Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Origin of Beginning

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgements
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity. 

Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching: 52
Comment:  The Tao Te Ching is one of my most favorite religious/philosophical texts.  The emphasis on "being and non-being" presses the ideal of existing through non-existence - the balance that must be weighed to know how both parts fit together.

In my pickup I have a Ying and Yang button pinned to the roof liner and it has been there since just before the passing of my dad in early 2009.  My intention was to have it follow me and remind me to see more than just my side - but the other side too.

I have not always remained faithful to this quest.  It is not easy as you must know.

The emphasis of Taoism is on balance hence the appearance of the popularized symbol of opposites, the Ying and Yang.

Any wise person cannot know without not knowing too.  And so both knowing and not knowing are important opposites that must be balanced to produce meaning.

The balance of opposites. Starting at the end to find the beginning.

A few weeks ago I announced to my research team that we would work on our book projects by starting with the conclusion and writing it backwards.

The puzzled faces staring at me looked like many a student over the years who has struggled to see how such a manner of writing and thinking is even possible.

It is and it works.

It is for the same reason that I tell students that if you want to answer a question at hand first start by asking the question that comes before it and do so again and then reverse the order by going forward.

My thinking has always been that no question is unbalanced by being the only question.  Questions are balanced by other questions and it never ends.

This is Taoism.  Find the flow of a river and you will know the land that it runs through is what Lao-Tzu wanted us to see.

To appreciate the complexity and simplicity implied Lao-Tzu said:  "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river."

The logic extends to tell us not to worry about dying and we will live forever.

What a wonderful way to strive toward balance and meaning in life.   


Image Credit


Anonymous said...


When I used to write stories, a long time ago...that's how I always started.
Ending first.

(Btw..ever heard of Terry Pratchett? He wrote a novel called The Thief of Time. It falls into the fantasy genre, but if you ever want to read something hysterically funny with charming parallels to our world..that's the one. There's even a Monk...called Lao-tzi..with his own pearls of wisdom:)


Ridwan said...


Hey there you. Thanks for telling me this. You should not end writing stories ... start again at the end :0)

I have not heard of Pratchett. Will look though and see.

I need some hysteria in my life.

Be gud.


Kweli said...

There is something poignant here: starting at the end to find the beginning. I wonder how this is related to the Hegelian "begin from the beginning".

Thanks for that reminder. There are certain things I have been struggling to write lately and it's been hard knowing where to start. Maybe sometimes we can start from the end and work out way back.

Ridwan said...

Hey Kweli.

Thanks brother for your kind words.

I am not sure that it is related to Hegel but would not be surprised if he lifted thinking .. if even reactively so ;0)

I am very influenced by the thinking that seeks balance between opposites.

For Taoists one cannot know relief without knowing despair.

So the end and the beginning are not separable in any context.

I wish you well with the block chief. It is so at times.

Try writing from the end brother.

See if it helps.

Peace to ya.


Tony said...

Hey Bra
Maybe I'm a Taoist, but was blissfully unaware of it. One of my life philosophies is "Begin with the end in mind." e.g. If when you die, you wanted to be known as someone who was a good father (of course you must have children to want this:-)), then you have to do the best for your kids NOW. This applies equally to the race track - if you want to be fast at the end of the straight, then you have to get your line right, and get on the gas early in the bend that leads onto the straight. So yes, I think that in most situations, the end is a good place to start.
So, as you say....Onward!
I think I have a bit of reading to get my head around.


Ridwan said...

Hello Tony:

I was thinking of you today as I rode down Jones Street thinking stuff has changed so much that it hardly feels familiar anymore.

That aside, I think your philosophy is Taoist in that it sees how pieces fit together.

What I am drawn to is that Taoism does not set aside a deity as an origin or an end.

It sees all things as connected and existing even before existence.

In the opening chapter of the Tao Te Ching puts it this way:

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things."

I like that things only exist when it is named.

I like it because it speaks to my belief that everything that exists can be renamed - thereby meaning is never static.

The more we know about raising kids the more we know about life. The more we know about life the more we know about birth and death and it goes on and on ... nothing is static.

The pieces fit together. So raising kids is not disconnected from knowing how a river flows or how a mountain is stacked.

To know we have to unravel and find the balance.

I was thinking last night of the book "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

There is a realness about riding that can't just be taught - it must be lived.

How one turns a bike is about angles and not just steering.

And when you ride enough you become the bike and the other way around.

Piecing meaning together again.

Taoism influenced Zen Buddhism and one can see how the Buddha incorporated the notions of being aware by being selfless.

It is a wonderful way to live. And I feel more drawn to it than religion that focuses on performance.

The Tao says don't worry about the hereafter if you live right in the now it will be one and the same.

Simple yet complex - the balance.

I trust you are well boet.

Come visit soon - I need you around to balance my idiocy :0)

Onward! indeed

Ridwan said...

h Tony I forgot to tell you that I have this unexplainable need to learn Feng Shiu and Tai Chi (but I live in dry Kimberley!)

Both these use Taoist principles to understand how energy (Chi) flows.

Taoists do not believe in building dams, for example. Rivers must be allowed to flow.

One cannot control inevitability.

Feng Shiu design would have open flow spaces in houses and other living spaces.

I think of how mad our lives are because we live in geometric grids that restrict energy.

Probably why it is so relaxing to escape the construct of designing life and living life inside of nature as it is ... as it flows.

Don't worry boet. I'm not turning into the Guru.

Oh there is a group of old ladies in their 70s who practice Tai Chi every Saturday afternoon in the gardens on the way to the airport.

You know the place (Trim Park).

Sadly no Lycra there though ;0)

Would you be surprised if I told you I want to drop out and go study Taoism in China ... ummm did not think so.

The tannie gave me a kop klap after I said this and its off to work I go ... yo heh ... she is interrupting my damn flow boet ;0)

Peace boet,