Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 13
Unlike many chapters which use just a few characters to generate lots of meaning, this chapter uses a lot of repetition to convey what I think is a very simple message: Equanimity = peace.
Equanimity requires a certain degree of detachment. This doesn’t mean not engaging with life. It doesn’t mean not caring about anything. It means, to me, not getting hooked by the stories others tell or that we tell ourselves. It means not struggling against the natural flow of impermanence that is reflected in the human condition.
What we detach from can be external or internal. Honor and disgrace come from what others think of us. As the chapter says, both can cause us to be fearful or unsettled, because they depend on what we can’t control. Even if we are being honored, the honor can be taken away. When we give others the power over our well being, we can never be at peace.
Fortune and misfortune come from our own judgment about our circumstances. Because we see ourselves as separate individuals, we tend to evaluate everything in relation to how we think it affects us.
Remember the zen story of the old farmer? A poor old farmer had one son and one horse. One day his horse ran away. A neighbor exclaimed over his misfortune since without the horse, he couldn’t farm his land. The farmer replied, “Who knows if it is good or bad?”
The next day the horse returned leading twenty wild horses. The neighbor congratulated him on his new wealth. “Who knows if it is good or bad?” shrugged the farmer. The next day his son broke a leg trying to tame one of the wild horses. The neighbor (who obviously was not taking care of his own farm!) bemoaned his ill luck. You know what the farmer said.
The next day the army swept through the village, taking all the young men away to fight...except the son with the broken leg.
You get the idea. When we are able to detach from our own self-centered judgments, as well as from what others think about us, we reach a state of unshakable equanimity. We recognize the illusion of opposites (as we saw in Chapter 2), and remain at peace as we engage with our lives.
As we transcend our individual selves, we experience our natural connection with, as the chapter says, everything under heaven. Individual events and circumstances are woven into the great and beautiful tapestry of all creation.
The old farmer’s refrain has helped me countless times to detach from a story or judgment. It’s wisdom allows me to engage fully with life without being at its mercy. I think this is what the Bible means when it tells us to “rejoice always and to be thankful in all circumstances.” It doesn’t say to be thankful “about” but to thankful “in.” No matter the situation, equanimity allows us to be at peace, to be grateful for life itself.