Match Nature to Nature

Proving once again that it’s impossible (at least for me) to separate my experience of a work from my own self-interests, I’ve chosen a passage from The Essential Chuang T’su that reflects on my desire to get back to woodcarving now that the winter rains have descended here in the Pacific Northwest.

Perhaps each of us can only see the Tao imperfectly as it relates to our own life. With that caution, here’s the final passage I’ve chosen from the book to suggest its content:

The craftsman Ch’ing carved wood into bell stands. When he was done, the people who saw his work were startled, as if they’d seen a ghost or spirit.

The Marquis of Lu saw one and asked, “What magical art did you use to make this?”

“Your servant is a craftsman,” Ch’ing replied. “What art could I have? But although that is so, I do unify around it. When I’m going to make a bell stand, I don’t let it gnaw at my ch’i. I fast to clarify my heart and mind. When I’ve fasted for three days, I no longer dare to think of congratulations or rewards. When I’ve fasted for five days, I no longer dare to think of honors or condemnation, of skill or clumsiness. After seven days of fasting, I’ve forgotten that I have four limbs and a bodily form. In that moment there is no lord and no court. My craft is all there is. There’s nothing to distract me. Then I go into the mountain grove. I look upon heavenly nature.. . the perfect form comes, and then I see the bell stand, and only then put my hand to it. If it doesn’t come it doesn’t. I just match nature to nature. That’s why people suspect the presence of a spirit.”

It would only take a quick glance to determine that I have never fasted for five days in my life, but I would say that I still aspire to Ching’s standards in my photography (I’m much further in my photography than in my woodcarving). I try to “match nature to nature.”

And, as I understand it, that is the essence of following the Taos: to see nature as it is without knowledge, to see life fresh each and every moment, instead of assuming you already know it so well that you no longer have to see it for what it is.

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