Till the right action arises

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I saw this exquisite  Japanese screen painting today, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. The bird reminded me of herons and white egrets that I have seen near to where I live, who can wait – alert – for a long while.  They are not in a hurry; they will take their time, until the opportune moment.  And without fail, these birds, and thus this painting, remind me of a wonderful passage in Tao Te Ching:

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
The Master doesn't seek fulfilment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

(No 15. Stephen Mitchell’s translation)

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2 thoughts on “Till the right action arises

  1. Interesting how different the translations are. I read the Feng/English version quite different. Have you ever read the more poetic Witter Bynner version? I keep hoping to stumble upon a dog eared copy in a in a used bookstore some day.

    Liked by 1 person

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