Archive for September, 2017
The Tao is empty, and it can never be used up or be filled.
It is so deep as if it were the origin of all things!
It rounds off its sharpness, unties the tangles; softens its light, and merges with the dust. It seems to be absent, yet it is present always.
I do not know whose child it is. It appears before the ancestor of all.
Lao Tzu continues to explain what Tao is. The Tao to him is emptiness, void, hollowness, vacuity, vacancy, blankness, abyss, bareness…but also limitless and bottomless, so it can not be filled. It is so vast that everything arises from it, so that it seems to be the origin of all.
Here he also describes how Tao appears in our life – rounds off its sharpness, unties the tangles; softens its light, and merges with the dust.
Bear all of the above in mind and do not forget that Tao is all about hollowness and emptiness as you read the continuation of this in chapter 16 – To empty yourself totally and attain the peace in your heart. (致虚极，守静笃)
In other words, the utmost state for Tao is not only to understand the emptiness but to become emptiness (thoughtlessness), thereby Tao, and become one.
A zoologist observed the antelopes on both sides of a river in the Savannah, noticing that their running speed and reproductive capacity were not the same.
The ones on the east bank of the river ran significantly faster than those on the west bank, and their reproductive capacity was also stronger. To explore the reasons, the zoologist put ten west bank antelopes on the east bank.
Image from https://www.soarlegs.com/travelers-guide-savannah-georgia/
In a short period, he found that wolves had eaten most of the west bank antelopes, and there were only three left. That was the answer: the antelopes on the east bank were stronger because wolves lived nearby, and to avoid the wolves, they had to run faster and longer. The west bank’s flock was weaker because they lacked a group of powerful natural enemies, so they were hunted first.
So we need to thank the suffering, the competitors, and the troubles in our lives because, without them, we would not be nearly as powerful or intelligent.
Buddha said that affliction is but Bodhi, and because of trouble, we want to learn and grow. Because of competitive opponents, we then have the power to know how to struggle.
Some people are always afraid to face trouble and look forward to just staying in a comfortable and pleasant environment. Those who live a comfortable life are blinded from seeing the problem. Comfort will make us not to want to grow. So thank all the troubles and unhappy things in your life, because they are our teachers, and they show up in our lives to teach us wisdom.
Exalt not the wise,
So that the people shall not scheme and contend;
Prize not rare objects,
So that the people shall not steal;
Shut out from sight the things of desire,
So that the people’s hearts shall not be disturbed.
Therefore in the government of the Sage:
He keeps empty their hearts
Makes full their bellies,
Discourages their ambitions,
Strengthens their frames;
So that the people may be innocent of knowledge and desires.
And the cunning ones shall not presume to interfere.
By action without deeds
May all live in peace.
(Translated by Yu Tang Lin)
If we over-esteem wise individuals, they will become competitive; If we overvalue possessions, people will begin to steal.
Do not display your treasures or people will become envious. The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their bellies, weakening their ambitions and making them secure. Then they will prefer simplicity and free themselves from desires.
He helps people lose everything, by avoiding the pitfall of knowledge and wrong action. For those who practice doing nothing will have everything fall into place. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9E7Ji8fH18).
Here is a historical example of a Chinese emperor. The reigns of Emperor Wen and his son (Wen-Jing zhi zhi 文景之治) are remembered as a time of peace and prosperity.
He was heavily influenced by his wife Empress Dou, who was an adherent of Taoism. Emperor Wen governed the country with general policies of non-interference with the people and relaxed laws. He practiced “doing nothing” during his 23 years of ruling.
Emperor Wen himself led a very simple life. The clothes he usually wore were of standard quality and were not the exquisite robes that emperors were typically expected to wear. Even his wardrobe set an example for the nation.
He created a social security system of sorts by which the government provided tax exemptions or loans for widowers, widows, orphans, and seniors. He even mandated that the government provide food to those over 80 years old, and that cloth and cotton for clothing be given to those over 90.
He emptied the people’s minds by freeing them from fear. He abolished guilt-by-association. No longer would the parents, siblings, or children of those convicted of a crime be punished for crimes that they did not commit.
He made peace with neighboring countries and also did not declare war, as he did not want to bring hardship to his people so that they could live in peace.
Emperor Wen also lessened restrictions on free speech. If things were not going well, he examined himself first to rectify it. He also believed that listening to and accepting suggestions from the people was useful, and could open up new opportunities and ways of governing the country.
In 178 BC, two solar eclipses occurred in November and December (then viewed as a symbol of divine displeasure), and he was concerned that he had not done enough for his people. He requested that officials give him honest criticism and recommend capable individuals for governmental positions. He also tried to decrease mandatory taxes and hard labor.
His reign was marked by thriftiness and attempts to reduce burdens on the people. During the reign of Emperor Wen, one of the lowest tax rates in Chinese history was recorded. Two years after his death, the tax rate was as low as 3.3% of one’s income. He cared for his people and filled their bellies.
Even after death, he lived by his practice of “doing nothing.” He issued an order that his tomb would not house any decorative metals such as gold or silver. Instead, only humble pottery would be used. It also stipulated that his tomb should only be of a moderate size to avoid burdening the people with increased labor and using up resources.
A Zen master was meditating in the river, when he heard the sound of struggling. He saw a scorpion splashing in the water when he opened his eyes. He reached out and pulled it out, but he was stung by the scorpion. He put the scorpion on the shore, continued to meditate.
