Competing Realities

Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success
is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope
is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self,
then you can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 13, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about observing the world but trusting your inner vision. What he was doing is identifying two very different realities. One, the finite and temporal one, with which we are all quite familiar. We perceive it with our senses. I would call that reality an illusion. It is a dependent and subjective reality my mind projects, a hologram. But, what makes it even more interesting to me is what I “think” of my self is also part of that hologram. The other reality, Lao Tzu keeps talking about, is an independent objective reality. It is both infinite and eternal. It isn’t an illusion. It is the Way things are. I harmonize my self with that reality by trusting my inner vision, the spontaneous and intuitive real me, in the core of my being. In a sense, these two “realities” compete with each other. Yet the Tao competes without competing.

How the reality, with which we are all quite familiar, competes is by enticing each of us to compete with each other, to see our selves, as separate from others. Seeing ourselves as separate is part of that hologram we project. When we see the self as self, as separate, we create for ourselves a competing reality with the infinite and eternal one.

One feature, readily apparent, of this competing reality is the “so-called” ladder of success (and failure). Because we see our selves as separate, we compete by defining success by how far up the ladder of success we can climb. But, being a finite and temporal reality, we find ourselves competing for finite resources, finite time, finite everything. There is only so much room at the top. It is me against the world.

It should go without saying that being a part of the reality we are projecting, that ladder is also an illusion. Real ladders are dangerous enough; but, ones we create out of thin air are even more so. Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. Measuring success and failure the way we do, when we see our selves as separate, is a very dangerous reality. We pin our hopes and fears on that ladder. But what are our hopes and fears? They, too, are mere phantoms, both equally hollow. The reason they arise is we keep thinking of the self as self, as separate from the world. We live out our lives, always hoping for success and fearing failure. What we are really doing is postponing contentment and fulfillment until some imagined future where our desires will be realized. We live our lives, not in the present, but dogged by the past, and striving for the future.

The infinite and eternal reality is always present. One of the reasons that the reality we are projecting is an illusion is it isn’t a present reality. It is all about the past and the future. There is only what has happened before, and what we hope will happen.

Lao Tzu wants us to stand with both our feet on the ground of reality. Standing in the present, the always present, is the only way to always keep our balance.

When you realize the rungs of that ladder are no place to be standing, and you start to live in the always present, you see just how dangerous both success and failure are. The phantoms of hope and fear no longer pester you, for they have no place in the always present.

You transcend the finite and temporal reality by seeing your self in a whole new way. No longer do you project your self as self. Now, you trust your inner vision, where you see the world as self. Your inner vision shows you the always present reality. You are not isolated, alone, separate from the world. You are connected, and one, with all things. You aren’t separate from this reality. You are one with this reality. This is the Way things are. Have faith in the Way things are. You and the world are one. Love the world as your self. Now, you can care for all things as you care for your self.

That was enough to chew on for today. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will offer us a riddle. Don’t worry. He doesn’t leave us guessing at the answer to the riddle. What we cannot know, we can be.

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