This morning, I was giving you a talk on the fundamental basic attitudes expressed in Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching. The title of the book Tao, Te, Ching, introduces now the second word in the title. I’ve been dwelling this morning on the first word which is Tao. And so comes up the second word. And this word, again is, faces us with some serious problems of translation. Ordinarily translated virtue. Ordinarily translated virtue, but virtue as we understand it today isn’t at all appropriate. The nearest kind of… When we speak of the healing virtues of a plant that’s nearer to the meaning of this word death. The Japanese pronounce it toku, the Cantonese duk and the Northern mandarins approximately ‘duh’. And in the section of the Lao Tzu where this is really introduced, the text says something like this. The superior virtue, not virtu, that’s it has virtue. Inferior virtue can’t let go of virtue, thus not virtue. And we more or less paraphrase that by translating superior virtue is not conscious of itself as a virtue and therefore it is virtue but inferior virtue is so hooked up with being virtuous, or hooked on being virtuous, that it’s not virtue.
Now then therefore, this word is a connection of virtue and magic. It means the Superior, the excellence of things, in the sense that. A tree excels at being a tree. And nobody really knows how it does it. There is no way of imitating a tree except, the only way is to be one. And so in the same way when a human being shows extraordinary skill something, it seems that it comes natural to him. It seems that he doesn’t achieve it, by any kind of artificiality. If there is some discipline in it, it’s concealed. So excelling in something naturally, and yet it’s something that is so difficult to understand that it seems that it has been done by magic, is the meaning of this word. So what Te is is, the state of affairs, a way of talking about, particularly a human being, who has learned to live in harmony with the Tao. Now of course, everything is fundamentally in harmony with the Tao. In the book called The Journey on, or the unwobbling pivot, it is said the dollar is that from which nothing can depart. That from which things can depart is not the Tao. Fundamentally you see, you can’t get away from it it’s like a situation in which we are all floating. In a tremendous river. And the river carries you along, anyhow. Now some of the people in the river of swimming against it, but they’re still being carried along. Others have learned that the art of the of the thing, is to swim with it. And they are carried along too, but they know it, you see they know they are carried along, whereas the people who are swimming against it think they’re going in the opposite direction. But they’re not really. So that was a sort of discussion we were having this morning when I find invariably whenever I talk about these things, Americans raise moral issues. Because we are a people incredibly bamboozled by preachers. And so this always comes up. Bamboozled, preachers Yes. And have chronic guilty consciences, and so those questions are always raised. For this you see explains, part of the situation that you you have to flow with the river. There is no other way. But that you can swim against it and pretend not to be flowing with it, but you still are. So, but a person who is not making that pretense anymore, who knows that you have to go with the river and swim with it, suddenly he acquires behind everything that he does the power of the river. The person swimming against the river you see, does not by his action express the force of the river the person swimming with it he goes along and he has that whole river behind him but he subtly directing it because you can change direction in the course of the river you can go to the left or to the right as a ship can use a rudder and still go along with the current, or more skillful still, as a sail boat can tack, because when a sailboat tacks and goes in a direction contrary to the wind. It still is using the wind to blow it along and that is the most highly skillful art of all that is Taoism in perfection. The art of sailing. Very intelligent.
I remember once, I was looking in the open air, and one of those glorious little thistle-down things came and I picked it up like that and brought it down. And it looked as if it was struggling to get away just as if you caught an insect by one leg. Like a daddy longlegs or something of that kind. It seemed to be struggling to get away and I first I thought well it’s not doing that that’s just the wind blowing. Then I thought again. Really? Only the wind blowing? Surely, it is the structure of this thing which in cooperation with the existence of wind, enables it to move like an animal. But using the wind’s effort. Not its own. It is more intelligent being than an insect in a way because. Insect uses effort like a person who rows a boat uses effort but the man who puts up a sale is using magic. He lets nature do it for him, with the intelligence to use a sail. So in just this way there is the meaning of Te, is that kind of intelligence, which, without your using very much effort, gets everything to cooperate with you. You, for example, never force other people to agree with you but you give them the notion that the idea you wanted them to have was their own. This is a feminine art, preeminently. A woman, who really wants a lover does not pursued him. Because then most men feel that she’s aggressive and if she’s aggressive she obviously is a woman who has had difficulty in finding lovers, and therefore there must be some undesirably secret thing about her. But if she as it were, makes a void, then and this is slightly difficult to get, then people get excited they know she is a highly prized object, and so they pursue. The same way when you want to teach a baby to swim. You could, a thing you can do is to put the baby in the water and then move backwards in the water and create a vacuum and this pulls the baby along. It helps it to learn the feel of the water and how to swim it’s the same principle.
