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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu’s emphasis was on being aware when things are out of balance. The result, when things are out of balance, is robbery and chaos. We spent a great deal of our time, yesterday, talking about the signs that things are out of balance. How better to be aware that they are! But Lao Tzu also told us what to do, when we perceive that things are out of balance. That is, stay centered in the Tao. Yes, people prefer the side paths; but the great way is easy.
One of the things that endeared me to Lao Tzu’s teachings is that he wasn’t expecting great things from our ruling elite, the so-called powerful men and women. The signs that things are out of balance are catastrophic for our whole planet; and it might cause us little people to dismay. But Lao Tzu has encouraging news for us individuals. If we can see through the darkness, if we can see through all fear, we can stay centered in the Tao. And that means we can flourish in the midst of all the trouble.
Individuals are the ones who have access to the real power. The solutions to the problems we face are not top-down solutions, they are bottom-up solutions. People like to point at societal problems and propose societal solutions. But those never do anything but work against the Tao. The Tao doesn’t do things on a grand scale. It focuses on much smaller tasks. It is individuals that make a difference. If we want to see things get back into balance, it starts with you and me, being centered, rooted, in the Tao. That is the focus of today’s chapter.
When you are planted in the Tao, you will not be rooted up. When you embrace the Tao, you will not slip away. It will be your name that will be held in honor from generation to generation. I have never given a lot of thought to having my name held in honor from generation to generation. But it sure beats having it held in shame. There have been plenty of people in history that are notorious. But being notorious isn’t the same as having your name held in honor.
But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. I think the best way to have a positive impact on future generations is to be mindful of the impact you are having on the present one. And that begins with letting the Tao be present in your life. There is that word, letting, again. I may be sounding like a broken record; but, I just have to keep reminding you. You don’t have to let the Tao be present in your life. You can keep right on preferring the side paths. I just wish you could see how easy the great way is. How much better it would be for you, if you would just let the Tao be present in your life.
When you let the Tao be present in your life, you will become genuine. What is Lao Tzu saying? That we haven’t been genuine, all along? That is right. All beings, including us human beings, are expressions of the Tao. It is in our very nature to love and honor the Tao. It is only when we let the Tao be present in our lives, that we are being true to our nature. It is then, that we are at last genuine, real, expressions of the Tao.
I said earlier that all the problems that we see in the world, the signs that things are out of balance, are not crying out for top-down solutions; they require bottom-up solutions. The solution is for individuals, like you, like me, to center ourselves in the Tao, to be rooted, to be grounded, to let the Tao be present in our lives. That is where it begins.
It is the only way for it to begin. But, if we will let that happen, it won’t end there. For, being centered in the Tao means we are working with the Tao; and, the Tao is working within each one of us. Now, we can begin to let the Tao be present in our families. It is a modest step. But let’s not despise small beginnings. Once our families are flourishing, things will really start to take off.
It may seem a giant leap to let it be present in your country. I understand. Letting it be present in your family might not seem so small a step now. But let’s just take small steps. Try letting it be present in your neighborhood, your community. Small steps, maybe, but they are getting bigger, with each step we are taking. You can let it be present in your country; and, your country can be an example to all countries in the world.
Yes, I know what a giant leap that is. But concentrate on those little steps first. Always break down those giant tasks into smaller ones. Let the Tao be present in your life. Then, in your family. Then in your neighborhood. Then in your community. Each of these can be an example to all others. It will spread. Until it affects the whole country. And then the world.
Lao Tzu has even bigger aspirations. He envisions letting it be present in the Universe. But don’t get dismayed by the great task. Just start with your own voice. Start singing. Other voices will be added, one by one. Before it is all said and done, the whole Universe will be singing, in perfect harmony.
I love how Lao Tzu ends today’s chapter. “How do I know this is true?” It is a reasonable question. And the answer is the key to everything. It all starts by looking inside myself.