dao interpretation

Chinese for "interpretation"

face  moon  face  moon  face  moon

The sage whose words are ambiguous you call great.

Those who advocate discipline you shun.
With one, you treat words the way you want.
With the other, you resent having no quarter.

It is unfortunate that we need the words of the wise. Though they are essential to our beginnings on a spiritual path, they can cause problems because they must be interpreted to be understood. Because words are imperfect, every generation rewrites itself.

People love ambiguity, especially wen it comes to religion. They can interpret things any way they want. If they are unhappy with the cast given to a particular teaching, they invent ways to circumvent it, which is why we have so many authorities, schools, and sects.

It is no accident that the most revered sages are dead. The aren’t around to correct our misguided notions, to change their teachings, or even to make mistakes that might mitigate our reverence. Christ, Mohammed, Buddha, Lao Tzu—how many of us are actually devoted to the wisdom that they embodied? Or have we made them mere screens upon which we project our own ideas?

It is important to spend time with a living teacher, one who can correct mistakes and discipline you. But the object of such study should not be the creation of a new orthodoxy. Rather, your goal should be to bring yourself to a state of independence. All teachings are mere references. The true experience is living your own life. Then, even the holiest of words are only words.

365 Tao
Daily Meditations
Deng Ming-Dao
ISBN 0-06-250223-9

photo of artist Phuliya Karnathe artist:Phuliya Karna

What am 1-40, 50, 60? Let's say I'm fifty five years old. It tells on my citizenship card.

In those days when I began school we used a board painted black and a stick of mud for writing. I was just learning the alphabet when one day my friends and I burst into laughter at something the teacher said. He hit me hard on the cheek and when my grandfather who was also a teacher saw my swollen face he fired that teacher, saying his blow was an insult to our prestige. So our prestige wasn't lost — but I lost my life. When another teacher came to the village, they didn't let me go, back to school with my four brothers.

One day someone came selling cloth parrots which we dangle over a child to amuse him. I was fascinated by those parrots and took one into my father's eggplant field and dissected it. Having seen how it was stuffed with leaves and sewn, I began to make my own. That's why I like parrots so much. I also made them by flattening mud between two leaves which left their imprint on the body of the bird. And I drew them in sand, and then I learned how to make arapan (ritual rice paste designs) from my grandmother. My grandmother was known for her arapan, and whoever was having a haircutting ceremony or a marriage would ask her five days in advance to paint for them. This made my grandfather, who said she should spend her time preparing food, angry with her, but she said, what am I supposed to do, cut off my hands?

We lived near Saurat where every year there's a big fair where fathers meet to arrange the marriages of Brahman boys. At the fair my father suggested to a friend to bring his son to marry me. That night at our house they came to discuss the marriage. My husband wore earrings, bracelets and a necklace with Hanuman. The next morning we were married. I was eleven years old.

At that time I had no idea what marriage meant. I'd always played and worn few clothes. When they put me in a sari I tripped and fell. The first night we were put in a room together my husband was too shy to talk. I asked him, "Do you have land? How far have you studied?" I cried when I heard he hadn't studied at all — his village had no school. Four years later I moved to his village. At that time, my husband slept with his father and I slept with his sister, until the time his sister was married and left for her husband's house. My first child was born when I was 16, and later I had three more. At my husband's house I decorated the walls for his sister's wedding the way I'd learned from my grandmother. I made my paints from dung, bean leaves, and other plants, and I mixed them with milk. After that women came at night to see my paintings — we weren't allowed to go out during the day. It was at the time of my marriage that I decided that doing worship was important. I had worshipped Mahadev (Shiva) for husband and quickly I'd received one. I believed if I'd worshipped harder, I might have been given an educated husband. So I worshipped more and more so that my children would study — if they didn't, what would happen to them?

I also became religious because my grandparents had taken me to a dance for Krishna. I had the faith then that Krishna would stay with me. And so it is with my paintings — I believe if I show gods in my paintings then everything in my life will turn out all right. It's just like the story of Meera. One day Meera had seen a wedding party pass and asked her mother when she could have a husband. Her mother pointed to a picture on the wall of Krishna and told her that he was Meera's husband. She believed this and therefore worshipped Krishna. Later when her parents wanted to marry her off, she said, I am already married to Krishna. After she was forced to marry, her new in-laws were unhappy that she spent so much time in worship. They put a snake in the pot that she used to worship and hoped it would kill her. But when Meera opened the pot during her rituals, there was a necklace of flowers.

In painting is faith that there will be no pain. For one thing, I earn money so that I can afford to worship at the temple each day and to make pilgrimmages. If I didn't have this work, I would spend my day praying. Going to the temple is the most important thing. But since I must work, why not do my worship by painting gods at the center? The god I love the most is Hanuman. He is the strongest of the gods. You can identify my paintings because of the gods, but also because I fill in the space completely. I have to concentrate to make sure colors alternate properly. In many paintings I also draw parrots and elephants because these bring happiness.
text and images © JWDC

T A O t e C H I N G

hand drawn calligraphy of the word dao
s i x t y

Chinese characters for "daodejing verse sixty"

Ruling the country is like cooking a small fish.
Approach the universe with Tao,
And evil is not powerful,
But its power will not be used to harm others.
Not only will it do no harm to others,
But the sage himself will also be protected.
They do not hurt each other,
And the Virtue in each one refreshes both.

— translation by GIA-FU FENG

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn't there,
but you'll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

— translation by STEVEN MITCHELL

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