Beyond the Appearances “Tao Te Ching” Verse 21 for Artists

Verse 21*

The appearance of great virtue
Follows only the Tao
The Tao, as a thing
Seems indistinct, seems unclear
So unclear, so indistinct
Within it there is image
So indistinct, so unclear
Within it there is substance
So deep, so profound
Within it there is essence
Its essence is supremely real
Within it there is faith
From ancient times to the present
Its name never departs
To observe the source of all things
How do I know the nature of the source?
With this
Here is another guidance towards becoming virtuous, which in Lao Tzu’s view is only achieved by following Tao…..But what is Tao? So many thoughts, interpretations, and still very vague….Why do we want to understand Tao ourselves? I think it is because we know, deep inside, that despite it’s obscurity, there is something essential and concrete about it. To grasp that, we don’t need words or explanations, as a matter of fact, the words (the mind) will hinder the discernment.
This verse alone is to live and create by. It applies to really, truly seeing things for what they are, but not what they appear to be. Not to rely only on the outwards, mental explanation/description of things, but experience the core essence of them….Sooo appropriate to the  Sumi-e way of creating. Of course, it applies to any kind of art, but in Sumi-e, if you don’t see the true spirit of things, then you have nothing else to paint. It is through connecting, becoming intimate with the subject, while letting go of the preconceived notions of it, that one can create sumi-e painting.
In other kind of art forms,  still, if the artist doesn’t show or understand the spirit of his/her subject matter in his/her  artwork, then the outcome remains as just a description, a statement and often lifeless.

This verse points to us once again, that our mind, as useful as it is for our survival, is far inferior to be able to really grasp the beautiful profundity of life.

Sharing with you the images of my Sumi-e paintings, as expressions of my attempt to see beyond the appearances.

* Translation by Derek Lin

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