So also, clever difficult to-get-ness is one of the very best means. Acquiring immense publicity. To take the case of T.E. Lawrence. Who published the Seven Pillars of Wisdom in a limited edition. And this was, it became an extraordinarily celebrated book, costs hundreds of dollars a copy to find one on the market and they waited and waited and built this up and built this up and built it up and finally they published a general edition, and it was a knockout, because the first the first one had been sort of secret and difficult to find and if you have patience, you see, you can always do this. There’s so. The whole art of the ruler you see that the Tao Te Ching is a book written, for several purposes. You may take it as a guide to mystical understanding of the universe you may take it as a dissertation on the principles of nature, almost a naturalistic, a handbook of natural law, we would say. Or you may also take it as a political book. A book of wisdom for governors. And, the principle which it advocates, basically, is the virtue of governing by not ruling. Look at it in this way. Supposing the president of the United States were as unknown to you by name as the local sanitary inspector. The man who looks after the drains and the sewage disposal and all that kind of thing. This is not a glamorous figure, you see, but for that very reason, he probably does his job more efficiently than the president, because the president wastes enormous amount of time in interviewing various groups from the Elks and the Girl Scouts, conferring honors and all this kind of thing. The poor man’s life must be an utter torment because he’s so well known and therefore has absolutely no time to give to the government of the country. I mean think of his mail. And all the people who have to be employed sifting that out, and assessing it, so that if he were someone quite anonymous, and that we didn’t have to think about, he would be a very very good ruler. In just the same way, for example, you don’t have to attend, unless you’re sick, to the government of your own body. It happens automatically This is this expression ziran, of itself, and it goes on day after day after day and the better it is the less you have to think about it. When you see well, you do not see your eyes. If there is something wrong with your eyes, you start seeing spots, and those spots are spots in your eyes. When you hear well, you never hear your ears. But when they start singing, you know? Then you are starting to hear your ears and your ears are getting in the way of their own hearing.
So on the deepest level, a person as a whole, can get in the way of his own existence. By becoming too aware of himself. And then he lacks this quality, Te. Now, the Taoists then propose that there be something to help people get back to Tao, and be able to be in the state of Te. So that they wouldn’t get in their own way. And, this is connected with the idea of being empty. The emptiness being somehow vacant, was the secret of the thing. The highest kind of knowledge is not know-how, but no-how, and no hyphen H.-O. W. to be able to do it no how. Without any method. To achieve this, something is practiced which is called fasting the heart. The heart. In Chinese, is a word which doesn’t mean heart in the physiological sense. You see, it’s part of the Te character. Shin. It’s usually located about here. And it means heart and mind it’s equivalent to translated as mind and in all the Zen texts where the word mind is used, no mind, Musha in it is this character. The psychic center. Now the best kind of heart is absence of heart. In English, the word heartless has a very bad connotation, as does the word mindless. A heartless person is an inconsiderate, unfeeling person, a mindless person is an idiot. But a person who has mushin, or no mind or no heart in Chinese, is a very high order of person. It means that his psychic center doesn’t get in its own way. It operates as if it wasn’t there. Chuang-Tzu says that the highest form of man uses his shin like a mirror. It grasps nothing, it refuses nothing it receives but does not keep.
And the poem says when the geese fly over the water and there are reflected in the water that the gays do not intend to cast their reflection and the water has no mind to retain their image. So, the whole thing is you see to operate in the world as if you were absent. Now this is built into us physiologically, fundamentally, let me ask you simply: what is the color of your head from the standpoint of your eyes? Your eyes don’t see your head, do they? You look all around you see everything else but your head you don’t see. Do you feel that your head is black. No, hasn’t any color at all. Outside, you see, all field of vision is an oval two eyes and this creates old two centers of an ellipse so there’s this whole field of vision now experiment what is beyond the field of vision. What color is it where you can’t see. It isn’t black. This is an important point. It’s no color at all. Beyond that and in this way you can get an idea of what is meant by that character that I discussed this morning Schwann which although it formally has a meaning of darkness this one. Although it formally has the meaning of darkness and the Deep and the obscure, it actually refers to this kind of no color, which is the color of your head so far as your eyes are concerned.
