In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way things are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The Master views the parts with compassion
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel,
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I said that the Tao is everything. When the Tao is lost, it is our connectedness with everything that is lost. That is when things start to go horribly wrong in our lives and by extension in our world.
Things are just so much better when we are in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu describes it in this chapter as pristine. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full earth. All creatures flourishing together. And everyone content with the way things are, endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed. That is what being connected with the Tao and thus, everything, means.
But when we lose our connectedness to everything we start to interfere with the Tao. Why? Because we are lost and confused. And soon that pristine picture of a beautiful world is replaced with a dystopian vision. The sky is becoming filthy. The earth is becoming depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct.
Many of us look around at the world we live in and see the dystopian vision being played out. We don’t like it, but we wonder what can one individual do.
The answer is that one individual, who hasn’t lost his connection with everything, can make all the difference in the world. It takes compassion and understanding. And it takes humility.
That one individual, that Lao Tzu calls the Master, views the parts with compassion. He views the parts with compassion because he understands the whole. He understands his connection to the whole. He sees how the parts have been severed from the whole. How they have lost their connectedness to the whole. And he chooses to act as a pattern for the world. To show each separate part how to get reconnected to the whole. And, this takes making humility our constant practice. You can’t be interested in glittering like a jewel. Glittering jewels attract attention to themselves. And that takes attention away from the whole. Being a pattern is letting the Tao shape you into whatever you need to be, rugged and common as stone. Just like any other stone. Not very attractive. Not drawing attention to itself. Only drawing attention to the Tao. That is everything.
Get this settled, once and for all. Nature wins in the end. Oh, we can interfere with the Tao. And, we often do. And mess things up quite badly. But nature does win in the end.
Back years ago, when I was a child, my family had a large garden in our backyard. I remember vividly how we took a plot of ground that was covered in grass and turned it into a garden. Getting rid of all the grass, battling with weeds for years, and harvesting what had to be tons of rocks as we plowed and then tilled year after year. I never liked working in that garden because I hated having to constantly deal with the weeds and the rocks. We got lots of yummy (and some, not so yummy) vegetables out of that garden as a reward for that hard work, but I still didn’t like it. Which is why I am very happily now gardening the lazy way with a raised garden bed. No more rocks and weeds! But getting back to my story, we only had that garden until all us kids had grown up and moved away. Then my parents gave that garden back to nature. And in a few short years you would never know that a thriving garden had once been there.
My Dad didn’t have to do anything to let nature return things to equilibrium. We had been battling with nature for years to have that garden. And nature put up quite the fight. Winning in the end. That is just one story. And I am sure you have your own personal ones. The fact is that every man-made thing is going to last only so long as nature allows it to last.
So, don’t be discouraged by the dystopian vision you see. Nature will win in the end. Don’t worry about nature. Of course, you could worry about us humans. We may not survive our habitual interfering. That is why it takes individuals, like you, like me, who will act with compassion and understanding. Yes, and with humility too. Don’t forget humility. And be the pattern of the way you want the world to be. The Tao will take care of shaping you. Just let yourself be shaped.