In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Harmony or Interference
We all must know of Hamlet’s soliloquy, penned by William Shakespeare:
To be, or not to be–that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep–
No more–and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep–
To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprise of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry
And lose the name of action. — Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia! — Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.
But, I am not so sure Hamlet was pondering the correct question, “To be, or not to be?” No, I think I have a far, far better question, “To do, or not to do?” For the answer to my question makes all the difference in whether we have a world in harmony with the Tao, or not.
Lao Tzu has painted a beautiful picture for us, in describing what harmony with the Tao would mean in our world. He has repeated himself several times, now. Only a fool would not choose harmony. And, Lao Tzu has also made abundantly clear what is required of those of us who want to be in harmony with the Tao. Given the choice between doing and not doing, you must not do. If you want to BE in harmony with the Tao, don’t interfere, don’t intervene, don’t try to control, don’t dominate events, don’t try to force things. Because, then, you will NOT BE in harmony with the Tao.
When we interfere – well, Lao Tzu paints a graphic picture of the results, then, too. We can already see it all around us. This is what “doing” gets us.
The powerful among us, being the ordinary souls they are (see yesterday’s chapter for that), just don’t get it. They are so enslaved to their own will to power, they just keep doing, and doing, and doing. And, we are all made far, far worse because of it.
We need to be like the Master. We need to understand the whole. Then, and only then, can we truly view the parts with the compassion they so desperately need. Our constant practice must be humility. There is nothing quite like humility to keep you from doing.
Don’t be so prone to wanting to glitter like a jewel. Let yourself be shaped by the Tao. Oh, you may not end up being “pretty”, I am rather certain you will end up something a bit more useful than something to sit on a shelf, or in a vault somewhere. The Tao will shape you into something rugged, something common as a stone.
Now, wait just a doggone minute! That sounds a lot like “ordinary” to me. Didn’t we just talk, yesterday, about the merely ordinary, and we had nothing good to say about it? Oh, good, I am glad I have your attention. What Lao Tzu is doing, here, as only he can, is explaining what being extraordinary looks like. Oh, you will seem ordinary, there is nothing more ordinary looking than a common stone. But, what you will be on the inside is something “the powerful” will never be – truly extraordinary.