Friday, September 23, 2016
Tao Te Ching–Chapter 6
[This post is part of a series on specific chapters of the Tao Te Ching. Click here for more details on this series.]
If Chapter 5 is one of the most misunderstood chapters in the Tao Te Ching, then Chapter 6 is one of the most enigmatic. And one of the shortest. Just 26 characters, it has spawned pages of commentary. Like the blind men and the elephant, everyone sees different facets of meaning. When we can release the need to have a single, “right” meaning, when we can let the meanings swirl in mystery, then we enter the true meaning beyond words, the mystery beyond understanding. And it is beautiful.
Valley spirit never dies
The valley is the image of the female – open, receptive, fertile. The spirit energy of yin. Like the image we saw in Chapter 4 of the empty vessel that is never exhausted but always dynamic with potential, the valley sustains with unending abundance.
This is called mysterious female
The character for mysterious 玄 carries a sense of translucence, allowing light to pass through without revealing form. It also can mean dark, unknown, profound. The character for female 牝 literally means a female horse, or mare, and can also mean womb.
So these two characters can literally mean dark mare. Metaphorically, they carry forward the idea from the first line of the fertile valley, a place of gestation, the mysterious source of life.
Jonathan Star compares this valley spirit/mysterious female to Shakti, the divine feminine creative power in Hinduism, who manifests as the infinite forms in the universe. Or the ten thousand things of the Tao.
The gate of the mysterious female
Is called the origin of heaven and earth
The gate could refer to the opening of the womb, but many think it refers to the nose and mouth as the gates through which the breath passes. The Bible says that God breathed the breath of life into man, making him a “living creature.” In that sense, the breath is the origin of creation, and continues throughout our lives to connect us to where we came from.
Using the Shakti reference again, Muktananda describes her as vibrating eternally, “Brahman in the form of sound,” giving birth to everything in the universe. This vibration is like God speaking to create the world.
The character for endlessly is repeated 绵 绵 , doubling the sense of the eternal aspect of creative movement. We talked in Chapter 4 about how a Chinese character is made up in part by a root or radical. The radical of this character is the left part 丝, which means silk. The image here is of a delicate silk thread being spun and drawn out.
Used without effort
In tai chi, there is a posture called reeling silk.
The concept of moving chi throughout the body is often described as drawing the chi smoothly and consistently, like drawing a silk thread. If you jerk it or force it, the thread will break. This is also consistent with the principle of wu wei, or non-action.
So what can we learn from the poetic imagery of this chapter? I think of this chapter not so much as practical advice, but more as creating a sense of wonder, accepting life’s invitation to join in the marvel of creation.
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~Albert Einstein