The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.
If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.
When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.
All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
It is Time to Stop
In yesterday’s blog post, I argued that peace is the highest value, that it is impossible for us to be content if the peace has been shattered. It is the way things are, and can’t be avoided. There will be repercussions when we use force to get our way. When we use violence, we should expect that to rebound on us. It will. We talked about things to avoid, yesterday. But, what things should we affirm? That is the subject of today’s chapter.
I realize it is wise to tread lightly when it comes to the positive side of things. Libertarians, such as myself, tend to focus more on the negative. Things not to do. And, less on the positive. Things to do. And, with good reason. That reason is the same issue of force we have been talking about for days now. I can’t force this. You can’t force this. No matter how good our intentions. No matter how much we may think we know better.
The Tao, the way things are, is so infinitesimally small, and yet it contains countless galaxies. How can we even wrap our minds around that? How could we center ourselves in that, and then stay centered?
Stephen Mitchell’s translation brings up powerful men and women with good reason, also. It is because powerful men and women have the most power (duh!) to do either harm or good. And, sadly, it is when their intentions are the most good, they do the most harm. They can’t force this, either. All the power they have attained is never going to be enough to do anything but great harm.
This is why the positive side of things, the things to do, seem like doing nothing, to sit back and let things happen, without trying to control them.
But, I already said that it isn’t that nothing gets done. It is doing without doing we are talking about, here.
Oh, if only the powerful could master that. Then, all things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.
This is being in harmony with the way things are. With peace being our highest value because peace is the highest value.
So, I said we had already covered the things to avoid, and today is going to be about the things to affirm.
And, here it is. Know that names and forms are only provisional. Know when the functions of institutions should end. Know when to stop. I know, I know, this affirming is still focusing on getting back to the yin side of things, when we are still wanting to go all yang all over the place. But, if we know when to stop, we can avoid any danger.
That is what we need to be affirming. That it is time to stop. Just like rivers stop, when they flow into the sea.