Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 23

Speaking little is natural
Strong winds do not last the morning
Heavy rain does not last all day

When we exert our ego energy to impose our will on the world around us, we cannot sustain the effort. Sooner or later, our energy is depleted and we fail. The nature of the manifested universe is impermanence. As soon as something manifests, it begins its return to the Source. When we struggle against this natural rhythm, we suffer.

This chapter continues the theme of surrender from the last chapter. We can look at this from two perspectives. If we are exerting force, like the wind or rain, we will run out of energy. As Fritz Perls said, “Don’t push the river. It flows by itself.” The universe needs no help from us to move through its cycle of manifestation and return.

Likewise, if we are on the receiving end of force, our resistance gives strength to the energy being directed towards us. Like the tree that bends in the wind, better to yield and let the force move past. The tree that yields is the one left standing.

So how does this tie in with speaking? As a teacher and as a parent, I confess that I was overly fond of words, that is, my words. One time when I had a week long bout of laryngitis, I discovered that my students and my children did better when I talked less! As I let go of the illusion of verbal control, I marveled at the discovery and delight that had the space to blossom as they found their own way with minimal guidance from me. Once I regained my voice, I used it more sparingly and more thoughtfully (at least some of the time!).

The Buddhist concept of “right speech” teaches us to avoid speech that is false, harmful, or idle. Before we speak, we can ask ourselves if what we are about to say is (1) true, (2) necessary, and (3) kind.

Another way to think of this is in terms of vibration. Speaking produces sound. Sound is creative vibration. (Remember that God created the universe by speaking!) Vibration’s nature is to seek harmony. Thus:

Those who follow Tao become Tao
Those who follow Te become Te
Those who follow loss become loss

These three lines have confounded translators and interpreters for centuries. The translation I have offered here does not begin to reflect the elusive puzzle of the Chinese characters. But I think the essence of the text here is that our own vibration seeks to harmonize with a corresponding level of the universe.

When we are in harmony with Tao, we are one with the infinite potential of the formless, the pregnant void before it gives birth. This is the silence before “speaking” hums the vibration of creation.

When we are in harmony with Te, we are one with the manifested universe. Remember that Te is often translated as Virtue, but does not mean virtue in the moral sense, but rather the natural flow of energy in the world. In this sense, we are one with Te when we are not struggling with reality, when we embrace rather than fear the fluid beauty of impermanence.

When we are in harmony with loss, we are one with ...hmm, what could this mean? I have read many commentaries, but the one that resonates most for me characterizes this “loss” as the loss of our true nature. This loss traps us in ego and we become identified with the illusion of a separate self. Our ego consciousness keeps us in a state of forgetfulness, until we can wake up and remember who we are.

So how do I “tune” my vibration to harmonize with the higher levels of the universe? Not by doing but by releasing. Not by forcing but by allowing. Yes, by surrendering.

“Deep calls to deep,” sings the psalmist.

Are we listening?


  1. While the topic of surrendering has been much thought about over recent days, the thing that caught me is how the opening lines certainly don't reflect Indiana weather!

    1. Weather is a lot like my son James--it just likes to do its own thing. Thanks for commenting, CW.

  2. I'm reminded here, Galen, of what Jesus told His followers in Matthew 10:39: Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
    It is, indeed, all about submission to God, allowing His power and grace to teach us to live harmoniously with creation.

    1. Perfect verse, Martha. When we are able to soften and release our hold on ego-identification, in other words, when we lose our life, we awaken and regain our true life as children of the sacred universe. Thanks for stopping by and I hope Danny is doing well.

    2. Thank you for asking about Danny, Galen! He is at home now, taking strong antibiotics, and doing better by the day. May the healing continue!

  3. As always, you stretch my mind and I am pondering to new heights. When we struggle against the natural rhythm we suffer; I believe is true. I would say when we struggle against what our Heavenly Father wants for us; we suffer. I liked the analogy of the tree that bends against the wind is the one that stands stronger. I think we experience this one often in our lives of struggle.
    I really liked your story about when you had laryngitis and talked less and your children did better. I had a similar experience where I started to whisper instead of using my normal voice and they began listening to me more. Of course, I think talking less was probably the best approach.
    I really liked your thought that before you speak, you ask yourself if what you are about to say is true, necessary and most important kind. That is a quote, I will keep to help me say the right things at the right time in the right place. Silence before speaking is a great thought.
    I smiled on this one: "Our ego consciousness keeps us in a state of forgetfulness, until we can wake up and remember who we are."
    Deep does call to Deep and I think I will ponder on this message a bit longer.
    sending warm thoughts and hugs our way!

    1. Thanks, LeAnn, for your comment. I knew someone once whose speaking voice was very soft. You always had to lean in and listen carefully when he was speaking. Your whispering voice with your kids had the same effect.

      I like that true/necessary/kind inquiry, too. (That comes from Buddhist teaching, not me.) If we all used that more often....

      And the deep calls to deep comes from Psalms. I love that verse.

      Hope you have a wonderful day.

  4. Thanks, Galen! Love your thoughts about chapter 23 and linking it with the Buddhist teaching.
    Last Fall I wrote a Haiku after reading 23:

    Fall brings hurricanes
    Nature rarely blows all day
    Still, I talk too long

    Thought you might get a kick out of this. Take care.

    1. Hey, CD! Thanks for stopping by. Your haiku is perfect. Absolutely perfect.


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