WISDOM OF CHINA

"All wisdom comes from the LORD...
He poured it forth upon all his creatures." (Sir 1:1,8)

One of God's works upon whom wisdom and understanding was given was the Chinese mystic Lao Tsu in the 6th Century before Christ and the first datum of this wisdom was the realization that beyond all visible forms of nature lies a Mysterious Presence which he called the Tao (Way).

Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name.
Call it Tao.
For a lack of a better word, I call it great. (Tao Te Ching 25)

This we call natural revelation because it comes through reflection of human consciousness upon created forms although it source is supernatural (God).

The Chinese tradition has given expression to this wisdom through its art forms especially painting.

As a general rule, the Chinese painter will not paint the background, since the white paper or plain silk represents the Tao, that mysterious reality out of which all creatures come forth.
Yang-Yin are the two great cosmic forces at work in creation. Yang is positive, masculine, hot and hard, while Yin is feminine, fluid, damp and cold. These cosmic forces are reconciled in the Tao. In the painting at the right the artist uses right and left branches and right and left positioning of birds which may also represent male and female in composing his painting.

The power of attraction of creatures often blind us to the presence of Mystery. Fog in this scene dulls the colors and the misty background helps to stop reasoning and wonder. Lao Tsu has expressed this truth thus:

The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing the hunting madden the mind.
Precious things leads one astray.
Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees. He lets go of that and chooses this.
(Tao Te Ching 12)

The Chinese landscape speaks of the same mystery of existence.

The human figure is painted small emphasizing that man is part of a vast cosmic creation. The flowing water and distant mist hiding part of he landscape speak of the Mystery invisible to our eyes but perceived by the self. The trees are painted showing roots and branches suggesting heaven and earth. Man is here alone facing the Mystery. Autumn is suggested by a few color leaves and it speaks of man's return to its source.

Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away. ( Tao Te Ching 33). Painting by Juan-Bi-Hyang.

The Chinese use plants: bamboo, plum blossoms, chrysanthemums and the orchid as symbols which speak about life and virtue.

The significance of the plum blossom runs deep in Chinese history - it signifies feminine beauty and the ideal of chosen seclusion and moral rectitude.

The story is told that Meifei had become the favorite concubine of the Emperor. She surrounded herself with plum blossom trees and at blooming time lingered among them into the night. Meifei was retiring, cultivated and compliant. In time, she lost favor with the Emperor to Yang Gifei who was aggressive, vulgar, vindictive and shrewd.

Now Meifei spent her lonely hours writing about plum blossoms, comparing her fleeting happiness to the short life of the plum petals that soon fell to the ground. At her death, she was buried beneath the flowering plums, and so, the plum tree came to symbolize feminine inner beauty of soul.

In the Song Period, the plum became an enduring emblem of the high minded scholar. Li Bu lived a life of modest retirement on Gushan ("Lone Mountain"). He devoted himself to calligraphy, poetry, planting plum trees and raising cranes. Although he was poor, he did not seek fame. He never married and so the people said the flowering plum was his wife and cranes his children and so, the flowering plum became associated with chosen seclusion and moral pre-eminence.

          The older the plum tree, the more ascetic it becomes.
                At the mountain tower by the river inn is a man, wretched and poor.
                Purity becomes complete when the cold fills every crevice,
                And only now do I know that we were once the bright moon. (Chin Nung)

Here the 70 year old painter/poet says that the more bitter, cold and aged, the brighter shines out the essence. It is a reflection of an old and spiritual man. The Chinese soul, even to this day, gazes upon the flowering plum and sees the moral ideal which he or she should live.

Bamboo and Chrysanthemums

Bamboo and Chrysanthemums are also classic expressions of the Chinese soul. Bamboo bends with the wind and does not break; it represents the man who bends with the adversities of life and endures. Chrysanthemums usually blossom in the ninth month of the year in the midst of frost when other flowers begin to wither. It is a symbol of the Chinese scholar and recluse with a noble and dignified character.

The Lotus, Symbol of Purity and Enlightenment.

The Lotus is also esteemed in China.

It is said that the Buddha saw humanity as a lotus in a lake, some immersed in the darkness of the muddy waters, others striving upward through the cleansing waters and some emerging and blooming in the light of day. In this way the Buddha expressed his faith in the potential of every human soul to attain spiritual enlightenment. 29

 

Chinese music is basically a melody which tends to quiet the discursive mind making man aware of the eternal present. To experience this, please click on the music icon.