Let Yourself Go Backwards, Let Yourself Be Weak

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about centering ourselves in the Tao; and, with today’s chapter, we are in the center of the Tao Te Ching. It is really just that simple. Don’t let the size of today’s chapter fool you, these four lines pack a punch. Four lines, four words. Let’s take them one by one.

Return is the movement of the Tao. We have talked, before, about the Tao always being on the move. The great Tao flows everywhere. It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. If we want to go with the flow of the Tao, we need to follow it; as it moves, as it returns, to the origin of all things, our common Source. All things end in the Tao as rivers flow into the sea. In the original Chinese, the word that Stephen Mitchell translates as return, is a reversing, a retrograde movement. That means it tends to flow backwards. It is a direction contrary to the way we might expect things to go. Perhaps, that is why we sometimes have such trouble centering ourselves in the Tao, and staying centered. We want to go forward, while it seems to insist on going backwards. It confounds those who think that they know. That is why it is so important to practice knowing not-knowing. 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.

Yielding is the way of the Tao. Yielding is letting. That is something Lao Tzu has been encouraging us to practice, for as long as he has told us to practice doing not-doing. In the original Chinese, that word “yielding” is a sign of weakness, of submission. So often, the powers that be, so enthralled by their desire for control, their will to power, thrive on the use of force, which Lao Tzu calls violence. That runs counter to the Tao. The way of the Tao is weakness. If you want to truly be powerful don’t try to be powerful. Be weak. That is the way of the Tao. Thus, it is truly powerful. Let your weakness be your strength. Let things run their course. Only shape events as they come. Don’t force. Let.

All things are born of being. Being is born of non-being. I have to talk about these two together. They have been hard to separate since Lao Tzu introduced us to the concept of being and non-being back in chapter two. There, he was talking about yin and yang, another pair that complement each other. They create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, and they follow each other. In chapter eleven, he said, being is what we work with, but non-being is what we use. That gives us quite the clue into what he is saying to us today. He has been talking about the Tao in today’s chapter. Its movement, its way. Now we have two very distinct aspects of the Tao, being and non-being, the manifestations and the mystery. Both arise from the same source. That source, to which we all return. The Tao gives birth to all things. How many times has he said that to us? And today, he says, all things are born of being. Every being is a manifestation of the Tao.

But how is this manifest? That is the mystery. Being is born of non-being. Non-being, the mystery aspect of the Tao, the very aspect we can never realize as long as we are caught in desire. Which is why it is so important that we understand the movement of the Tao, and its way. Yang, being, is what we work with; but yin, non-being, is what we use.

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