Ideas come from all over, sometimes out of nowhere.
When Joyce and I visited Asheville recently, I stumbled across a book on photography, The Tao of Photography. I loved the photographs, and it reminded me of my student days when I was fascinated by Taoism.
Reading it led me to download Tao Te Ching. I keep it on my smart phone, and I’ve read it during spare moments when I’m out and about. The translation in this free edition is a little labored, full of parenthetical clarifications and strange locutions, but something of the original philosophy manages to come through.
Today I read a passage that encapsulated an idea I’ve been turning over in my mind lately:
All things alike go through their processes of activity, and (then) we see them return (to their original state).
When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root.
This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.
The report of that fulfillment is the regular, unchanging rule.
To know that unchanging rule is to be intelligent; not to know it leads to wild movements and evil issues.
The passage helps explain what I was thinking in a poem I wrote the other night:
“If you are intelligent
or have money
or live here,”
THEY always say, you must give back.
“You have a responsibility
to serve, or give,” or whatever
it is they have in mind for you to do for them.
But the longer I live,
the more I realize
THEY are mistaken.
Living is a gift, it is true,
As is having money
Or having what people call brains.
The only responsibility is to have those gifts while you have them.
(Or maybe that is an obligation, for do you have
any real choice in the matter?)
Rest assured, they’ll put themselves away
When you are done with them.
Writing that poem gave me another idea:
“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,”
said Lennon, trying to show us the Tao.
All he did was sell millions of records.
That, apparently, could be done.
He’s gone now, you know,
But the records sell on.
At the same time I’m considering classic Eastern philosophy, I’m also reading Colonel Roosevelt, the third volume of Desmond Morris’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt. Talk about an odd juxtaposition, but I’m surprised to find some common threads.
As much as TR considered himself a man of action, things he said and did in his later years suggest he began to sense something like the wisdom of the Tao. He gave up hunting, saying he no longer saw the point in it, and though he pushed President Wilson to involve the country in World War I, he seems to have outgrown his romantic concept of war that led him up San Juan hill.
He even was able to see that his time in the political arena had passed, although he loved the political spotlight and the country was apparently ready to elect him President again.
Not that he renounced wild movements entirely. His final years were spent in accusing Wilson of all sorts of evils stemming from inactivity, even when he noted himself that preaching and criticizing from the outside quickly devolves into mere screaming.