Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Learning from Water

The possibility of less water for human use, some are predicting, could be a concern for future generations; some even stating it could be the reason for the start of the 3rd World War. This warning begins an article by a research philosopher at the Sogang Philosophy Research Center. The World Water Forum is currently trying to solve the problems associated with having less available water in the future. The research professor attempts to add to the suggestions, in her article in the Peace Weekly, by recalling the way Asians traditionally viewed the attributes of water, and the lessons that were learned.

Looking at water resting in a washbasin, the ancients were reminded, she says, of the needs of the body and spirit and the desire for purification. In the Analects, Confucius says that those who are wise love water and those who are gentle love the mountain. In this tradition, water is the sign of daily renewal, a sign of wisdom. When water stagnates, it putrefies and is not able to give life. When water continues to flow, however, it continually renews itself and is then able to give life. The strength of water comes from its softness.There is, in this traditional view, an intimate relationship between softness and life.

In the philosophy of Lao Tzu, the softness of water is the origin of its vitality. Humans while living are soft; at death they become stiff. The world in which we live is always changing and if our thoughts and heart become hardened, we will have difficulty adapting. If we are careless about disciplining ourselves, we also lose our flexibility and our ability to communicate with others. Inability to communicate means death. Flexibility allows us to communicate well with all manner of persons, and tends to nurture the life of all creatures. Consequentially, she advises, if we are to keep on going along the way of softness and flexibility, we have to fight to maintain these life-nurturing qualities.

When water enters dry objects it makes them soft: land, trees, any dried up plant, when water is received, they become soft and return to vibrant life. There is nothing softer than water, and yet it still is able to overcome the hardest objects on earth. Wisdom, she says, is having the freedom to communicate like water.

Water is the visible aspect of the way (virtue) in Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching. In chapter 8 there is the verse:

The highest good is like water.
Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures
without contending with them and settles where none would like to be,
it comes close to the way.

In a home it is the site that matters;
In quality of mind it is depth that matters;
In an ally it is benevolence that matters;
In speech it is good faith that matters;
In government it is order that matters;
In affairs it is ability that matters; 
In action it is timeliness that matters.

It is because it does not contend that it is never at fault.

There were other sages who expressed similar ideas, the professor reminds us; she ends with chapter 66 of the Tao Te Ching.

"The reason why the River and the Sea are able to be king of the hundred valleys is that they excel in taking the lower position. Hence they are able to be king of the hundred alleys." When a statesman follows this wisdom and lowers himself and works for the benefit of the people he very naturally takes the position of leader.

When we realize that these thoughts on water are all from reflections on life without the benefit of revelation, we can appreciate how these wise men of the East prepared many for accepting the teachings of Jesus. The professor sees the possibility of solving the problems we are likely to have with water with  the lessons these wise men passed down to us. Simply put, she says we must learn to think like water, and to live like water.

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