A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon 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.
-Lao Tzu- (Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu started talking about how to be a good traveler. It was there, that he introduced the idea of the heavy being the root of the light. Yesterday, his emphasis was on the importance of the heavy. But, yin and yang being what they are, today, we are going to talk about embodying the light. How do we embody the light? By understanding the great secret: good and bad need each other.
Traveler? Artist? Scientist? These aren’t just random vocations Lao Tzu is pulling out of thin air. We are all fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. He could have just as easily referred to the generic “human” here. But, he is using these metaphors to illustrate a point. We are going to be good at some things and bad at others. It is the human condition. But, it is essential that we be good at these things. Otherwise, we will be lost.
So, the good traveler is a metaphor for our need to let go of fixed plans, and not to be so intent on arriving. The good artist is a metaphor for our need to be guided by our intuition. The good scientist is a metaphor for opening our mind to the way things really are.
Obviously, we can be bad at these things. And, often we are. We carefully make our travel plans, intent on arriving; because it is the destination, and not the journey, that interests us. But Lao Tzu would have us understand that it is the journey and not the destination that is of prime importance. The journey is everything. The destination? Who knows what the future holds. We need to be available to all; and ready for whatever situation. There is no other way to go with the flow than that. You need to learn to trust your intuition. And, you can never learn to trust your intuition until you start, well, trusting your intuition. We all have these fixed concepts and preconceived notions through countless years of, well, call it what you want: brainwashing, indoctrination. We have become so inured to the way things seem to be. Can we open ourselves to the way things actually are?
When Lao Tzu is talking about being good or bad, he is 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 people. Many are going to be much better at some things than you are. And, many will be worse.
This highlights the importance of following your intuition. What is it we have been saying about being open to the Tao and doing what comes naturally? Everything falls into place. The Master is available to all. And never has to reject anyone. Whatever situation he finds himself in, he never lets a thing go to waste. That is embodying the light.
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 particularly good at it, came along. How fortuitous! I also believe I have fortuitously come along to help out when someone else has been particularly bad at something that I am good at.
That is how yin and yang works. The ebb and flow of nature’s way. It just goes to show us how important it is to not be bound by fixed plans and concepts. To not be 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.
Lao Tzu calls this the great secret. There isn’t any shortage of people who are good and people who are bad. There is only a shortage of people who are following their intuition and making themselves available. It isn’t a question of intelligence. It is a question of embodying the light. Understand this, so you won’t get lost.