Big Heart, Empty Heart and Paradox

27 03 2017

Ursula K Le Guin, in her translation of Tao Te Ching, uses words and phrases most North Americans use in everyday discussion. I have been enjoying reading the work again, with her words in the order presented in Frank J. MacHovec’s 1962 The Book of Tao from Peter Pauper Press. MacHovec presents a┬ánon-canon order of the verses. Though I wouldn’t describe myself an insomniac, I often find myself awake in the middle of the night for hours at a time. Last night, as I was lying awake wondering what I ought to do to get back to sleep, I began reading verse 21. Le Guin’s calls the verse ‘The empty heart,’ her first sentence was remarkable for the significance it provided: ‘The greatest power is the gift of following the way alone.’ Already, the coincidence was humorous. She continues with the verse almost channeling another ‘master’ in a manner:

How the Way does things

is hard to grasp, elusive.

Elusive, yes, hard to grasp,

yet there are thoughts in it.

Hard to grasp, yes, elusive,

yet there are things in it.

 

I’m sure you remember how Yoda speaks?

In MacHovec’s translation, he divides the book into subject matter, which creates four books instead of two as is the traditional canon. The first, Tao, the second Teh. In his reorganization, verse 21 becomes the first verse in the Teh chapters. This is curious to me, since then each of the first verses in the subtopics Tao and Teh represents a paradox.

Verse 21: Le Guin

From long. long ago til now, it has kept its name. So it saw the beginning of everything.

Verse 21: MacHovec

From ancient times until now the signs have never ceased by which we can see the beginning.

and the paradox?

Verse 1: Le Guin

The name you can say isn’t the real name.

Verse 1: MacHovec

The Tao described in words is not the real Tao. Words cannot describe it.

 

If the name that you can say isn’t the real name, then why describe how long it has kept it’s name. Of course, I am immediately reminded of famous words of the Torah ‘Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,’ and the traditional translation; ‘I am that I am.’ Another curious coincidence as Christ refers to himself as ‘The Way.’ However you wish to interpret these correlations, YHWH, the ebb and the flow, the Tai Chi, the opposites, they must always interact, as in a heart, to pump life, blood, chi, choose a word here that means to you life force. Big Heart, Empty Heart, try living without heart.

Verse 21: Le Guin

The empty heart:

The greatest power is the gift

of following the Way alone.

How the Way does things

is hard to grasp, elusive.

Elusive, yes, hard to grasp,

yet there are thoughts in it.

Hard to grasp, yes, elusive,

yet there are things in it.

Hard to make out, yes, and obscure,

yet there is spirit in it,

veritable spirit.

There is certainty in it.

From long, long ago till now

it has kept its name.

So it saw the beginning of everything.

 

How do I know

anything about the beginning?

By this.

 

1998 Shambala Publications





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