Wen. Writing, script, literature, civil (as opposed to military), cultured, cultivated. This is a picture of a person standing very solemnly — originally this word meant a delightful and serious person. It was gradually borrowed to mean all things cultural.
Those who can read the patterns of life are the truly cultured.
Every person who has followed Tao has been a person of culture and refinement. Not only does Tao require study and intelligence, but it also demands the subtle mind of a sensitive person. You will not find that type of mind in the unthinking brute or the insensitive lout.
The wen person is someone who can read not just human language, but the languages of nature as well. There are patterns and secrets throughout the world — the rings of trees, and tracks of animals, and the traces of water down the sides of a valley are as clear as any scripture. The person who follows Tao does not blindly go through life, but is able to read it on every level. Those who follow Tao are those who know the many languages of life.
A person who can read literature in this extended sense cannot help but develop great character. After all, to follow Tao requires patience in adversity, great compassion, and understanding of the balance between action and stillness. We all need to experience more and more, strive to know life on deeper and deeper levels, and give consideration to all that happens to us. Such understanding must be ongoing, and those who revel in wen never tire of exploring what is around them. They always read the patterns of life.
Deng Ming Dao, Everyday Tao
I’ve always been a learner and a seeker of knowledge. When confronted with something new, my first goal is always to learn to understand it. Even if I don’t study something in depth, I want to know what it is and be able to understand how it works.
My favorite story about this is from my son when he was five years old. We were in a grocery store, and he wanted to know how the change machine worked, so he asked the cashier to explain it to him. The cashier tried to tell him there were elves inside that gave change, thinking this would interest a small mind. My son glared at him and said loudly, “No, that’s a machine, and I want to know how it works!” I think my son is even more of a wen person than I am.
I learned to garden and take care of my plants, and I think this taught me much about Tao. I’ve seen the cycles of life, and watched what makes some plants thrive and others die, and learned to plant natives that are well adapted to where I live, or plants from similar climates that can thrive and grow well. I gave up on the ones from other places that didn’t thrive here, no matter how pretty they were, and those that were difficult to care for. People think my garden must be hard to maintain, but in fact it is easier than most peoples, because it works with the environment around it.
I’ve learned to work with what I have, rather than be frustrated that I don’t have all that I may “want”. I’ve learned those things I seem to want that I don’t have are not really very important things after all– including some people I thought were friends, but turned out to be less than fully accepting of me. If people cannot accept you for who you are, they simply don’t belong in your life.
Right now my goal is to bring more natural things into my life — natural foods, products, skin care, crafts, and just simpler, easier things. I still enjoy the advantages of technology, of course. I’m an engineer at heart and love the workings of machines as much as the workings of nature. But I think we’ve brought too much artifical complexity into our lives, and need to use the technology to bring us the best of nature and the best communications, information sources and searching, and bring simplicity into our lives so more people have time to become wen people.
Who are the wen people in your life?