A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.
Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.
What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this,
you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today’s chapter is, of course, a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying yesterday about how to be a good traveler. What he said about traveling yesterday didn’t include the idea of being good or bad at it. But with today’s chapter we can see what he was talking about more clearly. I do hope you read yesterday’s post; but, in case you didn’t, I want to touch on some things that will help us to better understand what he is saying today.
He talked about the heavy being the root of the light and the unmoved being the source of all movement. These are important to understand if you want to be a good traveler. Yesterday, we were talking about always remaining serenely in yourself, rather than being blown to and fro. Today, Lao Tzu talks about how to embody the light. And, I think it is important to understand what Lao Tzu must mean by light here. He isn’t talking about light as in illumination. He is talking about light as opposed to being heavy.
There. I did it again. Words can be so frustrating to me. In trying to explain how heavy and light interact together, like yin and yang, I still find myself referring to them as opposing each other. And that is not really accurate at all. I don’t mean to convey opposites, so much as complements. Light needs heavy. Heavy needs light. You can’t have one without the other. So, if we want to embody the light we can’t ignore its root which is the heavy.
This is important for us to understand as we look at today’s chapter and we talk about another yin and yang, the concept of good and bad. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin with looking at the hallmarks of the good traveler, artist, and scientist first.
Yesterday, seemed to be all about the traveler; and today, Lao Tzu continues with talking about that good traveler. The one who has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. I want to remind you, once again, that yesterday, Lao Tzu was spending his time talking about the importance of the heavy. He wants you anchored to home, where your heart is. The heavy, your anchor, your root, keeps you from being blown to and fro in your travels.
Today, we are onto talking about embodying the light. Just don’t forget the heavy. A good traveler isn’t blown to and fro in the wind; but, that anchor doesn’t keep him from embodying the light. In fact, it is because he doesn’t lose touch with who he is, that he is able to embody the light. A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. Letting your intuition lead you wherever it wants may seem very much like being blown to and fro in the wind. But, of course, reality is very different from appearances. This traveling artist, being good, isn’t letting go of his anchor. He isn’t being blown to and fro. He simply is going where his intuition leads him. In much the same way, a good scientist has freed himself of concepts. He keeps his mind open to what is. Concepts clutter and close the mind. A bad scientist can’t free himself from concepts of the way he thinks things should be. His mind isn’t open to the way things really are.
Traveler? Artist? Scientist? What is it that Lao Tzu is really saying to us today? He is differentiating between being good at something and being bad at it. For the Master, who is good at something, it is about embodying the light. And that means being available to everyone and rejecting none. It means being ready to use all situations you may encounter. And not to waste a thing. As a traveler. Or, an artist. Or, a scientist. You want to be a good one. I know you do.
And that brings us to how the good and bad complement each other. Yes, they are yin and yang as well. I think it goes without saying that we are not talking about good and evil here. This isn’t about moral judgments.
Far from it. We are talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice. The teacher and the student. In your travels you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and a variety of people. Many are going to be much better at some things than you are. And, many times, you are going to be better at some things than other people you will encounter along your way.
Lao Tzu wants us to embody the light in order to be available to everyone that we encounter. What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Every master (or teacher) needs an apprentice (or student). And where would the apprentice (or student) be, without the master (or teacher)? Sometimes I find myself being one and sometimes I am the other. That all depends on the situation and the people I encounter. I have found it so in my own life that whenever I was particularly bad at something, someone that was good at it came along. How fortuitous! I also believe that I have fortuitously come along to help out when someone else has been particularly bad at something I was good at.
That is how yin and yang works. The ebb and flow of nature’s way. But that just shows how important it really is that we aren’t bound by fixed plans and concepts. That we aren’t so intent on arriving that we aren’t available to help, or be helped. It takes a mind that is open to the way things really are. That means being attuned to our intuition and going where it leads us.
This may be one of the most important things for you to know. Lao Tzu calls it the great secret. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, he says.