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The Greatest Vanishing Act

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to the great themes which have resonated throughout his Tao Te Ching: The greatness and humility of the Tao. How it flows everywhere and pours itself into its work. How it nourishes. How it is hidden. And how all things end in it. The way in which Lao Tzu sings the praises of the great Tao, sound very much like an ode. But it is much more than an ode. It is really a continuation of what he was saying in yesterday’s chapter: About our need to center ourselves in the Tao, and about embracing our own death. It is about our relationship with the Tao as we come to know and master ourselves.

As we center ourselves in the Tao, we become one with the Tao. As the Tao is like water, we, too, become like water. Water, as we have said before, is Lao Tzu’s favorite metaphor for the Tao. Just like water, the Tao flows everywhere, and all things are born from it. Yet, just like water, the Tao doesn’t create them. Just like water, it pours itself into its work; yet, it makes no claim on them. Just like water, the Tao nourishes infinite worlds; yet it doesn’t hold on to them. The Tao is like a vast ocean of water. And we are like all the rivers and streams that flow into that ocean.

We all merge into the Tao and the Tao merges into all things. It is hidden in the hearts of all beings. That it is hidden, Lao Tzu says, shows its humility. But, since all things vanish into it, until it alone endures, is what makes it great. That it isn’t even aware of its greatness is what makes it truly great.

Yes, we could talk on and on about the humility and greatness of the Tao. But let’s not miss out on the other thing that Lao Tzu would have us understand, today. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. We talked of how we fear death. The finality of it. Losing our sense of self. Today, Lao Tzu describes this death as a great vanishing act.

A vanishing act is a staple with magicians, illusionists, the world over. How do they do it? We are always amazed by these feats. But they aren’t going to reveal their secrets to us. And they always end up reappearing before the conclusion of the show, anyway. But the vanishing act that Lao Tzu describes is one from where we never expect to return. All things vanish into the Tao. All things end in the Tao. Like rivers flow into the sea. All things vanish into it, and it alone endures. That vanishing is the death that we were told to embrace with our whole hearts, just yesterday.

And I spent some time thinking about this vanishing, this death to myself as separate. And that got me thinking about what it means to know and master ourselves. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that required true wisdom and true power. He also said that when you realize you have enough, you have the true riches. And I realized how right he was. Knowing and mastering myself is to be known and mastered by the Tao. Our goal is to be lived by the Tao. That is the only way to truly be ourselves.

We have been programmed into thinking that death is final. In spite of the fact that magicians always reappear before the conclusion of their show, we think they will vanish, for good. In spite of the fact that we can see the circle of life all around us as we observe the Earth in its natural rhythms; and we can see that death is but one part of the life cycle; and there is no concluding part, it just keeps endlessly repeating; we still think that death is the end of us.

What does Lao Tzu mean by this vanishing act? What has become of us, when the Tao alone endures? What does it mean to be a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Water, the Tao is like water, we need to be like water, too. That is what it always comes back to, for me. All rivers flow into the sea. That is where they end. But are there no more rivers, then? Do we lose our own identity, when like a molecule of water, we vanish into that vast ocean of water? No! We are more than just a part of that ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. In some ways, we are more complete than we have ever been. Yes, we are surrounded by other molecules of water. But that ocean would not be complete without each and every one of us.

I don’t fear death because I know what always follows death. I see it every Spring as I witness death give way to rebirth. The circle of life continues endlessly. What do I have to fear, as I reside in the center of it? Now, I know that some of you might take issue with being compared to a molecule of water surrounded by a whole lot of other molecules of water; but it is just a metaphor for how complete we are in the Tao. “But I don’t want to be just like everything else?” Oh, but you already are. That is the way things are. You aren’t separate. You never were. That was all an illusion. Embrace the death of that illusion. Let the very idea of your separateness vanish in the Tao. Then, you can truly be yourself; as you always were and always will be.

Peeling Away The Layers

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I was talking about the hopelessness, when we see ourselves as separate. It becomes very easy to give into hopelessness; when you spend as much time on social media, as I was the last few days after the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. I found myself seeing myself as separate from the others. It takes intelligence and strength to know and master others. But is that really what I want to do? No, I don’t want to give into that hopelessness. I can’t be content with that.

