Becoming Whole Depends on This

“The incomplete become whole
the crooked become straight
the hollow become full
the worn-out become new
those with less become content
those with more become confused
sages therefore hold on to one thing
and use this to guide the world
not considering themselves they appear
not displaying themselves they shine
not flattering themselves they succeed
not parading themselves they lead
because they don’t compete
no one can compete against them
the ancients who said the incomplete become whole
came close indeed
becoming whole depends on this”

(Taoteching, verse 22, translation by Red Pine)

CHUANG-TZU says, “Lao-tzu said everyone else seeks happiness. He alone saw that to be incomplete was to become whole” (Chuangtzu: 33.5).

WU CH’ENG says, “By exploring one side to its limits, we eventually find all sides. By grasping one thing, we eventually encompass the whole. The caterpillar bends in order to straighten itself. A hollow in the ground fills with water. The renewal of spring depends on the withering of fall. By having less, it’s easy to have more. By having more, it’s easy to become confused.”

WANG PI says, “As with a tree, the more of it there is, the farther it is from its roots. The less of it there is, the closer it is to its roots. ‘More’ means more distant from what is real. ‘Less’ means closer.”

WEI YUAN says, “One is the extreme of less. But whoever uses this as the measure for the world always finds more.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Only those who find but one thing can act like this. Thus to have less means to be content. The reason most people cannot act like this is because they have not found one thing. Thus, to have too much means to be confused.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The reason sages are able to be chief of all creatures is because they hold on to one thing. Holding on to this one thing, they never leave the Tao. Hence, they do not observe themselves but rely instead on the vision of others. They do not talk about their own strength but rely instead on the strengths of others. They stand apart and do not compete. Hence, no one can compete against them.”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Not observing themselves, they become whole. Not displaying themselves, they become upright. Not flattering themselves, they become complete. Not parading themselves, they become new.”

TZU-SSU says, “Only those who are perfectly honest can realize their nature and help others do the same. Next are those who are incomplete” (Chungyung; 22-23).

MENCIUS says, “We praise those who don’t calculate. We reproach those who try to be whole” (Mencius: 4A.21).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Those who are able to practice being incomplete keep their physical body whole. Those who depend on their mother and father suffer no harm.” (Mother is Tao. Father is Te or Virtue).

And Red Pine adds, ‘Lao-tzu’s path to wholeness is through incompleteness, but an incompleteness so incomplete that he is reduced to one thing.”

We ended last week with Lao-tzu talking about the waxing and waning, waning and waxing of the Tao. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu reveals what I would call the great secret. If you want to become whole, you must first be content with being incomplete. By being content with being incomplete, first, you open yourself up to the Tao’s waxing and waning. And, by opening yourself to the waxing and waning of the Tao, you put yourself in a place to become whole.

This is the Way of the Tao. The crooked become straight. The hollow become full. And, the worn-out become new.

The way of Humankind has things completely upside down. We want more, always more. We are never content with less. But, the pathway to true contentment only comes from being incomplete. It is those with less who become content. Those with more are never content. They never have enough. They always want more. This can only result in confusion.

So, there it is. How to become whole. Content yourself with less. Lao-tzu said, just hold on to one thing. Let everything else go. What is that one thing? I don’t think it is anything material. Material things, after all, come and go. They would be impossible to hold on to.

If you are going to be content with holding on to just one thing, Lao-tzu has some guidance for you.

First, don’t consider yourself. Second, don’t display yourself. Third, don’t flatter yourself. And fourth, don’t parade yourself. The way of Humankind tries to appear, shine, succeed, and lead, by putting themselves first. Lao-tzu would have you understand that you will appear, shine, succeed and lead by putting yourself last.

Don’t compete with others! That is huge! Oh, how we love to compete. But, if you don’t compete, no one can compete against you. That is the summation of everything Lao-tzu is saying in today’s verse. Make that your one thing, and you will come out on top.

Yes, this is counter to the way of Humankind. As we have been saying for quite some time now, you are different, you are choosing to be different, and you will be alone. But becoming whole depends on this.

Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:

TZU-SSU (D. 483 B.C.). Grandson of Confucius and author of the Chungyung.

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