Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 10

What a perfect chapter for these uncertain times–a guide for living perfectly in an imperfect world. In this chapter, the focus shifts from the mysterious, unknowable Tao to its manifestation in Te (also spelled De).

Te has been loosely translated as virtue, but not in the moralistic sense. More like inner radiance, or integrity. When one is in harmony with Tao, one manifests Te. I think of it like fruits of the Spirit described in the Bible–love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The fruits are not the Spirit. Nor are they something that one can force. They naturally flow from Spirit when one is aligned and open.

Likewise, Te is not separate from Tao, but rather is the natural expression or revelation of unimpeded Tao in the world. Te can take many forms, just like life can manifest in countless animals and plants, all appearing different yet sharing the universal energy that breathes life into them. Likewise all forms of Te make visible an inner power that radiates from Tao like the rays of the sun.

We can further understand Te by contemplating its Chinese character  . The top right component means straight or perfect. The bottom right component means heart. And the root or radical of the character is the part on the left, which means stepping forward. So one could think of these components as suggesting going forward with a perfect heart, or right-hearted action.

The chapter has two parts. The first part is a series of six questions guiding us and challenging us to discern and live by the principles of alignment with this universal energy. The second part is a brief conclusion, identifying these principles as the original and mysterious primal Virtue or Te.

The six questions follow a similar format of introducing a topic followed by a question.

Holding universal spirit and individual soul in unity, can you be without separation?
Gathering the breath gently, can you be like a newborn baby? [Think belly breathing!]
Purifying inner vision, can you see without imperfection or distraction?
Caring for people or governing, can you act without acting? [wu wei or non-action]
Opening and closing heaven’s gate [five senses], can you be female [yielding, nurturing, receptive]?
Understanding everything [enlightened], can you be without knowledge?

The conclusion ties this all to Te

Producing and nurturing without claiming or possessing
Acting without expectation or taking credit
Leading without dominating
This is deep, profound Te

I hope you share my sense that this is a timely chapter to contemplate. As I have sought to settle my spirit this week by returning to my posts about the Tao Te Ching, I was quite pleased and even amused, in that cosmic sort of way, by finding this reminder of the bigger picture and the deep wisdom of the universe. There has been a lot of questioning this week, from both sides of the political aisle, about what to do next. Seems to me that this chapter answers that.

Love, and do what you will. ~St. Augustine


  1. When the owner of the NYT comes out today and basically says they were too busy pushing their agenda to realize that their opponents actually DID have opinions that differed from theirs- and it was a SHOCK to them- I have to question whether any of us, let alone enough of us- can apply this teaching to make any difference. However, the point being is we only need to apply it to ourselves.

    1. CW, your question about whether enough of us can apply this to make a difference reminds me of the starfish story. I'm sure you've heard it. Thousands of starfish washed up and stranded on the beach. Guy starts picking them up and throwing them back in the ocean. Another guy sees him and says that there are too many, that what he is doing won't make any difference. As he threw another one back in the water, he responded, "It made a difference to that one!"

      So you are right--we can only apply it ourselves. That that makes all the difference.

  2. As I read this, Galen, I was reminded of the phrase: "Let go and let God." If our spirit is in submission to Him, how can we not act out of selfless love?
    Blessings, and thanks for this wonderful reflection!

    1. Thanks, Martha. Such a simple short sentence, but with two important parts--let go, and let God. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Well said. Thank you.

  4. Beautiful! I agree, there's so much resonance for these times. I feel it for me personally as there is a gap between how I would like to be and how I am, which became more vivid post-election. But I also celebrate all the positive changes I've made too. I especially like this: "The fruits are not the Spirit. Nor are they something that one can force. They naturally flow from Spirit when one is aligned and open." And they are inseparable too.

    1. Hey, Sandra. I was just thinking about you this morning and here you are. Thanks for adding a critical point, that all the manifestations of Tao through Te, although appearing in different forms, are inseparable. So good to see you here. Hope you are doing well.


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