What I really want is to know and master myself. But that requires much more of me. That requires true wisdom and true power. I know that I must see the world, not as separate from me, but as myself. That is the only way to accept the world as it is; it is the only way to accept myself, as one with the world.

That leads to an obvious question: How do I attain this true wisdom and true power? Thankfully, this is something that Lao Tzu has been doing a lot of talking about. He keeps telling us to do our work and then stop. We need to know when to stop in order to avoid danger. So, how do I know when to stop? I think it is easier than we may think. Have we completed our work? Have we fully expressed ourselves? Because that is when we need to stop, take a step back, and let the Tao do its thing. To be truly rich is to realize that you have enough. As long as you don’t realize this, as long as you are thinking that you need more, you will never have enough. But you really do have enough. You just need to realize this.

We have talked before about the difference between knowing and realizing. I think of knowing as giving mental assent to something. But giving mental assent to some truth isn’t enough. The difference between knowing and realizing, is that when you realize it, it actually begins to transform your life. You can think that you know something; but that knowledge doesn’t make a bit of difference in how you live your life. Your life will be full of what has been called cognitive dissonance. That results in your life being a struggle. You will keep running into walls; as you live your life as if what you think you know doesn’t really matter.

We want a life of ease. That is the promised life of residing in the center of the circle. A life of contentment, with ourselves and others, because we aren’t separate; we and the world are one. And that doesn’t mean just getting in the center of the circle. It means staying in the center, residing there. While in the center of the circle, the lies we have believed, the delusions of our separateness from the world, will be slowly peeled away.

This peeling away is a kind of death. It is a death to ourselves as separate. This is a death which we must embrace with our whole heart. It is only then that we will realize the true wisdom and true power of a life lived content with our simple, ordinary lives, a life that accepts the way things are. We tend to shy away from death. We fear it. It seems so final. But, remember, fear is only a phantom that arises because we are still thinking of ourselves as separate. If we will stay in the center of the circle, we will endure forever.

Know When To Stop

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The last couple days have been mentally and emotionally exhausting for me. I spent way too much time on social media; much of that time sighing at posts made by friends and acquaintances, who I wish I could make understand the wonders of the Tao. My post, yesterday, particularly exhausted me. I poured the contents of my heart out on that one. Pleading for people to be decent human beings. I have an audience of somewhere around 1400 people each day. That would be the number of people that have direct access to what I write. But even after yesterday’s post, the silence has been deafening. I hoped someone would read it. But I have serious doubts.

Whenever I survey the world, I try to remember that the hopelessness I feel is but a phantom. It isn’t real. But before I go on to today’s commentary, I would like to correct one mistake that I caught after posting yesterday. I said, near the end of my commentary, that there is one thing I do know: we used to enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral. I was echoing what Lao Tzu had said in the chapter about the requirements of human decency. But I realized I made a mistake there; when I said I knew we used to express this kind of human decency. After posting, I thought better of that. I think I was romanticizing our history of prior wars. I don’t actually know that we ever entered a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral. Hollywood may depict prior wars like that. Even many of our history books might suggest that. But I really doubt that has ever been true. Maybe there have been a few individual acts that demonstrated the human decency that Lao Tzu was asking for; but they haven’t been the norm, in any age.

Hopelessness. The Tao can’t be perceived. How am I ever going to be able to make people understand its wonders? It is smaller than an electron; yet, it contains uncountable galaxies. What Lao Tzu is getting at here isn’t the utter hopelessness, though. What he is saying is that the mystery of the Tao isn’t something we can perceive with our senses. That doesn’t make it any less real. But it does make it seem less real to those of us, conditioned to only believe in something that is tangible.

Hopelessness. If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao, oh, what a wonderful world it would be. I mean, Lao Tzu comes right out and says the world would become a paradise. But we know better. We know better in two distinct ways. First, we think we know better than to trust the Tao. We can get along just fine without it, thank you very much. Lao Tzu’s teachings are nonsense! Or, they are lofty, but impractical! Then again, we think we know better because we know that powerful men and women can’t remain centered in the Tao. It would be great if they could, but they can’t, so that is that. Hopelessness.

I guess I fall firmly in the second camp, I don’t trust powerful men and women. I don’t believe they can be trusted. But I refuse to give into the hopelessness. I do trust the Tao. Though the Tao is a mystery we cannot perceive, it does contain uncountable galaxies. The Universe follows the Tao. The Earth follows the Universe. And, you and I can follow the Earth. We can accept the world, just as it is. We can accept ourselves, our world. It isn’t a hopeless situation.

