dao readiness

Chinese characters for "readiness"

Tibet sculpture see description below

A knife keeps its edge
Only with honing and proper cutting.
A warrior's virtue is readiness.
A sage's virtue is awareness.

This life is so competitive and challenging that one must remain in constant readiness for the problems and conflicts that come with each day. That is why followers of Tao meld the way of the warrior and the sage. They want the courage and preparedness of the fighter, the luminous perception of the wise. Each day, they dedicate themselves to maintaining their characters and perpetuating their development. But how does one maintain one’s edge without blunting?

There is a fable about a king who was watching his butcher. He was amazed that the man could dismember a whole ox without much effort and without dulling his knife. Seeking to learn, the king questioned his servant, who said that his secret was to insert his knife only in the spaces between muscles, thus parting the body along its natural lines. In this way, where an ordinary butcher had to grind his blade daily, he only had to sharpen his knife once a year.

From this we can learn that we must first hone ourselves to a sharp edge, but the proper use of our talents is equally essential. We must remember to take action along the basic lines and seams of the day. If we do this, we can never be opposed for long.


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

Tibet c, 11th-12th centuries
Copper with traces of pigment h. 37cm

This elegant standing figure represents the bodhisattva Maitreya, whose identifying attributes are the stupa, which appears in his headdress, and the water vessel (kalasa), which he holds in his left hand. He wears the jewel accoutrements of a bodhisattva: crown, earrings, necklace, armlets and bracelets. An antelope skin drapes over his left shoulder, next to the sacred thread (upavita) which follows the contours of his torso and loops over and then under a sash slung low over his hips.

The creator of this work was well acquainted with the sculptural traditions of Nepal. In common with these other works, however, this figure exhibits features that are not typical of Kathmandu Valley sculpture. To cite one example: the lozenge-shaped design on the dhoti, while a common feature in Newar sculpture, almost always appears together with other motifs, as part of a more complex textile pattern. Moreover, Kathmandu Valley metal sculpture is almost invariably gilded. Apparent exceptions, like the Ardhanarisvara in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art,190 are mostly the result of corrosion through burial or damage by fire; this image shows no signs of either—it is simply ungilded.

Damage to the statue at an undetermined time displaced the right hand backwards and moved the right arm slightly in towards the body, affecting the line of the sculpture. Over and above this damage, there is a certain awkwardness in the stance and a somewhat cursory execution of detail which also suggest a provenance outside the Kathmandu Valley. The neck, face and hair show traces of ground and pigment, certainly indications that the image once belonged to Tibetan Buddhists, although these traces are inconclusive as evidence of the place of manufacture. The primary inspiration for this image lies in Nepalese art before the thirteenth century. The decorative elements show a restraint that would not be present in Nepalese or Nepalese-inspired sculpture after c. 1200. A c. eleventh- or twelfth century date and a Tibetan provenance would therefore seem appropriate, bearing in mind the unlikelihood of Buddhist commissions in Tibet between the second half of the ninth and the end of the tenth centuries.

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

S E V E N T Y - S I X

Chinese characters for "daodejing verse seventy-six"

A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.

Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.

Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.

The hard and strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
— translation by GIA-FU FENG

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plats are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
— translation by STEVEN MITCHELL

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