What We All Yearn For

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is another one of my favorites in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu has been teaching us about the need to rely on the Tao in every aspect of our lives. By relying on the Tao, we will have a life of ease; rather than one of struggle. Today’s chapter begins with an elementary physics lesson. It is one we all learned when we were very young. It is how to interact with others. Like how we should interact on the playground as children. When we rely on the Tao in governing people (that word, governing, can easily be translated as interacting with), we won’t try to force issues, or defeat our enemies by force of arms. Bullies on the playground may be feared, but are they respected? Are they accepted? No! For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even the well-intentioned variety of violence, always rebounds upon one’s self. This is a law. It always is this way.

We have been talking about how being one with the Tao depends on our relationship with the Earth. The world is sacred, and it can’t be improved. We shouldn’t treat it like an object. That will only result in our losing it. We must accept the world as it is. We must follow it to be lived by the Tao. And, what will be the result? When we accept the world as it is, the world will accept us.

This has been a wild week. It began with the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston being turned into a debate over a symbol, the confederate flag. And it ended with a whole lot of rainbow flags being proudly displayed. I have never been one to get all excited about waving any flag. A flag is just a symbol. I always wonder, where is the substance? I understand the passion on both sides of these issues. But I don’t understand why we exchange substance for symbolism.

Caught up in the drama of the last few days, I think we have a tendency to forget the elementary physics that govern our world. The Universe is forever out of our control. The Master understands this. That is why he simply does his job and then stops. He doesn’t try to control. He doesn’t try to force issues. He doesn’t resort to force of arms. He doesn’t try to dominate events. He understands what violence will end up doing to himself. He doesn’t wish to go against the current of the Tao.

Ultimately, what accepting the world as it is comes down to, is believing in yourself, being content with yourself, and accepting yourself. You don’t have to convince others, when you believe in yourself. You don’t need others’ approval, when you are content with yourself. And, most importantly of all, when you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

That is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child in our world. To be accepted, just as we are. We yearn to be free of violence. We yearn for acceptance. So, go ahead, all of you; raise your flag; display it proudly. But remember that your symbol, is just that, a symbol. The substance comes in believing in yourself, in being content with yourself, in accepting yourself, just as you are. Don’t worry about others’ approval. You don’t have to convince others, if you can just be convinced in yourself.

The Universe is forever out of our control; but it is governed by elementary laws. The Universe follows the Tao. The Earth, our world, follows the Universe. And we, when we accept ourselves, follow the Earth. When you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

What Time Is It?

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we are continuing talking about our relationship with the world in which we live. The Earth is our home. As we follow it, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao, we are one with the Tao and have great power. We are one of the four great powers. So, let’s talk about that power. What do we have the power to do? We have the power to receive the world in our arms. We have the power to be a pattern for the world. And, we have the power to accept the world as it is. These are all great powers. But none is more great than the power to accept the world as it is. When we avail ourselves of that power, the Tao will be luminous inside of us and we will return to our primal selves. When we don’t avail ourselves of that power, we might start thinking we can improve the world. But that is one power that Lao Tzu doesn’t think we have.

If we are going to accept the world as it is, we need to get this one thing settled: The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. Trying to improve the world is tampering with the very nature of things. The world is sacred. It is already a perfect home for us. When we treat it like it is an object to be exploited, we place ourselves in very real danger. The danger is that we will ruin it, that we will lose it. And then where will we be? No longer lords, that is for sure.

So, how do we avoid tampering with it? How do we truly accept the world, just as it is; not as an object, but as something subject to the natural laws governing our Universe?

Once again, the complementary relationship of yin and yang show us the way. Accepting means agreeing that there is a time for everything. And, letting things come and go according to their time. There is a time for yang to be in ascendancy. And, there is a time for yin to be in ascendancy. This is simply accepting the way things are. Things in our world, our Universe, are always in a state of flux. Change is the only constant.

There is a time for being ahead. But there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion. But there is also a time for being at rest. There is a time for being rigorous. But there is also a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe. But there is also a time for being in danger. Yin and yang, being what they are, these all follow each other. Much as the Earth follows the Universe, and the Universe follows the Tao.

We want to follow the Earth, not tamper with it, not interfere with it. When we go against the flow, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, or when we try to put things in motion that need to be at rest, or when we push ourselves to be vigorous when we are already exhausted, we will find ourselves in danger, when we could have been safe.

