The town may be changed,
But the well cannot be changed.
It neither decreases nor increases.
They come and go and draw from the well.
If one gets down almost to the water
And the rope does not go all the way,
Or the jug breaks, it brings misfortune.
(Hexagram 48, I Ching ; Chinese text here)
I know, Wilhelm is far from perfect, but it is ready to hand and sensible enough. I linked to the Chinese just because I could. I can’t read a lick of it, but it was easy to add the link and easy enough for a reader to take a quick look.
Anyway. This judgment has me thinking more about what we should mean when we talk about a tradition. It strikes me that a tradition, at its best, is a means of accessing the well, of lowering the bucket, and pulling up the nourishing water, except in this case the water is for our soul rather than our body (Simone Weil’s The Need for Roots seems pertinent here).
The part here that catches my eye is that the town not only *can* change, but it *will* change. The well is the hard kernel of truth, but around that kernel, all manner of connections may come and go. But if those ways of being, those towns, don’t maintain a proper connection to the well, they aren’t going to be good towns. Whether or not they last a little or a long time, they will be towns rooted in a kind of wickedness.
There is something here, too, about our relationship to the local, to the world in which our lives take place, and the need for their to be some connection to them whether or not we move through them on foot, by wheel, by wing. The town, the shape of the town, can change, but it needs to change in relationship to the local. That isn’t what happens in a so-called global economy, where the desires of those a world away can ravage a locality for its own end.
But, of course, there is another dimension to this. The locality can ravage itself just as well by clinging too long to a manner of living on the land that is out of key with the land, the town can hold onto to a way of living with the land that was suited to the land of a decade or a century ago.
It isn’t just the town can and will change, but that it has to change. If we cling to the forms of tradition but not the truth of tradition, we can get into a nasty corner.
And the well and town don’t just refer to a land and a way of living, they refer to a spiritual source and a means for accessing and interacting with that source. The forms of spirit work can and will change, but if they don’t change in relation to the spirits…
Jabber, jabber, that’s me.