From The Stability Of Impermanence

Posted by Andy Smallman on Oct 15, 2019
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[Below is a reflection that came up in our Laddership Circle, which I was encouraged to share with all of you.]

For a year now, I consider a verse of the Tao Te Ching and adapt it into what I call a kindness poem. The practice is fairly simple, in that I will read a variety of translations of that week's verse and then quietly reflect on what the verse means to me in a context of kindness. I center my practice through the act of composing my poem.

This past week, I reflected on Verse 52 and it is through my reflection, which also included some readings from our Laddership Circle, that I found the overlap. For context, here is Stephen Mitchell's interpretation of this verse of the Tao, Mitchell being widely considered to be a good translator:

In the
beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren't led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield
is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

A potential interpretation of the first two stanzas could, to use the polarities so prevalent throughout the Tao, show the permanence of impermanence. Things begin and end from some source, what Krishnamurti [in this reading] might mean by the river. The river is constantly in motion, as is the Tao. But in motion constantly, there is a stillness, a stability, if you will. This stability is something to which one can return.

The first half of the third stanza in Mitchell's version would be like the stagnant pond in Krishnamurti's piece. Once we humans think we've got it all figured out, we define our permanence so to speak, we think we can relax. I've got enough money. I've got the degree. I've made partner. I've married my true love. I own the house... Of course, that's when life passes us by and we get all worried and frenzied. We try to fix it rather than allow it to be fixed (as if fixing is even needed).

The second half of the third stanza and the fourth stanza are simply about entering the flow of the river, recognizing that we, all of us and everything, are Krishnamurti's river.

For what it's worth, here is my interpretation of the verse:



We begin inside and become outside.
Venturing forth, we explore.
Yet gain peace venturing within.

Listening, we discover kindness.
That simplicity replenishes.
That too much talking interferes.

Knowledge is not wisdom.
There is a light within
from which clarity springs.

The last two words of my poem have really stuck with me, especially because of Krishnamurti's use of water, the river and the stagnant pool being used to demonstrate his point. A "spring" is another form of water and "Clarity Springs" has a double meaning that appeals to me.

Summing this up, I could say that from the stability of impermanence, clarity springs.

Posted by Andy Smallman | | permalink

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Comments (3)

  • Birju Pandya wrote ...

    I really loved reading this Andy, thanks so much for sharing!

  • Davonte Sheard wrote ...


  • Victoria Crawford wrote ...

    Yes....I agree with Birju and Davonte...beautiful Andy! a bow of gratitude!