It's been most of 20 years since I first discovered Lao Tsu's Tao Te Ching. I was in a pretty hippie-dippy lifestyle and mindset, and had all but shunned Catholicism. In short, it jived with me.
I'm a little bit less of a hippie now than I was then, but I reckon I'm still a hippie at heart and there's a lot about eastern thought that I still dig.
Whether it was age, immaturity, my daily bong hits for breakfast or a combination of all of the above, it was hard to wrap my head around every thing this text tried to communicate but it spoke to me nonetheless. I love the message in its passages and would be remiss if I didn't mention Benjamin Hoff's The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet as cornerstones for helping me better understand the concepts.
When I finished the last book I was reading and returned to my shelves for the next project I came across my old copy of Tao Te Ching, and although it sat there silent, sandwiched between Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, it spoke to me again.
And I couldn't have been happier to see my old friend.
So I've spent the last two months with it, contemplating its lines, embracing some of its messages, shaking my fists at its simplicity.
As a whole, the publication is as any other book is and should be: imperfect.
That doesn't detract from its message, though. I think -- as a people, a chapter in the universe's history -- that so much good could be harvested from the world if we all made an effort to follow a sliver of what Lao Tsu wrote. Like books, I'm far from perfect and am humbled by revisiting these pages and having a greater understanding of my flaws and how I can become a better human being.
Anyway: Whether it was a good idea or not, it occurred to me that I was nearing my 10,000th tweet and since the elements between heaven and earth are referred to as the 10,000 things, I thought I'd try to condense each chapter into a 140-character-or-less synopsis. There are a few exceptions around which I could not dance, and I should thank James Inman for turning me onto the Stephen Mitchell translation of the text, which I turned to often in this exercise. The results follow.
I love you people.
Speech/ID aren't being, but vehicles of care. W/o want: confusion; w/focus: possibility. W/o light the homonymic roots=obscurity illuminated
B/c of beauty-->ugliness; good's deemed by evil. Sage does not; the 10K things create w/o possession, work w/o credit, forget into eternity.
Don't pedestal talented=strife avoided. Greed: quieted w/gain absence. Shun need=pure heart. Live 4 life, not want. Clear mind=no lure. Undo
Unfull/tapped the Taoan well=ever-replenished. Blunted sharpness/untangled knot/softened glare. Merged w/dust the ageless source in the dark
No sides in the universe. The 10K things=things. The wise=fair; people=just people. Existence=a vacuum w/consistent movement. Stay centered.
Between heaven & earth=an undying spirit, the original mother who delivers (clouded) life -- an available source -- to the 10K things/worlds
Heaven/earth=eternal, for they weren't born/won't die. Behind but ahead, detached but w/all=the Sage who finds fulfillment via selflessness.
Acme of good=H2O; natural food 4 even the "unwanted," akin 2 the Tao. Cherish the earth/embrace kindness, truth, justice, joy, & presence.
Seek balance. Strive for the regard of others & you will become bound to them. Rest upon work's completion & you will travel a peaceful path
Value body/soul as 1. Be flexible/alert as an infant. Shed the past. Love/lead w/o will. Be open 2 all. Have w/o possessing. Work w/o credit
Spokes->wheel; hub->movement. Clay->pot; space inside->use. Walls->doors/windows; they lead outside. Merit: what's there; value: what's not.
Color blinds. Tones deafen. Flavors dull. Thoughts weaken. Desire decays. The Sage follows feelings rather than senses; releasing, choosing.
Shame/misfortune=part of humanity. Find acceptance in them & in being unimportant. Don't value loss/gain. Surrender yourself; care for all.
It can't be seen, heard, or held. It's not bright or dark. Approach: no beginning. Follow: no end. Move w/present. Be @ ease n your own life
The Sage: profound, subtle, wise, careful, alert, courteous, fluid, shapable, receptive, clear. Be patient & still w/o seeking fulfillment.
B empty, still, & watch the return of the 10K things as they rise & fall. In growth they flourish, return 2 the source. The return=stillness
Stillness=nature. Nature=unchanging. Constancy=open-mindedness. Open-mindedness=open-heartedness. Open-heartedness=magnificent.
W/magnificence comes divinity. W/divinity comes oneness. W/oneness comes the Tao (the way), which is forever, even after our body dies.
