Every Tuesday, Amy Putkonen posts a chapter from her version of the Tao Te Ching on http://www.taotechingdaily.com. She has invited readers who blog to post their own commentary on the chapters. Please don’t forget to read her excellent commentary as well!
Five colors make your eyes go blind.
Five tones make your ears go deaf.
Five tastes make your palate dull.
The chase and hunt
makes one’s mind and heart
Rare and valuable treasures
put people on guard.
The sage cares for her inner senses
and not her outer senses,
preferring that which is within.
As I see it, the power of the Taoist way of understanding is the way it resonates with so many, diverse aspects of life. Here we see it cross over and touch both science and Buddhism.
It is a normal part of human physiology to dampen senses when they become overstimulated, so the incoming information from the world around us is manageable. I don’t know if it is truth or myth, but I read once that may be part of the process of the disorder… all sensory input is equal, incessant, and overwhelming, so normal neurological functioning is difficult, if not impossible. If our eyes are exposed to bright light, it drains certain chemicals from the rod cells in the retina in the back of our eyes, making it impossible to see well in darkness until the cells re-set. If we are around a strong odor for a time, it seems to diminish. Too much of even a good thing can lead to dysfunction, imbalance.
This echos the “middle way” of Buddhism. Too much indulgence can hinder our spiritual growth. The same is true of excessive harshness, fundamentalism, denial, asceticism. Either way can hinder our compassion…too much self-indulgence diminishes our compassion outward, toward others while too much self-denial diminishes our inward compassion, for ourselves. Neither one is a good thing.
Why five? That reflects the Chinese culture that gave rise to the Tao Te Ching. Instead of the four classic elements of the West (earth, air, fire, water) they have five classic elements (earth, air, fire, water, and metal). The symbolism is connected from there: each element is associated with a color, a tone, a direction, a season, a taste and more.
Excess or imbalance can cause problems…be it philosophical or physiological, be it too much indulgence or too much austerity. The choices necessary to retain balance are internal, and so are of the realm of the inner senses mentioned here. “Caring for the inner senses” isn’t a matter of living some sort of a bland milk-toast life, denying normal sensory pleasures or cutting off the outside world. Caring for the inner senses means finding and maintaining balance.