The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her her radiance.
The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.
The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.
Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
A Beautiful, No Make That a Radiant, Mind
Back in chapter fifteen, Lao Tzu talked about the ancient Masters. Calling them profound and subtle, he said their wisdom was unfathomable. There is no way to describe it; all we can describe is their appearance. In today’s chapter, once again, he points at the Master. And, he says, “The Master keeps her mind always at one with the Tao. That is what gives her her radiance.”
But, that just opens up a can of worms, doesn’t it?
We know (or, at least we should know, by now) the Tao is ungraspable. Just try to grasp what Lao Tzu says about the Tao in today’s chapter. “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not.” Yes, ungraspable. Dark, and unfathomable. How is it even possible for any of our minds to be at one with it? How can something dark and unfathomable make anyone radiant?
The Master must know something we don’t know. I suppose that is exactly the reason Lao Tzu is pointing at her. Admitting we don’t know is actually a good beginning. But, looking outside of ourselves to be enlightened isn’t the answer.
Lao Tzu pointing at the Master isn’t looking outside ourselves, either. Look at what he says at the end of this verse. How do I know this is true? I look inside myself and see.
The reason the Master’s mind (and therefore, our own minds) can be at one with the Tao is because she doesn’t cling to ideas. Let them go! Don’t hold on to them. Don’t be held, ensnared, by them.
What did I say was a good beginning? Knowing we don’t know. Ideas are anything we think we know. So, practice not-knowing. But, this practice is only the beginning. What follows is not-doing.
The reason the Master (and therefore, we) can be made radiant by the Tao is by letting it. As I am writing this, I have just been conversing with a mutual follower about the power of letting. I told my friend that I tend to emphasize yin, the passive, because I know that yang, the active, will surely follow. Letting sure seems strictly passive. That whole “do nothing” would seem to mean nothing gets done.
But, of course, that isn’t how things work in our universe. Yang inevitably follows yin, just as surely as yin follows yang. The Tao can be trusted to bring about a state of equilibrium. Nature simply works that way.
Now, you will have to forgive me. I have been relearning physics over the last several days, because I happen to be tutoring a 15 year old girl in physics. And, the chapter I have been preparing with her, for a test this week, is one on forces in equilibrium. Newton’s third law regarding every action resulting in an equal and opposite reaction is relevant. So, I just happen to have equilibrium on the brain right now.
The physics book has been helpful for me for helping her. But, if I couldn’t see it is true by looking inside myself, I wouldn’t know it is true.