We just need to do our work and then stop. We need to know when to stop so that we can avoid danger. Because, while there is a time to be in danger, there is also a time to be safe from all harm. We can avoid trying to force things. We can avoid trying to dominate events. We can go with the flow of the Tao. I don’t have to convince others. I don’t need others’ approval.

We just need to understand that names and forms are provisional. There is a time when the functions of institutions should end. All things end in the Tao. That isn’t a hopeless end, at all. All things end in the Tao like rivers flow into the sea. I am just going to be like water. I am going to function like water. Flowing, always flowing, until I end in the Tao. Things that served us for a time, may no longer serve us. I don’t have to convince others of this. But that doesn’t mean I can’t know when their time has come to an end. I am just going to be like water. I know where I will end.

What The World Needs Now, More Than Ever

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how vital our relationship with the world is. Not just the physical world, the Earth, but every being that inhabits it; including, of course, our fellow human beings. If we want to be one with the Tao, there are two things we must do: First, we must accept the world as it is. Second, we must accept ourselves, as we are. I said, yesterday, that acceptance is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child. We simply must accept others, no matter how different from us they may seem to be. Accepting others is a key component in accepting ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t separate. We are all one in the Tao. When we refuse to accept others, we are not accepting ourselves. And when we refuse to accept ourselves, we can’t accept others. Lao Tzu has said it before, but it bears repeating, where we get into trouble, is in seeing ourselves as separate. We must see the world as ourselves. When we accept the world as ourselves, when we truly accept ourselves, the whole world accepts us.

Now, along those lines, yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about accepting the world in terms of relying on the Tao in “governing” men. I said that word, governing, could easily be translated as “interacting with” and, with that in mind, Lao Tzu says that whoever relies on the Tao doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Then he brought in an elementary law of physics, the law of the Tao, “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

That is the perfect segue into today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu begins by identifying “weapons” as “the tools of violence and fear.” Because weapons are the tools of violence, because violence always rebounds on the violent, because what we do to others we do to ourselves, how people choose to use weapons is a litmus test for human decency. Lao Tzu insists that human decency demands that we detest weapons. “Detest” is a strong word. But, because weapons are the tools of violence, it is appropriate. To the extent that weapons are used as the tools of violence, I do detest them. Decency requires that of me and you. Violence is something to be abhorred. When a violent person takes up a weapon and uses it to inflict violence on others, we are right to detest the use of that tool.

Then, when referring to weapons as the tools of fear, Lao Tzu says that decent people will avoid them, except in direst necessity, only if compelled, and only with the utmost restraint. I want to reiterate what Lao Tzu has said before: Fear is a phantom. It arises because people are thinking of themselves as separate.

Now this chapter is timely, given that we have seen weapons being used as tools of violence and fear, a lot lately. Human decency demands that we detest this. And we rightly do. But today’s chapter is also timely because it highlights the importance of decent people. People who have peace as their highest value. People who could never be content that the peace has been shattered. People that know their enemies are not demons, but human beings just like themselves. People that don’t wish another human being harm. People who don’t rejoice in victory. How could they take delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children? People complain a lot about a lack of decency, these days. But this is our real litmus test for human decency right here. All the other things that people complain are indecent, pale in comparison to this.

I have been saddened a lot, lately, as I have scrolled various social media posts. Human decency seems in very short supply. People not accepting of other people, and so, not accepting of themselves. People getting their panties in a wad over symbols, and ignoring the substance. It really saddens me, both those that are making the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston about removing Confederate flags wherever they can be found, and those who are rushing to defend that flag. It is just a symbol, folks!

And I have been more saddened as I saw some of the responses to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, regarding same sex marriage. Here is a post I found on Facebook Saturday morning. By a person I grew up with that is pining away for the good old days:

“The country is so messed up today that it makes me glad to be old, because I feel blessed in the time I grew up in. When I was a kid: Parents could be parents No seat belts You could ride in the back of a truck and on the tailgate We had Christmas parties at school We played outside You could sit “Indian style” and nobody was offended Said The Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school We were taught to have pride in our country We were taught to respect authority Dates were between a female and a male (no I am not homophobic) History was history no matter how bad or good it was Everybody I knew believed in God. The food at the school cafeteria wasn’t determined by the first lady Thank you Lord for letting me be raised in the time I was.”

Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I have been seeing a lot of these kinds of posts. And it saddens me. It saddens me because people can’t seem to accept the world the way it is. Sometimes they pine for the good old days. But mostly they just seem to think we are “going to Hell in a hand basket.” One of my other friends posted a quote from the Bible. Specifically, Romans, chapter one, where Paul described the Godlessness that invited the Lord’s wrath, saying “The Gates of Hell have opened in America today.”

Now, I don’t mean to offend, seriously, I don’t mean this to offend. But to your litany of things about the good old days, I could add a few of my own: “Ah, the good old days. When women knew their place. And “niggers” weren’t uppity. But if they ever were, we had ways of dealing with them. When “faggots” didn’t dare come out of the closet, because if they did, if we ever suspected they were anything but normal, we’d beat the living daylights out of them. When everyone we knew were white and Christians. And they knew we were Christians by our love, by our love, yes they knew we were Christians by our love.”

Yes, I am saddened. Because this just isn’t right. And I hate to be the one to have to say it, but Jesus never had a kind word for you religious zealots. He was there, always there, for the outcasts, for the “sinners” but when it came to the religious crowd of his day, which is much like the religious crowd of our day, his words and actions were full of righteous indignation.

I apologize if my words have offended. But I needed to make a point. Words are weapons too. They are used just as much as tools of violence and fear, as any other weapons. And it isn’t decent that we use them as such. What it shows is a lack of human decency. I am not pining away for the good old days, because I don’t think those fabled good old days had any greater claim to human decency than today has. Still, there is one thing that I do know: we used to enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral.

What the world needs now, more than ever, is decent people. We, each of us, need to be decent people.

What We All Yearn For

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is another one of my favorites in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu has been teaching us about the need to rely on the Tao in every aspect of our lives. By relying on the Tao, we will have a life of ease; rather than one of struggle. Today’s chapter begins with an elementary physics lesson. It is one we all learned when we were very young. It is how to interact with others. Like how we should interact on the playground as children. When we rely on the Tao in governing people (that word, governing, can easily be translated as interacting with), we won’t try to force issues, or defeat our enemies by force of arms. Bullies on the playground may be feared, but are they respected? Are they accepted? No! For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even the well-intentioned variety of violence, always rebounds upon one’s self. This is a law. It always is this way.

We have been talking about how being one with the Tao depends on our relationship with the Earth. The world is sacred, and it can’t be improved. We shouldn’t treat it like an object. That will only result in our losing it. We must accept the world as it is. We must follow it to be lived by the Tao. And, what will be the result? When we accept the world as it is, the world will accept us.

This has been a wild week. It began with the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston being turned into a debate over a symbol, the confederate flag. And it ended with a whole lot of rainbow flags being proudly displayed. I have never been one to get all excited about waving any flag. A flag is just a symbol. I always wonder, where is the substance? I understand the passion on both sides of these issues. But I don’t understand why we exchange substance for symbolism.

Caught up in the drama of the last few days, I think we have a tendency to forget the elementary physics that govern our world. The Universe is forever out of our control. The Master understands this. That is why he simply does his job and then stops. He doesn’t try to control. He doesn’t try to force issues. He doesn’t resort to force of arms. He doesn’t try to dominate events. He understands what violence will end up doing to himself. He doesn’t wish to go against the current of the Tao.

Ultimately, what accepting the world as it is comes down to, is believing in yourself, being content with yourself, and accepting yourself. You don’t have to convince others, when you believe in yourself. You don’t need others’ approval, when you are content with yourself. And, most importantly of all, when you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

That is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child in our world. To be accepted, just as we are. We yearn to be free of violence. We yearn for acceptance. So, go ahead, all of you; raise your flag; display it proudly. But remember that your symbol, is just that, a symbol. The substance comes in believing in yourself, in being content with yourself, in accepting yourself, just as you are. Don’t worry about others’ approval. You don’t have to convince others, if you can just be convinced in yourself.

The Universe is forever out of our control; but it is governed by elementary laws. The Universe follows the Tao. The Earth, our world, follows the Universe. And we, when we accept ourselves, follow the Earth. When you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

What Time Is It?

