Preconception: A Prison of Perception?

edited February 2008 in Tools of Taoist Thought
Each week we address one chapter of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao Te Ching can be obscure, especially if you think you're supposed to understand what it's saying! We find it easier and more instructive to simply contemplate how the chapter resonates with your personal experience. Becoming more aware at this fundamental level simplifies life. This approach conforms to the view that true knowing lies within ourselves. Thus, when a passage in the scripture resonates, you've found your inner truth. The same applies for when it evokes a question; questions are the grist for self realization.

Chapter 72
When the people lack a proper sense of awe, then some awful visitation will
descend upon them.

Do not constrict their living space; do not press down on their means of
livelihood. It is because you do not press down on them that they will not
weary of the burden.

Hence the sage knows himself but does not display himself, loves himself but
does not exalt himself.

Therefore he discards the one and takes the other.

Read commentary previously posted for this chapter.
Read notes on translations
Now, do it too at Wengu!

Comments

  • edited December 1969
    As I was soaking my weary bones in the hot bath I got to thinking about the Japanese traditional public bath house (sentō). There were two sections, male and female, but you could often see glimpse of each section at the entrance where you pay. The reason I bring this up is that a common preconception of the Japanese is that they are an inscrutable and private people. Yes, they abide pretty closely to a cultural etiquette, but underneath that I found them somewhat more open and accessible in personal ways than my fellow Americans, etc. They don’t seem to fit the Western preconception of what the Japanese are like. I met many foreigners while in Japan who, trapped in long held preconceptions, could not see the Japanese as they are. (This phenomenon, preconception versus reality, can be said about all ethnic groups of course.)

    Then I got to thinking about how I view ‘mountain music’ as a form of ‘taoist music’. Although, one would hardly imagine a connection between those two, I suppose. Mountain music is a rural Western hillbilly-peasant tradition and Taoism is a rather esoteric Eastern mystical tradition. On the other hand, Shakuhachi (in the ‘blowing Zen’ tradition) probably comes across as very Taoist (i.e., Buddhism + Taoism = Zen). Actually having done (doing) both, I see them as essentially the same. They just emphasis different angles - team 'work' versus solo 'work'.

    Whether we see sameness or difference often hinges on our preconceptions, which in turn arise from need and fear. Preconceptions imprison perception when they lead us to [chref=71]think that we know[/chref]. Which view, sameness or difference, is most connected with need and fear I wonder? For a Taoist point of view differences obviously. Consider these passages for example:

    [chref=56]One who knows does not speak; one who speaks does not know.
    Block the openings; Shut the doors. Blunt the sharpness; Untangle the knots;
    Soften the glare; Let your wheels move only along old ruts.
    This is known as mysterious sameness. [/chref]

    [chref=10]When your discernment penetrates the four quarters
    Are you capable of not knowing anything? [/chref]

    [chref=20] Between yea and nay
    How much difference is there?[/chref]

    [chref=2]The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only
    the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.[/chref]

    Finally, to paraphrase chapter two, [chref=2]Thus sameness and difference produce each other[/chref]. That is the picture of [chref=16]impartiality[/chref], the holy grail of Taoist perception. Of the two, sameness and difference, I find we (and all other life forms) are difference biased. Nature uses fear, need and the perception of differences help living things survive. Life is not impartial. Living things discern what they like or love, and what they dislike or hate (need and fear) and go about their daily business accordingly.

    Humanity's difficulty arises from how our thinking mind takes this natural bias and exaggerates it. This overloads us with the heavy baggage of preconception to drag around throughout life. I see Taoist thought as a way of [chref=40]turning back[/chref] to a more primal state of being where preconceptions cease to hold us captive.
  • edited December 1969
    Humanity's difficulty arises from how our thinking mind takes this natural bias and exaggerates it.

    We more than exaggerate it. We take what we perceive and our conceptions about what we perceive and make that our solid, dense, real reality. If we could perceive our world with a little less solidity and a lot more space we would be better off, I believe.

    At times in my life I have admired people who have such a solid and unshakable reality. I thought that it would be so pleasant not to question everything, but just believe it's all real. I don't feel that way anymore. Hesitant and shaky is okay too. Whatever, I think at the moment of death we will say: "Of course!"
  • edited December 1969
    [cite] Lynn Cornish:[/cite]....people who have such a solid and unshakable reality. I thought that it would be so pleasant not to question everything, but just believe it's all real....

