Monday, February 8, 2021

Chapter 40


The movement of the Tao consists in returning.

The use of the Tao consists in softness.

All things under heaven are born of the corporeal:

The corporeal is born of the Incorporeal.

The Chinese word fan may be translated in many ways and ‘returning’ is one of the common options.  As ever, the opening couplet speaks to us at two levels: an everyday, and an esoteric, and we shall discuss one and then the other.

Everything that builds and grows and seeks to endure in its own individuality will succeed for a while, but there comes a time when the pull of the Tao will re-exert itself.  Atoms will agglomerate into molecules, which will organise into tissue and whole organisms.  During this process the corporeal is in the ascendant and the Tao may be said to be in abeyance.  But with time, the phenomenon will reach the end of its lifespan and the process will reverse, in exactly the same order that it grew.  Tissue will dissolve into chain of molecules which will in time return to the atomic.

At a more esoteric level, the phenomenal is dissolving moment by moment.  Even the hardest granite is annihilated the moment we softly close our eyes.  To the witnessing consciousness, change is a radically constant process and ‘the movement of the Tao’ is nothing other than this irresistible stream of impermanence.  Things arise and return back to the Tao with the same rapidity, says the Buddha, of a lightning strike or a bubble of foam.

The Daoist sage is able to witness and abide and find their place in the stream of change without needing to go through the endless frustrations of growth that is followed by decay.

The use of the Tao consists in softness.

We charted the rise of the living organism but it is the weakness inherent in the body that will eventually allow time and the Tao in, and the decay to set in.  But if we never oppose the Tao in the first place then there is nothing to decay.  Softness is never seeking to prevail; softness is always remaining in the starting position.  We observe the changing tableau and stay exactly as we are.  Our needs are small and insignificant, we are simple beings at peace with ourselves. 

So in order to use the Tao for our own health and happiness, simplicity and small actions are the way.  By taking our pleasure in small simple satisfactions, nothing accrues that must later be undone.  When we are already at peace we have no need to go into combat with opposing forces in order to secure our peace.

All things under heaven are born of the corporeal:

The corporeal is the word for the world that pre-exists before arrival.  The mountains were formed out of the pre-existing mass that was the Earth.  The planet Earth was formed from the pre-existing matter of the Cosmos.  And of course, the acorn is born of the pre-existing oak tree and we are born of our pre-existing parents. 

Not everything in the Tao Te Ching has to be so mysterious, this scheme is the one we all know and accept.

The corporeal is born of the Incorporeal.

But even to distant galaxies and ancient stardust, there is a backdrop.  The Incorporeal is the subtle realm from which all that we see is formed.

The existence of the subtle realm is not recognised by modern science; science deals exclusively with the corporeal matter discussed in the previous line.  The subtle realm is, however, insisted upon at one time or other by all peoples and all religions.  For this reason it is called the Perennial Philosophy and is the view that consciousness is prior to matter.  Consciousness is the energy that congeals and solidifies into matter, and the solid world that we know is prefigured in our deepest recesses by our dreaming selves. 

A belief in the subtle realm only tends to take hold in a person as result of some remarkable or miraculous experience where we may find ourselves knowing or seeing something, perhaps in a dream or a daydream that then turns into truth in the real world.  We might see the vision before time, or we may see it in a far off place.  We may also gain sudden intuitive insight into a situation of which we had no empirical knowledge.  Whichever it is, there is a strong subjective element to the experience and is so unique in its application that it can’t be verified scientifically.

In the world of science there are two universally acknowledged phenomena that do point to the primacy of consciousness over matter.  The first is in the famous experiments into the behaviour of light, whereby conscious witnessing causes the photon to behave as a particle rather than a wave.

The second is in the placebo effect in medicine, whereby believing in the efficacy of a medicine is enough to effect a cure even when the medicine is bogus.  If our incorporeal mind has accepted a truth then our corporeal body will follow suit.  As the sages knew: ‘the corporeal is born of the Incorporeal.’






Previous                                               Chapter Index                                                Next