All the Ways We Can Fail, and How Not to Fail

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

All the Ways We Can Fail, and How Not to Fail

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues on from where he left off, in yesterday’s chapter, about putting into practice being one with the Tao. Yesterday, his emphasis was on confronting the difficult while it is easy; so today, he begins with four things which are easy to do:

It is easy to nourish something which is rooted. It is easy to correct a recent mistake. It is easy to break that which is brittle. And, It is easy to scatter something small.

We see, by these examples, what is easy cuts both ways. It can be a good thing, like when we want to nourish or correct something. But, it can also be a bad thing, like things which are easily broken or scattered.

Yet, the lessons we can glean from these truisms are the same: Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist. These are perfectly illustrated with the familiar, because they are the most often quoted, metaphors of where the giant pine tree comes from, and where the journey of a thousand miles begins.

When we fail here, as we often do, it is because we aren’t being good at being one with the Tao. Oh, we are still one with the Tao. As I have said before, being one with the Tao is our birthright. And, the Tao is a treasure to us when we are good at it. But, when we fail, when we make a mistake, when we are bad at being one with the Tao, it is still there for us, as a refuge.

That, of course, is good news. But, failure isn’t the goal. The goal is to be good at being one with the Tao. And, Lao Tzu, the old Master, himself, is showing us how we can fail, so we won’t.

Rushing into action, we fail. Trying to grasp things, we lose them. Forcing a project to completion, we ruin what was almost ripe. That is how we can fail. Now, for how not to fail. Here, the wise and virtuous Master shows us the way.

Take action by letting things take their course. Remain as calm at the end, as you were at the beginning. Have nothing; then, you have nothing to lose. Desire nothing. Unlearn.

What Lao Tzu is doing, here, is simply reminding us of who we have always been. What we were in the beginning. Our origin. By caring about nothing but the Tao, you can truly care for all things. After all, it is in the Tao, our Source, that all things are connected, and one.

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