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Beginner's Mind

Accurate Translation of the Tao Te Ching


I have thought much about the mind through much of my adult life.  This post is prompted to two recent stimuli.davesmusictank posed a review of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London and states the authors opinion that the poor are urged to work because if they were not overwhelmed by the time and stress of labor they might have time to think.  And Eliot in "Burnt Norton" said that we (modern humans) should wait without thought for we are not ready to think.

Orwell's comment can be ignored.  It is simply the aristocratic prejudice transformed into capitalist myth.  The poor must think; and if the things they think about include inequality and injustice, so much the better.

Eliot's comment is harder to dismiss because it deals with a different dimension of reality: a Taoist reality where nothing is as it seems to be; where thought is spiritually (rather than politicaly) dangerous; where the better knowing and doing are not-knowing and not-doing; and where the only true "treasures" are Mercy (compassion, love), Moderation (restraint, simplicity, voluntary poverty), and Modesty (humility, non-competitiveness).

Although the "political" parts of the Tao Te Ching (Chapters 39 - 80) seem to suggest otherwise, the not-knowing of the sage is not the ignorance of the unwise person.  It is not that my mind is empty -- that would desirable, it is that my mind is crammed full of the wrong stuff.  The reason that i am not ready to think is that i have thought too wrong for too long.

I am reminded that the word mind is a verb as well as a noun and even as a noun it may denote a "process" rather than an entity.  Mindfulness and mindlessness are almost synonymous and seem to be used almost interchangably in the TTC.

That not knowing is not ordinary ignorance is suggested by the practice in some Buddhist societies and in Hinduism of making education, work, and family life prerequisites to a full time spiritual quest.  There are those who seem to reach spiritual maturity at age 18 or 15 or 9 or 5 and are excused from the prerequisites. but these are rare and can be contaminated by acknowledgement like child movie stars.

I should not worry about my mind being emptied of content, perhaps it waits for another level of not knowing to occur,  I wait thoughtlessly for the thoughts that may think themselves through me.

Comments

( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
amaebi
Apr. 22nd, 2016 12:20 pm (UTC)
Congratulations on your triumph, I guess.
bobby1933
Apr. 23rd, 2016 05:24 am (UTC)
:)
nerthus
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:20 pm (UTC)
I think I see the nature of thought as a sort of duality, a yin and yang prospect if you will of both light and darkness, ignorance and enlightenment. And its effect on the 'soul' depends I guess on whether it's mind in the organic sense, mind in the cosmic sense or necessarily a composite of both.
Taking my son as an example: his was a prodigious intellect, and he prized his intelligence probably above all other things about himself; he was very quick, very insightful and incisive, could play with words like a virtuoso and had an amazing memory. But sometimes his wit was cruel and biting,and he had little pity for those he deemed 'intellectual weaklings' or 'fools.' As he got older, more and more his propensity for deep thinking led him to extremes of depression and anxiety rather than to peace or any kind of worldly measurable achievements or progress. He was tormented by this paradox of being so gifted in IQ yet so unable to do anything with it but feel alienated and tormented.He never knew how to make his intelligence work FOR him rather than be his enemy in many ways. I think that's what drew him to Buddhism and mindfulness breathing, it was a chance to get out of his own head/brain and become part of something vaster and greater out beyond himself. In some ways he did have a maturity far beyond his years even as a child, but in other ways his intellect crippled him and made him unfit for living in the 'normal' workaday world. He tried many jobs and found them all soul-killing because he DID think so much and could never turn his brain off and was so aware of the discrepancies in society between work/pay and what he saw as the value judgment placed on one's very soul because of the type or level of job one had. He admitted he felt so polarized; in one breath he would scorn people who could do better but were too apathetic to try, and in the next he would deride himself for vaunting his own intelligence above his coworkers' because he said all his brain was good for was to reveal to himself how messed up he was and how he had no reason to feel superior. He had such anxiety he could barely function in any outside job, and as his depression grew worse he did become unable to work outside in the world. So he was always so conflicted, filled with empathy on one hand for those in lower paying jobs because that is mostly the type of jobs he had and he knew the struggle of that type of work, while also feeling disgust at what he called the 'willful ignorance' of so many people he worked with. Why do they WANT to stay stupid?!! he'd exclaim to me in disgust after a day at whichever job he currently held. Then he would laugh drily and answer himself, "Probably because the monotony of their tiny lives would drive them to suicide if they thought about it as much as I do." In Buddhism he found a new sense of humility and compassion and empathy and also some release from his own depression and darkest questions/thoughts through letting go of his own 'mind' and merging, as he put it, with THE Consciousness beyond all thought. Sadly, he ultimately had so many mental difficulties and was so tormented by depression that he gave up his Buddhist practice and began drinking, and it led to his death; but he spent his life always learning, always thinking, and I feel if his poor brain had not been simultaneously afflicted with depression and anxiety he could have done so much more in his life.
nerthus
Apr. 22nd, 2016 02:21 pm (UTC)
Me again, still rambling!
I know that my son made me realize on some levels my own 'willful ignorance' and complacency and urged me to use 'mind' in helping others rather than merely brooding only on my own place in the scheme of things. Using his own pain to reach out to others was one thing he came to value and cherish, whether it be with giving away most of his money to individuals and causes, helping his Vietnam vet friend to get medical care, taking him groceries and paying to take his cat to the vet, volunteering at various places, working with the Campaign For Tibet and other Buddhist causes, giving to Children's Cancer Fund, etc. He would get emails and calls from friends wanting his help and/or advice, and he never turned them down; he refused to even kill a fly or bug and cried when he found a dead baby bird that fell out of its nest, feeling so moved by its suffering. He never could see that he was already so enlightened on so many levels. But our minds as biological entities are unreliable, science experiments and MRIs have shown us how easily our brains can be tricked and trick us into believing or seeing things that just aren't there; so how we perceive 'reality' and what 'mind' really even is are questions we will continue to wrestle with using ironically enough, our minds. How to accurately 'test' the very thing we have to use to perform the tests? And where does 'mind' leave off and become 'spirit' or something greater?
bobby1933
Apr. 22nd, 2016 09:06 pm (UTC)
Re: Me again, still rambling!
Thank you for sharing some of your memories of Daniel.

We are imperfect forms who cannot comprehend our essence. Religion and philosophy try to short circuit this incomprehensibleness by providing ways of moving through the phenomenal world in relative safety--the safety being more for the sake of our essence (soul) rather than our material bodies. Buddhism provides a particularly good path.

But real Buddhists are also imperfect creatures who continually confuse themselves and stand in the way of their
own journeys. I am of the opinion that the journey continues beyond physical death in ways that we cannot begin to comprehend.
reginaterrae
Apr. 23rd, 2016 12:32 am (UTC)

I'm glad you posted this, Bobby, because I'd been a bit worried by your relative silence. This is a good explanation for it, and I am content.


Love
R

bobby1933
Apr. 23rd, 2016 05:31 am (UTC)
:) And i will try to be more responsive Silence is probably golden partly because it is rare.
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