Chapter 28: Turning Back
“Natural wood is cut up
and made into useful things.
Wise souls are used to make leaders.
Just so, a great carving
is done without cutting.”
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
To comment on the passage seems hopelessly ham fisted. But we are condemned to meaning, to make our cuts with words in order to render things useful, true, and beautiful.
Today’s paradox leads one of three ways, what we might call the kenotic, the ascetic, and the aesthetic.
The kenotic path is that of Christ. Kenosis refers to the act of self-emptying, sacrifice, voluntary liquidation, and pure charity. Thought individually, it is Christ’s death (natural wood is cut up) and resurrection (made into useful things). Thought cosmically, it the Dao that courses through us that we harness, conduct, and channel to others—and the “other others” of nature. Transform the wood.
The ascetic path scorns the useful. Leave the natural wood as is. Let it be. Nature is already a great carving. Behold the wood.
The aesthetic path aims not for utility, but beauty. It does not “cut up” natural wood into commodities. Nature is indeed already a great carving, but she requests our help to display her magnificence. The patient poet can divine the shapes slumbering in the wood, and release them with winged words. The master carver apprentices himself to warp and woof, takes orders from the grain. She does not “cut,” she frees. Reveal the wood.
Which is the right path? Only the wise soul knows.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”