If you over-esteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion in those
who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 3, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We are on day three of our journey through the Tao Te Ching. On the first day, Lao Tzu introduced the Tao to us. The Tao is the eternal reality, the way things are in our Universe. In most respects, the Tao is a mystery; which we can’t hope to realize, as long as we are caught in desire. But don’t let that discourage you. There is also its manifestations, which we can observe, and trace back to the Source.
There are limits to what we can realize. We are finite, while it is infinite. We are temporal, while it is eternal. But what really puts limits on us is our desire. That is a problem which we will work on throughout our journey. The Master, who Lao Tzu introduced, yesterday, will be our example for how to follow the Tao, and be in perfect harmony with it. He will show us how to let go of desire; so we can then be free to realize the mystery.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu introduced pretty much everything he will be teaching us throughout our journey. The one thing he spent the most time on, is the concept of yin and yang. This is how the Tao maintains balance and harmony in our Universe. I don’t want to try to repeat everything we said yesterday; I hope you read it, or will go back and read it. I think it is the most important chapter of all.
That isn’t to say they aren’t all important. Especially today’s, where Lao Tzu introduces what I have observed is the emergent order. The way that everything will fall into place, if only we will let them be.
In talking of yin and yang, yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about the so-called problem of duality, which is the way things are in our Universe. “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.”
This doesn’t have to be a problem. It is only a problem, if we don’t accept that this is the way things are, and we just need to go with the flow. Yin and yang, necessarily, create each other, support each other, define each other, depend on each other, and follow each other. Don’t resist, and you’ll be just fine.
Today, he continues this theme as he says, “If you over-esteem great men, people become powerless. If you overvalue possessions, people begin to steal.”
Why do we over-esteem and overvalue? Why do we take things to excess? The problem is our desire. And that is a problem, because the way things are requires that there be balance in our Universe. That is exactly what Lao Tzu was saying in that first stanza of today’s chapter. Where there is excess, there will follow deficiency. Things must balance out. That means, when we over-esteem some, others will become powerless. And, when we overvalue things, people will desire them all the more.
So, how do we circumvent this problem? Well, how does the Master do it? Remember, he is our example. He leads by realizing the nature of our Universe, how yin and yang complement each other. And that realization leads him to work with both yin and yang on the people he is leading. The problem with our desire for excess is a two-fold problem that requires a two-fold solution. Yin and yang. First, people’s minds need to be emptied and their ambition weakened. That is yin. But yin, alone, is not sufficient. Yang follows. Along with the emptying and weakening, comes filling and toughening.
Their minds need emptying, but their cores need filling. This may speak to our dual nature. Some people think of us as mind and body. But I tend to think of core as being a bit more comprehensive. I think our core is the center of our being. Our core is actually who we are. And that is where the Tao resides. I may be getting a little ahead of myself, here. So, I apologize, if I am. But core isn’t necessarily a familiar term to us. And I thought it would be helpful to understand just a little of what I believe Lao Tzu is getting at. It is from the core of our being that intuition and spontaneity arises. If we are going with the flow, it is because we are acting on direction from the core of our being. As long as our mind is involved, the possibility that our body will offer up resistance is ever going to be a problem for us. That is why the Master seeks to empty minds and fill cores.
But then, where does ambition and resolve come in? He weakens our ambition because ambition speaks directly to our desire. It is ambition that brings us to over-esteem great men and overvalue possessions. The Master is taking on that desire, from the outset. Notice, also, that ambition is always focused on outward things. As far as ambition is concerned, what I already have is never, can never be, enough. That is a prescription for misery, when we could be content. Our ambition must be weakened. Resolve is the antithesis to ambition. Resolve is very much an inner thing. It is something that arises from the core of our being. Resolve can be content with whatever it has. We just need to have it toughened up.
What the Master is helping us to do is lose everything we know (that is mind), everything we desire (that is ambition). And those that think they know are going to be confused. That is to say, we are learning to practice knowing not-knowing, knowing that we don’t know. That is the only way to really ever learn anything.
We need to learn how to not rely on our minds. We need to not let ambition drive us to excess. If we learn how to follow our heart, the core of our being, we will find that our every action flows effortlessly, intuitively, spontaneously. This is the practice of Wei-Wu-Wei, doing not-doing. It will take all your resolve to do this. But if you do, you will find what I have found, everything falls into place.