Imagery in Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Imagery refers to the use of vivid or descriptive language aimed at adding depth or weight to the author’s literary work. Imagery has become the most common style used by many authors in expressing their views, feelings, opinions, etc. as far as literary work is concerned. Also, the use of images in literary work has been found to be more appealing to the five senses of a man than any other literary work. From the book, The Tao Te Ching, the author, Lao Tzu has employed a number of imagery in explaining the Tao i.e. the way and its virtues including religion, legalism, morality, and behavior among others as far as Taoism is concerned. Some of the most commonly used imagery include water, motherhood, and infancy among others as discussed below.

It is no doubt that water is one of the biggest and most emphasized symbols by Lao Tzu in his book The Tao Te Ching. Symbolically, water has been used to represent the great flow of the Tao i.e. the way as described from the book. The author has used water to teach us how to be and act like the Tao in life. We should think and treat everything in the universe as equal without raising ruckus or judgments. Think of the water, it gives everything including plants equally without discrimination. It holds no judgments towards its generosity. It is just awesome! This is similar to the Tao which makes no judgments neither does it raise ruckus towards its giving. Water is essentially good and its goodness cannot be measured. “The highest goodness resembles water”. 

The author compares a person with great virtue to flowing water. A virtuous person who puts him or herself to a perfect place just like water. He further attributes the minds and the heart of a virtuous person to the flowing water. For instance, the mind of a virtuous person is calm and peaceful just like the deep water. Also, his heart is beneficial to all including his or her enemies just like the flowing water. Just like the Tao, water is generous and gives it to all irrespective of the geographical location. It befits all with no contention. “Water greatly benefits myriad things without contention… It stays in places that people dislike… Therefore it is similar to the Tao”. Furthermore, he refers to the words of a virtuous person as sincere just like the constant and smooth flow of water. All these descriptions play an important role in shaping the behavior as well as the morals of a person in a community.

The use of water has been quite effective in delivering the author's message. Through the symbolic nature of water, we are now able to understand our roles and responsibilities as far as our characters, behaviors, and attitudes towards society are concerned. Also, the imagery has expounded our thinking and take of things. It is also clear from the book that we all need to act like water when executing our services as well as other duties. In addition, we should demonstrate all the attributes of water like right timing, contention, a softness that penetrates through hard rocks, free flow, and generosity among others. “Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water…..Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong”. From this, it is clear that water imagery is a big analogy that the author has explored in explaining something the Tao. Also, by using something familiar to us i.e. water, the author effectively made the Tao relatable to us so that we can try live and be like it i.e. being humble, flexible, moral, non-judgmental, etc.

Another important symbol used by the author is the uncarved block. The author has used the uncarved block to represent who we actually are in our own original and pure state before being shaped by life processes. Generally, the uncarved block is a sample of our original state. The author affirms that people in uncarved block i.e. in their original state have natural power and abilities that enable them to perform their routine or daily duties as far as life is concerned. However, when the simplicity of their original state is altered or changed, the natural power is lost rendering people to risky behaviors and actions in society. Take the example of a block of wood. The wood can be transformed into anything by use of a tool, artwork, etc. This is quite similar to our original states i.e. the uncarved block which can also be shaped and transformed by life experiences and processes. Our responses and choices are our carving tools which are dictated by our beliefs.

It is also clear from the book that is a standard of the world without deviating from the true nature can contribute to one returning to the void of Tao. Knowing honor but still clinging to disgrace is like a valley of the world. This later invites the eternal virtue in you moving you back to the uncarved block. “Knowing honor, but clinging to disgrace, you become the valley of the world”. Because of all this, people must know how to live and maintain original pureness in order for them to be free from danger or any disaster. For instance, they can treat each other equally and with peace. Also, if kings and nobilities can abide by the great Tao, all things and processes can be naturally smooth and effective since Tao acts according to the natural way and there is nothing that it cannot accomplish. Furthermore, the simplicity of the original state can help one in overcoming any unnecessary desires that might arouse during the life process and thereby shape and develop the morals and behaviors of a person in society.

The use of the uncarved block by the author has been an effective symbol that has helped a lot in understanding an individual’s original state and the state afterlife processes. Also, returning to the simplicity of our uncarved block eliminates fear, uncertainty, and any other unnecessary layers in our lives.

07 July 2022
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