Friday, January 13, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 15

Followers of Tao are as elusive and mysterious as Tao itself. Mystics, living in the liminal space between being and non-being, movement and stillness, yang and yin, manifesting and returning. In this chapter, we are told that they cannot be known or understood, yet the author tries to give us a description of their demeanor.

Careful, as crossing a winter stream
Alert, as aware of surroundings
Courteous, as a guest
Yielding, as melting ice
Simple, as an uncut block of wood
Empty, as a valley

How could we embrace these qualities as we go through our day? What if I paused to consider before speaking or acting? What if I chose courtesy over criticism? What if I kept an open mind before rushing to judgment? What other ways can we embody these qualities?

The image of an uncut block of wood is used to convey a sense not only of simplicity but also of unlimited potential. The uncut block of wood can become many things. In the process of carving, however, the emerging form begins to eliminate possibilities. As the completed shape becomes defined, it takes on an identity, separate from all other things it might have been. The uncut block of wood represents the beginner’s mind of zen.

How can we live in beginner’s mind? As we mature, we make choices that set us on a certain path. We might have a career, settle down with a partner, raise children. Or not. As we age, we realize that certain choices are no longer open to us. So what does it mean to have beginner’s mind in the midst of life’s commitments and limitations?

To me, the focus of beginner’s mind is internal rather than external. After all, the term is beginner’s “mind,” not beginner’s “life.” What characterizes a beginner’s mind? It is open, curious, eager, courageous, engaged, willing. It is what Jesus meant when he said that we must become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven.

How would beginner’s mind change the way I live my life today? How would it change yours?

Murky water through quieting becomes clear
Stillness through movement brings life

I have described the practice of martial arts as meditation in motion, stillness within movement, movement within stillness. This is Tao, manifesting as the ten thousand things, then returning to the beginning. It’s like the rise and fall of breathing, the natural rhythm of the universe.

When we are able to enter this rhythm, our individual identity begins to soften. Because we do not grasp for ego separation, we become one with all creation. In nature, there is no separation. Nothing exists in isolation. Everything belongs in interconnected harmony.

What if we went through our lives today looking for connection rather than separation? How would our thoughts, words, and actions be different?

In describing the characteristics of a follower of Tao in the context of the natural rhythm of the universe, we are offered some insight into how our daily lives can be transformed, lifted up, ...beautiful.

For today, newly bright  ~title of the painting by Cecilia Lin in the photo above


  1. I seem to remember the uncut block of wood from reading The tao Of Pooh years ago. As for the unyielding ice, I have a story there about an alcohol spray mix Laurie read about that would clean windshields quick and easy and the below zero temps that laughed at it last week!

    I wish we could all work on connections. We spend so much time fighting anymore that we forget to try.

    1. I bet it was in the Tao of Pooh. The uncut block of wood is an image used many times in the Tao Te Ching. The ice image by the way is yielding, like melting ice. If you have ever pressed something warm against ice, you can feel the ice softly and quietly yield, ie, melt away. And yes, we do often forget to try to connect. Thanks, CW.

  2. As little children . . . the beginner's mind . . . How I love these images, Galen. Just watching my granddaughters at play and interacting with me, I find I let down all my guard and just dwell in the precious moment, delighting in the right here and right now. We can learn so much from children, can't we? They never grow weary of wonder, and they certainly live in the moment. May we all nurture that inner child and the beginner's mind he/she reveals in us.

    1. So true, Martha. When my son was a little boy, he was not only a child, but also autistic. His view of the world often fascinated me because he saw things without the "agreed on" lens that the rest of us look through. One day he kept talking about the "deer tree" in the back yard. I had no idea what he meant until I looked at the tree through his eyes. Having lost its leaves for the winter, the branches indeed looked like deer antlers.

  3. Jesus interpreting taoism!?!? My mind is beginning to reel!

    1. Ha! I don't know about that!

      But what does strike me is that many wisdom teachings, from Jesus to the Tao Te Ching to the Bhagavad Gita to Buddha and more, teach very similar basic principles, sometimes in startlingly similar images or language. Rather than interpreting each other, I think perhaps they are drawing from the same source of truth.

      And no matter what the explanation is, mind reeling is the effect, because all of these teachings draw us out of the limitations of the mind. Now my mind is reeling, too!

  4. I really really loved this one! I like the thought of harmony with the universe. I loved the thought about having a beginner's mind. Yes, Jesus taught us to be as a child. A child is humble, receptive and teachable. I loved your adjectives of the beginner's mind. This was such an insightful post on these wonderful teachings of Tao. Thanks for this one; I related alot to your wonderous thoughts. Big hugs for this one!

    1. LeAnn, thank you for adding three more wonderful qualities to beginner's mind--humble, receptive, teachable. What a perfect description. Glad you liked the post. Thank you for making it so much better with your additional thoughts.


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