Tao Te Ching – Chapter 34
The great Tao is like an ocean.
It fills the universe
and all things rely upon it.
It gives us birth
and never abandons us.
It does all this marvelous work and needs no recognition.
It nourishes and sustains us yet does not claim to own us.
It has no need for glory
so it blends into the background and is hardly ever noticed.
It is the true home to which we return, yet it wants no worship.
No wonder we consider it great.
Our own greatness doesn’t come from power or control.
We just live our lives each moment as the greatness that we are.
It is such a relief to forever lay aside fears of offending, displeasing, or somehow getting on the wrong side of a god. Everywhere I look is the not-so-hidden Tao. It sits in front of me as the huge lava cinder cone named Black Butte. East of Black Butte, it rests majestically as Mount Shasta – Queen of Mountains. At my feet it sips from a plate of water as a Black-Headed Grosbeak, then flits away in search of tiny insects for dinner. And… it sits at this keyboard typing words in a futile attempt to capture the wonder of it all.
Since this Great Tao has no need for ownership, power, or control, why should Itttt? It blends into the background and has no need to be noticed. Yet I still look to be noticed, approved of, and affirmed. But I am changing. Anonymity is becoming a more powerful pull in my life. I sit this evening looking over the meadow that my father and grandfather enjoyed. I worked today clearing brush and come to the end of the day with an ever-increasing satisfaction at being unnoticed. My goals are transforming and I’m starting to think that it would be nice to be, “cloud hidden, whereabouts unknown.”
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 33
Studying other people brings us knowledge.
Studying our own mind brings us freedom.
Overcoming other people requires force.
Overcoming our conditioning requires true power.
Once we realize that we always have everything we need,
we understand that we are truly adequate for our life.
Identifying with our true nature,
we discover that we are adequate for our death as well.
The study of my mind is a confusing process. I mean, I’m using my mind to study my mind – how convoluted is that? Nevertheless, that study is necessary if I am to discover the myriad illusions that my conditioning has created over the decades. There is no way of proving this, but I firmly believe that there is a “Mind” underlying and beyond the ordinary mind that can undertake this study. I call it my, “Tao Mind.” It might be called Universal Consciousness, Cosmic Consciousness, Buddha Nature, etc – but it is the Essence of all life and is the mechanism that allows for true spiritual evolution.
I am trying to turn my attention to this Mind in all of my activities – walking, reading, writing, meditation, conversing, working in the garden, doing Qigong – everything. As I am able to cultivate my awareness of this underlying Reality, everything seems to relax into its proper place and peace descends – a peace independent of circumstances; the kind of peace the great teachers of our race have understood and tried to communicate to us.
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 32
What we have been calling Tao really has no name.
Naming something, we think we understand it.
What we call Tao is far too subtle for that.
We experience it in our own true nature.
If we can keep to our own true nature,
all external and internal strife falls away.
Peace descends on our lives
like a gentle rain from Heaven.
Joy flows from the Earth
like a mighty river.
There is no need to urge ourselves to do good.
Goodness is our heart’s true nature.
The more we use words,
the more distinctions we make.
The more distinctions we make,
the more we suffer.
When we stop taking distinctions seriously,
we cease to suffer.
We return to peace
just as streams and rivers
return to the ocean.
The divisions within our society have grown so momentous that we seem to have little time for seeking our “true nature.” We are too busy defending or attacking. To back away from the constant conflict and find a deeper reflection on life appears dangerous. “They” might continue to do their evil deeds unless we are hyper-vigilant. Every word and micro-action becomes a distinction to be labeled either “good” or “bad.” This continual parsing of life into labels will never bring us peace.
I have come to believe that the only way to work for peace and justice is to diligently work at discovering and remaining true to my own inherent nature. It is not a narcissistic fantasy to assume that only when I am at peace will I be able to contribute to peace. Only when I experience light will I radiate light. Everything that is dysfunctional about humanity right now has, at one time or another, been inside my own head. As that mess gradually becomes clear and I gain a new perspective on my fears, judgments, angers, and resistances, I begin to see how the Tao can naturally flow within me – and within you, my friends. Then we become part of the River of Justice without resistance or moral effort.
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 31
Weapons of violence
are contrary to the common good, no matter how skillfully used.
So we vow to do no harm.
Faced with unavoidable violence we remember this vow,
and return immediately to peace.
Battles are not with “enemies” but with beings like ourselves.
