What Happens When We Over Do Things?

If you over-esteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion in those
who think that they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 3, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We are only on day three of our journey through the Tao Te Ching; yet, I feel like we have already learned so much. Considering how slow and halting chapter one was, that says a lot about what we learned in chapter two. I hope you all read my commentary from yesterday on chapter two; it really was the best introduction to the Tao Te Ching.

So, what have we learned so far?

In chapter one, Lao Tzu spoke of the Tao in vague and mysterious terms, calling it the eternally real; and saying, its mystery is something we can’t realize as long as we are caught in desire. Our desire is something we must be free from. That is for certain. But Lao Tzu has help for us. While the eternal Tao is shrouded in mystery and darkness, its manifestations are not. We are going to trace those manifestations back to the source, the gateway to all understanding.

Something else that Lao Tzu said in chapter one pertained to naming, as the origin of all particular things. I wanted to go back to that, because I got a question about it from a reader, after I posted the chapter one commentary. Naming is familiar to us, as part of origin stories. It is in our mythology. You may be familiar with the naming ceremony found early in the book of Genesis in the Bible, where Adam (the first man) named all the animals. Naming has always been significant to us. Throughout history, naming ceremonies have been used to impart characteristics (like the meaning of a name) to those given that name. And, of course, we name our children. I know I was very specific in naming my own two children; and feel like they both have lived up to their names. My daughter was named Abigail, which means, a joy to her parents, especially her father. And my son was named Nathaniel. Nathaniel means gift from God. My daughter has been a joy to me. And my son, has been a gift from God. When Lao Tzu talks about the eternal Tao being unnameable, he is talking about its mystery. But then, he goes on to talking about its nameable manifestations, all particular things. The question asked pertained to whether the things being named didn’t actually precede their being named. That, I think, is missing the point. We aren’t talking about something following along a time line. We are talking about eternity. All particular things find their origin in being connected with the source, by being named. Understand, the source is the eternal Tao. Naming isn’t some casual thing. It transcends the finite and temporal, and takes on the infinite and eternal. As I said earlier, it is significant.

Just how significant, is something Lao Tzu began exploring in chapter two. There he talked about how we see things, and then “name” them. Some things are beautiful. Therefore, some things are ugly. Some things are good. Therefore, some things are bad. Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other. Yes, this is all about yin and yang. But, it is also about naming the manifestations of the Tao, as well. We need to name these manifestations in order to be able to trace them back to the source. Then, we will understand.

And, Lao Tzu goes even further with this naming, in chapter three. Where chapter two was all about balance, chapter three is our introduction to things being out of balance; and what the Master does, when things are out of balance.

Things will become out of balance if you over-esteem great men. It isn’t that great men and women shouldn’t be esteemed. The problem comes, if you over-esteem them. Where there is excess, there will be deficiency. If you over-esteem the great, people become powerless. Another way for things to get out of balance is if you overvalue possessions. We already know, from chapter two, the Master has without possessing. That is a state of balance. But what happens if you overvalue possessions? Then, people begin to steal. This is not excusing stealing, by the way. But it is a good idea to understand origins. Why would people begin to steal? Because possessions are overvalued. If possessions aren’t being overvalued, all people would have without possessing.

That is a lot, right there, to chew on. But Lao Tzu has just the prescription for how to resolve the imbalance. And, of course, that means bringing in the Master as our example. How does the Master lead? First off, we have named the manifestations of the Tao, yin and yang. Where there is excess, deficiency will result. Balance must occur. That means excess must be diminished for deficiency to be diminished. The problem, all along, has been our desire. That is something we have been talking about since chapter one. Why do we over-esteem and over-value? Because of our desire. Why do people become powerless and begin to steal? Because of our desire. Desire is the culprit. And desire must be dealt with.

The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their cores, by weakening people’s ambition and toughening their resolve. This involves a combination of yin and yang. Our minds know what we want. And what we want is our ambition; it is everything we desire. Emptying our minds and weakening our ambition is helping us lose everything we know, everything we desire. And this emptying and weakening is yin. But yin isn’t sufficient. Yang is needed, as well. And the yang is the filling of the people’s cores and the toughening of their resolve.

Yin and yang speak to, what is perhaps, our dual nature. Our minds need emptying; but our cores need filling. Our ambition needs weakening; but our resolve needs toughening. I think of our dual nature in this way: we have an outer nature and an inner nature. Our outer nature is our body and our mind. Some people think of the mind as being an inner thing, but I don’t think of it that way. I think of our inner nature as being the core of our being. What we are in the core of our being is our true self. Our outer nature is influenced by our inner nature; but it is also very much influenced by what is going on outside of us.

Today’s chapter is an introduction to our true selves, the core of our being. But we will be returning to this many times in the days and weeks ahead; so I will keep this as brief as I can. The core of our being is where the Tao resides. It is from the core of our being that spontaneity and intuitiveness arises.

I understand if this has created confusion. While that is not my intention, it certainly is the intention of the Master to create confusion in those who think that they know. How else can things be returned to balance, without a little chaos? But, I promise, the things we are talking about today are things we will be returning to again, and covering in more depth. I don’t want you to remain confused.

But, it is time to conclude. Are you confused? Practice doing without doing. Then, everything will fall into place. Now, that wasn’t nice at all, was it? Especially for those who are getting their first introduction to the practice of doing without doing. But, Lao Tzu will have plenty more to say about this practice, as well. Don’t give up, just yet. It will all begin to make sense. I promise.

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