Chapter 48 – Watching the River Flow
One who seeks knowledge learns something new every day.
One who seeks the Tao unlearns something new every day.
Less and less remains until you arrive at non-action.
When you arrive at non-action,
nothing will be left undone.
Mastery of the world is achieved
by letting things take their natural course.
You cannot master the world by changing the natural way
Translation by J. H. McDonald (1996)
For this Tao Te Ching Tuesday, I intend to keep my comments on Chapter 48 brief. The way which is called “Tao” is the way of Nature. We humans think we truly can master our world using our intellect and willpower and technology. We look around and believe it most of the time – believe it until we are faced with a tsunami or tornado or wildfire or any of the other “disasters” through which Nature gives us a wake-up call. It has been said that “you can’t push the river.” That is true, so why try?
My approach to non-action here is to refer you to an excellent discussion of Chapter 48 by a Swedish gentleman named Stefan Stenudd. On taoistic.com (which you can visit by clicking here), he says pretty much what I think one should get out of this chapter.
Having nothing much left to say here, I would like to go on for a few minutes and talk about Bob Dylan. By the mid-1960s, Dylan seems to have forced himself about as far from Nature as he could get. He had electrified his music, made himself the spokesman for a generation seeking to change the world and used and abused numerous drugs. That lifestyle was taking its toll and he moved his family to Woodstock, New York to escape the frenetic pace of New York City. A short time after that he was injured in a mysterious motorcycle accident and became reclusive during his recovery.
When he did start recording again, the general tone of his music had changed. His next two albums were John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. Compare those to his next previous album, Blonde on Blonde – or perhaps contrast them, for there is a great difference.
In the early 1970s, Dylan recorded some music that seems to fit into the theme of this chapter. I would invite you to listen to “Watching the River Flow” (click here), in which the singer feels he should be in the city where the action is, but recognizing the problems there (“I saw somebody on the street who couldn’t help but cry…I saw somebody on the street that was really shook”) finds contentment just where he is, “watching the river flow”; and “Sign on the Window,” (click here) in which the apparent recent break-up of a relationship leads the singer to realize that “what it’s all about” is to have a small cabin and a family and to “catch a rainbow trout.”