Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success
is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope
is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self.
Then you can care for all things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 13, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
As I am reading through today’s chapter, another year is coming to a close. And, today’s chapter certainly seems appropriate for this time of reflecting on this past year and thinking of the coming new one. Was 2014 a success for you? Or, are you chalking it up as a failure? What are your hopes and fears about the coming year?
But, of course, Lao Tzu is quick to point out to us that success and failure, as well as hope and fear, are not grounded in reality. Have you been on a ladder going up or down in 2014? Are you wondering where on the ladder you will be in 2015? Lao Tzu warns us that the ladder is a dangerous place to be. It’s shaky up there. Perhaps, you might consider, as a new year’s resolution (if you are inclined to make those) to resolve to keep both your feet on the ground. That is where you will always keep your balance.
Both our hope of success and our fear of failure, Lao Tzu calls hollow. Hollow? Really? Can’t they be something much more substantial than that? No, he says, hope and fear are both phantoms. Which means they aren’t real. It is all in our imagination. The illusion. We imagine all sorts of things, both good and bad, when we are thinking of ourselves as separate, apart from the whole Universe.
Now, I understand this is all crazy talk. The idea that success and failure are equally dangerous. What could possibly be wrong with succeeding every so often? What danger is there in hoping that we will succeed in the coming year? Oh, we’d gladly give up fearing failure. Just let us hope for success.
But, we can’t have one without the other. We can’t hope for success without fearing failure. And so, some of you are going to say, “Well, fine then. I will just go on living my life just like I always have, hoping to make it further up that ladder.” And, always dogged by that fear that the rung I am on is not taking me where I want to go, fearing that one misstep and down I will go.
Some think the cost is a price they are willing to pay. But here is the problem. You keep paying the price and reaping the cost. All for an illusion. The ladder isn’t real. Those things you hope for, the things you fear, they aren’t real. Only the price you are paying is real.
There is a better way. It is a way to keep all things in balance with both feet on the ground. Stop seeing yourself as separate. That is the grand illusion. Like you are in some circus act. Look beyond your self as separate and see the way things really are. You and the whole world (the whole Universe, really) are one. See things that way and you won’t have anything to fear. Love the whole world as you love yourself. Then, as you care for all things, you are cared for, as well.
We talked before about this idea of the individual as containing the whole Universe within themselves. And, I want to reiterate that this isn’t forsaking the individual in favor of the collective. In a collective, the individual is only part. It isn’t individual vs. the collective. Nor, is it collective vs. the individual. The individual is the whole. We aren’t separate from the whole. We are the whole. It isn’t assimilation of the individual within the collective; but, it may be viewed as assimilating the collective within the individual.
And, it isn’t measured as success, or failure. It isn’t something to be hoped for, or feared. It is just the way things are. That is what I have faith in as another year ends and a new year begins.