If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.
The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.
When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
On Becoming Our True Selves
The whole point of staying in the center of the circle, which is what we have been talking about for the last few days, is to let the Tao do its mysterious work in us; so that we can become our true selves. We said, yesterday, that staying in the center of the circle is keeping our mind at one with the Tao, and letting all things take their own course. That letting is essential; because we, more often than not, resist the Tao’s work in us. We want to focus on what will we become. Will I become whole? Will I become straight? Will I become full? Will I be reborn? And, if the will to power is in control in our lives, we will want to help the Tao along, not willing to give up control of our own lives. But, when Lao Tzu says the ancient Masters taught us that everything we want to be given to us has to first be given up by us, he insists, these weren’t empty phrases. Give everything up! Don’t try to become whole. Don’t try to become straight. Don’t try to be reborn. Give up trying to control. Let yourself be partial. Let yourself be crooked. Let yourself be empty. Let yourself die. We really don’t like this letting, now do we?
The wise and virtuous Master is always our example on how to reside in the Tao, in the center of the circle, and let all things take their own course. We can see their light; not because they try to shine, but because they don’t display themselves. We can trust their words; not because they have set out a series of proofs, but because they have nothing to prove. We can recognize our own selves in them, because they don’t waste time defining themselves. Everything they do succeeds, because they aren’t bound by any rigid goals in their own minds.
These ancient Masters understood that it was only in being lived by the Tao, we can truly be ourselves. So, they gave everything up, and were given everything in return.