Monday, December 18, 2006

Of course, the world in which we live today is not accustomed to spitting out anything. The tradition of positivism in the west renders any metaphysical statement unverifiable, thus unworthy of consideration. Positivists say there is no way to empirically determine the truth of metaphysical statements and thus relegate them to nonsensical utterances. (see Peter Angeles Dictionary of Philosophy page 217)

Positivist thinkers are left with knowledge derived empirically through the senses. This would mean they would have no time or inclination to read the Dao De Jing, as the Dao itself is one of those ‘nonsensical utterances.’ In chapter 14, the description of the Dao makes it clear that it is not to be understood through the senses:

“We look, but do not see it, so we call it invisible. We listen, but do not hear it, so we call it inaudible. We grasp for it, but do not reach it, so we call it the subtle (formless).”

The Dao is something that cannot be experienced the way we experience created things. If the Dao could be experienced in this way, it would be equal to the things it creates instead of being their source. Thus it takes an entirely different approach to intuit the Dao. We cannot take a logical or rational approach that is required by scientific thought, but must ‘empty day by day’. The transcendent Dao is ‘no thing,’ but the eternal principle underlying all things.

Previously, we took a look at the notion of ‘non-action,’ here in chapter 48 we see what it takes to get there: ‘an emptying’. This non-action is integral for the sage to govern properly:

“…He who takes action fails. He who grasps things loses them. For this reason the sage takes no action and therefore does not fail. He grasps nothing and therefore does not lose anything. People in their handling of affairs often fail when they are about to succeed. If one remains as careful at the end as he was at the beginning, there will be no failure.

Therefore the sage desires to have no desire, he does not value rare treasures. He learns to be unlearned, and return to what the multitude has missed (Dao). Thus he supports all things in their natural state but does not take any action.”

Here again we have a picture of what it takes to rule through the Dao. Paradoxically, the sage ‘learns to unlearn,’ which is a poetic way of saying that we empty instead of increase.

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