Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don’t realize the Source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kind-hearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Back, three chapters ago, we introduced the practice of intentional empathy. We were talking about how, because we have been programmed into seeing the self as self, we have been lulled to sleep. We aren’t conscious of the eternal reality. We don’t see the world as self. And, as long as we don’t see the world as self, we may be sympathetic to the suffering of other beings around us, but we can’t begin to experience empathy, identification with, the other beings around us. We have to wake up. We have to be conscious of the eternal reality. We have to see the world as self, in order to love the world as we do ourselves, and actually care for all things.
The question then, of course, is how do we come to realize the world and self are one, so we can practice this intentional empathy.
So, for the last two chapters, Lao Tzu talked about the need to realize there is no future, there is only now, the eternal present. And he said, it is the essence of wisdom to realize where you come from. How do we do this? Lao Tzu said that it requires patience to wait until our mud settles; and to remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself. Fulfillment isn’t something to be sought. You don’t seek it, you don’t expect it, for it isn’t some future thing. Just be in the present, and welcome all things.
Of course, none of this really answers the question, “How?” But today, Lao Tzu does finally answer the question, “How?”
Today’s chapter has become my constant meditation.
He says, “Empty your mind of all thoughts.” I know that immediately raises questions. How do I do this? I have tried and failed. What am I doing wrong? Those thoughts arise, don’t fight them, let them. But don’t ponder them. Let them come. And, let them go. Where people get defeated in meditation is they expend a whole lot of energy trying to meditate, instead of just meditating. I stopped worrying about random thoughts that would inevitably pop into my mind, trying to distract me. I quit giving them my attention. And they go. Let them. Let your heart be at peace. Gee, is it really that simple? Are our hearts troubled because we won’t let them be at peace? Those desires in your heart troubling you so, don’t have to, if you don’t let them. Just let go of them. Why are you holding on to them?
I have talked many times before about how I like to sit outside in my backyard, it faces one of the busiest streets in the town in which I live. This is where I go to practice my meditation. I return to this place over and over again, throughout my day. It is here that I watch the busy street. I watch the turmoil of beings. But, while I am observing the world around me, I trust my inner vision. I contemplate their return to our common Source.
What is this common Source? Lao Tzu first talked about the Source in chapter one. He said that we could trace back the manifestations of the Tao to the Source. The Source is where we come from.
This is where everything we have been talking about the last few days comes into sharp focus. It is where we wake up to the eternal reality. No more do we have to rely on impotent sympathy. Now we can practice intentional empathy. We can be present for all beings as we realize where we come from, our common Source. The One we share with all beings. The Source we come from and return to and come from and return to, over and over again throughout the eternal present in which we live.
Remember when Lao Tzu said the reason there is turmoil is because we see ourselves as separate, as selves? Why do the phantoms of fear and hope arise? It all has to do with the perspective we have been programmed to use. We compete with our fellow beings on that imaginary ladder of success and failure. Not realizing, when one fails, all fail. Stand with both feet on the ground. Or, do like I do, sit with both feet on the ground. Observe the turmoil of separate beings. You and they are all the same. But, each and every one of us returns to the common Source; it is where we come from, and where we go to. This is serenity. Not in some unknown future, but now.
Why are these beings in turmoil? Because they see themselves as separate. They appear to be stumbling in confusion and sorrow. But, whether they are aware of it or not, they are returning to the common Source. They will come to realize where they come from. Some maybe sooner than others; but, when all of eternity is bound up in the present moment, does that really matter?
When you realize where you come from, intentional empathy, spontaneously and intuitively, emerges. You naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. I am not patting myself on the back, when I say that I have become these things. For I tried to be these things, for years, without success. You can’t pat yourself on the back when you know that it happened without any effort on your part. And, I had absolutely nothing to do with this evolution in me. I just let it happen. I stopped trying. But, I also stopped resisting.
I became immersed in the wonder of the Tao. This is where I come from. And, it is where you come from, too. You, too, can deal with whatever life brings you, and when death comes, you will be ready.