The Dao of Michaelangelo

Michaelangelo always claimed that he did not create his sculptures, but rather that they were pre-existing within the marble. Similarly, Butcher Ding would carve an animal in such a way that it followed the natural lines. In both cases, we see the violent transformation of a natural, pre-existing state into another more aesthetically pleasing version. This paradigm of development seems in strict opposition to the more conventional Daoist perspective of “From polished gem to uncarved block”. So, can one, through violence and direct action, bring about the true nature of an object or person?

Xunian, this is a question I’ve recently been studying and by last count has produced an additional 87 gray hairs. On my own path the Absolute exists as “one” and separates into three beginning the necessary purpose of Creation. In this way the Trinity exists simultaneously as one and three.

The ultimate perfection is “one” and as three begins the descent into imperfection as levels of involution or creation of “fractions” of a higher whole.

Studying Simone Weil has introduced another perspective which is not at all contradictory but just another perception of the flow of involution. It is her remarkable conception of “absence.”

For her, God created by an act of self-delimitation. Everything is in God. No creature could exist except where God wasn’t so the act of Creation was the act of “withdrawal.” From the perspective of the absence of God, evil doesn’t enter into a perfect world but always existed within God. Creation consists of the imperfection that God is not. It is this necessary evil that promotes God’s mercy and the transformation of suffering. So Creation or the continually interacting fractions of the whole and by definition is imperfection. But that is a whole other thread.

So if the statue is objectively less than the stone, why do we value it? This has to do with what beauty is indicative of. Staying with Simone Weil, she views beauty as:

It exists in the world in nature and in art that is an expression beyond egotism and conforming to natural law. A block of marble exists by itself in a building out of context and the harmony of nature on a visible scale. Michelangelo could take this block and create something that would be a visible expression of incarnate natural laws.

So we view a block of marble as the block in relation to the gem. Yet an artificially created sculpture from the block can make visible for us certain relationships which is beyond our normal comprehension while the block of marble remains in the corner out of context.

If something exists as its true nature then I do not think that victorious violence and action against it can do anything other than harm. However, suppose Socrates is right:

“May the outward and inward man be as one.”

Now the voluntary revealing of ones inner man by chipping away at all the artificiality manifesting as preconceptions denying the inner man his life can reveal man’s true nature.

Michelangelo was an enigma, even in his own time. I have read a few books on him and his life and work, and still he is mysterious.

He was repulsed by his own painting, forever saw it as mediocre and substandard, yet all the world still marvels at what he left us.

Michelangelo seems inherently a follower of Tao, or a divine entity.

I never understood his sculpting as violence or even action. His precision with art seemed more a matter of clearing our perceptions from the veil so that we could appreciate what was always present, but hidden by constructs of thought.

Your ideas seem somewhat in-line with the gnostics. How do we align ourselves with out God-nature without completely losing our created-nature (that which lacks God)? Is it a process of refining our psycho-physical ‘stuff’? Is the created-nature merely dust on the mirror displaying our true selves? I find your thesis interesting.


“the one-hundred-year-old tree out of which they carve libation vessels adorned with green and yellow; the waste is tossed in the hole. Should one compare the libation vessels to the waste in the hole, the difference between beauty and ugliness will appear; but they had already lost their own nature.”

With Michaelangelo, are there not leftovers from the original rock? If his works bring about the true nature of the stone, than was the true nature of the waste just that, worthless? Did Butcher Ding use every part of the Ox?

Sir Nick is definitely a valuable resource, his insights are uniquely curious and stirring.

Was it waste? Perhaps the leftovers were yet another work, unfinished?

I am not comprised of enough intellect to answer your question Xunzian. As I stated Michelangelo’s greatness exceeded the perception limitations of his time, and seemingly still stand today. Sometimes in the face of greatness, one can only stand in awe and wonder.


The Taoist reference to the “uncarved block” is metaphorical. It appeals to several tenets of Taoist thought at once.

First, the appeal to simplicity, an avoidance of contrived or coerced form. It almost always refers to the human state of being, not a piece of wood fashioned into a servicible object.

Second, it reinforces the idea of non-coercive interference with the natural flow of experience. Again, almost always in reference to human activity.

There are numerous other references that reinforce other beneficial concepts of natural simplicity.

The overall thrust of the metaphor is the avoidance of superficial abstractions that take us away from our elemental thinking and feeling.



This isn’t easy. I first must admit that I have over three hundred dollars worth of books just on my own path and much of them are rather deep so to do justice to such a question is really impossible on a post. So please remember that I am being very superficial.

Man is dual natured which means he has an animal nature that arose as did all organic life and a spiritual nature descending from above that exists in man as a 'seed"

Organic life on earth begins with life on one physical reactive level from one celled microscopic and becoming more complex as in an oyster for example. These are all physical reactive living machines for the purpose of the transformation of substances… Much of life on earth is like this whether animal of vegetable. The higher mammals have the additional dimension of an emotional life. Man arising from the earth not only contains the physical and animal emotion but also an intellectual side that consists of qualities of reason anywhere between automatic associative reason like a computer and the capacity for consciousness and conscious affirmation.

Man is the highest level of mechanical animal evolution arising from the earth. His continued evolution requires the intentional development of his consciousness and the power of will to sustain it.

There is no way or reason to lose our created nature on earth. The calling is to reconcile our spiritual nature with our created nature so the lion can lay with the lamb. this is where a lot of New Age escapism goes wrong. It tries to hide in the clouds and deny our animal nature but as I’ve come to understand it, the real necessity is both to heal it and not to allow it to become dominant so that it can serve rather than deny consciousness. We do so first by understanding it (Know Thyself) so it can become an ally. Often a beginner has surprising results in meditative practices because it is fresh. But once we sink back to our normal reactive selves, interpretations begin to set in since our habitual life does not like the light and prefers interpretations. Soon, spiritual practices instead of opening the heart and mind begin to actually close it by saturating it with imagination. This is one of the necessities of a teacher who can guide one out of this but in these days of following ones own path, the importance of the teacher is sacrificed in favor of imagination that feels good.

So instead of worrying about our God-nature, as I’ve learned it, the first concern must be in coming to grips with our created nature so that it can help rather than hinder us in the spiritual search…

How can we begin to understand the natural relationship between our thoughts, emotions, and sensations so that they can function consciously as a whole? As we are, we can think one thing, feel something unrelated and all while watching a cute behind. This is the normal chaos of our lives that sacrifices the wholeness of objective experience for imaginary interpretation and the building of preconceptions that serve to retain the status quo.

Influences from higher consciousness are always there to help us in the transition from animal to conscious being but our chaotic animal reactions in opposition to themselves don’t allow their subtlety to enter us and when they do, they are quickly eliminated in favor of a habitual emotional reaction…

Where consciousness should be present to align our thoughts, feeling, and our emotions, imagination in the form of corrupt egotism has taken its place denying our ability to become vulnerable and open to the help of higher conscious influences or the spiritual energy that nourishes our spiritual seed.

It is the emotions that reconcile consciousness and our automatic reactive animal life but sadly these emotions, though often intense, are scattered and undeveloped since the acquired emotions of egotism have become dominant and wish only to serve their own justification without any concern for consciousness. As a result the consciousness of heaven and our automatic earthly existence have become separated in man’s collective being making “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” impossible.

The Father is the head, the son is the heart, and man is the body. The son becomes the body so as to include man within it and opens the human heart for man so as to become possible to objectively “feel” his spiritual nature and begin the conscious and evolutionary return to his spiritual origin.