We really need to follow the example of the Master, who sees things as they are, and not as we may wish them to be. She doesn’t tamper with the natural order. She never tries to control. She just lets things go their own way, knowing there is a time for everything. She resides at the center of the circle, the most sacred place of all. It is there we let all things take their course. It is there the Tao does nothing, yet, through it, all things are done. That is where we need to reside. It is when we venture out, away from the center of the circle, that things start to get chaotic, and the temptation to interfere becomes strong. But if we will stay in the center of the circle, that most sacred place, we, too, can do nothing, while letting all things get done.

Know The Yang, Yet Keep To The Yin

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Over the last few days, we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth governs our lives. Today’s chapter, once again, finds us talking about how to relate to the world in which we live. And, of course, that means yin and yang are at the forefront as we learn to follow the Earth in its natural rhythms. Yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe; and so, in our world. Understanding this, we can be lived by the Tao and find all things falling into place as we do what comes naturally.

What is today’s theme? “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Male, white, and personal, these are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal, these are all yin. We aren’t supposed to prefer one to the other. We are supposed to let them balance each other out. If we know the yang, while keeping to the yin, we will receive the world in our arms, be a pattern for the world, and come to accept the world as it really is. The balance of yin and yang in our lives means the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

I mentioned that word luminous, yesterday. We are wanting to embody the light. The Tao is the Source of that light; but remember, the Tao is inside each of us. So the light we are embodying is within each of us. Understanding how yin and yang complement each other in our lives, we become like a little child. That little child is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s that he returns to again and again. As a metaphor, that little child doesn’t just represent innocence to us, it speaks of unlimited potential. There is nothing that little child cannot become. All of the potential in the Universe is bound up inside that child, just waiting to be manifest.

We are familiar enough with how female and male complement each other. Combined together, the unlimited potential of a little child is brought into being. We are speaking metaphorically here. That little child represents our primal selves.

How are we to interact in, and with, our world? We need to return to our primal selves, to be like a little child, again. Receive the world in your arms. Be a pattern for the world. And, finally, accept the world as it is. This is how we return to our primal selves. This is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

We understand how female and male work together to produce a child. We are also familiar with how black and white work together to make a pattern. The yin yang symbol shows the balance of black and white flowing and interacting together. But then things get a little harder, when we start trying to understand the interaction of the impersonal and the personal. How often have you heard someone say, “Now don’t take this personally.” Don’t take it personally? How else am I supposed to take it? Because there is one thing I can be sure of, right now. The next words out of your mouth are going to be very personal. How do we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal? It is so very important to get this one right. After all, this is how to accept the world as it is. And that is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

But Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us without any help to understand. After talking about a little child (there is nothing more personal than a little child) he then goes on to talking about an uncarved block of wood. That is where today’s chapter takes a strange turn from the personal to the impersonal. Let’s see if we can see how they relate. He says, the world in which we live was formed from the void. Notice how the personal is formed from the impersonal: like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the block. That uncarved block of wood is like that little child. It contains within it, unlimited potential. What will it become? It could be anything. How about a set of utensils? Yes, that would do nicely. But it could be anything. And even after she has carved out the utensils, she still keeps before her all the potential of that uncarved block. That is how she can use all things. Personally and impersonally.

Now, go ahead and finish saying what you were getting ready to say. The thing that you didn’t want me to take personally. I think I am ready now. That uncarved block of wood will show me the way.

The Great Secret

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)

When, in yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about light, he was talking about a different kind of light. Light as it relates to heavy. Today, when he is talking about embodying the light, he is talking about the illuminating kind of light. We aren’t talking about trying to shine, we are talking about how to let the light shine in and through us. How do we embody the light? By understanding the great secret: good and bad need each other.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how to be a good traveler; but he brings it up again, today, along with how to be a good artist, and how to be a good scientist. Traveler? Artist? Scientist? These aren’t just random vocations that Lao Tzu is pulling out of thin air. We are, all of us, fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. He could have easily referred to the generic “human” here; but he is using these metaphors to illustrate a point. The point being that we can be a good traveler, artist, and scientist; or, we could be bad. Lao Tzu wants to show us how to be good, otherwise, we will get lost.

The good traveler is a metaphor for our need to let go of fixed plans: to not be so intent on arriving. The good artist is a metaphor for our need to be guided by our intuition: to let it lead us wherever it wants. The good scientist is a metaphor for opening our mind to the way things really are.