Knowing this, we do not rejoice in victory nor take delight in the downfall of others.
Victory is an illusion and gains us nothing.
Once a battle is over we lay our weapons down and weep that this has happened.
Lao-Tzu was not a complete pacifist. He realized that, in the world of Yin and Yang that occasionally – very occasionally – a “violent” action might be necessary. He did not, however, as do many modern apologists for warfare, assume that violence was a fundamental right of nation states. Weapons of violence and violence itself are inseparable partners and both are harmful to the human psyche.
Have we ever wept at a victory? We should. “Mission accomplished” is a callous and despicable way of expressing the death of tens of thousands of human beings. Every single member of the armed forces should be seen as a wounded victim of a misguided expression of fear and treated with healing and restorative energy. We should weep that they were put in that position and offer them our apologies. My son recently retired from a career in the Army that included three deployments to war zones. I know what I am talking about.
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 30
Practicing this path,
we do not struggle.
To struggle is to invite resistance.
To invite resistance is to create suffering in our life,
and in the world.
Paying attention to the present moment,
we see the things that we must do.
We do them without complaint,
resistance, or second-guessing, then we stop.
We don’t complicate our actions by seeking control or recognition.
Correct action, however difficult,
is naturally focused and effective.
Adding struggle complicates
and does not lead to lasting good.
I’m back again to wu-wei – that wonderful sense of activity, even vigorous activity, simply doing itself. Life is not a struggle. Times of difficulty may arise, even health and life-threatening difficulty. At these times we may feel a sense of struggle, but there is another option. We can develop a mind that relaxes into difficulty and navigates it the way an expert river pilot navigates rapids.
Most of my struggles at the moment are the result of stories I am telling myself about the speed at which things are unfolding. I’m impatient because my mind has been conditioned to believe that delay is somehow dangerous. If I am anticipating something good, delay means that it might not happen, thus leaving me disappointed. But when I struggle to hurry things along, I create resistance and friction in a process that has its own natural way of flowing. I also miss the things that are happening along the way to “what I want,” – things that are wonderful in and of themselves.
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 29
Attempting to control external events
will never keep us safe.
Control is an illusion.
Whatever we try to control,
we separate from ourselves.
Whatever we try to fix, we ruin.
Life is sacred,
and flows exactly as it should.
We return to our breathing.
It knows exactly what to do,
rising and falling without conscious control.
In the same way
we sometimes have an excess
and sometimes have a lack.
We sometimes assert ourselves,
and sometimes hold back.
We sometimes succeed,
and sometimes fail completely.
Our practice is to see all this
without taking it seriously.
That way we do not abandon ourselves.
We remain at peace.
I have lived for almost a year greatly expanding the boundaries of my “comfort zone.” A good friend, and former Outward Bound instructor, is writing a book about the learning process. She states that only when we step outside our “Zone of Comfort” into the “Discomfort Zone” can we learn anything. I have certainly learned a lot!
But there is another zone, outside the discomfort zone that she calls the “Panic Zone.” If we push ourselves too far we end up in situations where our discomfort is too great and we panic or freeze rather than integrate learning. At those times we need something to help us find our way back to a place that will stabilize us. I found myself in the Panic Zone a couple of times during my transitions this year and it was The Tao Te Ching and its gentle advice that rooted me and kept me from complete decompensation.
Breathe in, breathe out. You’ll be OK.
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 28
Striving to make our way in the world seems prudent.
But if we trust our heart
we may find that the way opens
with the effortless ease of a budding flower.
Striving to live a life of virtue is approved of by all.
But if we trust our heart
we may find the power of our true nature
everywhere we turn,
in everyone we meet.
capture our attention.
But it is our true nature,
existing beneath our personality,
that brings power and purpose to our life.
Separate from our true nature,
we create forms and functions and struggle to make them work.
Returning to our original nature,
we use the forms and functions for the benefit of all.
It isn’t showy. All of the flashy trinkets and fancy toys have nothing to do with the Tao. Neither does an outward display of piety. To strive for these is to fall victim to a cruel hoax – the lie that says we lack something essential to happiness. We don’t.
Our disastrous relationship to technology arises from believing that lie. Doing so causes us to struggle to make our technology give us a better life, when we have no idea of what that better life might look like. If I understand that the Way opens with effortless ease because it is my true nature, then I may be able to make technology once again a useful tool of compassion. It’s not easy because the hidden assumptions of each piece of technology spring from the lie.