“Keeping emptiness as their limit
and stillness as their center
ten thousand things rise
we watch them return
creatures without number
return to their roots
returning to their roots they are still
being still they revive
reviving they endure
knowing how to endure is wisdom
not knowing is to suffer in vain
knowing how to endure is to yield
to yield is to be impartial
to be impartial is to be the ruler
the ruler is Heaven
Heaven is the Way
and the Way is long life
a life without trouble”
(Taoteching, verse 16, translation by Red Pine)
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Emptiness is the Way of Heaven. Stillness is the Way of Earth. There is nothing that is not endowed with these. And everything rises by means of them.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “What is meant here by emptiness is not utter emptiness but the absence of fullness. And what is meant by stillness is not complete stillness but everything unconsicously returning to its roots.”
HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “Heaven has its fulcrum, people have their ancestors, and plants have their roots. And where are these roots? They are where things begin u have not yet begun, namely, the Dark Gate. If you want to cultivate the Great Way but don’t know where this entrance is, your efforts will be in vain.”
SU CH’E says, “We all rise from our nature and return to our nature, just as flowers and leaves rise from their roots and return to their roots, or just as waves rise from a river and return to the river. If you don’t return to your nature, even if you still your actions and your thoughts, you won’t be still. Heaven and Earth, mountains and rivers might be great, but none of them endures. Only what returns to its nature becomes still and enduring, while what does not return to its nature is at the mercy of others and cannot escape.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Those who embrace all things are impartial and selfless become great examples to others, who thus turn to them as their rulers.”
TE-CH’ING says, “To know what truly endures is to know that Heaven and Earth share the same root, that the ten thousand things share one body, and that there is no difference between self and others. Those who cultivate this within themselves become sages, while those who practice this in the world become rulers. Rulers become rulers by following the Way of Heaven. And Heaven becomes Heaven by following the Tao. And the Tao becomes the Tao by lasting forever.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “To know the unchanging course of the Way is to be free of passion and desire and to yield. To yield is to be free of self-interest. To be free of self-interest is to rule the world. To rule the world is to merge your virtue with that of Heaven. And to merge your virtue with that of Heaven is to be one with the Way. If you can do this, you will last as long as Heaven and Earth and live without trouble.”
LI JUNG says, “Sages enjoy life without limits.”
And RED PINE adds, “Our knowledge is the knowledge of twigs. Lao-tzu’s knowledge is the knowledge of roots.”
Emptiness and stillness are themes on which we have been spending a considerable amount of our time. And, it was good to be reminded, again, what Lao-tzu means by emptiness and stillness. As Lu Hui-ch’ing points out, “What is meant by emptiness is not utter emptiness but the absence of fullness. And what is meant by stillness is not complete stillness but everything unconsciously returning to its roots.”
Keeping this emptiness as their limit, and stillness as their center, see how the ten thousand things rise, only to return to their roots. They rise from their roots and return to their roots. And it isn’t a conscious thing. This is important to understand. Trying to return to your roots is not the Way. Be still. Don’t try.
In returning to their roots they are still, and in being still they endure. Knowing how to endure is wisdom. Not knowing how to endure is to suffer. We suffer, and it is all in vain, because we don’t know what we think we know.
Knowing how to endure is to yield. To know that we don’t know. To be impartial. It is an unconscious thing. It is to overcome being self-aware. To not try, to just be.
To know how to endure is to know what truly endures, the Unchanging Course of the Way. As Te Ch’ing teaches, “Heaven and Earth share the same root, the ten thousand things share one body, and there is no difference between self and others.”
Stop making distinctions. There is no difference. Cultivate this understanding within yourself. Put it into practice in your world.
As Ho-shang Kung says, “To know the unchanging course of the Way is to be free of passion and desire and to yield.” It is to be free of self-interest.
Free, here, doesn’t mean the absence of passion and desire and self-interest. Just like emptiness doesn’t mean utter emptiness. It is the absence of fullness that sets you free. Of passion, of desire, of self-interest. Trying to empty yourself of these things won’t work. Maybe I need to say that again. Trying to empty yourself of passion, and desire, and self-interest won’t work. Trying to do so, you will suffer in vain.
This isn’t something you can be conscious of. That thread we have been talking about isn’t discernible. But knowing your limit and guarding your center, you can let it happen. Creatures without number returning to their roots.
It is, as Li Jung puts it, to “enjoy life without limits.”