Clay is fashioned into vessels, but it is on their empty hollowness that their use depends.
- Lao Tzu
What we see, feel, hear, smell and taste creates what we know of the material world. It is easy to think that is all there is. Within form and around form, however, is the non-material world: space, emptiness, no-thing. We neglect sometimes that space and fail to see its usefulness. its everythingness.
So much wisdom offered in the 81 verses quickly written by Lao Tzu as a means to get permission to pass through a border and into another country. I love to read those verses and to soak up the wisdom they offer. I am presently reading James Legge's translation. He adds a bit of poetic intention with rhyme scheme etc from time to time. I am not sure Lao Tzu had the same intention but it works.
Let's briefly go through the next eight verses.
This verse basically teaches that it is not always best to have more. If we have a lot in our possession our loads are heavy to carry. If we are proud of how sharp something is and we constantly want to feel that sharpness, our grabbing and clinging can make it dull (less desirable). The more wealth we have the more we need to defend and attack in order to keep it safe. It can also lead to arrogance ( ego evil). These things are not important...they are not the way of heaven. It is best to do what we are here to do without such possession or recognition...to simply remain obscure or at least return to obscurity (humble).
I think of the Dalai Lama's words:
No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character lie in the subjective nature of the mind.
Verse Ten speaks to the idea of perfecting human nature. We do so by recognizing our oneness with all life, putting away this notion of separation that keeps us distant. We also do so by relaxing into our being ness...which we can do, for example, through breath awareness. We can also get there by getting beyond all that our minds try to get us to believe.
Perfecting our human nature is not necessarily achieved through action or doing...but through being present. We can be like 'mother birds' who simply sit on their nests and allow the beings beneath them to grow as the gates of heaven and earth open and close. True intelligence is not about conceptual knowledge...but about understanding who we really are ...being ...simply being is wisdom that extends to all . We can be like the Tao ...nourishing ...producing all things without owning them or possessing them. There is no ego involved in the way...no control... yet it leads so perfectly, offering everything. This is the mysterious quality of the Tao.
Again, we go back to the Dalai Lama:
If your life becomes only a medium of production, then many of the good human values and characteristics will be lost - then you will not, cannot, become a complete person.
This beautiful verse speaks to what the Buddhist call Shunyata or emptiness. Though the wheel has thirty spokes, what makes it move is the empty space on the axis. Though the clay cup or pot is made of solid material (clay), it is the space within the cup that we fill and use to drink out from...if there was no space the cup would have no use. Though a house has solid walls with windows...it is in the empty space within those walls that we can live. The point is that what is of form and can be seen, heard, felt, etc is something we can make the most of but the real usefulness is in the emptiness, or the space.
Here Lao Tzu tells us how dependency on our five senses to determine the quality of our lives can lead to madness and an inability to experience what is real...what cannot be seen, heard, felt, tasted or touched. Attempts to satisfy the cravings inspired by these bodily senses can make men 'evil'. The wise person, will not seek to satisfy the senses but to simply feed the belly....focus only on what is needed by the body for survival. He/she realizes that these other cravings will never be satisfied.
We should fear favour just as much as we should fear disgrace and good fortune and calamity are really the same.
We normally anticipate that fear comes with disgrace which is the loss of favour...therefore we fear losing that favour. So when we are in everyone's good graces ....do we not fear that we will not be able to hold onto that status thus causing us to be afraid? And we normally understand that having a lot of bad luck is a negative personal condition, but if that is the case good fortune is too. We would worry about losing good fortune and falling to the brink of despair if everything was going our way, would we not? And really as long as we are in physical form ...we can expect to have some challenges right? If we favour the kingdom as we favour ourselves we will be fit to rule it. If we could love the kingdom as much as we loved ourselves we would be entrusted with the care of it.
In this verse we are told that the Tao is the One and it consists of three qualities: It is equable (unseen even though we are looking at it), inaudible( unheard even though we are listening to it) and it is ungraspable ( can not be held even though it is is right in front of us). It can not then be named or described with words but if we blend these three qualities together we call it the One. It is neither bright nor obscure. Because it never stops doing and it always returns to that state of stillness, silence, emptiness or nothingness ...it is no -thing. It is formless, invisible, temporary and unpredictable. Because of this we meet it without seeing its front and we follow it without seeing its backside. Unwinding the clue of the Tao involves understanding its indescribable characteristics and allowing it to direct our lives regardless of the fact we can not see , hear, hold or name it.
Here we hear of the old Tao masters of the past who were able to fully understand the nature of its truth. Those who truly followed the way we're like the Tao, beyond being understood . They were shrinking, irresolute, cautious, evanescent, unpretentious, vacant and dull??
They allowed it to just be! We make muddy water clear and movement still, not by resisting or struggling against but, by just allowing them to be. The water will become clear if we just let it be. Movement will eventually end if we just let it be. Those who attempt to preserve the motion of the Tao (let it be) can afford to appear tired and less than perfect...there is no ego.
Spaciousness is something to be brought to its full potential and stillness is something to be fiercely protected. All things will return to their natural state after they have completed their own processes. Vegetation will return to its roots which can be called the state of stillness.
We do the same. Once we reach this state we know that we have completed what we are here to do. The unchanging rule is taught to us through report of that fulfillment.
Intelligence is knowing that rule....without knowledge of it we are prone to reckless, evil behaviour. Knowledge of this rule leads to a great capacity to handle what life offers and to be at one with all beings ( community) . We then can develop the characters of kings and from there we become heaven-like. When we are heaven-like we have the Tao/are living the Tao. Having the Tao protects us from decay as long as we are in our bodies.
Wow! Such great wisdom ...it inspires me to read more
All is well.