A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
On Embodying the Light
In today’s chapter, let us remember, when Lao Tzu talks about good, he is not talking about a subjective good; one involving some kind of judgment, where some people see some things as good, and other things become bad. It is an objective good he is referring to, here. And, the bad we will get to in the last stanza is an objective bad.
He isn’t telling travelers, artists, or scientists, how to be good travelers, artists, or scientists. He is telling you and me how to be good. How to be available to all people, without rejecting anyone. How to be ready to use all situations, without wasting anything. In a sense, he is saying we are all fellow travelers, artists, and scientists.
Remember what Lao Tzu said yesterday. “The heavy is the root of the light.” We need to get back to the root to embody the light.
I read through Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter, and two things stood out to me. It was in the commentary by two different Chinese Taoists.
LU TUNG-PIN says, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”
And, WANG PI says, “These…tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.
It is only by practicing this goodness, naturally, that we will “return to the root from which we all began”.
But, what if we are bad at it?
Here is where the importance of being good comes into play. Why it is so vital to be available to all people and reject no one. Why we need to be ready to use all situations, and not waste a one.
What is a good person, a Master, but a bad person’s teacher? What is a bad person, but a good person’s job?
If you are good, you have a responsibility to others to be available; to not have your plans be rigid, to not be intent upon arriving, you need to let your intuition lead you wherever it wants, you need to be free of concepts, and keep your mind open to what is.
And, if you are bad, you have a responsibility to yourself; to learn from those who are available to you.
Understand, this is an objective responsibility, not a subjective one. This is a matter of returning to your root. Relying on nature. No one should, or even could, force this. Not even yourself.
But, this is the reason we get lost. We don’t understand. It isn’t a matter of intelligence, for it was our root “before our parents were born”. And, our intelligence was developed long after. Our intelligence often gets in the way of rediscovering our root. It is a great secret. But, if we are to embody the light, it starts with knowing we don’t know.