“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 unconsciously 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 but 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.”
We have come to the end of another week. In yesterday’s verse, Lao-tzu listed 7 defining characteristics of those who uphold the Way. With today’s verse, Lao-tzu takes us step by step through the process having these defining characteristics take us.
It all really begins with keeping emptiness as your limit. For me, this just demonstrates how differently Lao-tzu thinks, than most people. As we have said before, the Way of the Tao is very different from the way of Humankind. For Humankind, fullness is our limit. I won’t stop until I am full. Lao-tzu has things quite upside-down, antithetical to the way we think. He wants our limit to be emptiness. Forget about fullness. See how empty you can be.
Let stillness be your center. Humankind prefers activity. We want to be doing something. Anything. To be at rest seems a waste of our precious time. I need to be doing something. And being still, being at rest, just doesn’t fit the bill. Except that our lives are always going to be a bit murky (like the puddle from yesterday’s verse) until we still ourselves, until we center ourselves, then the Way becomes clear.
Empty and still. This is where we begin. Now, observe nature. Watch as the ten thousand things rise. They rise from their roots. Like trees, like flowers, blooming in the spring. For a time they flourish. Then, watch, as they return. They return to their roots. As you are reading this, if you live in the northern hemisphere, we are fast approaching the winter solstice. Where I live we have been having a bout of winter-like temperatures. Winter seems to have arrived already. A wonderful stillness has descended upon us.
Being still they revive. Yes, we can see that in nature. My daughter lives in Australia (in the southern hemisphere); and there, they have been experiencing that revival for some months. We see it in nature; but, can we experience it in our own living. Being still, for a season. And then reviving. And enduring. Because we were still. And we revived.
Knowing how, Lao-tzu says, is wisdom. Not knowing is suffering in vain. Why, oh why, do we suffer? What vanity it is! All because we don’t know how to endure. We endure by being still. By emptying ourselves of every thing that would fill us up with vanity.
Knowing how, says Lao-tzu, is to yield. Instead of pressing on. Instead of forcing things. Instead of trying to control. Instead of intervening and interfering. Just yield to the natural process. It is time to be empty. To be still. To return to our roots. Then we will revive.
Yielding means being impartial. Not favoring one outcome over another. Not calling that beautiful and good, at the expense of this becoming ugly and bad.
Can you do this? For if you can, then you are upholding the Way. The Way of a long life, a life without trouble.
I could stop there. I kind of planned to, actually. But as I was typing that word, trouble, it suddenly dawned on me that Lao-tzu isn’t promising us a life without troubles (with an s, plural). Trouble and troubles are two very different things. A life without trouble doesn’t mean the same thing as a life without troubles. Oh, you will have troubles. I can promise you that.
But, troubles come and go. You can handle those. Just go with the flow. And, it won’t be any trouble, at all.