dao opposites

Chinese for "opposites"

sculpture of Vajrahumkara
Before emptying, there must be fullness.
Before shrinking, there must be expanding.
Before falling, there must be ascent.
To destroy something, lead it to its extreme.
To preserve something, keep to the middle.

Although we speak of opposites, they are not truly antagonistic elements. All opposites are part of the same entity. Like a two-headed snake, opposites are two parts of the same whole. They define one another, as black defines white. They alternate with one another, as war alternates with peace.

Whenever any phenomenon reaches its extreme, it will change toward its opposite, just as the darkest night begins to change toward dawn, and the coldest winter is followed by glorious spring. Therefore, anything that one wishes to destroy need only be led to its extreme or crushed while it is just appearing. For example, the two easiest times to destroy a tree are when it is so tall that it is about to topple or so young that it can be easily uprooted.

The same principle holds if one wishes to nurture something. You can prevent its destruction by bringing it close to, but not over, its apex. You can take a branch from an old tree and graft it. This is the wisdom of the middle ground. Followers of Tao change a situation when it reaches its apex. By joining their efforts to a new situation that is just budding, they attain perpetuity.

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

c. 11th-12th centuries
Copper with traces of gilding and pigment
height 31 cm

Vajrahumkara is closely associated with the esoteric deity Trailokyavijaya; the name first appears as an epithet of the latter in early (c. seventh-to eighth-century) esoteric Buddhist texts. In this portrayal, his fearsome expression is enhanced by an unusual modification of a traditional esoteric grimace: he bites only the right half of his lower lip, exposing the upper teeth; the left side of his mouth is held in a snarl. Vajrahumkara wears a type of crown that is rarely depicted in sculpture, but resembles the ritual helmets worn by Buddhist priests in Nepal. It consists of three tiers: the lower and middle tiers are engraved with a floral motif and separated by a beaded ridge. The front sections of both the upper and most of the middle tier have been cut away to provide a platform for the image of Vairocana. Four Tathagatas are depicted at the cardinal points, with Vairocana placed above Aksobhya. The crown ties, knotted above Vajrahumkara's right ear, drape across his upper right arm; three thick locks of hair fall onto each shoulder.

The Sarvatathagata Tattva Samgraha (STTS), a Sanskrit text which was translated into Tibetan by Rinchen Sangpo (958-1055) and the Indian Sraddhakaravarma, states that Trailokyavijaya is 'specially commissioned, and [is] equipped to perform those necessary tasks the Tathagata cannot perform with only peaceful means'. His wrathful appearance, his characteristic gesture (vajrahumkara), and his ritual implements169 all suggest the extraordinary - if fearsome - powers that he makes available to the adept who seeks to overcome his inner obstacles in the process of spiritual awakening. Although depictions of Vajrahumkara/Trailokyavijaya are rare in Tibetan art, a form of this deity does appear in the murals of the Dukhang at Alchi (c. 1200), where his iconography corresponds to descriptions in the STTS. He also appears in the murals of the Jampa Lhakhang (Maitreya Temple) in Mustang, datable to about the second quarter of the fifteenth century.

This powerful copper image has strong artistic ties with Nepal, and stylistic parallels may be drawn with two dated Nepalese works in the Kathmandu Valley. A necklace, earrings and scarf endings fashioned similarly are to be found on a gilt copper figure of Visnu, perhaps dated 1052. Visnu's pedestal is of the type that supports the figure of Vairocana at the top of the Nyingjei Lam Vajrahumkara's crown. Earrings of similar design are found on a stone image of Uma-Mahesvara, dated 1012 or 1032; Uma's belt is virtually identical with that of Vajrahumkara.174 The high copper content of the sculpture and its modelling are also strong indications of its affiliations with Nepal.

It is likely, however, that this sculpture was made outside the Kathmandu Valley. It is significant that the tang beneath the left foot bears the Tibetan inscription ba tsi ra hung ka ra, a phonetic rendering of the deity's Sanskrit name. Although there is no firm evidence that the inscription was written at the time the image was made (thereby providing an invaluable clue as to its provenance), it should be noted that accretions similar to those on the rest of the statue may be observed in and around the incised letters on the tang. This would indicate that the inscription is at least not a recent addition to the statue. Despite the stylistic affiliations with Nepalese works, its deviations therefrom and the presence of the Tibetan inscription are indications that this sculpture may well have been made for a Tibetan patron. A c. eleventh-to twelfth-century date is ascribed to this work on the grounds of its close stylistic parallels with the dated works mentioned above.

images © Nyingjei Lam
text © D. Weldon, Jane C. Singer

T A O t e C H I N G

hand drawn calligraphy of the word dao
f o r t y - n i n e
Chinese characters for "daodejing verse forty-nine"

Between birth and death,
Three in ten are followers of life,
Three in ten are followers of death,
And men just passing from birth to death
also number three in ten.
Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the gross level.

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.
— translation by GIA-FU FENG

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and her has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work.
— translation by STEVEN MITCHELL

We flow into life, and ebb into death.
Some are filled with life;
Some are empty with death;
Some hold fast to life, and thereby perish,
For life is an abstraction.
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,
For death finds no place in them.
— translation by P. MEREL
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