Like a Newborn Child

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Like a Newborn Child

Lao Tzu was certainly fascinated with newborn children. I understand this. I had two of my own, my daughter twenty-six years ago, and my son, twenty-four. Newborns were a wonderful mystery to me. A mystery which Lao Tzu likens to being in harmony with the Tao. I understand that now.

Bones so soft and muscles so weak. But just check out how powerful that grip is. A penis which stands erect, though he doesn’t know anything of the union of male with female. Lao Tzu sees that as a testament of their vital power. But, what I will always remember about my newborn son was how, whenever his grandmother (my mother-in-law), was changing his diaper, he never failed to pee a stream from his changing table, all the way across the room. That woman had seven children of her own, four of them boys; you would think she would have figured out how to avoid that little mishap. But, the mystery didn’t stop there. Both of my newborns, as was the case with the newborns Lao Tzu must have encountered, could scream their heads off all day without ever becoming hoarse. At the time, I never thought of that as a sign of complete harmony with the Tao. Though Lao Tzu insists, that is exactly what it is.

Then he says, the Master’s power is like this.

What a newborn child is demonstrating for us, if we have the eyes to see it, and the ears to hear it, is the innate ability to let all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. They never expect results; thus, they never know disappointment. Because they are never disappointed, they have a spirit which never grows old. They simply are. They don’t do anything. They don’t know anything. They don’t expect anything. And, they get everything.

We can’t very well reenter our mother’s womb and become newborns again. But, we can be like newborns. We can draw on that innate power we all have within us. We can cultivate the Tao in our own hearts, and have the Tao, likewise, nurture us; nourishing us, maintaining us, caring for us, comforting us, protecting us; and, in the end, taking us back to itself. This is the love of the Tao we talked about back on Monday, which makes today’s chapter the perfect way to end this week.

Speaking Words of Wisdom, Right on Time

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the Universe
and the Universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Speaking Words of Wisdom, Right on Time

While I got a certain “Beatles” song stuck in my head while reading through Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of today’s chapter, I was reminded, as I read through both Robert Brookes’ and Red Pine’s, that perhaps I place a bit too much emphasis on the not-doing aspect of the “doing without doing” fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism. I could blame Stephen Mitchell, with his “let it be, let it be, let it be.” But, I know once you start going down that road of blaming someone else, there is no end to the blame. So, I am letting Stephen Mitchell, be. Essentially letting him off the hook.

However, instead of typing out either Robert Brookes’ or Red Pine’s translations (or both) in their entirety (I am too lazy to do that), I will just say the one word that stood out to me from both their translations. That word is cultivate.

It makes perfect sense that Lao Tzu would use that word in place of the Beatles’ song “Let it be” since he does start today’s chapter with the metaphor of being “planted” in the Tao.

If you are planted in the Tao you won’t be rooted up. That is good news. But, it isn’t really as simple as letting it be. There is a need to be planted, in the first place. And, that is where that word “cultivate” comes in.

Cultivate, in case you were wondering, means to nurture and help to grow.

If you want the Tao to be present in your life, if you want its virtue to be genuine in you, you need to cultivate it. You need to nurture it, and help it to grow. I happen to do a little gardening, so I have a bit of an idea what cultivating plants entails. Some plants require a bit more, and some a bit less; but, it has been my experience, cultivating is a perfect illustration of the practice of doing without doing. It really is only a matter of creating a hospitable environment for whatever you want to grow. And, then knowing when to stop. We don’t want our actions to end up interfering with the natural process. That is where “let it be” comes in.

I want to grow the Tao, how difficult can it be? Lao Tzu already told us it is easy. But, let’s not fail to notice the lesson he is teaching us in today’s chapter. We no doubt all would like it to be present in our families, our country, in fact, the whole universe. I post a lot of articles by others; in effect, complaining about our rulers who won’t stop intervening and interfering, they just don’t know when to stop.

And, I worry that in some ways we may put the cart before the horse. Lao Tzu very specifically lists the order of our sphere of influence spreading outwards from ourselves. But, he very clearly is teaching it has to begin with us.

It has to begin with me, with us, individually. How could I ever begin to cultivate the Tao in my family, if I didn’t first have myself firmly planted in it. So, don’t forget, the nurturing and helping to grow begins with looking inside yourself.

Then, you can cultivate it in your family; and your family will flourish. Then, you can cultivate it in your country, and your country will be an example for all countries in the world.

You get the idea. As we patiently do our cultivating, it spreads far and wide. Soon*, the whole Universe will begin to sing.

*Soon is not a precise time frame. To those with the will to power, who desire to intervene and interfere, and for whom, the only question is in what ways and to what degree we will try to force things, soon will never be “soon” enough. But, as Lao Tzu pointed out a couple of chapters ago, we are talking about eternity here, the practice of eternity. Compared with eternity, soon will always be “soon” enough. In fact, it will be right on time.

The One Thing We All Should Fear

The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The One Thing We All Should Fear

In my commentary, yesterday, I said, let’s not make this harder than it is. Stephen Mitchell’s translation, today, reiterates how easy the great way is. Our only problem is that we “prefer” the side paths. Both Red Pine and Robert Brookes have Lao Tzu saying, and I am paraphrasing, “If I had a lick of sense, I would fear to stray from the path of the Tao.”

What is it that Lao Tzu, and by extension, you and I, would fear?

Lao Tzu fears when things are out of balance. That is the consequence when we “prefer” the side paths, when we stray from the great and easy way. Stephen Mitchell warns us to be aware, beware, when things are out of balance. We need to stay centered in the Tao.

So, be aware, when rich speculators are prospering while farmers are losing their land. Be aware when government officials are spending money on weapons instead of cures. Be aware when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn – gee, this describes perfectly the in between time we were talking about yesterday.

It is a time of robbery and chaos, declares Lao Tzu, and not in keeping with the Tao.