Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.
Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.
Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.
The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Over the last few days, we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth governs our lives. Today’s chapter, once again, finds us talking about how to relate to the world in which we live. And, of course, that means yin and yang are at the forefront as we learn to follow the Earth in its natural rhythms. Yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe; and so, in our world. Understanding this, we can be lived by the Tao and find all things falling into place as we do what comes naturally.
What is today’s theme? “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Male, white, and personal, these are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal, these are all yin. We aren’t supposed to prefer one to the other. We are supposed to let them balance each other out. If we know the yang, while keeping to the yin, we will receive the world in our arms, be a pattern for the world, and come to accept the world as it really is. The balance of yin and yang in our lives means the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.
I mentioned that word luminous, yesterday. We are wanting to embody the light. The Tao is the Source of that light; but remember, the Tao is inside each of us. So the light we are embodying is within each of us. Understanding how yin and yang complement each other in our lives, we become like a little child. That little child is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s that he returns to again and again. As a metaphor, that little child doesn’t just represent innocence to us, it speaks of unlimited potential. There is nothing that little child cannot become. All of the potential in the Universe is bound up inside that child, just waiting to be manifest.
We are familiar enough with how female and male complement each other. Combined together, the unlimited potential of a little child is brought into being. We are speaking metaphorically here. That little child represents our primal selves.
How are we to interact in, and with, our world? We need to return to our primal selves, to be like a little child, again. Receive the world in your arms. Be a pattern for the world. And, finally, accept the world as it is. This is how we return to our primal selves. This is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.
We understand how female and male work together to produce a child. We are also familiar with how black and white work together to make a pattern. The yin yang symbol shows the balance of black and white flowing and interacting together. But then things get a little harder, when we start trying to understand the interaction of the impersonal and the personal. How often have you heard someone say, “Now don’t take this personally.” Don’t take it personally? How else am I supposed to take it? Because there is one thing I can be sure of, right now. The next words out of your mouth are going to be very personal. How do we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal? It is so very important to get this one right. After all, this is how to accept the world as it is. And that is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.
But Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us without any help to understand. After talking about a little child (there is nothing more personal than a little child) he then goes on to talking about an uncarved block of wood. That is where today’s chapter takes a strange turn from the personal to the impersonal. Let’s see if we can see how they relate. He says, the world in which we live was formed from the void. Notice how the personal is formed from the impersonal: like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the block. That uncarved block of wood is like that little child. It contains within it, unlimited potential. What will it become? It could be anything. How about a set of utensils? Yes, that would do nicely. But it could be anything. And even after she has carved out the utensils, she still keeps before her all the potential of that uncarved block. That is how she can use all things. Personally and impersonally.
Now, go ahead and finish saying what you were getting ready to say. The thing that you didn’t want me to take personally. I think I am ready now. That uncarved block of wood will show me the way.