“True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
Yet it is fully present.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
For the Daoist, the proverbial glass is neither half-full nor half-empty. The conventional binary of “optimism” and “pessimism” is a product of an impoverished way of seeing. Optimism is too fixated on the future, pessimism too preoccupied with the past. Both are caught in what Tai Chi calls the “floating position.” Vaclav Havel agreed:
“Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
This reflects a deep trust—a kind of faith—not in a set of dogmas, but in the basic order of things. As Alan Watts put it, where belief clings, faith lets go.
For the Daoist, the glass is empty, however “full” it might appear. It may be relatively full or relatively empty, but ultimately it is fully empty. This seems contradictory to the logical mind—“true wisdom seems foolish,” we also read in this chapter—but as Pascal noted, “the heart has reasons that reason cannot fathom.” The heart-mind, according to Chinese philosophy, is that part of us that can intuit things felt but not seen…the hidden logos, the Force, the Dao.
In the modern age, we have lost the faith that, in the final analysis, things hang together, that we are part of a “cosmos”–literally, a well-ordered state of affairs. We don’t have to fall back on belief in the bearded man in the sky; that was never much faith to begin with. We have to fall forward into the world as it is, trusting that the emptiness of space is less an abyss and more an ocean that will buoy us up, the fount of all forms.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”