Sunday, October 17, 2004


A singer/songwriter that I enjoy, I won't say who it is, uses a lot of imagery and metaphor from things that are translucent and insubstantial. I often think about the power of the insubstantial.

The James Legge translation of the Tao Te Ching has this for Chapter XLIII:
1. The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing (with a purpose). ...
"that which has no substance enters where there is no crevice." I just love that.

I feel that the most powerful things are those things which are indefinable, unsubstantial, have no substantial existence.

Some translations of this chapter of the Tao Te Ching refer to water as the thing that dashes against anything in it's path and wears it away. Ice will eventually bring down a mountain. Ice, water, air, light, space, time, truth, love, beauty... Anyone can see where the most substantial of these, ice, water air and light, determine our whole existence. If there were too much or too little of any of these things, we could not exist, certainly the foundations of existence would be radically changed, yet we rarely think of them in our day to day.

But, even moreso, these seemingly insubstantial conceptual things such as space, time, truth love and beauty have control over us. These things permeate our beings at the most seminal level. Those of us who are seen as being the most self-actualized, the most independent and capable are chained to these things. To the fully indepent artistic mind, beauty is the most compelling thing. The pursuit of beauty becomes the master.

I'm not being prescriptive, I would not say it should be different. While slavery and chains have a negative connotation of limitation and the Buddhist or Taoist would say that such striving is vain, I would say instead that it is a high calling to become enslaved to those things that are insubstantial, to truth, to love, to beauty. The scientist who studies the unseen, like light, space and time comes to touch the deeper understanding of existence. The thinker who dwells in the insubstantial comes to touch the deeper reality. To reach to the deepest reality is why we have comprehension, I believe.

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