by Dana Taylor
Some 2,500 years ago a Chinese prophet and keeper of the Imperial archives in the capital city of Luoyang grew weary of the continual warring factions of his time. He decided to leave them all behind and journey into the desert. A gate keeper named Yin Hsi recognized the wise man, Lao-tzu, and implored him to write the essence of his knowledge for spiritual living before disappearing into the wilderness. The wise man left behind 81 verses known today as the Tao Te Ching.
During this summer of political turbulence, senseless violence, fear, hatred, lies, mob hysteria, and relentless war, I’ve sought peace in returning to the simplicity of the Tao Te Ching. Passed down through the centuries, translations abound. Two of my favorites are from Stephen Mitchell and another from Wayne Dyer entitled Living the Wisdom of the Tao. Both offer a mental retreat from the chaos of the daily news.
What exactly is the Tao (pronounced Dao)? Modern terms might be God, Source, Creator, The Field, or for Star Wars fans–The Force. Verse 21 puts it this way:
The Tao is elusive and intangible.
Although formless and intangible, it gives rise to form.
Although vague and elusive, it gives rise to shapes.
Although dark and obscure, it is spirit, it is essence,
the life breath of all things.*
In this materialistic, competitive world, wise words from verse 67 puts things in perspective:
I have three treasures which I hold fast and watch closely.
The first is mercy.
The second is frugality.
The third is humility.*
Lao-Tzu had a great deal to say about government and leadership. Seeing his homeland being destroyed by discord and violence inspired many passages:
When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities**
If you want to be a great leader,
you must follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.
The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.**
Governing a large country is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.*
In an age where everyone appears to be an “activist”–marching, yelling, posting, and tweeting–the Tao Te Ching offers a perspective toward finding a healthy balance.
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
Everything under heaven is a sacred vessel and cannot be controlled.
Trying to control leads to ruin.
Trying to grasp, we lose.
Allow your life to unfold naturally.
Know that it too is a vessel of perfection.
Just as you breathe in and breathe out,
there is a time for being ahead
and a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion
and a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous
and a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe
and a time for being in danger.
To the sage all of life is a movement toward perfection,
so what need has he
for the excessive, the extravagant, or the extreme?*
These ancient words of wisdom illustrate there truly is “nothing new under the sun,” to quote another wise man, Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Arrogant leaders, down-trodden masses, and violence is nothing new. Yet, there is a path to inner peace despite the outward turmoil. Turning off media devices and delving into ancient wisdom is a good start. To quote the most famous Tao Te Ching passage:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
If you’re seeking mental clarity and calm during this calamitous season, pick up a copy of the Tao Te Ching and take a long walk in nature. I’ll see you there!
*From Living Wisdom of the Tao by Wayne Dyer
** From Tao Te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell