Sometime around 2600 years ago there lived a man whom we refer to as Lao Tzu, which simply means “Old Master.” One story is that he was the keeper of archives for the royal court of Zhou. At the age of 80, he decided to leave the kingdom and venture into the mountains to the west. At the border he was recognized by a guard Yingxi, who asked him to write down some of his wisdom before he left.
Lao Tzu wrote 81 short passages which have come down to us as the Tao Te Ching, or the Book of the Way.
I am not going to try to define the Tao. Actually, the opening statement of the Tao Te Ching is
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
– Tao Te Ching 1
I have been reading Stephen Mitchell’ translation of Tao Te Ching for the past few weeks. The short book is full of wisdom that runs contrary to contemporary Western culture. Our modern culture pursues the vision of Francis Bacon, seeking to dominate nature through science and to create a progressive society organized and controlled by an intellectual elite.
Lao Tzu on the other hand says,
… the universe is forever out of control
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao
– Tao Te Ching 30
Lao Tzu saying
One of the ideas that stands out in the Lao Tzu’s teaching is “wei wu wei,” doing without doing. The third chapter of Tao Te Ching ends with the advice:
Practice not doing
and everything will fall into place.
Let us briefly imagine this mysterious Tao as the source of all that is and that it is immanent and active in all being. When we are opinionated and willful, our thinking gets in the way of the Tao. We forget where we come from. We forget that we are a part of the oneness that is the Great Tao.
If you don’t realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
– Tao Te Ching 16
Artistic rendering of taiji
This is kind of like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars saying to Luke, “Trust the Force.” Or like the Christian saying, “Let go and let God.”
Nowadays, there is a lot of interest in ancestry. People want to know where they came from. From a Biblical point of view, we can all trace our lineage back to Adam and Eve, who were the son and daughter of God.
From an evolutionary or scientific view also, we all come from the ultimate source. Where do human beings come from? Where do animals and plants come from? Where do molecules and atoms come from? Where do quantum particles from? As the Tao Te Ching says, all come from one source.
The Tao is infinite, eternal.
Why is it eternal?
It was never born,
Thus, it can never die.
Why is it infinite?
It has no desires for itself;
thus it is present for all beings.
– Tao Te Ching 7
The Tao is called the Great Mother:
empty yet inexhaustible,
it gives birth to infinite worlds.
It is always present within you.
You can use it any way you want.
– Tao Te Ching 6
Stop thinking. Start doing without doing.