In my last post I talked about The Tao and how artists can benefit from getting 'with it'. The Tao Te Ching is the great book of Taoism and in this post I'd like to talk about the Te (pronounced "De"). Te is a difficult word to translate into English. It is most similar to our word for virtue and most scholars agree that this is it's best approximation in Western language. In this context virtue is to be understood as integrity or moral character. Lao Tzu says:
"Superior virtue is unvirtue. Therefore it has virtue. Inferior virtue never loses sight of virtue. Therefore it has no virtue. Superior virtue is non-assertion and without pretension. Inferior virtue asserts itself and makes pretensions".
True virtue, according to Taoist philosophy is a virtue that is unaware of itself. It makes no pretensions and has no airs and graces, nor does it seek itself. Inferior virtue, makes a concerted effort to appear virtuous, needing to remind itself and others of its virtue, therefore it is not virtue.
As artists, particularly performing artists, we often like to assert and make pretensions. We seek fame and fortune, adoration and applause, recognition for our struggle and our sacrifices. We desire to be understood. Oh woe is me!!
We often seek to be seen as virtuous by striving to be 'virtuosos', a highly regarded individual in music and fine art derived from the Latin 'virtus' meaning courage and excellence. To be considered a virtuoso is to be considered a master of one's art in modern parlance, particularly in regards to technical ability. We encourage and revere virtuosity in performers and in music education it has become popular for virtuosos to travel the world giving workshops and clinics to young aspiring musicians in how to be a virtuoso and thus literally; how to be virtuous. In Taoism, this is inferior virtue. By desiring to be virtuoso, never losing sight of it, by asserting virtuosity itself as a virtue, we defeat all virtue.
So ask yourself. Do you want to be a great musician? Or do you want to be seen as a great musician? Do you consider yourself a humble musician? Or do you act humble because it's seen as a virtue? Real humility has no idea of itself. So acting humble and being humble are too entirely different things. We often hear masters say "It's just as much about what you don't play" or " It's the space between the notes that really count" or many words to this effect. This has the most obvious meaning in the sense of simpler melodies and rhythms are generally perceived as more pleasing to the listener. But there's a more subtle meaning to these statements. The deeper meaning is that there is no vulgar display of mastery if true mastery is present because true mastery is unaware of itself. This is what Miles Davis meant by "I'm always listening to what I can leave out".
Therefore Tao Te is the 'Way of Virtue', to act without acting, or to perform without performing.
So would you still like to be a virtuoso? :)