Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success
is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope
is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
When we don’t see the self as self,
what do we have to fear?
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self,
then you can care for all things.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 13, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Since the attacks in Paris last Friday, it seems like very few are able to see through the illusion of fear and hate, to what is real about the world and about ourselves. I have seen countless posts filled with fear- and hate-mongering regarding how we should respond to the refugee crisis. A crisis that the U.S. government is largely responsible for, with its war-mongering all over the world. From Washington D.C. to various state capitols, the cries have been loud and strong to turn away the refugees. Shame on us!
If you are thinking that opening paragraph has nothing to do with today’s chapter, then, perhaps my commentary will explain exactly where I am coming from, and with which I believe Lao Tzu would agree.
The illusion is strong! We have been indoctrinated to believe the illusion for all of our lives. And Lao Tzu talks about just that, in today’s chapter, when he explains that success is as dangerous as failure and hope is as hollow as fear. But what is the reality? We’ll get to that.
First, what does he mean when he says that success is as dangerous as failure? We need to realize that we are suffering in the throes of a great illusion. That illusion is represented by the proverbial ladder of success. Well, that is what we like to call it, anyway. That ladder that stretches way up into the sky, promising success for any that dare to climb its rungs. What they won’t tell you is that that ladder doesn’t only offer a one-way trip. The reality is that that shadowy ladder, with all of its rungs, has people going both up and down. And all the time you are on that ladder, your position is shaky. Why shaky? Because it isn’t real. It is all an illusion. A lie. A distortion of reality. We must see the reality if we want to be free of the illusion. And the reality is that the only way to always keep your balance is to stand with both your feet on the ground.
Second, what does he mean when he says that hope is as hollow as fear? Hope and fear are very much tied to what we have been bamboozled into believing about what constitutes success and what constitutes failure. And it is here, that we will begin to get to the very present reality with regards to the refugee crisis. I just imagine that for refugees fleeing from their war-ravaged countries, their hopes and fears seem very much based on reality. They are fleeing because they are in fear for their very lives. And they are hopeful, oh so hopeful, that they will escape to some better future place. I believe their fears are well-grounded in reality. I have seen ample evidence for at least the last 60+ years that the U.S. government’s approach to foreign policy is to create instability all over the world. Why? To make the world dependent on us. Hey, folks, if you don’t want a supply of refugees, why not stop creating a demand for them. But, I don’t expect the powers that be to be paying any attention to little ol’ me.
The problem with my scenario that the hope and fear of these refugees is all based on reality is that what creates their hope and fear is all based on an illusion. The same is true for all of our own hopes and fears. They arise because our perspective on the world and on ourselves is entirely skewed.
We keep looking at ourselves and the world as separate. The world is the world; and me? Well, I am separate. I am just one little nobody that doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. My hope is that I can live my simple, ordinary life, completely separate from all this madness going on in the world around me. My fear is that this world is out to get me. That people I don’t know, who I never did any harm to, have it out for me. They look different from me. They talk different from me. They dress and act different from me. They believe different from me. They are different from me. And, because they are different from me, they are a threat to me.
But that is all an illusion. And a pretty hollow one, at that. Both my hopes and my fears are mere phantoms. They arise because I am thinking of myself as self, as separate from everyone and everything else.
But what would happen if I were to realize that my perspective is skewed? What if I no longer saw myself as self, as separate. What would I then have to fear?
What happens when our perspective is changed, when we see the eternal reality which unmasks the facade masquerading as reality for us all. Then I start to see the world as my self. What a difference a new and real perspective makes! When we have faith in the way things are, when we love the world as we love ourselves, then we can care for all things.
And those refugees no longer appear to be a threat to ourselves. Because, in reality, they are ourselves. What we have lost to the illusion is the ability to empathize. Oh, we may still sympathize. But empathy is not something that we can practice until we make a conscious choice to change our perspective. And I mean it when I say it has to be a conscious choice. We have been lulled to sleep; and, we need to wake up. Seeing, for maybe the first time in our lives, the way things actually are, to be able to actually love the world as our selves. Then we can start to practice the intentional empathy that will be necessary to create the kind of world in which we all will be happy to live.