“Whispered words are natural
a gale doesn’t last all morning
a squall doesn’t last all day
who creates these
Heaven and Earth
if Heaven and Earth can’t make things last
how much less can Humankind
thus in whatever you do
when you follow the Way be one with the Way
when you succeed be one with success
when you fail be one with failure
be one with success
for the Way succeeds too
be one with failure
for the Way fails too
(Taoteching, verse 23, translation by Red Pine)
WU CH’ENG says, “‘Whispered’ means not heard. ‘Whispered words’ mean no words. Those who reach the Tao forget about words and follow whatever is natural.”
WANG CHEN says, “Whispered words require less effort. Hence, they conform to the natural Way.”
LU NUNG-SHIH says, “Something is natural when nothing can make it so, and nothing can make it not so.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “If the greatest forces wrought by Heaven and Earth cannot last, how can the works of Humankind?”
SU CH’E says, “The words of sages are faint, and their deeds are plain. But they are always natural. Hence, they can last and not be exhausted.”
TE-CH’ING says, “This verse explains how sages forget about words, embody the Tao, and change with the seasons. Elsewhere, Lao-tzu says, ‘Talking only wastes it / better to conserve the inside’ [verse 5]. Those who love to argue get farther from the Way. They aren’t natural. Only those whose words are whispered are natural. Lao-tzu uses wind and rainstorms as metaphors for the outbursts of those who love to argue. They can’t maintain such a disturbance and dissipation of breath very long. Because they don’t really believe in the Tao, their actions don’t accord with the Tao. They haven’t learned the secret of how to be one.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who pursue the Way are natural. Natural means free from success and hence free from failure. Such people don’t succeed and don’t fail but simply go along with the successes and failures of the age. Or if they do succeed or fail, their minds are not affected.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Those who pursue the Way are able to leave their selves behind. No self is the Way. Success. Failure. I don’t see how they differ.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are one with success enjoy succeeding. Those who are one with failure enjoy failing. Water is wet, and fire burns. This is their nature.”
And RED PINE adds, “Success, failure, both lead to the Way. But the path of failure is shorter.”
Speaking no words would be perfection. But, as we talked about with yesterday’s verse, we should be content with being incomplete. So, when it comes to speaking, less is better than more. What we want to reach is oneness with the natural Way. To be more natural in everything we say, everything we do.
What does it mean to be natural? I particularly like what Lu Nung-shih says about it, “Something is natural when nothing can make it so, and nothing can make it not so.”
Lao-tzu uses the metaphors of wind and rain to illustrate this natural Way. Heaven and Earth, great as they are, can’t make the wind and rain last. So, Humankind, great as we may be, can’t make our works last. But, we can be natural. As Su Ch’e says, our words can be faint, our deeds plain. Then, being natural, they can last, not being exhausted.
As Chiao Hung says, when we pursue the Way we are being natural. We experience freedom from success, and therefore freedom from failure. And freedom, here, doesn’t mean we don’t succeed or fail. It means it doesn’t affect us.
Oneness with the Tao, with the natural Way means leaving the self behind, as Lu Hui-ch’ing says. “No self is the Way.” The delusions of distinctions between success and failure won’t affect us any longer. We won’t see how they differ.
What Ho-shang Kung says, talking about the nature of water and fire, is both humorous and spot on. What we are doing is returning to simply being what we are by nature.
But, as we said earlier, being incomplete is the path to becoming whole. Which is why we must be content with being incomplete. Being incomplete means, if we still yet make distinctions between success and failure, we should hold on to failure as being the shorter path to wholeness.
I want to give a shout-out to one of my mutual followers on tumblr, westdesertsage. He messaged me months ago, and recommended I check out Red Pine’s translation of the Taoteching; and we know where that has taken us. Sam and I have had several conversations over the course of the last few months, and he also sent me a link to his website devoted to a book he had been working on, Progress Debunked, which he was busy finishing. Due to my interest in it, he graciously offered me an advance copy of it, which I received in the mail just a few days ago (as I am typing this). In his book, he debunks the notion that we can ever “progress” to a point beyond a “Creation-Destruction Balance” of joy and suffering, success and failure. While I am only half-way into the book, I can already highly recommend it to all my followers, when it actually comes out.
The real reason for my mentioning this book, though, is because of what Lao-tzu says in today’s verse. “The Way fails too.” Of course we would like to always succeed. But failure is often going to be our reality. Why? Because failure is just as much a part of reality as success. And, coming to grips with that is necessary for being one with the Way.