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we are continuing talking about our relationship with the world in which we live. The Earth is our home. As we follow it, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao, we are one with the Tao and have great power. We are one of the four great powers. So, let’s talk about that power. What do we have the power to do? We have the power to receive the world in our arms. We have the power to be a pattern for the world. And, we have the power to accept the world as it is. These are all great powers. But none is more great than the power to accept the world as it is. When we avail ourselves of that power, the Tao will be luminous inside of us and we will return to our primal selves. When we don’t avail ourselves of that power, we might start thinking we can improve the world. But that is one power that Lao Tzu doesn’t think we have.

If we are going to accept the world as it is, we need to get this one thing settled: The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. Trying to improve the world is tampering with the very nature of things. The world is sacred. It is already a perfect home for us. When we treat it like it is an object to be exploited, we place ourselves in very real danger. The danger is that we will ruin it, that we will lose it. And then where will we be? No longer lords, that is for sure.

So, how do we avoid tampering with it? How do we truly accept the world, just as it is; not as an object, but as something subject to the natural laws governing our Universe?

Once again, the complementary relationship of yin and yang show us the way. Accepting means agreeing that there is a time for everything. And, letting things come and go according to their time. There is a time for yang to be in ascendancy. And, there is a time for yin to be in ascendancy. This is simply accepting the way things are. Things in our world, our Universe, are always in a state of flux. Change is the only constant.

There is a time for being ahead. But there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion. But there is also a time for being at rest. There is a time for being rigorous. But there is also a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe. But there is also a time for being in danger. Yin and yang, being what they are, these all follow each other. Much as the Earth follows the Universe, and the Universe follows the Tao.

We want to follow the Earth, not tamper with it, not interfere with it. When we go against the flow, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, or when we try to put things in motion that need to be at rest, or when we push ourselves to be vigorous when we are already exhausted, we will find ourselves in danger, when we could have been safe.

We really need to follow the example of the Master, who sees things as they are, and not as we may wish them to be. She doesn’t tamper with the natural order. She never tries to control. She just lets things go their own way, knowing there is a time for everything. She resides at the center of the circle, the most sacred place of all. It is there we let all things take their course. It is there the Tao does nothing, yet, through it, all things are done. That is where we need to reside. It is when we venture out, away from the center of the circle, that things start to get chaotic, and the temptation to interfere becomes strong. But if we will stay in the center of the circle, that most sacred place, we, too, can do nothing, while letting all things get done.

Know The Yang, Yet Keep To The Yin

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Over the last few days, we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth governs our lives. Today’s chapter, once again, finds us talking about how to relate to the world in which we live. And, of course, that means yin and yang are at the forefront as we learn to follow the Earth in its natural rhythms. Yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe; and so, in our world. Understanding this, we can be lived by the Tao and find all things falling into place as we do what comes naturally.

What is today’s theme? “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Male, white, and personal, these are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal, these are all yin. We aren’t supposed to prefer one to the other. We are supposed to let them balance each other out. If we know the yang, while keeping to the yin, we will receive the world in our arms, be a pattern for the world, and come to accept the world as it really is. The balance of yin and yang in our lives means the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

I mentioned that word luminous, yesterday. We are wanting to embody the light. The Tao is the Source of that light; but remember, the Tao is inside each of us. So the light we are embodying is within each of us. Understanding how yin and yang complement each other in our lives, we become like a little child. That little child is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s that he returns to again and again. As a metaphor, that little child doesn’t just represent innocence to us, it speaks of unlimited potential. There is nothing that little child cannot become. All of the potential in the Universe is bound up inside that child, just waiting to be manifest.

We are familiar enough with how female and male complement each other. Combined together, the unlimited potential of a little child is brought into being. We are speaking metaphorically here. That little child represents our primal selves.

