Here’s this week’s Dharma Talk on Verse 40 of the Tao Te Ching. Which comes at just about the halfway point… and at 4 lines, is the shortest of 81 verses. This week’s talk is a kind of free association on the verse. Rather than inspiring parallel teachings, I found myself intrigued by the brevity of the four lines and the significance of the number 4. Of course, I couldn’t talk about “non-being” without bringing in Dhumavati, the Wisdom Goddess personifying the Void.
Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
I tend to hold being as the ground as in “ground of being.” This verse reminded me of the deeper level, the level that is unfathomable and without bottom, which would be non-being or the so-called Void. While we really need no metaphors to wrestle with these concepts — and truly better to experience the state in chanting and meditation, still, the stories and imagery are so lovely. Here’s a bit from the mythology of Dhumavati quoted in David Frawley’s Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses:
Perceived as the Void, as the dissolved form of consciousness, when all beings are dissolved in sleep in the supreme Brahman, having swallowed the entire universe, the seer-poets call her the most glorious and the eldest, Dhumavati….among yogis she becomes the power that destroys all thoughts, indeed Samadhi itself….
Dhumavati is the void, wherein all forms have been dissolved and nothing can any longer be differentiated. Yet this void is not mere darkness. It is a self-illuminating reality free of the ordinary duality of subject and object… As such, Dhumavati is pure, perfect, and full Awareness in which there are no longer any objects. The Void is not merely emptiness but the cessation of the movements of the mind. Dhumavati is thus ultimately silence itself.
In my talk, I inadvertently mixed up the technical names of the Four Levels of Sound.
The Para levels is as I said, deep in the lower depths of being/non-being at around the naval chakra. This is where what we might call the “impulse of a sound” begins. As the impulse moves towards oral expression, it enters into the Pashyanti level around the heart chakra where it is still not heard but getting closer, then into Madhyama level which is at the throat and finally Vaikari which is the actual physical sound. As the sound channels through the four levels it is influenced by the inner environment. So for instance, the impulse may be an angry response to something someone has said to us. But as it moves through the intermediary levels before Vaikari it may be toned down, refined, recalibrated, or suppressed. This is a big topic we’ll take up in subsequent weeks.