The world is formed from the void,
Like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block:
Thus she can use all things.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
In the Babylonian creation myth Enuma Elish, the “villain” is the goddess Tiamat, a dragon-like monster of the deep who represents chaos, winter, death. In the story, essentially an agricultural allegory for the changing of the season, the “hero” Marduk slays Tiamat to thwart her destructive rampage and rebuilds the world with her body.
In Genesis, God calls forth the cosmos out of the watery chaos, or “the deep.” The Hebrew word used here is tehom, which is etymologically related to the name Tiamat; hence it is widely believed that the Biblical creation myth is an adaptation of an older story. But notice the differences: Chaos or nothingness doesn’t get a starring role, and there is no living female principle at the creation. In fact, in mythologies of the ancient Near East, the Bible is the odd ball in having no goddesses.
The vision of God drawing order out of the watery chaos later gets worked up into the theological idea of creation “ex nihilo,” out of nothing, but in the text, God does no such thing. The void is there first. The general effect of the Genesis narrative is to repress—to negate—the negative principle, and it haunts the Western tradition in various forms: the problem of hell, the fear of death, punishment in hell and, of course, garbage.
When Jesus warns his followers about a place called “hell,” the word used is Gehenna. This was not an underground cavern filled with fire and fiends. It was a place in Jerusalem that was seen as cursed, formerly a site of child sacrifice, where the carcasses of animals sacrificed at the temple would be piled up and burned. Hell, in other words, was the town dump.
Architect Bill McDonough has a simple formula to explain his eco-friendly design philosophy: “waste equals food.” Just as the new world order is built out of Tiamat’s body, in the natural world there is no such thing as waste. Whether something is waste or food to you depends on your place in the food chain.
In this chapter, we find three couplets: the male and the female, the white and the black, and the personal and the impersonal. In each, we are told to “know” the former, and “keep to” the latter.
Mind the gap.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”