Tao Te Ching: Analysis of 3rd “poem”

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III
If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

The third poem in Tao Te Ching focuses on the need to lose desire to achieve the state of “not-doing”, or Wu Wei (nonaction), in order to achieve personal clarity. The Master, or leader, must practice “emptying people’s minds/ and filling their cores”, which rids an individual of excess, unnecessary thought in replacement with inner strength that can persevere and serve as a permanent benefit. The negative aspect of anything in excess is once again shown in the opening phrases: “If you overesteem great men / people become powerless / If you overvalue possessions / people begin to steal,” because they condone distorting our reality to believe that one object has superior power or value than its actual composition. Placing too much power in the hands of a leader rids the people of their swaying power, and augmenting the value of an object only tempts more robbers to steal it. We must perceive things for their true composition and appearance rather than make broad, over the top statements to disguise the more sobering and complex reality of things. When the Master “weaken[s] their ambition” and “tough[ens] their resolve,” this is a direct reference to the corrupting influence of desire on the individual. Ambition, according to the Oxford dictionary, is defined as “desire and determination to achieve success”#, whereas resolve is defined as “firm determination to do something.”# This means that the only difference between ambition and resolve is desire, which, according to the Tao, only weakens our ability to find clarity because it distorts the path to non-action and causes personal greed and selfish thinking to disrupt the path to reaching inner peace. The creation of “confusion” parallels the wrongs of “overtesteeming” or pacing too much value in an object. Confusion implies the opposite of certainty, which the Tao is opposed to because certainty never exists: if we face reality for what it is, we must accept that we will never truly understand our existence, but that by simple non-action and observation we can come closer to finding clarity with nature. As a result, the Master must disrupt this certainty by causing confusion in what we know. Once we are confused, we can observe nature and our world for “everything to fall in place” and find solace in the acceptance of a constantly fluxing, complex, yet inherently beautiful world.

Possible photo for IA!

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Stare closely at the picture- what may appear to be normal camels in a desert, is in fact the shadows of these creatures as they march across the sand. This shot is taken from an aerial view of the desert, so the black outlines of the camel are only their shadows created by the gleaming Sun. I’m thinking of tying in sense perception, distorted reality, and optical illusions as a part of the IA if I choose to do this. I just don’t know if I’ll have enough philosophical support- the theories and beliefs of philosophers- to speak for a long time about its meaning. I remember the first time I saw this, I was in awe at how spectacular, but also how scary, this picture made me. Unfortunately, its glamour has grown redundant for me, yet I still remember how scared it made me to know that certain parts of Earth are merely distorted realities. Also, the SIZE of the shadows in comparison to how large the camels actually are in the photo is amazing, in addition to the fact that this was captured some several hundred feet from the Earth’s surface.

Qi Gong

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Last Friday, our entire class sat for about forty minutes to participate in Qi Gong meditation. Having lived in Southeast Asia and traveled to Nepal and other Buddhist shrines before, I have always been attracted to foundations of lifestyles and tenets that this particular region of the world holds. I even remember defiantly telling my parents at age 8 that I would “transfer out of the Christian religion” as soon as I knew how to (of course, I had the slightest idea of where to start) and become a monk in Nepal and meditate all day long. I still dream of my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment where I travel to India again, when I’m older, and become part of an Ashram to discover more about myself and my (faint) connection to the world. It’s easy for me to fantasize about these things, or idolize the idea of Buddhist principles, because another thing that has always intrigued me about Eastern religion practices is how hard they are to master. Qi Gong was no different.

I will admit that, like Jordan and I’m sure many other students, my physical boundaries were the first pains that got in the way of mastering Qi Gong. I sat still for the first 7 or 8 minutes of the tutorial, and began to fidget with my hands when I realized that the entirety of my skeleton was aching as though I was  an 80 year old who just got out of bed. I felt restless and clunky, I wished so badly to sit still and achieve the “spontaneous movements” state, but I knew that maybe a little patience and more relaxed movement would allow me to master this practice at a later time. Another obstacle that I have encountered while on my meager pursuit of this attractive lifestyle: patience is a virtue, I definitely don’t have it, so maybe one of my foremost personal goals should be to accept defeat, retreat to deep breathing, and simply take smaller steps to achieving inner harmony. I guess if I had to draw one lesson from last Friday, it would be to become more personally intact. Rather than pay attention to trivial speculations like the intonation and meaning behind the instructor’s voice, I should focus my mindset on the message behind his speech. Thank you Alex and Mr. Summers for demonstrating what I can hope to achieve in the future!

