dao numbers

Chinese characters for "numbers"

faded cloth painting of two gods embracing-see description below

One gives birth to two, two gives birth to three,
Three gives birth to the ten thousand.
One hundred and eight counts make one cycle,
constant turning creates all things.

Today is the one hundred and eighth day. Why are numbers so important to those who follow Tao? Even today, when numbers are more commonly yoked to the service of finance and engineering, there are those who revere numbers with the cheap version of mysticism—superstition. Numbers form a closed world with mysteries to explore and exploit if our understanding is deep enough.

Followers of Tao emphasize certain numbers: One 1 is the unity of Tao. Two 2 is duality. Three 3 is the unevenness that will generate movement. Four 4 is the seasons. Five 5 elements generate the world. Six 6 parts of thee body are the arms, legs, head, and trunk. Seven 7 is the day of the waxing moon by the lunar calendar. Eight 8 is the number of divination. Nine 9 is the number of life. Ten 10 is heaven’s cycles.

There are twenty-four periods in a year, each with its own characteristics. Thirty six is six squared. One hundred and eight is three cycles of thirty-six and represents a greater cycle, although there are even more esoteric connotations attached to it.

Numbers are only symbols, a way for human beings to project order upon the universe. They are a language more precise than words. But does Tao talk? Numbers are important to master, but take care to look beyond language and numbers to the true reality that they foreshadow.


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

Chakrasamvara Embracing Vajravarahi
China or Tibet
15th Century
Pigments and ink on silk
22 ½ x 11 ¼ in (57.2 x 28.6 cm)

As in an earlier stone sculpture, this is a representation of the two-armed Sahaja Chakrasamvara, the “innate” or “spontaneous” Chakrasamvara. Adorned and attired similarly, he also stands in an active posture and displays the bell and the thunderbolt with the hands crossed in prajnalingana. Vajravarahi, striding sideways and holding the chopper and the blood-filled skull cup, throws her hands behind him.

The goddess is completely naked. She wraps her right leg around Chakrasamvara’s waist, throwing all modesty to the wind and leaving no doubt about their sexual activity. The inclusion of an additional five figures in the painting provides clues to its Sakyapa association. The two protective wrathful deities at the bottom corners are probably Vajrapani and Mahakala. Above, in the sky, are Sakya Pandita in the center and two more Sakyapa teachers, one of whom, on the right, is probably Phagpa. These elements indicate that the underlying contemplation formula (sadhana) for the painting was different from that upon which the earlier stone was based. The painting also omits the two prostrate figures seen in the stone carving.

The expressive vigor of the figures is enhanced by the dramatic surrounding flames, which are strengthened by red highlights. Indeed, washes of reds of different tonalities have been used skillfully to enhance the aesthetic effect of this bold and vivacious drawing of almost calligraphic precision. The illusion of volume created by the central figures, the lotus with its three-dimensional treatment, and the dancing flames are particularly noteworthy.

Both the silk support and the stylistic features indicate a possible origin in China for Tibetan use. The presence of the Sakyapa teachers adds to the uncertainty because of their strong ties with the Chinese court. While an exact date is difficult to suggest until both Sakyapa hierarchs flanking Sakya Pandita are definitely identified, it does seem to be an earlier rather than a later thanka, whether painted in Tibet or China. It is certainly earlier than another representation of the same subject, which has the prostrate figures below, that was rendered by Situ Panchen (1700-74), probably in Derge. The attractively gnarled faces of the two deities in the Ford thanka are painted with the kind of finesse on encounters in fifteenth-century Sakyapa works in Tsang. Therefore, it is not improbable that this thanka was painted in a Sakyapa establishment by one of the Chinese artists imported into their realm during the fifteenth century.

all text and images © The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

T A O t e C H I N G

hand drawn calligraphy of the word dao

Chinese characters for "daodejing verse eighty"

A small country has fewer people.
Though there are machines that can work ten to a hundred times faster than man, they are not needed.
The people take death seriously and do not travel far.
Though they have boats and carriages, no one uses them.
Though they have armor and weapons, no one displays them.
Men return to the knotting of rope in place of writing.
Their food is plain and good, their clothes fine but simple, their homes secure;
They are happy in their ways.
Though they live within sight of their neighbors,
And crowing cocks and barking dogs are heard across the way,
Yet they leave each other in peace while they grow old and die.

— translation by GIA-FU FENG

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

— translation by STEVEN MITCHELL

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