Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.
The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Let’s Talk Free Will
On Thursday of last week, in my commentary on chapter 49, I compared Thomas Jefferson’s idea of equality (that we are all endowed with the same natural, inalienable rights) with Lao Tzu’s idea of equality (that we shouldn’t make distinctions, instead treating everyone the same). In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches about what is in the very nature of every being.
In Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation, Lao Tzu doesn’t even make distinctions between different and diverse beings; saying, every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao.
Each springs into existence perfect and free. Though they enter this existence unconscious of their perfection and freedom, they take on a physical body and let circumstances complete them. In other words, letting circumstances complete us is as natural to us as taking on our physical bodies.
Lao Tzu says the Tao gives birth to all beings. He doesn’t mean this in a literal sense. He means it metaphorically. This is the way things are in our universe. We are nature’s creation. And, as we harmonize with nature, it nourishes us, maintains us, cares for us, comforts us, protects us; and, in the end, takes us back to itself.
Now, some might argue, “Where is the freedom in any of this? Do we even have a choice in the matter?
But, of course, Lao Tzu talks about this all of the time. He talks about going against the current of the Tao. Of not being in harmony with it. Of having forgotten it. So, do we really have free will? Of course, we do. And, we exercise it all of the time. Whenever we act according to our nature, and when we don’t.
The Tao isn’t a tyrant. It creates without possessing. It acts without expecting. It guides without interfering.
Those aren’t the actions of a tyrant.
What it is, instead, is love. Not a subjective love, which makes distinctions. But an objective love. The love of the Tao is in the very nature of things.
But, that means the love of the Tao is also in our very nature. The more you harmonize with it, the more you love it; and, the more you love all expressions of the Tao, your fellow beings in the universe.
You are free to choose. You can choose not to love. But, that goes against your very nature. And, when you choose to go against your nature, with nature itself, you can expect there to be dire consequences. Freedom always comes with consequences.
You are free to choose. So, choose wisely. Choose love.