Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we talked about what we can do, as we relate to our world. Lao Tzu said that there are, specifically, three things we can do to relate to our world. We can receive the world in our arms. We can be a pattern, or example, for our world. And, most importantly, we can accept the world as it is. So, yesterday, was about what we can do. Today, we will talk about something we cannot do. We cannot improve on our world.
It is the reality that the world is sacred, and cannot be improved, which makes accepting it as it is, so very important. If we could improve on it, if somehow we could tamper with it, you know, tweak a little bit here, and a little bit over there, then what would be the need to just accept things as they are?
But there is a reason why Lao Tzu warns us to not tamper with the way things are. However, maybe, it would be best to make sure we all understand, what Lao Tzu means by his prohibition on trying to improve the world.
When he says the world is sacred, what exactly is he saying? There are all sorts of things that are very much wrong in our world. Is Lao Tzu asking us to simply ignore these things? Where we see injustice, do we turn a blind eye? Do we not respond to the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves?
If that is what Lao Tzu meant, he would be going against everything he has said, in the preceding chapters, about how to truly care for all things.
What Lao Tzu means, by referring to the world as sacred, is the natural order. Don’t try to tamper with it. You’ll ruin it! But also, be careful, when perceiving the way things seem to be, that you don’t resort to force to try and control things. Even our good intentions can result in evil. We need to accept the way things are; that is, the natural laws that govern our world. If we treat the world like an object, we will lose it. The world isn’t an object. It is a subject. It is subject to the natural laws which govern our universe. So, yes, we need to be a light in a dark world. Where there is injustice, we need to work toward justice. Where people are hungry or homeless, sick and maltreated, we need to be caring. We only need to accept there are certain natural laws which govern us, and not try to go out of bounds. We need to understand, and rely on, the way yin and yang complement each other to bring about balance and harmony, an emergent order, from the chaos.
When all we perceive around us is chaos, it is hard not to want to intervene, to interfere. But that temptation must be resisted. We need to discern the right time for any action. Remember what Lao Tzu has said before about having the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear; about remaining unmoving until the right action arises by itself.
There is a time for everything. But, there is a wrong time, too. You could avoid danger, if you would heed Lao Tzu’s advice, here.
There is a time for yang. But, we often miss the time for yin. It is tempting to think there is no better place to be, than ahead. What we fail to understand is the Tao will always bring about balance. Sure, you may be ahead now. It is the time for it. There will come a time to be behind. How will you respond, then? Will you try to force your way to the front, again? There is a time to be in motion. But there is also a time to be at rest. A lot of the time, we really get these two mixed up. Rest is good, when it is time to rest. Take full advantage of it. Soon it will be time to be in motion, once again. When we try to rest, when we should be in motion, or when we try to be in motion, when we should be at rest, we will find ourselves in ever widening spirals from the center of the circle. Perhaps, because we were resting, when we should have been in motion, it will then be time to be vigorous. Or, if we didn’t take advantage of the time of rest, and instead, tried to stay in motion, we then find ourselves in a time of exhaustion. See how it begins to spiral out of control? Pretty soon it is a question of a time of being in danger, rather than a time of being safe.
This is why it is so important to see things as they are, like the Master does. Don’t try to control them. Don’t use force, or interfere, or intervene. Understand, and accept, the times, the rules, which govern our world. Let things go their own way. Don’t allow yourself to spiral out of control. Stay in the center of the circle. Order will emerge.