On Taking Hold by Letting Go

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it. Omar Khayyam.

The Tao that can be talked about is not the true Tao. Tao Te Ching.

The universe has changed and you have changed since you started reading this column. The universe is still the universe and you are still you, but you are not the same you in the same universe as when you started this adventure in reading, and both have changed again since the last comma. This is because of the nature of the universe, not because of the nurture of this writing. Like it or not, the world has now changed yet again, and so it will always be. Change is the only constant. When you were born, you started your dying, and, since birth is the leading cause of death, death is the only certainty you can claim. You need not believe or accept this. It doesn’t matter a bit. The universe doesn’t care what you believe, is indifferent to what you want, and is unaffected by what you think. None of your feelings, aspirations, or actions are of any more consequence than those of a turkey prayerfully believing that Thanksgiving will never come. Still, thinking humans invent religions and philosophies to convince themselves that what is isn’t, and that they, at least, are special, exempt, and certainly more important to the universe than turkeys. All such thought things fail. The greater the attempt to deny what is, the greater the misery of those who try to keep the river from flowing where it is flowing. No moment is ever the same as any other moment. The river, while the same, is never the same. No one can ever bathe twice in the same river.

So is there any meaning to life? Of course. But it cannot be taught or revealed. There is nothing to teach and there is nothing that is hidden. You have to invent it. Invent what? The meaning of your life of course. It’s that simple. The reason “It” seems so complex is because of belief in dualism–because people insist on looking for two or more things where there is only one, because they do not understand that they are part of it, and that they write and star in their own play. This misunderstanding causes suffering. The suffering can be stopped by letting go of the belief that the world is composed of different forces or things that act in opposition, one constantly at war against the other. One can simply accept that yesterday is past and tomorrow may never come. Most people are concerned about everything in the world except what they are doing right now, in this moment that is all there really is and all that anyone ever really has.

Dualism is the curse of Western philosophy. It is baffling to the Eastern mind that people would try to look to something outside of themselves to save them. Dualism is so much a part of the way we automatically think about everything that we are unaware of operating from a bias or mind set that is not universally shared. Whether we approach discussion or decision from a religious or secular orientation, we seem unable to dare, dream, or decide without nagging uncertainty and painful conflict. We drown in dichotomies.

The religious of Christian persuasion worry about the “problem” of “good versus evil,” and fantasize two opposing armies, one led by a god and the other by a demon. The dualistic dilemma extends to such questions as “free will” versus “predestination,” a non-issue that troubles secular scholars in the form of “free will” versus “determinism.” The imaginary “mind-body” problem of both secular and religious polemics was presented by a student to the Zen master. “Master,” said the pupil, “my mind is troubled. How can I pacify it?” “Take out your mind and show it to me,” said the master, “then we can determine how best to calm it.” Another disciple asked a master “How can I become enlightened and learn the meaning of life?” The master asked, “Have you finished your breakfast?” “Yes,” said the truth seeker. “Then,” said the master, “wash your bowl.” The finger that points to the moon is not the moon. Life is lived by living.

Consider a two edged sword. Take the hilt in both hands and study it. There are two separate blades, yet it is one sword. Move it. Can one blade be moved without moving the other? Can one edge strike the other edge? As a two edged sword cannot be two edged with only one edge, there can be no idea of goodness without the existence of something to which it can be compared. A concept like “true” is meaningless without “false.” One could not exist without the other. Love and hate are two horns on the same goat.

The “yin and yang” of oriental thought is widely misunderstood by those nursed in dualism. It is not two conflicting principles forever engaged in constant struggle–male/female, dark/light, good/evil, heaven/hell, right/wrong, or whatever else some insecure professor might dream up. The two are part of the same thing. Both are contained within the one circle.

The heart of the samurai is the sword. The symbol of the samurai is the cherry blossom. There is no contradiction. The arts of archery and flower arranging are of equal importance. Each is a part of the same thing, like the two blades of the one sword. Like the yoke and white of the one shell.

Tao flows–eternal, ever changing, yet always the same. This is a paradox only in our perception. Fullness of life is grasped by letting go. If your cup runneth over, it maketh a mess for someone to clean up. Only the empty cup can be safely filled.

Right now is all we have. As John Lennon observed, life is what happens while we are making other plans.


© 2011 by Edwin Kagin


  1. John Morales says

    So is there any meaning to life? Of course. But it cannot be taught or revealed. There is nothing to teach and there is nothing that is hidden. You have to invent it.

    Meaning to me, I don’t need. I just am.

    Meaning to others? Meh. If they assign meaning to my life, it’s their problem.

    So, no. I need not invent any such thing.

  2. oldebabe says

    Your yin and yang/double edged sword example STM out of place with the rest of your comment, but otherwise,yes.

    The same concept can also be read of the words of a character in Robinson’s `Mars Trilogy’, i.e. it’s living in the `is-ness’…of everything and anything.

    And #1 has it right, too – “I just am”.

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