Tuesday, May 30, 2017
Tao Te Ching – Chapter 25
Divided into two parts, this chapter first attempts to describe the indescribable Tao, and then moves to a description of humanity’s place in the grand scheme of the universe.
There is something mysteriously undifferentiated
Existing before the beginning of heaven and earth
Silent and formless, unimaginable
This opening passage reminds me of Genesis 1:2: Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
Throughout the Tao Te Ching, the image of water gives us a sense of the nature and power of Tao. In this passage, the character for undifferentiated is 混 . The three little lines on the left side of the character form the root or radical for water. You might recall that in Chapter 4, the three characters used to describe Tao all have the water radical.
The description as unchanging can be misleading. The nature of Tao is not static, but dynamic, pregnant with limitless potential. However, as the primordial source of all creation, it is unchanging in its dynamic nature, as the vessel that is empty but inexhaustible.
This creative potential is revealed in the dynamic cycle of manifestation and return.
Tao is great
Its greatness flows everywhere
It flows far away
We see this cycle of manifestation and return reflected in everything – our breath, birth and death, the seasons, day and night. Science tells us that the universe is expanding. I wonder if at some point it will cycle back and return, like a giant breath spanning a gazillion millennia.
I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. In my early thirties, I was lucky enough to live in Bangkok, Thailand, for three years. I was fascinated by the culture, the climate, the language, everything that was so different from where I came from. (As Dorothy said to Toto in The Wizard of Oz, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”) At some point I realized that geographically, I was almost exactly on the opposite side of the globe from Memphis. I had traveled west to go to Thailand. If I kept moving in the same direction, I would literally be returning home.
After a total of seven years living in three different countries, I did eventually return home, not to Memphis, but to the United States. T. S. Eliot said it best: And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.
The chapter now turns to humanity’s place in the cosmos as one of the four great powers of the universe– Tao, heaven, earth, humanity. And it sets out the proper order of harmony.
Humans follow earth
Earth follows heaven
Heaven follows Tao
Tao follows its own nature
The character for follow is 法 , which also means law. Notice anything familiar? That’s right – the water radical on the left. So the natural order, or natural law, flows like water through the four powers of the universe. When we take our rightful place in the universe, in harmony with the natural law, we feel the power flow through us, as it was meant to. We realize that our true power comes not from imposing our ego will on nature, but from “following.” As Jesus taught, we “inherit the earth” through meekness, not through conquest.
I find this exhilarating...and sometimes a bit overwhelming. Fear keeps us grasping the weak illusion of control. But in doing so, we miss our natural inheritance. We are made in the image of the divine. We are magnificent, not in our isolated ego selves, but in our individual and collective roles as part of the perfect harmony of creation.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. ~Marianne Williamson