After a while, he heard the sound of struggling again. He opened his eyes and saw that the scorpion had fallen into the water again. He picked it up again to put it back on the shore; he was stung again, of course. But he continued to meditate. Again, after some time, the same misfortune happened again.
A fisherman nearby said to him, “Are you stupid, don’t you know the scorpion will sting?” The Zen master replied, “I know, the scorpion stung me three times.” The fisherman was puzzled. “Why do you still want to save it?” The Zen master replied, “The sting is its nature, but compassion is my nature, and my nature will not change because of its nature.”
At this time, he heard the sound of the struggling again. Yes, it was that same scorpion. He looked at his swollen hands and then looked at the struggling scorpion in the water; he reached out again without hesitation. Before he could pick up the scorpion, the fisherman gave him a dry branch. The Zen master used this branch to pick up the scorpion and place it on the shore instead.
Image is from A Safer Way to Milk a Scorpion – D-brief
The fisherman smiled and said, “It is right and proper to be merciful. But if you want to be compassionate to a scorpion, you have to treat yourself the same. To be able to be compassionate to the others, we should have the means to do that.”
When you can be kind to yourself, then you can be kind to the others. I liked the story; it reminds me of the saying: “It is not easy to be a nice person.” Indeed, It is in their nature for a kind person to do a good deed. But the object of doing good is not necessarily good; the result of doing good does not necessarily bring you the good fruit. Why is this so? As the fisherman said: “You need the means of compassion to be able to be compassionate to others.”
Compassion is right, but you need to apply it to both the scorpion and yourself. It reminds us that the means of compassion are first to be accountable to yourself and then to be accountable to others. If a person cannot even take care of himself, how can he take care of others? When you can treat yourself well, then you are qualified and able to treat others well.
The Zen master often have an insight for the philosophical things that make people suddenly see truth, but they are confused about simple things. Everyday people on the other hand, understand simple and down to earth truths that show that zen is in everyone.
The original text is in Chinese (http://blog.xuite.net/deivyavan/blog/206053768), I translated it into English so you can enjoy this enlightening story.
When the people of the Earth all know beauty as beauty,
There arises (the recognition of) ugliness.
When the people of the Earth all know the good as good,
There arises (the recognition of) evil.
Being and non-being interdepend in growth;
Difficult and easy interdepend in completion;
Long and short interdepend in contrast;
High and low interdepend in position;
Tones and voice interdepend in harmony;
Front and behind interdepend in company.
Therefore the Sage:
Manages affairs without action;
Preaches the doctrine without words;
All things take their rise, but he does not turn away from them;
He gives them life, but does not take possession of them;
He acts, but does not appropriate;
Accomplishes, but claims no credit.
It is because he lays claim to no credit
That the credit cannot be taken away from him.
(Translated by Yu Tang Lin- See note )
Some scholars regard the first and second chapters as the introduction of the Tao Te Ching.
Here Lao Tze gives us a new word- “inter-depend.” It is neither “depend” or “independent.” In his concise way, he tells us there is no contrast and no conflict for all things, but they should coexist and be complementary instead.
He goes further to apply the nothingness or emptiness to our livelihood by giving us the example of the sage.
As an actor, I’ve had a lot of chances to audition for different characters. But this year, it seems like I’ve had a hard time booking any roles. The other day, when I went to an audition, I thought that I should apply what I had learned from Lao Tzu to them. I just focused on myself and changed the outfit I used to wear, dressing in brighter colors and putting my hair down. Overall, I caught people’s eye more often.
When I went in, I felt alright, and the colors I wore also made me feel more confident. Not to my surprise, I got a callback. I was excited because there were more people than I realized. It took about two days for the audition, so the competition was fierce. I haven’t been acting for too long, and I knew I had many competitors that had a lot more acting experience than me. Delighted, I went back for the callback.
The gentleman who went in with me happened to sit next to me before we were called to go in. He was not at peace and complaining a lot about why we had only gotten a few hours notice for a callback. But I was just happy that I had received a callback.
When we went in together, he happened to be acting as my partner. Unlike the first audition, there was more than just one person inside. They started to give us instructions, and I quietly listened, knowing following instructions was important. My partner, again, was anxious and kept asking me whether I heard them or not.
When we started to act, I quietly did what I needed to do and acted more than I talked. My partner did the opposite and kept adding more lines for himself. When I left, I didn’t know what to think because there were still a lot of people here for callbacks, but the day after, I was happy to find out that they booked me for the commercial.
As I think back, after posting the first chapter of Lao Tzu, I realized we don’t have to compete or be anxious when we try. We should follow his principle of “doing nothing” and leave it to our inner selves. Since I wasn’t trying too hard and I wasn’t anxious, my appearance was much calmer and more peaceful as compared to my partner. It also showed how confident I was, because outward appearances attract people’s attention.
When Lao Tzu says to “do nothing,” it still means to take action. Rather, you act in a way where people will see the peacefulness and calmness within you. You do not see hardships to struggle through because you do not claim them as your own. Then it just comes to you naturally.
Chinese: 林語堂; pinyin: Lín Yǔtáng; October 10, 1895 – March 26, 1976) was a Chinese writer, translator, linguist, and inventor. His informal but polished style in both Chinese and English made him one of the most influential writers of his generation, and his compilations and translations of classic Chinese texts into English were bestsellers in the West.-Wikipedia