How are we to interact in, and with, our world? We need to return to our primal selves, to be like a little child, again. Receive the world in your arms. Be a pattern for the world. And, finally, accept the world as it is. This is how we return to our primal selves. This is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

We understand how female and male work together to produce a child. We are also familiar with how black and white work together to make a pattern. The yin yang symbol shows the balance of black and white flowing and interacting together. But then things get a little harder, when we start trying to understand the interaction of the impersonal and the personal. How often have you heard someone say, “Now don’t take this personally.” Don’t take it personally? How else am I supposed to take it? Because there is one thing I can be sure of, right now. The next words out of your mouth are going to be very personal. How do we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal? It is so very important to get this one right. After all, this is how to accept the world as it is. And that is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

But Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us without any help to understand. After talking about a little child (there is nothing more personal than a little child) he then goes on to talking about an uncarved block of wood. That is where today’s chapter takes a strange turn from the personal to the impersonal. Let’s see if we can see how they relate. He says, the world in which we live was formed from the void. Notice how the personal is formed from the impersonal: like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the block. That uncarved block of wood is like that little child. It contains within it, unlimited potential. What will it become? It could be anything. How about a set of utensils? Yes, that would do nicely. But it could be anything. And even after she has carved out the utensils, she still keeps before her all the potential of that uncarved block. That is how she can use all things. Personally and impersonally.

Now, go ahead and finish saying what you were getting ready to say. The thing that you didn’t want me to take personally. I think I am ready now. That uncarved block of wood will show me the way.

The Great Secret

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

When, in yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about light, he was talking about a different kind of light. Light as it relates to heavy. Today, when he is talking about embodying the light, he is talking about the illuminating kind of light. We aren’t talking about trying to shine, we are talking about how to let the light shine in and through us. How do we embody the light? By understanding the great secret: good and bad need each other.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how to be a good traveler; but he brings it up again, today, along with how to be a good artist, and how to be a good scientist. Traveler? Artist? Scientist? These aren’t just random vocations that Lao Tzu is pulling out of thin air. We are, all of us, fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. He could have easily referred to the generic “human” here; but he is using these metaphors to illustrate a point. The point being that we can be a good traveler, artist, and scientist; or, we could be bad. Lao Tzu wants to show us how to be good, otherwise, we will get lost.

The good traveler is a metaphor for our need to let go of fixed plans: to not be so intent on arriving. The good artist is a metaphor for our need to be guided by our intuition: to let it lead us wherever it wants. The good scientist is a metaphor for opening our mind to the way things really are.

We can, of course, be bad at these things. Often, we are. We make our travel plans, intent on arriving; because it is our destination, not the journey, that interests us. But Lao Tzu would have us understand that it is the journey, and not the destination, which is of prime importance. The journey is everything. Why? Because we want to be available; ready for anything life happens to bring our way. That destination entices us, yes; but who knows what the future holds? We need to be available to all; ready for whatever situation. There is no other way to go with the flow than that. Don’t confuse this with being blown to and fro. We covered that yesterday when we talked about the heavy being the root of the light. In our travels, we are rooted, grounded. But we still need to be available, ready.

We need to learn to trust our intuition. How do we learn to do that? Can we trust our intuition? Through countless years of programming, aka education, indoctrination, brainwashing, we have established and fixed concepts, preconceived notions, that tend to drown out that still, small voice of intuition. But it is there, however still, however small, if we will just listen. Though we have become inured to the way things seem to be, we can open ourselves to the way things actually are.

When Lao Tzu talks about being good or bad, he is talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice, between the teacher and the student. In your travels, you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and people. Are you ready? Are you available? Over and over again you will find yourself in situations where you are either good or bad. Are you prepared to be either the teacher or the student, the master or the apprentice?

This is why it is so important to trust your intuition. What is it we have been saying about being open to the Tao and doing what comes naturally? Everything falls into place. The Master is available to all, and never has to reject anyone. Whatever situation he finds himself in, he never lets a thing go to waste. That is embodying the light.

We need to embody the light, in order to be available to everyone that we encounter; both those who are good and those who are bad. A good man is a bad man’s teacher. A bad man is a good man’s job. Sometimes, I find myself being one; and sometimes, I am the other. Situations change. People come into and go out of your life. Have you been ready and available to all?

Are you open to what is? Are you letting your intuition lead you wherever it wants? Nature’s way has an ebb and flow; yin and yang complement each other. Free yourself of fixed plans and concepts. Don’t be so intent on arriving that you aren’t available to help, or to be helped by, a fellow traveler.

There never is a shortage of people who are good and people who are bad. There is only a shortage of people who are following their intuition and making themselves available. It isn’t a question of intelligence. It is a question of embodying the light. It is the great secret. Understand this, and you won’t get lost.

