Friday, June 30, 2017
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 27
Good walking leaves no tracks
Good speech is without fault
Good counting needs no markers
The first line reminds me of the 70s TV show Kung Fu. In the opening sequence, the young Shaolin novice (“Grasshopper”) trains for years to walk across delicate rice paper without tearing it. It also reminds me of the concept of no trace camping, which means leaving your campsite in pristine condition as though you had not been there.
The character for “good” appears in this chapter eleven times. (You might recall that it was also repeated in Chapter 8, nine times there.) Some people think that the focus here is on skill, skill attainable through diligent practice. Indeed, Grasshopper tears up a lot of rice paper before finally being able to walk across it leaving it intact.
I’m all for practice. I just spent two hours this morning in tai chi and sword classes, practicing the same moves over and over. “Aggaaaiiiin,” my teacher is fond of saying, drawing the word out with a smile.
At some point, though, the movement transcends practice. The rules and structure fall away, along with the mover, and the movement flows effortlessly, perfectly, beautifully. In the very (very!) few times this has ever happened to me, I feel less like I am moving, and more like the movement is happening through me. I’m just along for the ride.
This is called entering the light
Entering the light comprises the characters xi 袭 ming 明 . Each of these two characters has multiple meanings, with the result that this line has many possible translations. Xi means enter, but also to penetrate, merge, follow. Ming is made up of sun 日 and moon 月 . It means light, wisdom, luminous, insight, enlightenment.
So pick a meaning that speaks to you. Or embrace all of them. I love the fluidity of these meanings, which, to me, represent the elusive nature of Tao itself.
The end of the chapter shifts to the relationship between teacher and student. If properly aligned, the harmonious interdependence and interplay of this relationship reflect the essence and mystery of Tao. We can appreciate this in our lives as we go through our day.
Try this. As you go through your day today, consider everything and everyone you meet to be your teacher. Pause whenever anything or anyone catches your attention and ask yourself what you can learn. Try not to judge; just have an open mind. And, as we would with any teacher, be respectful and give thanks for the lesson. If you like, share something you learned in the comments.
Bonus: Did you ever wonder how Grasshopper got his name in the Kung Fu TV series? In this scene, the new student encounters Master Po, who is blind. Master Po quickly teaches his novice not to assume that just because he has no eyes, he cannot see. Then he instructs his new student to close his eyes and listen.
Master Po: Can you hear the grasshopper at your feet?
Novice: Old man, how is it that you can hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you cannot?
If you want to see the scene, click here.