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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, Lao Tzu used the example of the Master’s travels to talk about yin and yang, heavy and light. He said the Master’s travels, aka movements, are light; but they have as their source something heavy, a root, which he called our home, meaning who we are on the inside. His focus, yesterday, was staying in touch with our root, with who we are. That is, something heavy. But, yin and yang being what they are, we knew that after spending a day talking about the heavy, he would follow with embodying the light.
To explain embodying the light, he opens today’s chapter with three metaphors describing the human experience. These aren’t three random occupations. I believe they represent the sum total of all that we humans are.
The first one is a traveler. You have probably heard ourselves referred to, before, as fellow travelers. Travelers are what we are. We are always on the move. Even when we are standing still, we are actually in a state of constant motion. Besides the fact that the earth on which we live is rotating on its axis and revolving around our sun, every molecule that makes up our being is in a constant state of motion. But, I think the kind of traveling that Lao Tzu is talking about is something in between the macro and the micro levels of movement. He isn’t talking about the travels of which we are hardly aware. He is talking about our purposeful travels, when we have places to go and people to see. And, concerning this kind of travels, we can be good; and, we can be bad. He tells us a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. It is understood, then, that if we have fixed plans and are intent upon arriving, we are a bad traveler. More on this in a bit.
The second one is an artist. You may be like me, and think you haven’t any artistic talent at all; thus deciding, you are, by definition, a bad artist right from the start. But, Lao Tzu isn’t referring to whether you excel in any of the arts, or not. I refer to the Tao Te Ching as a manual on the art of living. Why? Because, living is an art. And we can be good at it, if we let our intuition lead us wherever it wants; or, we can be bad at it, if we aren’t led by our intuition. You may already be picking up on the connection between a good traveler and a good artist; but, Lao Tzu isn’t finished with his metaphors describing the human experience.
The third one is a scientist. You may be thinking that Lao Tzu, himself, lived in a pre-scientific age; so, what does he know about being a scientist? But, once again, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about working in one of the fields of science. He is talking about being a human being. And what are we humans, if not observers of the world around us? We observe the world, and draw conclusions from what we observe. Whether or not we are good scientists depends on whether or not we have freed ourselves of preconceived notions, ideas, and concepts, and keep our minds open to what is.
So, you see, I think Lao Tzu is very much correct that we are all travelers, artists and scientists. All that remains is to determine whether or not we are good travelers, artists, and scientists. For, if we are good, we will embody the light. But, what if we are bad? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that, too.
The Master is our example of a good traveler, artist and scientist. In his travels he isn’t bound by fixed plans. He isn’t so intent on arriving that he is unavailable to anyone; so, he rejects no one. He lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants, keeping his mind open to what is, rather than being bound to certain concepts about the way things should be. This means he is ready to use all situations and never lets anything go to waste. This is what it means to embody the light.
We all want to be good travelers, artists, and scientists. We want to embody the light. But, what if we are bad?
This is why it is so important that there are good men and women out there. Good travelers, artists, and scientists. For, if you are bad, they are available to teach you. You are their reason for being.
I probably don’t have to point out that Lao Tzu’s good and bad, here, aren’t referring to good and evil. Lao Tzu isn’t making some moral judgment about people. Having fixed plans when you are traveling, and being intent on arriving, doesn’t make you evil. It just means you are unavailable. If you don’t let your intuition lead you, if your mind is closed to what is, you will encounter situations, time and time again, where you have to reject people; you will waste situations. That doesn’t make you evil. But it isn’t good. It is bad. You are in need of a teacher. An apprentice needs a master. And, a master needs an apprentice.
That is all Lao Tzu is saying, here. But this is something that many simply don’t understand. And, if you don’t understand this, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are; you are going to get lost. Letting us in on what he calls, the great secret, is his way of leading us to seek out a teacher, if we are bad; and a student, if we are good.