Simplicity “Tao Te Ching” verse 19 for Artists


Verse 19*

End sagacity; abandon knowledge
The people benefit a hundred times
End benevolence; abandon righteousness
The people return to piety and charity
End cunning; discard profit
Bandits and thieves no longer exist
These three things are superficial and insufficient
Thus this teaching has its place:
Show plainness; hold simplicity
Reduce selfishness; decrease desires

 

This verse seems like many other verses, especially the previous one, but yet different. Different, maybe because we may have forgotten what we have learned from the previous one(s). Something that is easy, very easy to do, when you live in a society that promotes opposite values. It talks to us deep inside though, as these values resonate with our authentic self…..our natural, selfless, simple self.
One sees again how Lao Tzu seems to dislike knowledge (something totally contrary to the Western mentality) but does he really? I feel his advice is to know how to use it properly. It is the cunning intelligence, the exploitation of circumstances for self-advancement, judgemental thinking that the author is warning us against.
When I paint Sumi-e, just through the act of painting I get reminded how much the knowledge gets in the way, when we try to be sincere, to bring out the pure energy in our artwork.  The painting and the act of painting come alive, when we abandon the intelligence and embrace the effortless, simple centered state….. no complications of the mind…
As artists, how much are we true to ourselves? How much do we use our intelligence for our gain? Is there a way around it? When is it too much? I think if we listen, truly listen to our pure self, we will know it, as we will feel no resistance from within.
* I am using  Translation by Derek Lin as examples of verses, but there are many different translations with different nuances and sensibilities of the translators.

 

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