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In Michael Dowd's extraordinarily comprehensive book on the new cosmology, Thank God for Evolution, he notes that people everywhere-- "if they are to function as individuals and cohere as a group"-- have always needed to answer "the big picture questions."
Those questions include "What is our relationship to other life forms and the powers of the Universe?" and "How are we to live in accordance with those powers?"
Although the Tao Te Ching is three thousand years old, it offers responses to those questions which fit remarkably well with the contemporary convergence of science and religion. I think of it as A Manual for the New Cosmology.
If you are new to this blog and/or to the Tao Te, you might like to see my introduction in post #68 before reading this post. What follows is a version of the first third of the ancient text.
As usual, your feedback is welcomed.
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Tao Te Ching, Sam's version, sections 1-27
1. Describing the Mystery out of which the universe emerges is impossible. It simply can't be described.
But we can say something about it from the way the world works. We can't understand the Mystery in itself, but to some extent we can see its power and presence operating in the world.
In itself, the Mystery is utterly unknowable. It is what makes knowing possible!
2. When we label something beautiful, that makes other things ugly; when we label something good, that makes other things bad.
We understand things and their opposites in terms of one another: difficult in contrast to easy, long in contrast to short, high in contrast to low, what comes before in contrast to what comes after.
So persons who are attuned to the cosmic process can accomplish things without being overlyactive and can explain things without being overly verbal.
As things come and go, they let the process happen. While they may "have" things, they don't own them; and while they of course "do" things, they don't look for big results.
When their work is done, they just let it go-- which is what makes it available for everyone, everywhere.
3. When we fawn on the rich and famous, others are reduced to insignificance; when we prize our possessions too much, others want to have them.
Balanced persons lead others not by creating things for them to be anxious about or by helping them acquire what they need, but by helping them to be less acquisitive and to be able to take care of themselves.
Balanced leaders help people let go of what they think is important and what they hanker for, and help those who think they know it all to be less arrogant.
When those in charge don't force issues, things tend to work out well.
4. The way the universe works is like a deep well that never runs out. It is full of unlimited possibilities.
We can't see the Mystery from which the universe emerges, but its power is always present. It is the overflowing source of everything.
5. The Way of the universe doesn't favor what's conventionally considered good over what's conventionally considered evil. Balanced persons don't play favorites either; they welcome everyone without judging who's good and who's not.
The Way of the universe is like a bellows: its very emptiness is what makes it useful. The more we use it, the more results we get; but the more we think about it, the less sense it makes.
So, we need to keep in balance.
6. The Great Mystery is not any thing, but its inexhaustible power is always present and available to us.
7. The source of the universe is unlimited in space and time.
It is unlimited temporally because it never started and doesn't end. It is unlimited spatially because it has no needs and so is available to everyone everywhere.
In the same way, balanced persons don't need to be first in anything, so that makes them first in everything. Their own needs aren't prominent, so they can be one with all things. They are not ego-focused, so they are what they are naturally.
8. Goodness is like water which nourishes everything without effort. It always flows downhill and stays in low places which are disdained by most people. In that way, good is like the Mystery behind the way the universe works.
Therefore, balanced persons live close to earth, keep life simple, are fair and generous in conflicts, don't try to take over when in charge, work at what they like, and are totally involved with their families.
When we are content to live simply and not in competition with others we are respected by all.
9. A bowl too full spills over, a knife too often sharpened dulls. If we chase after money and security, our hearts tighten up. If we care about what others think of us, we become their prisoners.
The only way to be at peace in our hearts is to do our work, then sit back and relax.
10. Can we coax our mind from its wanderings and keep attentive to our original unity with everything? Can we let our body become supple as a newborn child's? Can we cleanse our inner vision until we see nothing but the light?
Can we love people and lead them without imposing our will on them?
Can we deal with the most vital matters by letting events take their course? Can we step back from our own mind and thus understand everything?
Giving birth and nourishing, having without possessing, acting with no expectations, leading and not trying to control-- this is the Way we are to be!
11. We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move. We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. We hammer wood together to make a house, but it is the space inside the wooden frame that makes it livable.
We work with-- join, shape, hammer-- things. But it's the no-thing-- the hole, the emptiness, the space-- that we use.
12. Bright colors can blind the eye. Loud sounds can deafen the ear. Strong flavors can numb the taste. Intense thoughts can weaken the mind. Powerful desires can wither the heart.
So while balanced persons see the world outside themselves, they also trust their inner perceptions. They are willing to let go of superficial views and focus on the deeper realities.
13. Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow and empty as fear.
Success can be as dangerous as failure, in the same way that our position is shaky when we are going up or down a ladder. It's when we stand with our two feet on the ground that we keep our balance.
Hope can be as hollow as fear because hope and fear both arise from thinking about the small ego-self. When we don't see the small self as The Self, what do we have to fear?
See all the things of the world as your authentic self. Trust in the Way things work. Love the world as your deepest true self. Then you can take care of things.
14. Even if we look, we can't see it. Even if we listen, we can't hear it. When we try to reach for it, we can't grasp it.
It's not bright above or dark below. It had no parts or names and always fades back into no-thing-ness.
The shape of the no-thing contains all shapes; the image of the no-thing has no image. It's hard to understand, beyond all ideas and thoughts.
If we go towards it, we see that it has no front; if we go behind it, we see that it has no rear. It's not something we can know, but it is something we can be-- when we are comfortable with ourselves, when we realize our dynamic source. That's the essence of wisdom.
15. In ancient times, balanced persons were deep and wise. Their wisdom was beyond understanding; it can't be characterized. All we can do today is describe how they seemed to be back then.
