Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Because this is a shorter chapter, let’s take a look at it from a different translation, as well. Robert Brookes’ interpretive translation published in 2010.
“Turning back is the Tao’s motion,
yielding is the Tao’s method.
The world and the ten thousand things are born from the ‘what is’,
and the ‘what is’ is born from the ‘what is not’.”
Return, or turning back, is the motion, or movement, of the Tao. We have spent a great deal of time on our need to be in harmony with, or centered in, the Tao. And, that has led to talking about the favorite way the practice of the Tao is expressed. It is going with the flow. The way things are, flows. What sometimes throws us is what Lao Tzu describes, today. This movement, this motion, this flow always returns. It is a retrograde motion, a turning back. The Tao flows through all things, inside and out, and returns to the source.
Why does it turn back? Maybe we want to keep moving forward. What is this turning back? It has to do with the way of the Tao. It is always yielding. That is its method. Are we willing to yield? That is the question we have to ask ourselves. Because the Tao yields. Yielding is what it does. And, if we don’t yield, when the Tao yields, soon we find ourselves out of harmony with the Tao. It highlights why the constant practice of humility is so very important. Be like water. Water knows how to yield. And its flow, even when it can no longer go forward, and gently turns back, shows us the way.
Speaking of being like water, reminds me that we are all beings. Being is both a noun and a verb. It is who and what we are; but it is also, how we are. When Lao Tzu says, “All things are born of being” that word, being, is what I would have to call, for lack of a better word, a “super” word. It is super because being is so powerful. All things are born of being.
We might like to think that it is “doing” that gets things done. But, didn’t we cover that in the last few days? The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. The wise and virtuous person does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. Doing, the antithesis to not-doing, only leaves many more things to be done. But, being, the practice of doing without doing, or not-doing, gives birth to all things. Robert Brookes calls it the “what is”. It is what we are, not what we do, that matters, in the end.
So, being as I have turned things around on this word, being, making it not just a noun, but also a verb, how do we practice “being”?
Of course, you expect me to say, do nothing. And, you are already prepared to be unsatisfied with that answer. So, let me go just a bit further. Lao Tzu does. He says, “Being is born of non-being.” In Robert Brookes’ words, “the ‘what is’ is born from the ‘what is not’.” Being is born out of not being. What is is produced from what is not.
It is actually the most natural thing for us to practice being. It is only being who and what we are; and being how we are, consistent with our nature. The reason it seems so difficult is we have forgotten the Tao; we have lost our way back to the source. This is why Lao Tzu keeps on insisting that being in harmony with the Tao, staying in the center of the circle, being centered in the Tao, is so very important. And we are to “do nothing” while we are there. It is that “doing nothing” we don’t quite like. But that is only because we don’t understand that doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing is done. The “doing nothing” is an incubation process. What is going on in there? It is hard to say. Our eyes can’t see it. Our ears can’t hear it. But we are being incubated. The what is not will give birth to what is. Non-being will give birth to being. Let’s not abort the process.