Hurt- by Johnny Cash

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youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmVAWKfJ4Go

“I hurt myself today / To see if I could feel / I focus on the pain / The only things that’s real / The needle tears a hole / The old familiar stain / Try to kill it all away / But I remember everything / What have I beceome? / My sweetest friend / Everyone I know / Goes away in the end / And you could have it all / My empire of dirt / I will let you down / I will make you hurt”

I do not cut myself, or take drugs with a needle, but the pain embodied in this song is so strong, so relatable. His voice is so real. This song is cathartic for me. It’s funny how some people may look at this song, and consider it a suicidal. ridiculously depressing ode to someone’s endless and incurable pain. I find, in some bizarre way, a solace in listening to it. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy sulking in sadness, but there is something about his realness, his voice, that makes me find comfort. I can relate to it, which makes me happy because a lot of the times it’s hard for ordinary people to understand.

I’ve seen Walk the Line and read many biographies and stories about Johnny Cash, and his music sometimes makes me want to close the door of a time capsule and travel back half a century ago to what I consider “real” music. The song “Jackson”, for instance, written and sung by himself and his true love June Cash, just makes me want to get up and dance.

To end this post with an upbeat song, listen to “Folsom Prison Blues.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1xSt7iganA) Cash wrote this in West Germany while serving in the US Air Force, imagining what life would be like if he was free. I love the simple, folksy humor he includes with the men “drinkin’ coffee and smokin’ big cigars” and “shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die”. He used to tour prisons in the country singing this to the prisoners to offer some joy and a glimpse of freedom outside the confinements of jail.

Wall.E Seminar Questions!

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1. The movie “Wall.E” confronts future problems that could plague Earth given the disconnect between our awareness of danger and its consequences continue. In Rich’s quote, he claims that the movie reflects contemporary American problems better than any politician or represented ‘issue’ in society. I agree with the effectiveness of the movie in conveying the destruction of our environment and the ‘separating’ impact technology has on personal relations.

2. The romance between Wall.E and Eva is a symbolic representation for present, “rusty” technology versus a more evolved, high-tech creature that is trained to seek life on an uninhabited planet (earth). Their romance allows us to explore the possibility for a fusion between the past and present, or if there are any solutions to evolving technologically while remaining intact with out culture and beautiful environment. When Eva becomes dehumanized and completely shuts off any emotional connection to Wall.E, feelings of sadness and loneliness are evoked from the animated scene where Wall.E attempts all options to gain her attention back. This dehumanization aspect is perhaps a more sobering view at the effects of becoming too narrowly focused on technology, instead of real emotions like love, happiness, and romance formed between these two feelings. At the end, however, the fact that Wall.E and Eva can bond together through the pursuit to return to Earth shows that as long as we can remember the beauty of these raw emotions, there is a chance at regaining the sincerity and genuineness of personal interactions lost through technology.

3. Wall.E sends the most daunting futuristic vision of our planet of humans continue to neglect its health in exchange for short term needs. Earth, in Wall.E, is contaminated with trash, and no plant life exists except for Wall.E’s small piece of soil and green that Eva eventually takes. The skies are dark gray and brown. The aesthetic part of the movie (which is effectively all of it) is eerie in its insight into the environmental attrition of Earth. While watching the movie, I was actually saddened by the contrast in robotic, inhumane space life and the daunting, lifeless version of Earth. Wall.E’s glimpse of previous life on Earth was extremely emotional; the producers did a great job in contrasting dance and music against the barren, trashed, futuristic Earth.

