Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.
The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 12, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We were talking, yesterday, about how being and non-being work together. If you think that what you can observe with your five senses is all there is to reality, you are really missing out. Yes, we work with being. But it is non-being, which is created by being, that we actually use.
I know I keep bringing up reality vs. illusion, the way things are vs. the way things seem to be, but it is important. Our five senses do a fine job of giving us part of the picture. But only part. There is so much more than what meets the eye. So much more than what our ears can hear.
And the illusion that there is nothing more than what we can discover using our own powers of observation is a strangely powerful one. And it isn’t just powerful. It is also deadening.
This is the point of today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu warns us that colors blind the eye, sounds deafen the ear, flavors numb the taste, thoughts weaken the mind, and desires wither the heart.
When we rely too much on our five senses, it weakens our mind’s ability to perceive reality. When desires are inflamed by the dazzling array of colors, sounds, and tastes, our hearts are prone to withering.
Eyes which are blind, ears that cannot hear, a tongue that is numb – these are useless to us. We must be on our guard against relying too much on them.
And Lao Tzu offers us a better way. The Master, he tells us, observes the world, but is not enthralled by it. He trusts his inner vision to show him what is real. Because he is not captivated by all that is going on around him, he can allow things to come and go, without letting it weaken his mind. His heart is open as the sky. The very opposite of a heart withered by desires.
On this path, desires are let go, our inner vision is cleansed, and we are able to trust our inner vision to show us what is, indeed, real.