Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I spent a lot of time explaining the principles of yin and yang and gave only passing notice to the other thing that Lao Tzu was talking about in the chapter, how we are to interact with our world. In the chapters preceding it, Lao Tzu identified us humans as one of the great powers and lords of the country. Because of our status as lords, we would like to be able to do great things in our world. And, Lao Tzu has plenty to say to us about what we can and cannot expect to do.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about receiving the world in our arms. Which speaks to me of embracing it. He spoke about being a pattern for the world. Which shows the proper role of a lord. Being an example. And, he said that we need to accept the world as it is. That is very important. And , lest, I miss how important it is to accept the world as it is, Lao Tzu starts off today’s chapter asking the question, “Do you want to improve the world?”
This is expanding on this theme of what we can and cannot expect to do. We need to accept the world as it is. For those of us that don’t think we can quite do that, we might have the heady notion that we can improve on it. And Lao Tzu stops us dead in our tracks. “I don’t think it can be done.”
And this is probably the fundamental reason why it is so important that we accept the world as it is. Instead of having delusions of grandeur, supposing we can improve upon it. Lao Tzu tells us that the world is sacred. It can’t be improved. We can embrace it. We can be a pattern for it. We can accept it. But we better not try to tamper with it. That is the surest way to ruin it. If we treat it like an object, we’ll lose it. No, we better get this one thing settled. There are things that lords of the country can expect to do. And, there are things that we better not do.
And Lao Tzu has some things to say that will help us to understand better how we can do what we need to do, while not daring to try the things we must not do. He says, part of accepting the world as it is, is understanding that there is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion and a time for being at rest. There is a time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger.
Besides being examples of yin and yang balancing things out in the Universe, these help us to see things as they are, without trying to control them. That is what the Master does. And that is what all us little lords need to do. Let things go their own way without trying to control them. Instead, reside at the center of the circle.
We keep talking about that circle. And, Lao Tzu keeps telling us to stay at the center of it. The circle, remember, is everything. And we, by residing at the center of it, are leaving everything to the Tao. The Tao will achieve balance and order. All in its time.