A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked a lot about traveling. He said our travels (our every movement) is light. But, if we want to avoid flitting about like fools, we need to be rooted in something heavy, the unmoved. That, he called our home. Not a physical house, but our selves. We must never lose touch with who we are. If we don’t want to be blown to and fro, we need to stay serenely in ourselves, no matter how splendid the views. If we let restlessness move us we will lose touch with who we are.
Yesterday’s emphasis was on the heavy. But, yin and yang, being what they are, you just had to know he would be talking about light, today. We understand the importance of the heavy. Now, we will see the importance of embodying the light.
So, what does he mean by embodying the light?
To explain himself, he uses three metaphors to describe humans. The first, a good traveler, makes sense, since our context from yesterday involved traveling. We are all travelers in this life. Our every movement is traveling. But some of us may not think we are very good artists or very good scientists. And some, no doubt, think you couldn’t be both at the same time. Of course, art and science, just like travels, yesterday, have other connotations than we may at first realize. I find myself thinking of the Tao Te Ching, as the art of living. Living is an art. So, in that context, you and I are very much artists. Likewise, what is science, if it isn’t observing the world around us and seeing what makes the world go round? We are all observers of the natural order, seeing the ebb and flow, and going with it. In that sense, we are all scientists, as well.
So, we are all travelers, artists, and scientists. But, it is embodying the light that makes us good travelers, artists, and scientists. But, I still haven’t answered the question, “What does he mean by embodying the light?”
Remember, yesterday, when he said to never lose touch with who you are? It is because we have lost touch with who we are that we flit about like fools. Never lose touch with your self. Remember, also, not to see the self as self. Instead, see the world as self. I and the world, are one. That is who we are.
Realizing that, embodying the light means being available to all people and not rejecting anyone. It means being ready to use all situations and not wasting anything.
How does a good traveler do this? In order to embody the light, a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. Those fixed plans and your intent make you unavailable to people. You’ll have to reject some. Situations will arise that you won’t be ready for. There will be lots of waste. We can be good travelers. But we can also be bad travelers.
How does a good artist embody the light? To do this a good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. The art of living is intuitive. You need to learn to be intuitive, and trust your intuition, letting it lead you, where it wants. When we aren’t led by our intuition, we won’t be available to all people. Some people will be rejected. And we won’t be ready for every situation which may arise. So many opportunities will be wasted. We can be good artists. But we can also be bad artists.
How does a good scientist embody the light? A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is. All good scientists know this is true. Every time you make an observation that doesn’t jive with the way you think things should be, that has to make you rethink the ways you are thinking things. Somewhere along the way you have messed up. Either your results are wrong, or your concepts were wrong. You can’t be bound by those concepts. You need to be free. Your mind must be open to what is, the eternal reality. We can be good scientists. But we can also be bad scientists. We can be rigid in our thinking, insisting that everything has to be just so, regardless what we observe to the contrary. But when we do that, people and ideas get rejected. Situations, that could have been a source of enlightenment, are wasted.
We can be good and we can be bad. This isn’t a discussion of good vs. evil. Bad, here, just means we aren’t good at what we are doing, whether it is traveling, art, or science. And that leads us to Lao Tzu’s point on why we need to embody the light. When Lao Tzu is talking of the good man and the bad man he is talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice, the teacher and the student.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job. If you are a good man, you can be sure that opportunities will abound, situations will arise, where bad men will be put in your path. The same is true if you are a bad man, in need of a good man. We need to embody the light to be available to all people. So we won’t have to reject anyone. We need to be ready to use all situations, and not waste anything.
We were worried yesterday about flitting about like fools. That is why we wanted to make sure we were rooted to the heavy. Never losing touch with who we are. But embodying the light is just as important. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost. And it won’t matter how intelligent you are. Sometimes the most intelligent get the most lost. Why? Because, often, the things we think we know keep us from realizing the great secret.
We need each other. That is the whole point of seeing the world as self rather than the self as self. We need each other. Good men need bad men; and, bad men need good men. Realize this great secret and you won’t get lost.