We can, of course, be bad at these things. Often, we are. We make our travel plans, intent on arriving; because it is our destination, not the journey, that interests us. But Lao Tzu would have us understand that it is the journey, and not the destination, which is of prime importance. The journey is everything. Why? Because we want to be available; ready for anything life happens to bring our way. That destination entices us, yes; but who knows what the future holds? We need to be available to all; ready for whatever situation. There is no other way to go with the flow than that. Don’t confuse this with being blown to and fro. We covered that yesterday when we talked about the heavy being the root of the light. In our travels, we are rooted, grounded. But we still need to be available, ready.

We need to learn to trust our intuition. How do we learn to do that? Can we trust our intuition? Through countless years of programming, aka education, indoctrination, brainwashing, we have established and fixed concepts, preconceived notions, that tend to drown out that still, small voice of intuition. But it is there, however still, however small, if we will just listen. Though we have become inured to the way things seem to be, we can open ourselves to the way things actually are.

When Lao Tzu talks about being good or bad, he is talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice, between the teacher and the student. In your travels, you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and people. Are you ready? Are you available? Over and over again you will find yourself in situations where you are either good or bad. Are you prepared to be either the teacher or the student, the master or the apprentice?

This is why it is so important to trust 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.

We need to embody the light, in order to be available to everyone that we encounter; both those who are good and those who are bad. A good man is a bad man’s teacher. A bad man is a good man’s job. Sometimes, I find myself being one; and sometimes, I am the other. Situations change. People come into and go out of your life. Have you been ready and available to all?

Are you open to what is? Are you letting your intuition lead you wherever it wants? Nature’s way has an ebb and flow; yin and yang complement each other. Free yourself of fixed plans and concepts. Don’t be so intent on arriving that you aren’t available to help, or to be helped by, a fellow traveler.

There never is a 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. It is the great secret. Understand this, and you won’t get lost.

 

When Lords Flit About Like Fools

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu identified humans as one of the four great powers. What makes humans great is that we follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao. Our greatness depends on our relationship with the Earth. In an earlier chapter, Lao Tzu told us that in dwelling we need to live close to the ground. What he was saying is that we need to maintain a close connection with the Earth. Our greatness is tempered by our respect for the Earth. In order to be great, we need to always be picking up on its natural rhythms and follow them. The Earth isn’t ours to exploit. We are subordinate to it. We depend on the Earth’s richness and goodness for our very survival. Sadly, I think we have largely forgotten that.

Today, Lao Tzu continues this theme of our relationship with the Earth and our greatness as lords of the country. What is a fitting way for lords to behave? And what is not? Once again, he falls back on yin and yang to show us how to be.

The complementary relationship of yin and yang is something we have been talking about since chapter two. Yin and yang create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, they follow each other. There is that word, follow, again.

We need to understand how yin and yang follow each other in order to achieve balance and harmony. That is how we will have balance and harmony in our own lives. The yin and yang in today’s chapter is heavy and light, the unmoved and all movement. The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement. We want to never lose touch with our root. And we want to make sure that all our movement has, as its source, the unmoved.

To show us how to do this, Lao Tzu offers us the example of the Master. She can travel all day without leaving home. How does she do this? However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself. She never loses touch with her root. It is her anchor. The views maybe splendid, but she always remain serene.

She doesn’t flit about like a fool. When you allow yourself to be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. When you allow restlessness to be your source of movement, rather than the unmoved, you lose touch with who you are.

And that is very foolish, indeed. Not befitting lords, which is what we are. I think that explains so much, as we survey all that is going on in the world today. We have lost touch with who we are. I think of that as I hear how we have taken the tragedy at the A.M.E. church in Charleston, and have turned it into a debate over a flag, a symbol. As if removing a flag from South Carolina government buildings will solve the problem which is plaguing us. And I think of another flag; what to some is a symbol of freedom, but to others is a symbol of aggression and oppression. I am now thinking of the American flag. It is just a symbol. That is why some fly it proudly. And, others burn it. It is just a symbol. But when we have lost touch with who we are, we cling to symbols. How very foolish!

Following, Always Following

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Every few chapters, it seems, Lao Tzu returns to talking about the mystery of the Tao’s origins. We have always been fascinated with origins. Over many thousands of years we have crafted stories, creation myths, to explain how it all began. We would like to think we are quite a bit more sophisticated now. We have science to tell us the way things are. Yet, even science has multiple theories to explain how it all began. At least the last time I heard anything new from the world of science, they were still trying to define what took place in that moment before the Big Bang. If the Big Bang was the moment the Universe was born, it has always fascinated me, our fascination with what came before it.

What is before time and space? Lao Tzu has already named it. There was something formless and perfect. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. This lines up with all the creation myths I have ever heard about. Others call it God. Lao Tzu says it precedes God. It is the mother of the Universe. Giving birth to infinite worlds. For lack of a better name, he calls it the Tao.