4. This movie relates to self identity in a very Platonic way. Wall.E’s sole function is to produce boxes out of the left-behind trash on Earth, and although this task may seem tedious and gloomy to the normal outside, Wall.E finds great pleasure and pride in his job. He takes joy in the fact that he can do something unique and efficiently at the same time. Wall.E’s derived happiness is ironic because he is a robot, but I think his placement is purposeful because it’s meant to demonstrate that happiness can be found so long as you fulfill your function and take pride in in (according to Plato).

5. The name “Buy n’ Large” is a social commentary on the corruptive influence that capitalism has played in America in the past half century. Presently, McDonalds’ French fries servings have quadrupled, Americans expect more for cheaper (Costco, Walmart, and other mega stores), and it seems as though the logo “more is better” applied to every outlet for capitalism. Although we are one of the world’ largest economic and political superpower’s, we still have  a distorted view of the happiness that consumer items can give to us. In Wall.E, this distortion is evident when people don’t even recognize their own surroundings, everything is spoon fed to them, and the more materials they own the less attached they are to reality and their own happy conscious.

6.  The “avalanche of detritus” is both literally and symbolically representative of the trash that will sully Earth in the future. The trash is the exact opposite of the inherent beauty of nature, it’s a sign of the damage that humans alone can do to our planet. It’s also symbolically representative of our “mental” waste- consumerism, materialism, corruption and greed. The fact that no plant life exists and only trash loiters the surface means that the beauty of life has diminished, instead replaced with artificial objects that only consumer land and space and detract from nature.

7. I think the Axiom is the exact opposite of a Utopia. Rather than promote individual free will

Thoughts/questions regarding pp 4-52 of “Lao Tzu”

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II
(p. 6)
“The whole world recognize the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly.”
Sublime!!!!!

VI
(p. 10)
“The spirit of the valley never dies.

This is called the mysterious female.”

-The word female pops up later on as well. In this historical/religious context, what significance does this word bring about? What is the mysterious female? Does it have something to do with the natural/biological aspect of being a female, like giving birth, or our relation to Earth that is stronger than men because of this?

IX
(p. 13)
“To retire when the task is accomplished

Is the way of heaven.”

I can relate to this quote on a very personal level. It is in my instinct, unfortunately (or used to be, at least), to always stride for the most perfect balance and level of everything that I pursued, until the hunt for perfection was so tiring and futile that I only upset myself every time. I never stopped to look at the futlity of my desire for perfection, because every time I was never satisfied with my result- no matter how exceptional, or diligently, I had worked to get there.

Since then, I’ve learned to take a step back (maybe too many steps), but, nevertheless, I have learned to appreciate my hard work at a degree that makes me feel satisfied as opposed to wanting more- a past mindset, I believe, that’s completely unrealistic and only more dissatisfying.

Thus, we must all “retire when the task is accomplished”, appreciate the energy and time we have dedicated to fulfilling a certain task, and then award ourselves. I know that a lot of people in my grade could do this, especially those in the IB program, and I do think that it is an extremely critical part of reflection to simply recognize one’s hard work. If you have read this, please pat yourself on the back, or shoulder, or do something gratifying to reward your hard work. You all deserve it! 🙂

XI

(p. 15)

“Knead clay in order to  make a vessel. Adapt the nothing therein to the purpose in hand, and you will have the use of a vessel.”

There is something so simple and serene about the language used in these sentences. I do not know what the “purpose of the room” is, or the “Something”, but I think that by telling us to “knead” and use the true purpose of our hand, the poem/proverb enforces action. This reminds me of something that Alex posted a while ago, about his admiration for doing things with his hands- mechanical, physical, laborious work, that proves the most satisfying. Having lived/traveled to countries in Southeast Asia and seen some of the remains of their ancient religious practices first hand, I have an appreciation for this beautiful simplicity. “Adapt nothing” perhaps means just take its function for what it is- they are hands, so use them for crafting objects, performing your function. Once you can use your hands to the best of their ability, then you will have created a vessel- a means to act upon everything because you have uncovered its most simple, effective function.