You Have To Use It To Perceive It

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

That is a pretty bold promise with which Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter. Being able to go wherever I wish without danger? Should I be skeptical? I can immediately think of a list of places I don’t dare travel to, alone. Places which, especially after dark, are not safe places. I don’t know whether I am feeling too certain about testing this hypothesis. But this isn’t the first time that word “danger” has popped up. Let’s go back to what Lao Tzu has said before, regarding danger. Back in chapter 29, Lao Tzu said, there is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger. He said, then, we need to see things as they are, without trying to control them. We need to let them go their own way, and reside at the center of the circle. Then, in chapter 32, Lao Tzu said, if we know when to stop, we can avoid danger. It was in that chapter, Lao Tzu reiterated, the Tao is not something which can be perceived. Now, once again, in today’s chapter he enjoins us to be centered in the Tao; and promises, we can go wherever we wish, without danger. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Clearly, danger is something that can be avoided. And, the times we find ourselves in danger, instead of being safe, have little to do with where we may go. Avoiding danger isn’t a matter of avoiding dangerous places. For, if we are centered in the Tao, we can go wherever we wish, without danger. So, if our surroundings, if our outward circumstances, aren’t what qualify as a danger to us, what determines whether or not we are in danger? That is an important question to be asking, because Lao Tzu followed up his bold promise, with the caveat that we might yet be in the midst of great pain. You could say, the promise of going wherever we wish without danger was particularly predicated by being in the midst of great pain. How can we be danger-free even in the midst of great pain? This will only be the case, if we perceive the universal harmony, and have found peace in our hearts.

Perceiving the universal harmony is another way of saying what we have been talking about for the last several days. It is not being moved by hope or by fear, those phantoms that arise because we are thinking of the self as self. Instead, we perceive the universal harmony, we see the eternal reality at play in our Universe. We understand and accept that the way things are is the way things are. We see the whole world as an extension of our very selves. Our enemies, if we even call them that, are not demons, but our fellow human beings, just like us. All wanting the same things. We can live at peace with all beings, because we have found peace in the core of our being. Much, the same, as it is in the core of all beings.

Now, that sounds all well, and good. But maybe it is a bit naive, too. The way things are may be the way things are. But the way things seem to be are certainly a far cry from what we may wish them to be. Given that set of circumstances, can I really go wherever I wish without danger? How exactly am I supposed to perceive this universal harmony with all the talk about terrorists, and mass-shootings? I guess that is what Lao Tzu means by being in the midst of great pain. All around us, there is pain, suffering, madness…. Can we really perceive the universal harmony, and find peace in our hearts, even in the midst of all this pain?

Well, that was the promise. And I don’t think things are really all that different from Lao Tzu’s day. I don’t think if Lao Tzu were alive today, he would be of a different opinion regarding the Tao. But, let’s be real here. Perceiving the universal harmony is a whole lot like perceiving the Tao. And, Lao Tzu has already told us, the Tao can’t be perceived.

Music or the smell of good cooking may make people stop and enjoy. But words that point to the Tao seem monotonous and without flavor. He is talking, here, about perceiving the universal harmony, so pay attention. Your senses are not going to be of any use to you. Looking for it won’t work. There isn’t anything to see. Listening for it won’t work. There isn’t anything to hear. Clearly, perceiving the universal harmony isn’t something to be done with our senses. All around us there may be great pain. So, it isn’t a matter of having just the right set of circumstances, either. So, how do we perceive it?

You perceive it by knowing that it is there. Though you can’t see it. Though you can’t hear it. Still, you know, in your heart, the very core of your being, it is right there. So, you don’t wait around for it to display itself for all the world to see and hear. That isn’t going to happen. You just start using it. And you keep on using it. And using it. And using it. It is inexhaustible. You just keep using it.

Friends, I don’t know how to make it any plainer. You simply have to trust the Tao. Be centered in it. Don’t try to control things. Just let them go their own way. The Tao remains the same. Even in the midst of great pain. Especially in the midst of great pain. The Tao remains the same. It is there to be used. It is inexhaustible. Use it however you want. Go wherever you want. Without danger. Be at peace.

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