In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Lao Tzu has said in different ways, how being centered, or in harmony with the Tao would turn the world into a paradise. Now he describes it for us. I don’t mind admitting it. After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a world like this? A clear and spacious sky, a solid and full earth, all creatures flourishing together, content with the way they are, endlessly repeating themselves, and endlessly renewed. But, unlike the utopia that a planned society promises us, I am thinking of the Zeitgeist movement, or “The Giver” (I reviewed that movie, yesterday), it isn’t something that we can do anything to bring about.
No matter how noble our intentions may be, when we start interfering with the Tao, the sky becomes filthy, the earth becomes depleted, the equilibrium crumbles, and creatures become extinct. Hey, that sounds like the actual world we are living in today. I want to go back to that paradise. With the endlessly repeating and the endlessly renewed. I want us to be content with the way we are.
How can we be content? I think it comes down to remembering the lost Tao. Yes, our connection with the Tao has been lost. But we aren’t going to get it back by trying to change our outward circumstances. Does that mean being content with a filthy sky, with a depleted earth, with the equilibrium crumbling, and creatures becoming extinct? Far from it. But it does mean understanding that when we try to do something, we will not only leave a whole lot of things undone, we will only make things that much worse.
Left alone, nature always returns itself to balance. If we really have compassion on the parts, we need to understand the whole. Even the most powerful among us, full of the best of intentions, never know any better than in part. They deceive themselves and us, when they think more highly of themselves than they ought. It takes a constant practice of humility to understand the whole. You have to always be putting yourself after and beneath others, rather than before and above them. It is hard to let yourself be shaped by the Tao, as rugged and common as stone, when you want to glitter like a jewel.
Can we practice that kind of humility? Are we willing to be shaped by the Tao, into whatever way it wishes? If we will be content with the way we are, then harmony with the Tao will be restored.