Sanctity=almost unknown. Next: known/loved. Then: feared. Last: despised. Lack of trust->untrustworthiness. Sanctity does; we take credit.
Empty mind=altruism. Knowledge begets feign. W/o peace in family, we have duty, expected respect. W/peace in country, patriotism=forgotten.
W/o holiness/wisdom->increased happiness. W/o morality/justice->increased compassion. W/o imagination/gain->theft would fade. Temper desire.
Unlike others I drift, alone, have nothing; am a fool, confused, dim, weak, and dull. Give up learning; end your troubles. I am nourished.
Elusive, intangible is the way and the greatest merit is to follow the way. Within are image, form, essence, and in the essence, faith.
If there is a thing you want, embrace its opposite and you shall have. By not doing, brightened becomes the value of all there is to be done
If the universe cannot make a thing everlasting, why would man think *he* can? Open yourself up to the thing. Be at one with whatever it is.
Stand firm. Employ a steady pace. Avoid flashiness. Do not be smug, boast, or brag. These pieces of extra baggage do not bring happiness.
The Tao is serene, empty, solitary, unchanging, infinite, present. It flows through all things, inside and out, returning to the origin.
The Sage travels all day, unattached & calm in the presence of the beautiful things. He is heavy like light's root, unmoved by restlessness.
The Sage cares for all men, all things, abandons none. He respects the teacher, cares for the student. His open mind lets intuition lead him
W/man's strength, woman's care, honor, & humility, u can return 2 the state of the uncarved block, be a child again, an example to the world
The universe=sacred. It cannot be improved, changed, or held. Ahead/behind, hard/easy, strong/weak, up/down, the Sage avoids extremes.
Do -- w/o force -- what must be done. Achieve results w/o glory, boasting, or pride. Results=the natural way. But not through violence.
The wise uses weapons only when he has no choice. He endears peace & quiet, does not rejoice at victory; that would show delight in killing.
Undefined, unformed, the Tao cannot be harnessed or grasped. Otherwise, the 10K things would obey, heaven & earth would come together.
Know others=wisdom. Know the self=enlightenment. Mastering others requires force. Mastering the self needs strength. Stay present, centered.
The Tao flows everywhere; the 10K things depend on it, return to it. It fulfills w/o claim/is not their lord/does not show greatness.
Keeping to the Tao keeps one in touch w/universal harmony. Still it cannot be described. It cannot be seen, heard, or exhausted.
Expand b4 shrink; strong b4 weak; raised b4 cast down; giving b4 receiving: natural perception. Soft/weak>hard/strong; no weapons display.
Tao's non-action leaves nothing undone. Were rulers 2 c, the 10K things->natural development. W/o form: no desire; w/o desire: tranquility.
Lost Tao=goodness. Lost goodness=kindness. Lost kindness=justice. Lost justice=ritual. Ritual=faith/loyalty/chaos root. The fruit>the flower
Sky: clear; earth: firm; spirit: strong; valley: full; 10K things: alive. All: whole. Humble=noble root. Love the parts/understand the whole
Returning is the motion of the Tao. Yielding is the way of the Tao. The 10K things are born of being. Being is born of not being.
Bright seems dim; forward like retreat; easy way seems hard. Great talent ripens late; highest notes=hard 2 hear. The greatest form=no shape
The 10K things carry yin, embrace yang. Combined: harmony. Ordinary men hate solitude but the Sage embraces aloneness; he's one w/universe.
What has no substance enters where there is no space. The Sage teaches w/o words, performs w/o actions. Too much success=not an advantage.*
*last line from chapter 39
He who is attached to things will suffer much. A contented man -- he who shuns fame, self, wealth, gain, and loss -- is never disappointed.
The Sage allows things to happen, shaping them as they come. Sidestepping, stillness and tranquility set things in order in the universe.
No greater sin: desire. No greater curse: discontent. No greater misfortune: wanting something for oneself. Know when enough's enough.
Know heaven/earth thru ur window. See (like the Sage) w/o looking. Work w/o doing. Know w/o travel. The more u know, the less u understand.
The Sage gains by letting go. To pursue learning=acquisition; to pursue the Tao=dropping. W/less done, non-action occurs/nothing left undone
The Sage knows others' needs, is good to the good, has faith in the faithful, is shy/humble. Others look 2 him/listen. His mind: like space.
