As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.
Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.
The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Give and Take, a House of Cards
I recently began watching, for the very first time, the Netflix original series, House of Cards. I know, I know, what took me so long? I think I just knew that if I ever got started, I might not be able to pull myself away from it long enough to actually spend some time writing these blog posts. Sure enough, I have had some trouble dragging myself away between episodes, just long enough to begin typing. I find myself justifying myself with the inspiration Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, is giving me. In his opening monologue in the very first episode, he talked about give and take, as it relates to political reality in Washington, DC. Give and take. How convenient for me, as that just happens to be what today’s chapter is about.
How the Tao acts in the world versus how we act in the world, when we try to control things. It really is a matter of give and take.
The Tao acts like the bending of a bow. It happens naturally. It isn’t forced. It happens effortlessly. Excess and deficiency are adjusted as the top bends down and the bottom is bent up. The results are perfect balance, as it takes from what is too much, and gives to what isn’t enough.
How very different it is for those who intervene, who interfere, who use force, who wish to dominate, who try to control. Why do they do it? Regardless of what they say of their motivations, regardless of what they may even think of their own motivations, the root is they are seeking to preserve and protect, and even expand, their own power. They never have enough of that, and they are always wanting more.
Oh, they will say they have good intentions. They want to do something about perceived inequalities, injustice. But, no matter how good their intentions, they always end up going against the direction of the Tao. They just can’t leave that bow alone. To leave it to balance itself out, naturally; well, that might take too long. And, besides, can we really trust nature to work this out?
So it is that they take, not from what is too much, but from those who don’t have enough. And, they give, not to what isn’t enough, but to those who already have far too much. See, they end up making it personal. The Tao is all about impartiality. It is never something personal. But, that can’t be allowed to keep happening! Why, if we let that continue to happen, what will become of the people on top. All this talk of equality – with the Tao, it isn’t just empty platitudes. The Tao actually means business. The people on top want to be sure they will remain on top. And, that means making sure the people on the bottom remain right where they are. We certainly couldn’t have them bettering themselves. They might get dangerous notions in their heads. Notions like they are our equals. That we are no better than they. Nosirree, we can’t have that.
I just want to make clear that I am not the one who made it personal. And, the Tao has no interest in making it personal, either. It isn’t the Tao judging people. It treats everyone the same.
But those trying to control, do make it personal. They are the ones ensuring those on the bottom never rise up, and those on the top never come down.
The Master certainly isn’t like this. And, all the Frank Underwoods in Washington could certainly learn a thing or two from the Master’s example. The Master doesn’t take from anyone. The Master only gives. And, the Master can keep on giving, because there is no end to the wealth of the one who gives. Acting without expecting anything in return. No quid pro quo, no tit for tat. Succeeding without taking credit. No ego needing to be fed by accolades. The Master simply doesn’t think or act like anyone in Frank Underwood’s world. Choosing humility over pride. Not wishing to be, or needing to be, in the limelight. Not thinking themselves better than anyone else.
Okay, that is enough. I have another episode beckoning me.