 

When Lords Flit About Like Fools

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu identified humans as one of the four great powers. What makes humans great is that we follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao. Our greatness depends on our relationship with the Earth. In an earlier chapter, Lao Tzu told us that in dwelling we need to live close to the ground. What he was saying is that we need to maintain a close connection with the Earth. Our greatness is tempered by our respect for the Earth. In order to be great, we need to always be picking up on its natural rhythms and follow them. The Earth isn’t ours to exploit. We are subordinate to it. We depend on the Earth’s richness and goodness for our very survival. Sadly, I think we have largely forgotten that.

Today, Lao Tzu continues this theme of our relationship with the Earth and our greatness as lords of the country. What is a fitting way for lords to behave? And what is not? Once again, he falls back on yin and yang to show us how to be.

The complementary relationship of yin and yang is something we have been talking about since chapter two. Yin and yang create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, they follow each other. There is that word, follow, again.

We need to understand how yin and yang follow each other in order to achieve balance and harmony. That is how we will have balance and harmony in our own lives. The yin and yang in today’s chapter is heavy and light, the unmoved and all movement. The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement. We want to never lose touch with our root. And we want to make sure that all our movement has, as its source, the unmoved.

To show us how to do this, Lao Tzu offers us the example of the Master. She can travel all day without leaving home. How does she do this? However splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself. She never loses touch with her root. It is her anchor. The views maybe splendid, but she always remain serene.

She doesn’t flit about like a fool. When you allow yourself to be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. When you allow restlessness to be your source of movement, rather than the unmoved, you lose touch with who you are.

And that is very foolish, indeed. Not befitting lords, which is what we are. I think that explains so much, as we survey all that is going on in the world today. We have lost touch with who we are. I think of that as I hear how we have taken the tragedy at the A.M.E. church in Charleston, and have turned it into a debate over a flag, a symbol. As if removing a flag from South Carolina government buildings will solve the problem which is plaguing us. And I think of another flag; what to some is a symbol of freedom, but to others is a symbol of aggression and oppression. I am now thinking of the American flag. It is just a symbol. That is why some fly it proudly. And, others burn it. It is just a symbol. But when we have lost touch with who we are, we cling to symbols. How very foolish!

Following, Always Following

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Every few chapters, it seems, Lao Tzu returns to talking about the mystery of the Tao’s origins. We have always been fascinated with origins. Over many thousands of years we have crafted stories, creation myths, to explain how it all began. We would like to think we are quite a bit more sophisticated now. We have science to tell us the way things are. Yet, even science has multiple theories to explain how it all began. At least the last time I heard anything new from the world of science, they were still trying to define what took place in that moment before the Big Bang. If the Big Bang was the moment the Universe was born, it has always fascinated me, our fascination with what came before it.

What is before time and space? Lao Tzu has already named it. There was something formless and perfect. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. This lines up with all the creation myths I have ever heard about. Others call it God. Lao Tzu says it precedes God. It is the mother of the Universe. Giving birth to infinite worlds. For lack of a better name, he calls it the Tao.

Of course, he never can tell us of the origin of the Tao, itself. It precedes everything. But what of its beginning? It has no beginning. Thus, it has no end. It flows through all things, both inside and outside, always returning to the origin. That explains why Lao Tzu keeps returning to the origin of all things.

The Tao is the origin of all things. The Tao was here first. Always has been. Always will be. That makes the Tao the great power. The Tao gave birth to the Universe. The Universe follows the Tao. For a long time, millions(?), billions(?), of years it was just that. The Universe following the Tao. That makes the Universe another one of the four great powers. Then, the Earth was born. How many millions of years the Earth followed the Universe while the Universe followed the Tao, I cannot say. May it suffice to say that it has been something that has been going on for a very long time. That makes the Earth another one of the four great powers. Cosmologically speaking, humans have only been around for a very short while. Yet, humans, as far as we humans can tell, are alone, of all the Earth’s creations, to rise to a standing of being one of the four great powers.

How did we accomplish this? Was it our ability to think? Our ability to communicate? Our ability to reason? Our opposable thumbs? How did we evolve to such a place? Lao Tzu says it is because we follow the Earth. As we have followed the Earth, we have managed to adapt, to evolve, to survive. Humans are great. And we will always remain great; as long as we continue to follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao.

Which, of course, brings us back to the Tao. We always return to the Tao. Without form, yet perfect. Always serene. Forever unchanging. Infinite and eternally present. What more can we say of this Tao? It follows only itself.