.” For me, at least, that suggests silent meditation, which, Google assures anyone who cares to check, is a major aspect of Taoism.