Tao Te Ching Essay, Research Paper
The philosophy of Taoism, which heavily contrasts the common beliefs upheld by the majority of modern western society, serves as an ideological landmark of a time in history where worth (self or otherwise), was entirely independent of superfluous things and accomplishments. In chapter twelve of Lao Tsu s “Tao Te Ching,” the prototypical Taoist value of material simplicity as the cornerstone of internal focus is communicated through the use of repetition, as well as both ambiguous and concise diction.
The syntax of each sentence in the first stanza of chapter twelve are relatively similar, they start with commodities, ” colors tones flavors racing and hunting precious things,” and then go on to describe the adverse effects of such luxuries, ” blind the eye deafen the ear dull the taste madden the mind lead one astray.” The repetition serves to emphasize how the usually harmless unnecessary products of society detract from quality of life rather than furthering it.
The deliberately underscored number of colors, tones, and flavors (only five) accentuates how even the smallest amount of excess can be extremely detrimental. Exposure to just five varieties of seemingly benign senses could result in blindness, deafness, and tastelessness. The implication of these lines is that once having experienced commodities, acuteness of the most obvious senses is stripped of a layer that can never be reconstructed. In Taoism, awareness of surroundings is especially valued; to strip away layer of sensitivity is to take away a level of virtue.
The second stanza establishes the value in conducting life without the unecessary things. It states that the sage, a philosopher or master, leads his life by what he “feels and not by what he sees,” implying that in order to achieve any level of virtue, one must find value internally, because it s impossible to accurately judge anything by its external appearance. Additionally, the words used to describe the adverse effects of material possesions are particularly severe. To become blind is to be stripped of the ability to see anything; similarly, to be deafened is to be incapable of hearing. The implications of the degree of severity in recourse for merely acting as a normal person is that once exposed and open to aesthetic appeals, it is impossible to reclaim virtue lost, just as it is impossible to regain sight once blind and hearing once deaf. Both loses are irrevocable, as is the loss of virtue.
The final line of the chapter is ambiguous but meaningful. By calling the lifestyle of the enlightened “this,” it is that definition of the lifestyle is impossible, that it holds endless possibilities. Taoism maintains that something empty is far more useful that something filled (e.g. an empty room is more valuable than one filled with gold and jewels). Defining the lifestyle of the sage as one with infinite potential is to decree the lifestyle most desirable/virtuous.
This chapter, found relatively early in the Tao Te Ching, establishes many of the most important doctrines of Taoism by applying them to real life experiences and using tangible examples of what may tempt, and what results in giving in to temptation. Material simplicity is recognized as one of the most important conditions in achieving the level of “sage,” philosopher, master; as opposed to Western society, where material possesions are paramount, and self worth is heavily tied to what one owns. The choice of becoming a sage is a decision to live life without the comforts of tangible belongings, but with internal worth.