Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Valley Spirit

I got an email just now from J. who writes: I was looking for websites that discussed the similarities between arete and the dao and came across your blog.  I really enjoyed your renditions and would love to hear your interpretations of all the chapters, but especially chapter 6 as it mystifies me the most.

I think this must be the post he read:

So, as requested, here are some thoughts about chapter six of the Dao De Ching, sometimes called The Valley Spirit.  But first, a series of disclaimers:  

  • I don't really know anything about Daoism (or really anything else), so you shouldn't put any stock at all in anything I say.
  • I don't even remotely read Chinese, so I'm not in any way claiming that my reading is even intended to be an accurate "translation"; it's just my what the passage inspires in me at this moment.  "Inspired" literally means "filled with spirit"; this is just what I feel like, right now, while I'm filled up with the Valley Spirit.. 
  • When I read sacred text, I really like to read a whole bunch of different translations.  I like this website,, which has several.  In particular, I really rely on the "Seal Script with Interlinear English".  I find the ideographs very inspiring.

  • Like all sacred texts, the Dao De Ching has different things to say to each person, and different things to say to me at different times.  Heraclitus is famous for saying, "You can't step into the same river twice; new waters are always flowing over you." but he also said: "The world, created neither by the gods nor by humans, was, is, and every will be a Living Flame, constantly being ignited, constantly dying to embers."  Like this chapter says, it's an inexhaustible gateway of mystery.  

Version 1
The cleft, the slit, the wet rushing river-valley of Spirit is never ending.  
Her name is Woman. Dark. Deep.
A woman's depths are a gateway, the womb of Heaven and Earth.
Eternal and ephemeral; enter her gracefully.

Version 2
The spirit of the river is never ending.
Her name is Mystery. 
Shekhina is liminality, the place where Heaven and Earth diverge.
Moment by moment She flickers into being;
and yet Her strength is inexhaustible.

I find this chapter reminds me very much of a gnostic poem called Thunder, the Perfect Mind.  Although the two texts are not related in form and only vaguely related in theme, they seem to me to be similar in spirit.

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