Of course, he never can tell us of the origin of the Tao, itself. It precedes everything. But what of its beginning? It has no beginning. Thus, it has no end. It flows through all things, both inside and outside, always returning to the origin. That explains why Lao Tzu keeps returning to the origin of all things.

The Tao is the origin of all things. The Tao was here first. Always has been. Always will be. That makes the Tao the great power. The Tao gave birth to the Universe. The Universe follows the Tao. For a long time, millions(?), billions(?), of years it was just that. The Universe following the Tao. That makes the Universe another one of the four great powers. Then, the Earth was born. How many millions of years the Earth followed the Universe while the Universe followed the Tao, I cannot say. May it suffice to say that it has been something that has been going on for a very long time. That makes the Earth another one of the four great powers. Cosmologically speaking, humans have only been around for a very short while. Yet, humans, as far as we humans can tell, are alone, of all the Earth’s creations, to rise to a standing of being one of the four great powers.

How did we accomplish this? Was it our ability to think? Our ability to communicate? Our ability to reason? Our opposable thumbs? How did we evolve to such a place? Lao Tzu says it is because we follow the Earth. As we have followed the Earth, we have managed to adapt, to evolve, to survive. Humans are great. And we will always remain great; as long as we continue to follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao.

Which, of course, brings us back to the Tao. We always return to the Tao. Without form, yet perfect. Always serene. Forever unchanging. Infinite and eternally present. What more can we say of this Tao? It follows only itself.

Empowering Ourselves

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about leaving what we will become to the Tao. We only need to concern ourselves with being what we are, naturally. We need to express ourselves completely, just like the forces of nature do. When we do that, we open ourselves to the Tao. It is then, and only then, that we embody the Tao, and we are lived by the Tao. It is then, and only then, that we are truly ourselves, and always able to trust our natural responses. When we follow nature’s way, everything falls into place.

Today’s chapter is a complete reversal of that natural way. When we don’t trust our becoming to the Tao. When we strive to be something other than what we naturally are. It just isn’t natural to stand on tiptoe. As long as we insist on being something we aren’t, we will never have firm ground on which to stand.

Rushing ahead, you may think you are going with the current of the Tao; but what you are really doing is failing to trust that the Tao will take you where you need to be at exactly the time you need to be there. Ultimately, you won’t go far, when you insist on going it alone.

Most of us would say that we don’t like being in the spotlight. But what we really mean is we don’t like to be in the spotlight when we aren’t in control of the spotlight. When we think we are in control, we like trying to shine. Then, we are the focus of attention, at least we hope so. I want to be recognized for my achievements. Who doesn’t? But we really need to trust what we will become to the Tao. When we try to shine, we only end up dimming our own light.

Anyone who insists on defining himself can never know who he really is. That is a tough one, right there. Nobody wants to be defined by someone else. Perhaps we will say that we eschew all labels. But often we are quick to affix our own self-defining labels. The truth is that we need to leave this, too, to the Tao. Just be who you are. You don’t have to ascribe a label to it. And you don’t need to get all worked up over other people’s labels for you. Just leave it to the Tao. Who you really are is so much greater than any self-defining label you could ascribe to yourself. And why do the opinions of others matter, anyway?

The Tao is empowering. But this is never expressed in power over others. I think that roughly half of the Tao Te Ching is devoted to instructing would be leaders in how to be effective leaders. You will notice that power over others is never the goal. It isn’t an end. It isn’t even a means to an end. Instead, when you are empowered by the Tao, you don’t need to be in control of others. You don’t need to force anything. People will naturally
follow your example as you follow the Tao.

Finally, there is this about the work that we do. Lao Tzu earlier has told us to do our work and then step back. That is self-empowering. Today, he says the same thing in a different way. If you want to accord with the Tao, you must stop clinging to your work. You aren’t creating anything that endures that way, anyway. Just do your job, then let go. Let it go. What is to become of your work? What is to become of you? Let it go. Leave it to the Tao. The work you do will endure. You have all the power you need, power over yourself.

Be Like The Forces Of Nature

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it blows, there is only wind.
When it rains, there is only rain.
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao,
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao.
Then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the need to be yourself, whatever partial, crooked, empty self you happen to be. You have to let yourself be what you are, if you are to become whole, straight, and full. But we have to leave the becoming to the Tao. We have to reside in the Tao and be lived by the Tao. That is the only way to truly be ourselves.

