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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Lao Tzu continues where we left off yesterday, on letting. Letting is probably the most powerful expression of being in harmony with the Tao that there is. So, it is probably a good idea that we understand exactly what Lao Tzu intends by the word.
We talked about it, yesterday, when Lao Tzu said the dark and unfathomable Tao makes the Master radiant because she lets it. I said then, “Even our cooperation can be nothing short of interference.” But I want to be clear here, that letting isn’t all passive. There is an active element to it as well. It is the perfect balance of yin and yang. The active element, the yang, is our choice to let it happen. The passive element, the yin, is in not trying to hasten, or push the Tao along, even in the direction we think it is taking us.
Of course, radiance sounds like some kind of mystical expression. What does Lao Tzu really mean?
To understand that, we look at today’s chapter. What is it we want? We want to become whole. We want to become straight. We want to become full. For we get just how messed up we have been since we have forgotten the Tao. We are partial. We are crooked. We are empty.
But it isn’t enough to acknowledge that we are partial, crooked, and empty, if we don’t have the patience, the willingness, to let ourselves be those things. If I say, “Okay, I am partial, crooked, and empty, why can’t I become whole, straight, and full, now?”, I am not letting myself be those things. I am not letting the Tao perform its perfect work in me. As I said before, it is the perfect balance of yin and yang. Letting isn’t just passive. It is active and passive. I have to resist the urge to resist. We tend to push when the Tao is pulling. And to try and go forward when the Tao is taking us back. Allow yourself to be the very things you are, and you will become something far greater.
What we are wanting to experience is a rebirth. But we aren’t so ready and willing to let ourselves die first. Yet, that is the prerequisite. We aren’t talking about physical death here. We are talking about a death to our selves, though. That partial, crooked, and empty self. Rebirth will bring about wholeness, straightness, and fullness. We have to let ourselves be, what has to die. To be given everything, everything has to be given up. Our wants, our desires, our hopes, our dreams. And, of course, we balk at this. “What is to become of me? I don’t want to die!”
But the ancient Masters weren’t using empty phrases when they said it was going to cost you everything. You’re going to have to give everything up! The only way to truly be yourself is to be lived by the Tao.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that this is exactly the kind of sacrifice of self that Ayn Rand ranted and raved against. I never said Lao Tzu was an Objectivist; but I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is talking about, either. Ayn Rand may or may not have agreed with me, but I think Lao Tzu is talking about becoming the highest expression of ourselves. Leaving behind the partial, crooked and empty persons we are now.
But, first, you have to let yourself be what you are now. And, then, let that die.
Consider the example of the Master. The Master resides in the Tao; that is, he is being lived by the Tao. And, he is our example.
People can see his light (that radiance we were talking about yesterday) because he doesn’t display himself. Did you get that? He isn’t shining his own light. “Look here, look at me.” But by being lived by the Tao, his radiance is apparent to all.
People can trust his words, because he has nothing to prove. I am sure you have noticed, before, there is a direct correlation between those with something to prove and how unreliable they are.
Everything he does succeeds, because he has no goal in mind. This just flies in the face of everything we have been taught to believe. Conventional wisdom has always told us that if we want to achieve success we must set goals. It is about time that somebody said this, “Conventional wisdom is what got us into the mess we are in, now. A mess we can’t hope to extricate ourselves from, using conventional wisdom.”
The only question, then, is, “Are we willing to be lived by the Tao? It is only in being lived by the Tao that we can truly be ourselves. We could, of course, continue to be partial, crooked and empty. And be battling with the way things are, with every ounce of our strength, only to wear ourselves out. Maybe it is time we surrender.