Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.
All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Nestled in the middle of the Tao Te Ching we find these four lines. Seemingly insignificant, but I think they pack a real punch. Lao Tzu has been talking about centering ourselves in the Tao. And, being in harmony with the Tao. And he takes just this few lines to tell us how to go about that.
We have said before that the way things are is the way things are. And I have been careful to explain that all this means is that there is an operating principle behind the Universe. By realizing this operating principle and becoming one with it, we too, accord with the Tao.
Can you sense the movement of the Tao in the Universe? Sure you can. It is all about return. The most eloquent illustration of this movement is represented in the various natural cycles that we can observe repeating themselves throughout the course of our lives on planet Earth.
We see it every day as the Earth revolves around the Sun. I recently watched the first episode of the updated version of Cosmos. In it, Neal Degrasse Tyson was reminding us that it wasn’t that long ago that the powers that be wholeheartedly believed that the Earth was the center of our Universe, and the Sun revolved around the Earth. For a time, as a child I believed the Sun was standing still. The Earth and all the planets in our solar system were revolving around it, but the Sun was just sitting there. But thankfully, I didn’t stay a child.
Now, I know that the Sun is on the move, as well; orbiting (I think that would be the word for it) around our galaxy. Where is it taking us? Somehow, I think if enough time passed, back around to where we are right now. It is in that way that the Earth every year completes its orbit around the sun. Rotation of the Earth on its axis is what gives us night and day, endlessly repeating themselves. The tilt on its axis, as it revolves around the Sun, gives us our four seasons. Because I take a chapter each day in the Tao Te Ching, that is 81 chapters in all, I get to return to this chapter again with each new season of the year.
But that is just one example of the return that we can see on display. We also can look at the cycles of the Moon as it revolves around us. And we can see it in the cycle of life on our planet. There is birth, growth, death, and decay; followed by rebirth, and so on and on. Once again, endless repeating, endlessly renewed. Return is the movement of the Tao.
And yielding is the way of the Tao. Yielding is a powerful word. More powerful than I think we usually give it credit for being. I used to only think of yielding as slowing down and letting others have the right of way. That is certainly an important part; but if we leave it at just that, I don’t think we have begun to scratch the surface of what Lao Tzu means by yielding as the way of the Tao.
It wasn’t until I started out trying to grow my own food in my small garden that I began to understand a much deeper and more satisfying meaning for yielding. When I plant small seeds in fertile soil, and the Sun and rain nourish that seed, I see a yielding of a whole new sort. Plants grow, first small, then bigger and bigger. And soon my plants are yielding a harvest that has multiplied my few small seeds, a hundred fold. Yielding is the way of the Tao.
And so, Lao Tzu tells us a whole lot about the Tao in just a couple lines. The Tao is about returning and yielding. But that is only the first two lines. There are still two more. And now Lao Tzu talks about being and non-being. He has likened the Tao, the great Mother of the Universe, the Source of all being and non-being. Having said that we can identify the Tao in its movement (return) and in its way (yielding), now he tells us how the Tao makes all things happen in the Universe.
It is in the interaction of being and non-being. Like yin and yang, these opposites are in their own dance throughout the Universe. All things are born of being. And being is born of non-being. But that only talks of birth. And birth is only one part of the cycle of life. That tells me there is much more to being and non-being than I can even imagine. In an earlier chapter, Lao Tzu likens being to everything that we can experience with our senses. It is what we work with.
But non-being, is a much more difficult concept to grasp. Sometimes I try to think of non-being as nothing. But that seems to negate its true power. Without non-being there can be no being. Non-being is infinitely important to us, even though it is beyond our ability to grasp or understand.
I sometimes think of it as an expression of the Tao. It certainly represents the mysterious nature of the Tao. Thinking back on that episode of Cosmos, I think of how certain we have been in ages past, that we had all the answers. And how wrong we were. Now, we seem to be gaining new knowledge and understanding almost in an exponential manner. Yet, we know, we are still just scratching the surface of all that might yet be known.
The Tao is truly infinite.