    A very overt "solid and unshakable reality" is symptomatic of an underlying fluid and shaky inner life one is seeking to flee. Proselytizing one’s “solid and unshakable reality” is even more symptomatic of the insecurity within. If I can convince you I am right, that bolsters my sense that I really am in touch with the truth. Ah yes, and it also bolsters the illusion of 'I am'. Have I convinced you yet? No? Allow me to continue… :lol:

    Why do some folks have a more insecure inner life that others? Well, I see this same spectrum of emotion in other species as well. For example, the yap yapping of those tiny nervous dogs seems symptomatic of insecurity. Research shows that early childhood (or duckling hood, or puppy hood, etc.) experience also plays a role in how secure the baseline equanimity of the nervous system develops.

    On questions per se: I see those driven by curiosity – a core survival instinct. I suppose the problem (the anxiety we feel) arises out from how desperately we need answers, The Answer, or [chref=71]think that we know[/chref] The Answer. Hallelujah, praise The Answer! The more securely we [chref=71]think that we know[/chref] just pushes one’s anxiety of the unknown deeper, but it’s always there lurking in the shadows of the soul leaping out from time to time.

    [chref=54]How do I know that the empire is like that?[/chref] Well, if it were otherwise, human history would look a lot different than it does. Still, [chref=56]who knows[/chref]…
  • edited December 1969
    On questions per se: I see those driven by curiosity

    You are a very curious fellow (curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said). I am curious how you came to be that way. Were you born that way? Was it a life experience that turned you that way? Both?

    I am asking because I don't know how it happened to me. It seems like I was like this as a child....at 7, I thought maybe the grown ups made up this Jesus guy just to keep us kids in line.

    Your saying the most unshakable ones are the shakiest inside: reminds me of the evangelists, who hold their beliefs so firmly with set-in-concrete ideas in a totally closed mind. I can see how that is a kind of grasping, a desperate holding on to their "truth." They are so convincing, people follow them. "Hey, that guy seems to know what's what--let's get behind HIM." (Obama and Clinton know this well, I suppose: that they have to appear sold and definite in order for people to get behind them. And I bet they're aware of their deception/pretence!)

    It's not easy to keep your mind open. I am very closed minded about that! I mean, you can take that philosophy, that nothing is definite and that everything is impermanent, and make that idea your hard reality. Just like you said: Have I convinced you yet?

    Better to be quiet, huh?
  • edited December 1969
    May I plop in a leek and a few little spices to this wonderfully tasty pot…
    ~ reminds me of the evangelists, who hold their beliefs so firmly with set-in-concrete ideas in a totally closed mind. I can see how that is a kind of grasping, a desperate holding on to their "truth."

    ~ I mean, you can take that philosophy, that nothing is definite and that everything is impermanent, and make that idea your hard reality.

    ~ Indeed, they most certainly fear any by-path that would lead them astray.. hmm sounds familiar.

    ~ You’ve already said there what I’m about to say too…

    The “Holy Grail” of Taoist Perception* that Carl referred to only ‘appears to me’, this average student, in short flashes and is gone the next. Most of the time I’m snorkelling in the shallows in only a slightly [chref=61]lower[/chref] position to those who would [chref=41]laugh[/chref] out loud, and that’s only whenever I actually DO remember to take off my reading glasses and let the glare soften.
    When I’m ‘trying’ to surrender my preconceptions and remain impartial I end up in a very ‘average studenty’ kinda place… where in fact I become biased towards ‘Sameness’
    :shock: Taoist Heresy! I hear ye cry… but lets just have a little stir…

    As is often said in here, our survival instincts are biased towards difference so we more often need reminding of sameness to swing us closer to a ‘balance’, but..
    ‘To think that one does not know is best’, but all taoists ‘know’ that opposites produce each other.. that before and after follow each other.. and as our contemplation lessens its grip on the details we sink into a our happy place where all things come from the same source… like the great mother we know.
    Ta Da ! we then have ourselves an agenda, to prize and promote sameness. It’s the Taoist version of “No-one comes to the Father but by me”, except we feel its much more groovy because we appear to include everything rather than appear to exclude anything.
    Everywhere I turn I am bent on seeing sameness and how everything is curiously linked, so that any difference is an ‘opportunity’ for me to practise waving my Taoist wand and transform them into sameness again.

