Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.
Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.
Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.
The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block;
thus she can use all things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Two chapters ago, we learned about the importance of never losing touch with who we are. In yesterday’s chapter, we learned about the essence of being a good human. It is about being available to all people, and ready for every situation. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is going to further explain how we can relate to the world around us, by knowing “yang”, yet keeping to “yin”.
Three times he tells us to do this. First it is, “Know the male, yet keep to the female”. Male is a reference for yang and female is a reference to yin. Next, “Know the white, yet keep to the black”. White is yang, and black is yin. Finally, “Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal”. Personal is yang, and impersonal is yin.”
This is about being in balance. Know the yang, yet keep to the yin. It is important to know the yang. But, we can get so caught up in it, we forget all about the yin. That is what Lao Tzu is wanting us to guard against. Our relationship with the world around us will only be enriched, if we will let ourselves be in balance.
When we know the male, yet keep to the female, we receive the world in our arms. If we receive the world, the Tao will never leave us, and we will be like little children. For me, receiving the world in our arms is about being in a position to nurture the world. Both you, and the world are like little children. And, you need both the spontaneous male, and the intuitive female to be like a little child, again.
When we know the white, yet keep to the black, we are a pattern for the world. If we are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside us, and there will be nothing we can’t do. White and black are the way yang and yin are represented in the Tai Chi symbol. Being a pattern, or example, for the world is the single greatest thing we can all be for our world. No wonder it makes the Tao strong inside of us. No wonder Lao Tzu promises nothing will be impossible for us.
When we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal, we are accepting the world as it is. If we accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside us, and we will return to our primal selves. This is so very important. Not taking things too personally. Lao Tzu has told us on a number of occasions, to do our work and then take a step back. Why do we need to take a step back? Because, when we get too close, too personal, our perspective gets out of order. We won’t accept the world as it is, if we aren’t able to maintain a proper distance, a step or two away from the situation. The Tao will be luminous inside us. That word “luminous” is an entirely different kind of light from what Lao Tzu has been talking about the last couple of chapters. The Tao never leaves us, it is strong inside us, and it is luminous inside us. This enables us to return to the way we were in the beginning. It is a return to our Source, to our primal selves.
Notice how Lao Tzu describes the formation of our world. It was formed from the void. That is, out of emptiness. He compares it to the way utensils are formed from a block of wood. A wise and virtuous person knows the utensils. They know what is to come out of that block of wood. Yet, they keep to the block. Thus, they can use all things.
Well, that is a good place to stop with this chapter. We have learned how to use both the yang, and the yin, inside of us to relate to the world. We have learned what we can be for the world. Both a nurturer, and a pattern, or example. We have learned how to accept the world as it is. Tomorrow, we will learn what we should never try to do with the world. We will find out there is a time for yang and a time for yin. This will enable us to reside at the center of the circle.