Chapter 35 – Temporary Pleasures

When you follow the path of Tao,
the world of all things naturally follows.
All things follow without harm
and in complete peace.

The worldly lure of music and cake cause
people passing by to stop.

The Tao has no taste, no sound
and is invisible,
yet its effect on the world is never ending.

Translation as posted on

Beautiful music, delicious food, good wine, a lover’s embrace, a new car, a successful business negotiation, the ovation of an appreciative audience, a large bank account – each of these can bring temporary pleasure. Sometimes they can bring happiness. Each, however, is fleeting and ephemeral. The delight that is given by a thing cannot last for no

Opening bars of "The Lost Chord (from Wikipedia)

Opening bars of “The Lost Chord (from Wikipedia)

thing in the physical world can last indefinitely; and even if the thing could last, our physical bodies cannot.

It is not a bad thing to appreciate physical pleasure. The danger is that one may become attached to it. When that happens, the cessation of the temporary enjoyment brings a desire for another experience and another, leading to addictive behavior. A person may not think that seeking a good meal each day or moving through life with earbuds attached to an mp3 player are addictions – any more than another may feel that since marijuana is legal in Colorado, a couple of joints after work each day is something less than the fix the heroin user needs as he begins to crash.

These physical things, like all of the 10,000 things, originate in the nameless and formless Tao. As Lao Tzu says here, all things naturally follow the path of the Tao in peace and without harm to themselves or others. It is when they stop in response to a temporary pleasure that trouble occurs. If gold, for instance, is seen as having value, man will fight against man and nation battle nation to control it. Those who become so attached to the physical that they engage in those battles forget that the flow of nature continues without them. They have stopped and stepped out of the flow.

Let us look briefly at music and cake, which are both wonderful things, but are the examples given in this chapter of experiences that can cause a person to stop and move out of the natural flow.

According to Deepak Chopra, a number of years ago Maharishi Mahesh Yogi asked a group of physicists (presumably physicists who had studied his transcendental meditation) to agree on the qualities of what has been called the “unified field.” That field is seen as the sort of cosmic soup from which our physical reality bubbles out. The unified field is similar to the Tao and the physicists said it was characterized by, among other things, “infinite silence.”

Silence is the natural state of the Tao. It is the formless that brings forth all form, the nameless that produces the 10,000 things that we have named in this world and the silence that is the genesis of all music and sound.

Claude Debussy, the French composer, once said, “Music is the space between notes.” Without that space, the individual sounds could not resonate. The lack of structure would produce not music but cacophonous noise.

The sounds that we think of as music are produced from the silence. The most popular song of the last quarter of the 19th Century was “The Lost Chord” by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame), who during the last days of his brother’s final illness set music to a haunting poem by Adelaide Anne Procter. It tells of a composer sitting at an organ and idly running his fingers over the keys when he:

…struck one chord of music,
Like the sound of a great Amen

… It quieted pain and sorrow,
Like love overcoming strife;
It seemed the harmonious echo
From our discordant life.

It linked all perplexed meanings
Into one perfect peace,
And trembled away into silence . . .

He goes on to say that he has never been able to find that chord again, so “It may be only in Heav’n/I shall hear that grand Amen.”*

Enough said; now let us consider food.

In Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, he tells of the young Siddhartha living as an ascetic monk and fasting for a period of weeks until his friend Govinda becomes so concerned that he begs Siddhartha to eat. In answer Siddhartha remarks that he can eat or not eat as he wishes because the result of his fasting is that hunger is no longer a force that can influence his behavior. He has become more free of the physical world.

Later when Siddhartha decides to leave the monastic life and engage once again in the material society, he applies for a position with a merchant who asks what skills he has. Siddhartha replies, “I can think. I can wait. I can fast.” The value of fasting he explains is: “When a person has nothing to eat, fasting is the smartest thing he can do. When, for example, Siddhartha hadn’t learned to fast, he would have to accept any kind of service before this day is up, whether it may be with you, or wherever, because hunger would force him to do so. But like this, Siddhartha can wait calmly, he knows no impatience, he knows no emergency, for a long time he can allow hunger to besiege him, and he can laugh about it.”

In the Gospel of John, the story is told of how Jesus had fed 5000 people with only a few loaves and fishes. Then, as the sated crowd slept, Jesus and his closest disciples withdrew to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (Jesus walking part of the way across those waters). When the masses realized he was gone, they gathered boats and followed him. When they caught up, Jesus told them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” (John 6:26) In other words, their physical needs had been satisfied. The satisfaction of worldly desires was a primary reason crowds followed Jesus seeking healing. Most people did not understand that there is more to life. Jesus tried to explain it them, saying “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” (John 6:27)

The Tao described by Lao Tzu is the space between the notes, the nourishment having no taste, but which endures for eternity. It is the void from which all that satisfies the physical senses is created – and to which those things ultimately return since they cannot endure. We should learn not fill our life with things but to leave spaces in which we might have a taste of the formless silence that endures.

It was noted above that physical pleasures can bring happiness, but even that happiness is fleeting and is but a shadow of the state of bliss that is the Tao. Bliss is not the result of a particular experience, but is joy arising from the essence of existence. It follows the one who knows it as Lao Tzu says that all things naturally follow one who follows the path of the Tao. It is a love, an acceptance, a calm serenity that can radiate from all things and attract and enhance all others. This bliss is another quality of the unified field noted by the Maharishi’s physicists.


*The Moody Blues, a British band, produced an album entitled In Search of the Lost Chord in which they recognize the human need to name things. They name the chord, “AUM.”


