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 follow the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I used my blog to vent my anger at a tragic story out of my hometown. Today, Lao Tzu reminds me that the place that I spent half of my childhood growing up is not really my place of origin. My origin, and yours too, goes a lot further back than our hometowns.
Lao Tzu begins with talking in the past tense. There was something formless and perfect, before the Universe was born. This is really going back. But, if we need to know where we came from in order to know where we are going, then it is good to go back all the way to the beginning. While Lao Tzu begins in the past tense, he then suddenly shifts into the present tense. Why? Because The Tao, the eternal reality, is eternally present. It is beyond is and is not. It is beyond space and time.
This eternal reality, the way things are, flows through all things, inside and outside, always returning to the origin of all things. That is its movement. Always moving. Always returning. The Tao is the mother of the Universe. And it is serene, even in the midst of what we would term chaos. It is serene because it is unchanging and infinite. Nothing is going to shake it. It is empty, yet infinitely useable. It is solitary, yet never alone.
This is one of those chapters that really makes me pause and be still. Knowing where I came from and where I am going is what gives meaning to my life. It frees me to simply enjoy this present moment with disinterest and detachment. I am present in every being in the Universe. We are all one. There is such unity in the knowledge that we all come from the same Source. We have the same Mother. And, we all have the same End.
This kind of knowledge is exceedingly liberating for me. How can I hold grudges? How can I hate? How can I not have a deep love and respect for all of humanity? And, indeed, for all beings in the Universe. We are all One. Why are we so prone to point out trivial differences, when we are really all just the same?
Understanding how the Tao brings order out of chaos, comes as Lao Tzu explains how that order is maintained in the midst of what seems hopelessly chaotic. It comes from understanding how the four great powers (the Tao, the Universe, the Earth, and Humanity) get their power.
The way that Lao Tzu pictures it, there is a whole lot of following going on. But because the Tao is following only itself, I prefer to look at it as the Tao is leading. And all the other great powers follow that lead. Following the Tao is trusting our own intuition. The Universe naturally follows the Tao. And why wouldn’t it, the Tao is its mother. The Tao has laid out the course for the Universe to take. The Earth follows the Universe on that course. And we humans? We do to.
That is the way things are. Humans are listed as one of the four great powers and I do think that is significant. But at the same time I think we often take on a bit more than has really been entrusted to us. We sometimes act like we are THE great power. That it all depends on us. For me there is something humbling in looking at it the way Lao Tzu pictures it. When you look at it that way, you see that we humans are really only along for the ride. The Earth knows the course we should be taking. As we follow the Earth, we will find our way.