Sunday, November 30, 2014

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 12 Commentary

This is part of a series examining the Tao Te Ching from a Christ-centered, LDS perspective.

Chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching once again reminds us to focus on the basics and not get caught up in material things.

The text reads:
The five colors make one blind in the eyes
The five sounds make one deaf in the ears
The five flavors make one tasteless in the mouth 
Racing and hunting make one wild in the heart
Goods that are difficult to acquire make one cause damage 
Therefore the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes
That is why they discard the other and take this

The Senses and Deception

Image here.
The first stanza of this chapter allude to a theme common in religious texts: that the things of this earth--the sights, sounds, tastes--are illusory and can blind us to the things that are truly important.
1 Samuel 16:7 refers to this idea when it points out that while men look at external appearance, the Lord looks on the heart. Matthew 6:19-20 refers to this idea when it exhorts us to keep our focus on heavenly things instead of the things of the earth. As Matthew 1:35 points out, heaven and earth--the things of our senses--will pass away, but God's word will not pass away.

The TTC and the Bible and other Christian scripture exhort us to pass on materialism and make our focus the things of a better world (D&C 25:10).

Avoiding Goods That Are Difficult to Acquire

Chapter 12 of the Tao Te Ching recommends against seeking material goods that are hard to get--hunting for these things makes a person "wild in the heart." Wildness in the heart is not a good thing--the prophet Brigham Young taught in Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 204:
“The [body] must be brought in subjection to the spirit perfectly, or your bodies cannot be raised to inherit eternal life. . . . Seek diligently, until you bring all into subjection to the law of Christ.”
If we place our heart's priorities on material goods, we are evidencing that our bodies are not in subjection to our spirits.

Care For the Stomach and Not the Eyes

This reminds me of how the word of God is compared to food in both the scriptures and the temple. We are to "feast upon the words of Christ" (2 Nephi 32:3). The symbolism of the Word as food is a reminder to us that just as our body constantly needs more and more food to sustain itself, so does our spirit need constant nourishment from the scriptures and word of God.

When the sages care for the stomach and not the eyes, I like to think of them caring for both the physical and the spiritual stomach--focusing on the important jobs of keeping both the body and spirit properly nourished, rather than wasting resources like time and money on the unimportant trivialities of the flesh. The sages discard materialism and choose spiritual enlightenment instead.


Both the Tao Te Ching and Christian scriptures agree: avoid materialism and instead place your focus on the things of the spirit. 

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