Every being in the Universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.
The Tao gives birth to all beings.
Nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them,
protects them, takes them back to itself.
Creating without possessing,
acting without interfering,
guiding without interfering
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu was teaching us to live in the present moment. Today, he tells us how and why, when we live in the moment, we are an expression of the Tao. Perhaps it was because of my own hang ups about living in the moment, which I think I expressed very clearly yesterday, I was really struck by that word “spontaneously” in today’s chapter.
In fact, I latched onto that word so much that I spent a lot of time today just thinking of the word spontaneous. I even read through its definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. And then looked at a list of synonyms.
Here is the definition: “Done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning.” And then I read further: “Doing things that have not been planned but that seem enjoyable and worth doing at a particular time.” And still more: “Proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint. Arising from a momentary impulse. Controlled and directed internally, self-acting. (movement characteristic of living things). Produced without being planted or without human labor, indigenous. Developing or occurring without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment. Not apparently contrived or manipulated, natural.”
I hope that didn’t bore you too much. I think it is important that we understand all that the word implies. And just to be thorough, here is a list of synonyms especially for those that find that easier to decipher than reading a dictionary definition: “casual, impromptu, instinctive, offhand, simple, unplanned, voluntary.” I got those off of thesaurus.com. I would like to add “intuitive” to the list.
Okay, now that I got that out of the way, why exactly did I do that? Because, I think, Lao Tzu is saying that spontaneity is the art of living. It is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe. Let’s get back to the chapter and see the spontaneous nature of the Tao and every being in the Universe.
Lao Tzu says, “It springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free, takes on a body, lets circumstances complete it.” I like this line because he is not very clear with what the “It” refers to, Does it refer to the Tao? Or, to every being in the Universe. The answer is, both. We are all expressions of the Tao. The Tao isn’t something external to any of us. It is inside each of us. And, as we live our lives, just doing what comes naturally, we are spontaneously honoring the Tao inside each of us.
I really want to emphasize the reality that the Tao is not some external being, manipulating us, forcing us to do this or that, demanding worship or honor or love. The Tao is inside each of us. Indeed, it is inside every being in the Universe. The honor we bestow on the Tao is not some duty required of us. It is spontaneous. It is simply us doing whatever comes naturally.
But while the Tao is not some external force, or being, demanding our love; love of the Tao, is in the very nature of things. It is in our nature. And why not? It gives birth to all beings. It nourishes and maintains them. It cares for and comforts them. It protects them and takes them back to itself. Every thing we do, throughout the cycle of our lives, is an expression of that love that is innate in us. We love because we are loved. And this love is unconditional. The Tao creates without possessing. Acts without expecting. Guides without interfering.
This is a love which has no rules and no bounds. It is spontaneous. It is characteristic of all living things. It is what makes us all expressions of the Tao.
It should be clear that I have great regard for this ode to spontaneity, this ode to love. But you might be thinking, “Yes, but what is the practical value?”
And here it is: You are free! Live like it.