They were careful as a person crossing an iced-over stream. They were alert as a warrior in enemy territory. They were courteous as a guest, fluid as melting ice, shape-able as an uncarved block of wood, receptive as a valley, clear as a glass of water.
We need to wait patiently until our mind settles and becomes clear as water. We need to not do anything until the right thing to do becomes obvious.
Balanced persons don't seek to be fulfilled. They don't seek or expect anything; rather, they are present to, and welcome, whatever comes.
16. We need to empty our minds of rambling thoughts and let our hearts be peaceful. We need to observe how things are always changing while keeping in mind the unity of everything.
All things have the one source. Being one with everything is how we become peaceful. If we're not consciously united with the All, we stumble around confused and sad.
When we realize our union with everything we are more tolerant, more objective, more patient. We are as kind as an old grandmother, as dignified as a king. In awe and wonder we can deal with whatever we have to; and when it's time to die, we are ready.
17. Even though they are in charge, the best leaders are those who people hardly know exist. The second best leaders are those who are loved. Third best are those who are feared. Least good are leaders who are hated. When we don't trust people, we make them untrustworthy.
Balanced leaders don't do a lot of talking, they act. And when they are done, the people say, "Isn't it amazing! We did this all by ourselves!"
18. When the Mystery behind the cosmic process is ignored, people "get religion" and start acting pious. When consciousness of the wisdom of the body is lost, people start acting informed and clever. When families become dysfunctional, "family values" appear. When a country falls into chaos, people become patriotic.
19. When we get rid of the conventional idea that everybody should be holy and wise, people will be much happier. When we get rid of the idealistic thought that everybody should be upright and just, people will act decently. When we get rid of the ideal of working hard and making money, there will be fewer thieves.
The main idea is that we just need to stay balanced and let things flow naturally.
20. When we stop the endless academic talk we have fewer problems.
Whether anyone agrees with us or not makes no difference. Neither does whether we are considered a success or failure.
We don't need to have the same values as everyone else or the same likes and dislikes they do. That's just silly.
People get all excited about things the way children do at a parade, but some of us aren't into fads. Some of us are like a newborn infant who has yet to smile.
Others have much, some of us have almost nothing. Some of us drift about as if we are homeless. Some of us act like mind-less fools.
While others are bright, some of us are dark. While others are sharp, some of us are dull. While others have life-goals, some of us don't. Some of us are like a wave on the ocean, or an aimless wind.
Unlike those others, those of us who are outsiders are nourished from the breasts of the Great Mother.
21. Balanced persons are always aware of the Mystery behind the universe and this gives them a certain aura. But the Great Mystery is unknowable, so how can they be aware of it? The answer is because they are not stuck in thoughts and concepts.
The Mystery behind the universe is also beyond light, so how can it give those always aware of it an aura? The answer is because they let it.
The Mystery of the universe is beyond space and time; it doesn't "exist" but it is. How do we know this? Because we look inside ourselves and experience it.
22. To be whole, be partial. To be straight, be crooked. To be full, be empty. To be reborn, die. To have everything, have nothing.
Because they are one with the Great Mystery, balanced persons are an example for everyone. They don't put themselves on display, so everyone can see their light. They're not out to prove anything, so their words can be trusted. They don't try to project an image, so people can see themselves reflected in them. They have no goal, so whatever they do is successful.
When the wise ones of the past said "to have everything we have to give up all things," they weren't just spouting words. We can really be ourselves only when we live in union with the Cosmic Mystery.
23. We need to say what we have to say and then be quiet. We need to be like the forces of nature: wind blowing, rain raining, clouds passing, sun shining.
When we open ourselves to the universe, we are one with it and we can embody it thoroughly. When we open ourselves to its power, we are one with it and we can use it completely. When we open ourselves to loss, we are one with loss and can accept it totally.
When we trust our natural responses, everything falls into place and we are embraced by all things.
24. Those who stand on tiptoe don't stand firm. Those who rush ahead don't go far. Those who try to look brilliant dim their true light. Those who focus attention on themselves don't really know who they are.
Those with power over others can't empower themselves. Those who cling to their work can create nothing of lasting value.
If we hope to be participants in the cosmic process, we just have to do our work, then stop.
25. Even before the universe came to be, there was something-- without form or limit. It was peaceful, empty, alone, unchanging, infinite, present.
It is the mother of everything. Although it has no name, we can call it the Mystery behind the universe. It moves within all things, inside and out, and everything emerges from it.
There are four great realities: humanity, the Earth, the physical universe and the Mystery behind the universe. Humanity emerges from the Earth, the Earth emerges from the universe, and the physical universe comes from the Mystery behind it. The Mystery has no source other than itself.
26. What's heavy is the foundation of all that is light, just as what doesn't move is the source of all that moves.
So, balanced persons can travel all day without leaving home, and without losing sight of their luggage.
Why should those in charge want to flit about like fools? When we let ourselves get blown around, we lose touch with our foundations. When we move around because we're restless, we lose touch with who and what we are.
27. Good pilgrims have no fixed plans and are not intent on finishing their pilgrimage. Good artists let their intuitive insight lead them wherever it wants to. Good scientists are free from ideological dogmas and keep their minds open to the real world.
In the same way, balanced teachers make themselves available to all; they reject no one and put every kind of situation to good use. For this reason they are described as being an embodiment of light.
Just as a good person can be a bad person's teacher, so a bad person can be a good person's teacher. No matter how smart we are, we'll always be lost if we don't realize this.
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