Aware of death, the Sage has no illusions of mind/resistances of body. His actions flow from his core. Death awaits, like sleep after work.
The Tao births/nourishes/maintains/cares/comforts/protects all things. It creates w/o possessing, acts w/o expecting, guides w/o interfering
Judgment & desire->troubled heart. Seeing the small=insight. Yielding to force=strength. Use instinct & return 2 insight, safeness from harm
Be aware when things are out of balance. The Sage walks the main road, his only fear straying from it. Stay centered within the Tao.
Cultivate virtue in your self and you may cultivate it in your family, then your village, which will flow into your nation, the universe.
Knowing harmony is constancy=enlightenment. The Sage never expects results, avoids disappointment. W/o disappointment, his spirit never ages
Be at one w/the dust of the earth. In this state, friends/enemies, good/harm, honor/disgrace will leave you untroubled. It is primal union.
W/o action, people=reformed. W/peace, people become honest. W/o doing, people become rich. W/o desire, people return to the good/simple life
Serve as an example w/o imposing will. Be sharp w/o cutting; pointed not piercing; straightforward not unrestrained; brilliant not blinding.
Moderation shows freedom from one's own ideas. Be tolerant, pervasive, firm, supple, w/o destination. Make use of what life brings your way.
It is possible to render evil's power so that it will not harm others. Give it nothing to oppose and watch in refreshment as it disappears.
Obtain humility thru trust & eliminate defensiveness. Realize mistakes; admit/correct them. Identify fault pointers as benevolent teachers.
Sweet words=honor. Good deeds=respect. Do not abandon the bad. Find & seek; sin & be forgiven. This is Tao, the source of the 10K things.
Great acts: made up of small deeds. Confront the difficult while it’s still easy. Give yourself 2 it w/o clinging 2 comfort. Problem erased.
People may fail on the verge of success. Give as much 2 the end as the beginning->no failure. Seek freedom from desire. Don't hold, collect.
Rule w/o cleverness & u bless the land. Simplest path=clearest. Content w/an ordinary life, u can lead people back to their own true nature.
2 guide: 2 serve w/humility. Lead by following behind & eliminate any sense of oppression. Stand in front: protect from harm. Compete w/none
From mercy comes courage; from economy comes generosity; from humility comes leadership. Simplicity, patience, & compassion for all beings.
By not striving we develop the ability to deal with people. W/o violence, anger, vengeance, and through humility, we forge a unity w/heaven.
You gotta sleep on your toes...& then moving in silently, down wind & out of sight, You gotta strike when the moment is right w/o thinking*
*This chapter seemed hypocritical and incongruous with many of the previous chapters’ lessons, so I figured…might as well throw in some Pink Floyd lyrics that kinda mean the same thing.
The Sage's best example of teaching w/o words: to remind his pupils that -- to understand his lesson -- they must look w/in their own hearts
Knowing ignorance=strength. Ignoring knowledge: sickness. Not-knowing: true knowledge. Presuming to know: disease. Heal yourself of knowing.
W/o awe: disaster. Avoid intrusion, harassment, interference; you won't wear on others. Know (don't show) yourself. Self-respect>arrogance.
There is danger in passion, preservation in serenity. Heaven won't direct you; answers w/o words, met needs w/o request, fulfilled w/o aim.
W/awareness of change comes a lighter grasp. Know death's certainty and achieve all. Too much emphasis on life=exposure to harm, despair.
We must devalue the self. When the self becomes too important, people suffer. We must act for the good of people; have faith in one another.
Man & plant enter life delicate & frail. In death they become rigid & firm. These are analogies of how to spend time in the world; yield.
The Sage gives out of limitless wealth. This is done w/o consideration, expectation, recognition, or credit. It is not even an afterthought
Water=soft & yielding, yet solid & strong. The Sage embodies calmness in sorrow's face, protects his heart from evil, helps w/o effort.
To hold your own w/no expectation of others, to recognize failure as opportunity, to never think of what's owed=to embrace the Tao of heaven
To love labor w/o efficiency, home w/o travel desire. To own stationary vehicles, untouched weapons. To smile in simple clothes and eat
plain food. To take pleasure in family & garden, enjoy the neighborhood. To grow old & die w/o worry for the always-greener other side.
The more the Sage does 4 others, the more he has/the happier he is. This=the fulfilling/effortless work of the Tao that radiates from heaven