The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold onto them.
Since it is merged with all things,
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it,
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today, Lao Tzu gives us an ode to the great Tao. The Tao is, as we have said many times before, ubiquitous and liquid. It is like water. It is both humble and great. But this isn’t just an ode to the Tao. What Lao Tzu is doing with today’s chapter is continuing what he was talking about yesterday, with centering ourselves in the Tao and embracing our own death. It is about getting to know our true selves, by knowing the great Tao. At least, to the extent that is possible. Remember, we can’t really begin truly mastering our own selves until we have first come to truly know our selves.
So, the Tao is like water. And Lao Tzu has told us to be like water. It flows everywhere. All things are born from it. It pours itself into its work. It nourishes infinite worlds. It is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. All things vanish into it and it it alone endures.
I could spend a lot of time talking about the humility of the Tao. That is certainly an attribute of water. And there is plenty that can be said about the greatness of the Tao. And, of water. But, what really stands out to me, as I read today’s chapter, is the effortlessness of it all.
It flows everywhere, effortlessly. And we, too, should effortlessly let it flow in and through us. It merges with all things effortlessly. And, all things vanish into it, effortlessly. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. We fear that death is final. That we lose ourselves there. Never to be seen or heard from again. That is what vanishing really means. Isn’t it?
And we resist the very notion of vanishing. Which is why we don’t embrace our own deaths. But, why is that? I think it is only because we have a very limited understanding of the way things are. We simply don’t understand it. And we fear what we don’t understand.
What Lao Tzu is doing with the Tao Te Ching is teaching us that the way things are is the way things are. That may seem very elementary. And it is. But it is also something that gives us a whole lot of trouble. Of course the way things are is the way things are. Why do we even need to be told this? Because we act in this world as if things aren’t the way they are. We act like they are somehow different. We embrace an illusion that we have created. And then reality comes in, like a flood, shattering our carefully crafted illusions, and we are dismayed.
Let go of the illusions. Let the Tao merge inside you as it merges inside all things. Let your self vanish in the Tao as all things vanish in the Tao. Until nothing but the Tao endures. Is this the end? Death does seem like that. But, look around you. Look at nature and pick up on all the natural rhythms of the circle of life around you. Is death final? I can’t look at it that way anymore.
What does it mean to be like a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Do we really lose our identification? No, we are more than just part of that ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. And yet, that ocean would not be complete without our inclusion.