Adding or Subtracting?

In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.

Tao Te Ching, Ch 48

The more layers we add, the more obscured our true selves become. The more difficult the work becomes when the time comes to peel away those layers.

Decluttering the mind is close in task to decluttering a space. Those things we add to make ourselves complete, to finish the project known as “I,” now take up shelf space as well as our time and thoughts, while the project goes on. “Learning” in the lines above, seems less to mean learning in a positive sense and more like adding to the storehouse of what we know in order to make up for a perceived lack we find in ourselves. The tao, the way, in a Taoist or Zen sense, is already there.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about words like emptiness, karma or wisdom. Emptiness can be conflated with the spare space of a meditation hall.  Yet, while “emptiness” does not refer to any spatial construct, it does relate to a removal of the false. But how much, and just what, is to be removed? “Karma” comes from a word meaning “action.” It is literally the consequences of actions, and in the ancient sense, the actions of past lives. “Prajna” is wisdom. Karma is what got us to where we are. The Hong Kong Buddhist Abbot Sheng yi wrote “Only prajna can wipe out karma.” Only wisdom can get us out of that which past actions have brought us to. Wisdom is not about adding, however, or learning in any sense. It’s realizing what to do.

Traditionally it is thought that what needs to be escaped is samsara, the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. I see it as repeating patterns of behavior, repetitive cycles we stick to out of faulty beliefs and assumptions about who “we” are, who “I” am. The patterns, the cycles have cut grooves and adding, acquiring, only helps to dig that groove a little deeper, making it even more difficult to get out.

2 Responses to “Adding or Subtracting?”
  1. bussokuseki says:

    My path began with my grandmother’s copy of the Tao Te Ching…thank you so much for sharing.

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