Not Empty Phrases

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, (translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I keep coming back to what Lao Tzu said, in chapter thirteen, about seeing the world as your self, and loving the world as your self. I call that intentional empathy. It is how to truly care for all things. But Lao Tzu said something else in that chapter. It is the problem we have been addressing for several days, now. Hope and fear are phantoms which arise from thinking of the self as self. When we don’t think of the self as self, we have nothing to fear.

I believe all the turmoil, we experience in the world, has to do with how we think of our selves. Some, no doubt, are concerned about this thinking of the world as self, as somehow erasing or sacrificing self to the world. But that would be seeing the self as world. A completely different thing. If you are having a problem with this distinction, please message me, I want to explain, better, what I think Lao Tzu means.

Today, I want to turn my attention to what Lao Tzu has to say about how we see the self, in today’s chapter. How do we see the self? Perhaps we see the self as partial, as crooked, as empty. That is seeing the self as self.

We see the self as self, and that causes us all kinds of turmoil. So, we want to become something other than what we are. We want to become whole, straight, full. That would be seeing the world as self. But, then, how do we go about making that transformation a reality in our lives?

Lao Tzu remains consistent in his approach to the art of living. If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty. That is, let yin and yang balance each other out. We may bristle here. You mean I have to be patient? I have to wait on the Tao?Yes! That is exactly what he means. We must practice knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. What we think we know, and the things we do to try and interfere with the way things are, is exactly what causes all the turmoil in our lives.

We want to be reborn. We want to experience a rebirth. But we fail to understand, that means we will have to let our selves die. Your self has to die for you to be reborn. You have to let that happen. But I can’t let that just go by, without explaining what I think Lao Tzu means by letting your self die. I don’t think it means that your self is dead and gone. I think it means that you see your self in a whole new way from the way you have always seen your self. You no longer see your self as self. Once again, this isn’t something you do to your self. You don’t make it happen. You let it happen.

If you want to be given everything, give everything up. Don’t get confused here, and think Lao Tzu is talking about thinking you are owed anything. People who just want to be given every thing without working. That is a whole other plane of thinking from what Lao Tzu is meaning. When he speaks of being given everything, he is talking about all the things we want to become. If you want to become whole, and straight, and full, you need to give up the whole notion of becoming those very things. Everything you want to become, give it up!

These aren’t just empty phrases. If you want to experience rebirth, you have to let yourself be lived by the Tao. This is the only way to truly be yourself. As long as you see yourself as partial, and crooked, and empty, and you aren’t content to be those very things; you are not being truly yourself. You are partial, crooked and empty, yes. But you aren’t letting yourself be lived by the Tao. Being content is letting.

The Master, as always, is our example; because he resides in the Tao. It is because he doesn’t display himself, people can see his light. It is because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. It is because he doesn’t know who he is (in other words, he sees the world has his self), people recognize themselves in him. It is because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds.

One thought on “Not Empty Phrases”

  1. I have recently read the Tao Te Ching and have been attempting to understand it, as much as is understandable anyway.

    I happened upon this website and read this article about a chapter 13 and so I was wondering if you could summarise an answer for me quickly.

    All of which is said here, and most notably ‘If you want to become whole,
    let yourself be partial.’
    is this to say that we have no self and are more so merely part of a larger structure, and to accept this and become ‘whole’ requires us to accept that we are just part of the universe or nature; thus, we must let ourselves be partial.

    However, part of me interprets it all to mean that to learn we must acknowledge that we know nothing, which could then be applied to anything. This idea forms in me because of the ‘crooked’ to ‘straight’ idea as I just cannot grasp this. Is this to mean, we can only be great if we acknowledge our own flaws?

    Sorry if my question sounds very convoluted as I’m sure it does.
    It is rather hard to question Taoism in a logical format.

    Thank you

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