April 14, 2008

Thunderbolt in a Snowstorm

Several days ago I was at a gathering of friends. Outside It was perhaps the last night of winter; A curious mixture of snow and sleet, and wind that chills to the bone. In the middle of whiskey drinks and early evening conversation we saw something strange, the flash of lightning and then the low rumble of thunder across the sky. We all remarked and agreed that thunder in a snowstorm was very rare indeed. As the conversation moved on, someone mentioned something about "hearing lightning". In response another clarified the point, that you do not hear lightning, what you hear is thunder. We all agreed that this was true and that it is a valid distinction to make. A little while later, I started to think about this schism between the lightning and thunder. It reminded me of something Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao Te Ching:

Looked at but not seen, listened to but not heard, grasped for but not held, formless, soundless, intangible:
These three cannot be further inquired into, And hence merge into one.

someone else has described it like this to me:

That which is essential to sight cannot be seen.
That which is essential to hearing cannot be heard.

As I thought about it, I began to see a relation between the source, the thunder, and our ability to perceive it.

I can state it like this:

The essence of thunder cannot be heard,
we can listen, but not hear it;
Even our ability to listen is predicated on something that we cannot hear.

Between these exists the thunder, rolling through falling snow.


That is the essence of the Tao. At every step it is essential, yet weightless.

Sam Vevang