Today, Lao Tzu talks more about opening ourselves to the Tao, so that we can be one with the Tao. If we want to become whole, we must open ourselves to the Tao. And that requires that we express ourselves completely. Just as we are, no matter how partial or crooked or empty we may be. We need to express ourselves completely, holding nothing back from a full expression. Then, we need to keep quiet, and let the Tao do its work in us.

To that end, Lao Tzu instructs us to be like the forces of nature. He talks of how, when the wind blows, there is only wind; and when it rains, there is only rain. These speak of how to express ourselves completely. Be like the wind as it blows. Be like the rain as it rains. There is only wind. There is only rain. There is only you, being yourself, completely. And then, the clouds pass. And there is only sun. There is only the Tao. Be quiet now.

Open yourself to the Tao. Let the sun shine through. Be at one with the Tao. Embody it completely. Insight will come. Be open to it. Be one with it. Use it completely. And there will be loss. No, we can’t skip over this part. We need to be open to it, too. We must be one with it, and accept it completely, as well. We must lose everything, give everything up, in order to gain everything. Accept the loss. Completely.

If we will do this, if we will open ourselves to the Tao, we can trust our natural responses. That is what it is like to be like the forces of nature. We can trust that when the wind blows there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain. And, when the clouds pass, the sun will always shine through. Trust your natural responses. Everything will fall into place. You will have the insight you need. You will be lived by the Tao.

I’ve Got To Be Me

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How difficult we make our lives. Striving, always striving, to become. Instead of being content to simply be exactly who and what we are. We see ourselves as partial, crooked, empty… We want to become whole, straight, and full. And so we strive to become. Never once realizing that we can’t become until we first are. To be transformed I must first be what I am. If I want to be reborn, I must first die. If I want to be given everything, I must first give everything up.

These aren’t empty phrases. You have to be content to be partial. You have to be content to be crooked. You have to be content to be empty. You have to reside in the Tao and be lived by the Tao. Give everything up. Your hopes, your dreams. Give it all up to the Tao. Let yourself die. Be lived by the Tao.

The Master, as always, is our example. By residing in the Tao he lets himself be lived by the Tao. It is because he doesn’t display himself that people can see his light. It is because he has nothing to prove that people can trust his words. It is because he doesn’t know who he is that people recognize themselves in him. It is because he has no goal in mind that everything he does succeeds.

But we are so goal-oriented. We want to become. What will I become? And what can I do to achieve my goals? What can I do to hasten my becoming?

But who, among us, is willing to die to ourselves? Who is willing to give it all up? To be partial? To be crooked? To be empty? To be lived by the Tao?

And yet, this is the only way we can truly be ourselves. Be, just be, and leave the becoming to the Tao.

Before And Beyond

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were.
The Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday’s was a very personal experience for us. Lao Tzu shared what it is like to be alone, to be different from everyone else. Having chosen not to value what others value and avoid what others avoid, you find yourself in the center of the circle, drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts. Today, he returns to talking about the Master. She, too, stays in the center of the circle. She keeps her mind always at one with the Tao. And it makes her radiant.

And we wonder, even after the very personal revelation from Lao Tzu, yesterday, how can this be? Since the Tao is ungraspable, how can her mind be at one with it? Since the Tao is dark and unfathomable, how can it make her radiant?

It is important for us to understand this. Because we, too, need to be one with the Tao. And, we want to have that radiance, too! But how?

Today’s chapter doesn’t do anything to make the Tao more graspable. It leaves the Tao just as shrouded in darkness and mystery as it always has been. We have these ideas. Ideas about how we think the Universe should be. We’ll talk about time and space, what is and what is not. We could talk about these ideas for hours on end; and still cling to these ideas long after their usefulness has passed.

This isn’t helpful. We will never be able to grasp the ungraspable. If we truly want to be one with the Tao, we will have to let the ungraspable grasp us. Stop clinging to ideas. The Master doesn’t cling to them. She understands that the Tao is before time and space were. Our ideas of time and space aren’t going to help us. But they do hinder us. It is dark and unfathomable. You can’t fathom what is unfathomable. So stop trying. Let it go. Let it be. All our ideas about what is and what is not, we have to get beyond. Let it go. Let it be. That is the only way to the Tao.

The Tao is both before and beyond. It precedes everything we think we know and is far beyond it, as well. How can I know this is true? Isn’t that the question everyone should be asking. For Lao Tzu, it is a simple matter of looking, not out and around, but inside myself. You want answers? That is where the answers are to be found. Look inside yourself and you will see.