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)
We have been talking about how our relationship with the world is indicative of our relationship with the Tao. When we see the world as self, our connection with the Tao is what it what it should be. But when we see the self as self, our connection with the Tao is not what it should be. That is the eternal reality, the way things are. Humans are one of the four great powers. It is because we follow the Earth, which follows the Universe, which follows the Tao. It isn’t hard to pick up on the natural rhythms, the vibrations, of the Tao as it flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. To pick up on it, you merely have to observe yin and yang as they bring about balance and harmony, the emergent order.
Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about how the world and your self relate to each other. And once again, yin and yang are front and center. Three times, Lao Tzu says, know the yang, yet keep to the yin. Male, white, and personal are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal are all yin. Now, all we need to do is understand what Lao Tzu means by “know” and “keep to”. He doesn’t mean that we are to prefer one over the other. Yin isn’t good and yang bad. Or vice versa. Ultimately, they balance each other out. And that is what he means by saying, know the yang yet keep to the yin.
He begins by saying know the male, yet keep to female. The result will be, you receive the world in your arms. This is powerful imagery to me. Receiving the world in your arms like a little child. The union of male and female produces a little child. And, when you see the world as self, that little child you receive in your arms is your self. The Tao will never leave you. That is what the balancing of yin and yang produces in your life.
He tells us to know the white, yet keep to the black. When you let white and black balance out, you are a pattern for the world. There is a progression here, if we are paying attention. Knowing the male, yet keeping to the female meant receiving the world in your arms like a little child. Now, that we have that little child, what are we supposed to do with it? Well, what is the responsibility of parents? Be a pattern for that child. Don’t read more into this than what I intend. I don’t mean we are the parents of the world. I am merely using the metaphor of the world as little child. But, of course, the world is your self. So, you, too, are that little child. Be a pattern for it, and the Tao will be strong inside you and there will be nothing you can’t do. Do you see how your relationship with the Tao depends on the relationship of your self with the world? It is vital that you do.
You and the world are like a little child. You are a pattern for the world. But now, here is where it gets real interesting. He tells us to know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. This just screams out to me, “Don’t take things so personally!” And what Lao Tzu is talking about is accepting things we can not change. We make things personal. And we won’t let go. We then have desires to interfere, well up within us. We simply must accept the world, just as it is. Oh, we can hold it in our arms, we can be a pattern for it. But beyond that, it is time to accept the world, just as it is. Then, the Tao will be luminous inside you and you will return to your primal self.
You will return to your primal self. What does he mean by that? Remembering that you are to see the world as your self, Lao Tzu explains how the world is formed. There is a lesson here for all of our selves. The world is formed from the void, like utensils are formed from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils; in other words, the Master knows the way the world is. Yet, the Master keeps to the block; continuing the analogy, that means the Master keeps to the void. Yes, this is yang and yin, again. Your primal self is your connection with the eternal void. That connection with the Source, with the Origin, puts you in a position to use all things. I liken it to being on the event horizon of a black hole. You are there, right there, where you can use whatever comes your way.
Use it however you want.