Color’s five hues from th’ eyes their sight will take;
Music’s five notes the ears as deaf can make;
The flavors five deprive the mouth of taste;
The chariot course, and the wild hunting waste
Make mad the mind; and objects rare and strange,
Sought for, men’s conduct will to evil change.
Therefore the sage seeks to satisfy (the craving of) the belly, and not the (insatiable longing of the) eyes. He puts from him the latter, and prefers to seek the former.
(Tao Teh King 12)
Lin Yutang has it somewhat easier to comprehend:
“The five colors blind the eyes of man;
“The five musical notes deafen the ears of man;
“The five flavors dull the taste of man;
“Horse-racing, hunting and chasing madden the minds of man;
“Rare, valuable goods keep their owners awake at night.
“Therefore the Sage:
“Provides for the belly and not the eye.
“Hence, he rejects the one and accepts the other.”
In the last verse we saw that Emptiness is the only real Substance, even though we see it differently through mental and sensory illusion. Now Lao Tzu assures us that the objects of the senses actually paralyze the senses and prevent us from really seeing, hearing, tasting, etc. In the same way the objects of the mind keep us from knowing the mind and submerge it beneath experiences that in essence are dangerous lies. In other words, they make us crazy.
What is the solution? It is not to just say: “It is all illusion!” and go mentally comatose. Rather, Lao Tzu tells us to pick out the strands of the web that are connected at least obliquely to some level of reality and through them begin to work our way out of the web of delusion. He chooses hunger as something to pay attention to because if we do not eat we will die. People can live without one or more of the senses, but not without the body on which the senses depend. This is the basis of authentic asceticism which is not denial or rejection, but a cultivation of what is real by turning from the unreal.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Praise and Blame.