Immortal Virtue

“Recognize the male
but hold on to the female
and be the world’s maid
being the world’s maid
don’t lose your Immortal Virtue
not losing your Immortal Virtue
be a newborn child again
recognize the pure
but hold on to the base
and be the world’s valley
being the world’s valley
be filled with Immortal Virtue
being filled with Immortal Virtue
be a block of wood again
recognize the white
but hold on to the black
and be the world’s guide
being the world’s guide
don’t stray from your Immortal Virtue
not straying from your Immortal Virtue
be without limits again
a block of wood can be split to make tools
sags make it their chief official
a master tailor doesn’t cut”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 28, translation by Red Pine)

TE-CH’ING says, “To recognize the Way is hard. Once your recognize it, holding on to it is even harder. But only by holding on to it can you advance on the Way.”

MENCIUS says, “The great person does not lose their child heart” (Mencius: 4B:12).

WANG TAO says, “Sages recognize ‘that’ but hold on to ‘this.’ ‘Male’ and ‘female’ mean hard and soft. ‘Pure’ and ‘base’ mean noble and humble. ‘White’ and ‘black’ mean light and dark. Although hard, noble, and light certainly have their uses, hard does not come from hard but from soft, noble does not come from noble but from humble, and light does not come from light but from dark. Hard, noble, and light are the secondary forms and farther from the way. Soft, humble, and dark are the primary forms and closer to the Way. Hence, sages return to the original: a block of wood. A block of wood can be made into tools, but tools cannot be made into a block of wood. Sages are like blocks of wood, not tools. They are the chief officials and not functionaries.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “What has no limits is the Tao.”

CONFUCIUS says, “A great person is not a tool” (Lunyu: 2.12).

CHANG TAO-LING says, “To make tools is to lose sight of the Way.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Before a block of wood is split, it can take any shape. But once split, it cannot be round if it is square or straight if it is curved. Lao-tzu tells us to avoid being split. Once we are split, we can never return to our original state.”

PAO-TING says, “When I began butchering, I used my eyes. Now I use my spirit instead and follow the natural lines” (Chuangtzu: 3.2).

WANG P’ANG says, “Those who use the Tao to tailor leave no seams.”

Lao-tzu has called it Dark Virtue, and Empty Virtue. Now he refers to it as Immortal Virtue. Because it is dark and empty, it is hard to recognize; but once you recognize it, it is even harder to hold on to. Why is this? Is it not because we are ephemeral, while it is immortal? The Tao is limitless, while we are limited. This is why we must constantly be returning to our original nature. Like a maiden. Like a newborn child. Like a valley. We can be filled, if only we will allow ourselves to be empty. Be like that block of wood. There are no limits as to what kind of tools in which it can be shaped. Don’t be a tool. Be that block of wood. See things as they originally are. That block of wood. Whatever your trade, be it a butcher cutting into meat, or a tailor cutting into cloth. Be one with it.

Long time followers of my blog might remember a time when I posted one of Chuang-tzu’s stories, the one about the knife-wielding cook. PAO-TING was that knife-wielding cook. (Chuangtzu: 3.2).

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