Sunday, September 11, 2016
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 5
[This post is part of a series on specific chapters of the Tao Te Ching. Click here for more details on this series.]
Heaven and earth are impartial
They treat the ten thousand things as straw dogs
The sage is impartial
She treats all people as straw dogs
The opening of this chapter is one of the most misunderstood passages in the Tao Te Ching. To some it seems harsh, but there is another way of looking at this passage that reveals the beauty hidden within.
Let’s start with the concept of impartiality. The characters used here are variously translated as ruthless, or heartless, or without kindness. These interpretations carry a connotation of cruelty or moral judgment that is not present in the text. Instead, the impartiality here is the same lack of favoritism reflected in the Bible.
He makes his sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on the just and unjust. ~Matthew 5:45
Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh likewise speaks of the generosity of the flower that blooms for all passersby without judgment or preference.
This is not an impartiality of cold, uncaring detachment, but rather the impartiality of an engaged open heart, welcoming all without reservation.
Straw dogs were objects used in sacred rituals, and afterwards discarded. Their value was not in their form, which was unimportant, but in their function, which was holy. All things living on this earth will die, and our form will disappear, but our essence, by whatever name you want to call it, continues unchanged in eternal oneness.
The sense I get from this chapter is of equanimity, remaining balanced in the center of life’s vicissitudes, showing kindness and compassion to all, recognizing the sacredness of, well, everything.
And summarized best at the end of the chapter:
Many words lead to exhaustion
Better to abide in the center
Oh what would our lives be like if we followed this advice?! My son James, who has autism, has an uncanny way of getting to the heart of things. When he was young, he would hold up his hand when I went on too long with an explanation, and say in a robot voice, “Talking is over.” And he was always right.