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)
A couple chapters ago, Lao Tzu talked about cleansing our inner vision until we see nothing but the light. Yesterday, he explained the value of nothing, or non-being. We work with being; but it is non-being that we use. To cleanse our inner vision is to understand the value of emptiness, nothingness, non-being. Today, Lao Tzu explains why it is that our inner vision is in need of cleansing.
He talks about how our inner vision is clouded by our outer vision. Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste. It is our physical senses that make up our outer vision. Everything that we see with our eyes and hear with our ears. Everything that we can smell, or taste, or feel tells us about the world around us.
I really appreciate my five senses. It annoys me that I have recently had to concede the reality that my vision is not what it once was. I have to use reading glasses, now. I hate having to do it. But, when I go to read labels listing directions on just about anything, these days, the writing is so very small, and blurry too. Then, there is my sense of hearing. Sadly, for some years now, I have had the constant drone of ringing in my ears. It is next to impossible for me to understand a conversation I am having with one person, while in a crowded room with simultaneous chattering around me. Oh, I can clearly hear the conversations going on around me. But I am not wanting to hear those. I want to hear the person I am actually speaking with. Growing old is not fun.
But the decline in function of my senses is not what Lao Tzu is talking about today. He is talking about how our outer vision impacts our inner vision. Notice that he doesn’t say that colors blind the eyes, plural. Nor, does he say sounds deafen the ears, plural. He isn’t talking about our physical eyes or ears; not even the taste buds on our tongue. When he talks about the eye and the ear and the taste. He is talking about our inner vision. Colors blind this eye. Sounds deafen this ear. Flavors numb this taste. Thoughts weaken the mind. Once again, we aren’t talking about the human brain, here. It is not a physical brain we are talking about. And those desires withering the heart? Yeah, he isn’t talking about your physical heart, either.
Obviously, Lao Tzu doesn’t want us to ignore what our five senses are sharing with us. We can’t very well live in this world without observing the world around us. And we shouldn’t want to. Even the Master observes the world. But what sets the Master apart is that he trusts his inner vision. That means that he understands the importance of letting go of the fleeting things that come and go around us. Let them come, yes. But let them go, too. So very important. Because when we won’t let them go, the colors start to blind us, the sounds deafen us, the flavors numb us, the thoughts weaken us, the desires wither us. There is just way too much of everything. And we fail to appreciate the value of nothing, of emptiness, of the non-being which we will need to use to keep our hearts as open as the sky.