thoughts on music, design and literature

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Return Is The Motion Of The Dao

Just spent a fun evening with my friend Maura Dykstra, who's a PhD student in Chinese History at UCLA. Over ramen and tea, she educated me on a bit of text from Chapter 40 of the Dao De Jing. It reads as follows:

fan zhe dao zhi dong
ruo zhe dao zhi yong
tian xia wan su sheng yu you
you sheng yu wu

As much as it is possible to pin down a translation to such a cryptic text, these lines mean the following:

Return is the motion of the Dao
Yielding is the way of the Dao
All things are born of being
Being is born of non-being

Understood? Didn't think so.

I'm attracted to the Dao De Jing because of the core belief in the continual flow and movement of the universe--it fits in well with the themes that I'm exploring in my album (the eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth). Ancient Chinese, however, is a very cryptic language, though, and every word can have a multitude of meanings attached to it. (Of particular delight is that the character for 'music' is the exact same as the character for 'happiness!') That's why interpretations of the text are many and varied.

Lao Tzu wrote the Dao at a time when the prevailing philosophical belief system was designed to maintain the status quo of an entrenched ruling class; the Dao, written with purposefully 'ugly' choices of words, was a rejection of that and a call for simplification of philosophical thought. (I mentioned that it reminded me of the Protestant Reformation, and the rejection of Catholic doctrine.)

The end goal of all Chinese philosophy is the attainment of peace. Everyone's striving for nothing more than a simple, balanced life.

Sounds good to me.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Return is the motion of the Dao, but to return you must first depart; and to achieve simplicity you must first achieve complexity. The essence of the Dao is in that back and forth, from ignorance to knowledge, and then from knowledge to enlightenment, which is kindred to ignorance in its simplicity but conceals the profundity of knowledge within, just as quality appears simple and irreducible but conceals the accretion of unimaginable quantity.

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