    Perhaps ‘Sameness’ is a yet deeper [chref=65]hoodwink[/chref].
    Perhaps, the sameness that can be spoken of is not the constant sameness.
    Just perhaps, the [chref=66]lowest[/chref] position, to paraphrase chapter 13, is to treat [chref=13][sameness] and [difference] as things that startle.[/chref]

    Thank you Carl for blowing my mind again by saying *sameness and difference produce each other.
    When we are emotionally ready to accept this, then there is a place where we can truly think that we do not know.

    At the moment I’m only emotionally ready to invest in a time-share… perhaps one day I might actually live there.

    Laurie xXx
  • edited December 1969
    [cite] Lynn Cornish:[/cite]
    On questions per se: I see those driven by curiosity
    You are a very curious fellow (curiouser and curiouser, as Alice said). I am curious how you came to be that way. Were you born that way? Was it a life experience that turned you that way? Both?
    My first bout with feverish curiosity happened the day I heard of my brother’s death. For months I wondered about the nature of life and death. What were these? Why? How? Then one day, sitting on a bus returning from work, I suddenly realized that life and death were indescribably the same. The intense ‘curiosity fever’ subsided, but reemerged twenty years later giving birth to correlations. Now I’m back to just a low grade fever, though it seems to increase with the years. Why? Perhaps the more deeply I know that I know nothing, the more it stimulates curiosity. Perhaps I am returning to infancy. Get the diapers ready.
    Better to be quiet, huh?
    Ah, but what fun is that?
  • edited December 1969
    [cite] TheNowSeeker:[/cite]May I plop in a leek and a few little spices to this wonderfully tasty pot…
    [cite] Lynn:[/cite]... reminds me of the evangelists, who hold their beliefs so firmly with set-in-concrete ideas in a totally closed mind. I can see how that is a kind of grasping, a desperate holding on to their "truth."
    Indeed, they most certainly fear any by-path that would lead them astray.. hmm sounds familiar.
    Funny you should say that. Note the actual Chinese which happened to be this weeks chapter, i.e. That line in particular reads, 大道甚夷, 而人好徑, which as literal as I can make it reads the great way is very safe and smooth, yet people love paths. Oh heck, I’ll just quote myself.
    [cite] Carl:[/cite]Interestingly, the literal Chinese doesn’t say by-paths, but rather, just paths. And yes, I suppose any and every path is a by-path. Paths give us a way to proceed forward and let the work of awareness slide into automatic. There is less need to be watchful (mindful, attentive, careful, alert, ‘wild’ and natural) when a way has been pre-cleared. Whoopee, we can return to day dreaming our way through life.
    [cite] then she:[/cite]‘To think that one does not know is best’, but all taoists ‘know’ that opposites produce each other.. that before and after follow each other..
    We only know what we know, not what we think we know. Language being what it is permits us to understand ideas, and yet not know the core. For example, we have the idea that “opposites produce each other”, which anyone who buys into the Taoist paradigm can understand. But, knowing is a much deeper experience. I’d say knowing occurs when ‘I’ becomes one with the ‘known’. It is organic and universal. An atom knows, an ant knows, a cloud know, etc. Much of what passes for knowing in human culture is perhaps its shallow word based cousin ‘understanding’. Of course, understanding and knowing are deemed synonymous in the dictionary; necessity forces me to fudge definition to match my observation. (see also, To Know yet Not Understand? To Understand yet not Know?)
    [cite] then she:[/cite]Thank you Carl for blowing my mind again by saying sameness and difference produce each other. When we are emotionally ready to accept this, then there is a place where we can truly think that we do not know.
    You’re so welcome. It is good knowing I am sharing my blown mind with others. Misery loves company don't you know.
    [cite] then she:[/cite]At the moment I’m only emotionally ready to invest in a time-share… perhaps one day I might actually live there.
    You’re insightful comments certainly show why we will all [chref=2]practice the teaching that uses no words[/chref] in the end if we follow the ‘way’. It is simply a process of elimination and a matter of time. In the meantime, ‘happy trails to you’. (Perhaps you need to be an old-timer to know of that song?)
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