Now, so in this sense, the invisibility of one’s head, almost the not having of any head at all, is the secret of being alive. To be headless, you might say, to have no head. In just the sense I’m talking about, is our way of talking about the Chinese expression mushin, no-mind. Now, as a matter of fact if you want to see the inside of your head all you have to do is keep your eyes open. Because everything that you’re experiencing in the external visual field is a state of your brain. All these colors and shapes are the way in which the brain nerves translate the electrical impulses in the external world. Being in the world outside the envelope of skin.
So, they translate all what is going on outside into impulses which are to us shape and color. But shape and color are states of the nerves, so what you see when your eyes are open is how it feels inside your head. You think your head is a blank. But actually, it’s being a blank. You don’t see your brain as an external, undulating, corrugated structure, you see your brain as everything outside. So, in this way, the emptiness of one’s head, is the condition of seeing. The transparency of the eye lens is the condition of seeing colors it has no color itself. Eckart said this, because my eye has no color it is able to discern color. This is in Germany in the. Thirteenth century. That this is fundamental Taoist idea of being absent, as a condition of being present. Being not there. So, Chuang Tzu says, ‘when your belt is comfortable you don’t feel it.’ When your shoes are comfortable, it is as if you want wearing any. Likewise, your clothes you see the more you are aware of these things, the less properly they are made. Or, the less properly they fit.
But, we raise an objection to this, a very simple objection. If I don’t know I’m there, I seem to be missing everything. We want to know that we know. If we’re happy and we don’t know we’re happy. We might just as well not be happy to be happy. And to know that you’re happy is really the overflowing of the couple’s life. Of course the penalty for that is to be miserable and to know that you’re miserable. Some people are miserable without knowing it. But, you know my Limerick, ‘There was a young man who said though it seems that I know that I know what I would like to see is the eye that knows me, when I know that I know that I know.’
And this is the great human predicament the development of self-consciousness the development of the possibility of reflecting upon one’s own knowledge. And this is simultaneously a blessing and a curse. And Taoism does not escape this problem, I mean it doesn’t, it doesn’t avoid this problem, it deals with it. But it doesn’t deal with it obviously. So we get back to this fundamental verse about the nature of Te. What is highly virtuous is a virtue that is not conscious of itself as virtue. The moment it’s conscious of itself as such you see it it fails. So in this way, we love to see a child dancing all by itself. Lost in the dance and not performing for an audience, and we say oh oh if only I could dance like that. If only I could become like a child again: innocent. But then soon, when I went parents notice how beautifully a child dances and they all approve of it and say to this child, ‘Dance for us,’ the child begins to lose this power. And it puts on as it knows its notice. And we don’t like that and say that’s affectation that showing off that’s phony. What we want you to do is to dance as if you had no audience. Not even yourself. Which of course puts the child in a double bind, because it says to the child we require you to do something that will be acceptable only if you do it as if it wasn’t required. We do that all the time to our children and to each other. You must love me. After all, you promised to do so when we got married to you and so on. So, this is the difficulty. But somehow, a very great artist in the maturity of his life somehow is able. At least to give the impression. That he does what he does without playing to the gallery. Without self-consciousness. It seems perfectly natural. So how does he get there? There was a Taoist sage later that Lao Tzu. His name was Lieh Tzu We Romanize that as LIEH. Lieh. And he had a reputation for being able to ride on the wind. So light. And says in one place it’s easy enough to stand still the difficulty is to walk without touching the ground. Because in the state of being in accord with the Tao, there is a certain feeling of weightlessness, parallel to the weightlessness that people feel when they get into outer space, or when they go deep into the ocean. This is of course connected with the sensation that you’re not carrying your body around. I described this morning the sensation that an expert driver has, when he really is with it on a car. That the hill lifts him up and drops him down the other side. That he and the road are all one process. And that’s equivalent to the sense of weightlessness. And so this is connected, this is inner meaning of riding on the wind when Suzuki was asked what is it like to have such tare he said it’s just like ordinary everyday experience except about two inches off the ground. And so we say in our own songs, ‘Walking on air and never a care, something is making me sing Tralalala, like a little bird in spring.