  1. Walter Lippmann, in a Preface to Morals, said something which has always stuck with me: “If you start with the belief that love is the pleasure of a moment, is it really surprising that it yields only a momentary pleasure?” Your commentary is an excellent discourse on that principle. Well done! And thank you.

    • Another quotation I recall from Walter Lippmann is: “It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf.”

      That thought gives me the opportunity to add some of my own thoughts that I left out of the original post because it would have been way too wordy. It is quite impressive that you pick out the wisdom that sometimes sneaks into my writing despite the fact that I am not all that wise. For the ancient Romans, “genius” meant a personal spirit that was associated with each individual, place or thing – somewhat like the concept of aumakua in Hawaii or guardian angels; or the similar sounding word, “genie.” A work of “genius,” then, was not a personal accomplishment, but was the allowing of this divine presence to make itself heard or recognized. Sometimes that spirit is able do its work in my life despite the best efforts of my ego to suppress it.

      The Greeks had much the same belief in their recognition of benevolent spirits known as “daemons.” The term “eudaemonia,” which means basically “good spirit,” was employed by Aristotle in his Nicomachean Ethics to describe what all people realize as the highest good. “Eudaemonia” is often translated as “happiness.” It is not the momentary happiness of temporal pleasure, however. It is more the satisfying of the spiritual component of one’s nature.

      There is a gentleman named Frank Kinslow who teaches a process he calls “quantum entrainment” (“QE”). Some have looked at QE as a method of healing or self-improvement, though it is essentially a simple (and sometimes instant) form of meditation. He says that when a person is in the requisite state for QE, a “eufeeling” is experienced. That term is hard to define, but is is, I think, kind of like “eudaemonia” – which is also difficult to define; and kind of like “bliss” – another hard term to define.

  2. Your comments about genius, amakua, daemons, QE and the unified field constitute the appearance of another of those serendipitous non-coincidences which make the mysterious connection of each to all and each to each so visible.

    I just recently shared some thoughts in an ongoing correspondence with a friend along this same line and will share them here with you. Hopefully it explains and reduces the impressiveness of why, as you say, “It is quite impressive that you pick out the wisdom that sometimes sneaks into my writing despite the fact that I am not all that wise.”

    This mysterious connection with the “subtle, secret center of the Tao” is apprehended and personalized by the particular perspective of the beholding mind, and so these archetypal word bridges of genius, amakua, daemons, QE and the unified field are formed. It (this connection) was expressed by my pen pal in the context of trying to describe Emerson’s Over-Soul. She speculated it was “… something linked to us, but beyond us. Similar to the collective unconscious, but not an archaic thing, rather nobler…perhaps the whatever it is that holds and actualizes our karma. Or maybe it’s just the intuition, working over and above one’s everyday mediocrity!” I reflected back that it is something “linked to us and simultaneously beyond us, a connection between what is within and without. It’s the flow throughout all things which intuition apprehends.”

    The conversation we were having was about the wonder we experience at realizing that what we knew and/or managed to say when we were younger reveals a surprising depth of understanding which sometimes astonishes us now. That we could express such things is seemingly unexplainable considering how petty and self-centered and callow and ignorant much of our youthful life appears to be in the later light of life experience and our education there. (A self perception which comes to inhabit and haunt us at certain times even now, in the present, as we experience doubts about the veracity and substance of what we think we know.)

    What does explain and validate this “unconscious genius” is this: We have always been with these things, and they have always been with us. We have always been connected to wise, wonderful, insightful, profound things. I summarize it this way:

    (1) No matter where you go, there you are.
    (2) No matter where you look, there it is.
    (3) No matter “when” you are, it’s there with you.

    We have always been with these things, and they have always been with us. We have always been connected to wise, wonderful, insightful, profound things.

    • You know, Emerson’s oversoul is a good analogy for many aspects of what is called the Tao. It is the same sensibility from a different cultural context. It is also something that could not be explained in words, so Emerson had to mostly tell us what it isn’t. I probably need a good Unitarian to explain it to me. Where is Bert Bishop when you need him?

      • Ha! That would be nice to have Bert here. First I would give him a big hug, and then, since he is a mathematical genius after all, I would ask him if string theory explains why I am all over the place.

        • Two (or more) things (depending on how the strings oscillate): In response to your comment about callow and ignorant youth, I was going to recall Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages”: “Good and bad, I defined these terms/Quite clear, no doubt, somehow/Oh, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.”

          You know string theory – and maybe or maybe not superstring theory – tells us there are at least 10 to the 520th power universes that are like ours. You really have to spread yourself thin, don’t you?

          The last time I actually saw Bert (and it has been years), I asked what was involved in his Ph.D. in Statistics since it seems that all one really needs is chi square. I believe he pretty much gave up discussing mathematics with me after that.

          I just read your post on Chapter 29. It is good. I am not sure how to comment on it at the moment.

  3. Bert was probably speechless because you forgot to mention the t-test, the other stat test predicting the viability of a hypothesis based on results from two groups, the only other thing about statistics I remember from the AWHS days. George Bethel, Biology II, ’63-’64, I remember that, too. Sort of. You probably should have stuck with Unitarian metaphysics. Yet another mental head slap which hindsight mercilessly provides us… ; )

    I am so pleased with your reaction to my chapter 29 post! Every once in a while I have the good sense to give something other than words for consideration, and it is nice to know that there is a receptive consciousness like you to accept it for what it is, and take it in accordingly. There are some decent thoughts available through those pictures, and the process in you which takes them into words and thoughts says things much better than I can.

    I do hold hope that somewhere in the 10 to the 520th power universes, which I regard as simultaneously present, there is one in which mental head slaps, words, and chagrin are all optional… Oh, wait. That’s this one!

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