Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 39

This long chapter is divided into two parts that mirror each other followed by a “coda.” The theme is Oneness. When we are in sync with the oneness of the universe, everything is as it should be – effortless, in harmony, sacred, full of life. When we are out of sync, life becomes a struggle, and our life force becomes depleted.

In the first section, we see how various aspects of the universe manifest Oneness:

Heaven is clear and pure
Earth is serene
The soul is divine
Valleys are full and abundant
Creation (the ten thousand things) is alive
Rulers are virtuous and honorable

But if these aspects lose their connection to Oneness:

Heaven without clarity would split open
Earth without tranquility would collapse
The soul without divinity would wither away
Valleys without abundance would be exhausted 
Creation without life force would become extinct
Rulers without virtue and honor would fall

The chapter ends with an admonishment against vanity:

Embrace humility as your foundation
Do not shine or tinkle like jade
Rather chime like stones

These last two lines can be understood a different way:

Do not shine or tinkle like jade 
Or clatter like stones

Either way, we are being warned against thinking ourselves special or superior. Instead, when we see ourselves as part of the vast Oneness of the universe, we are part of something much more vast, more beautiful, more perfect, than our individual egos could ever attain.

This chapter reminds me of a poem by Emily Dickinson. In it, there seems to be a delicious secret in recognizing our inherent oneness and connection to each other.


I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!


  1. I like that. "Chime like stones." Could have used a LOT of that today. Always nice to get closer to God, and then He sends you little stories like this to build you up for the next time. I just wish I could learn the lesson without first making the mistake, but that seems to be the only way I get it. Thank you again for these posts!

    1. That is an interesting line you highlighted, CW, because it can be read in almost opposite ways. Most of us learn only or learn best by our mistakes. You are not alone in that!

  2. It is interesting that we sometimes think we are worthy because of our “specialness.” But, in reality, it is our Oneness from which love springs!

    1. There is another line in this chapter which I didn't discuss (it is a long chapter!), which says that humble rulers see themselves as unworthy. I don't think this means unworthy in a self denial sort of way, but rather that they don't see themselves as worthy in a superior to others sort of way. As you say, our intrinsic worth, which we all have, comes from our source in Oneness.

  3. To embrace humility as our foundation is tantamount to our spiritual growth. And that poem by Dickinson? It absolutely says it all, Galen. You've reminded me that I need to order a book of her poetry and keep it close at hand.
    Blessings, my friend!

    1. We can't grow when we think we are already superior. We grow when we have "beginner's mind." As you say, Martha, when we are humble, we are open to receive spiritual guidance, and thereby grow. Glad you like that poem. It has always intrigued me.

  4. I have always loved that Emily Dickinson poem. I think humility is natural to some people and not to others. I am so glad to have you reading my posts and commenting, I am very humbled. And humility doesn't come naturally to me. :-)

    1. That's the tricky thing about humility, isn't it, DJan? False humility is just another thing that the ego can be "proud" of. On the other hand, recognizing our own lack of humility IS humbling. Ha!

      When martial arts legend Bruce Lee was asked in an interview if he was really "that good," he replied, "If I say yes, you will think I'm arrogant. If I say no, you will know I'm lying."

    2. haha brilliant! love this Bruce Lee line.

      also, this needs to be on a bumper sticker:

      Do not shine or tinkle like jade
      Rather chime like stones

    3. Hey Vishnu! Yes, that is one of my favorite Bruce Lee quotes. Bumper stickers from the Tao Te Ching. Sounds like a new business to me. Partners?

  5. I am not surprised by how many of the writings of Tao mirror some of my own beliefs. To be at one in the Universe is to be at one with our Heavenly Father. When we are out of sync; we struggle.
    I love the thought of being humble and teachable. We do seem to live in a vain world.
    Thanks for our lovely comments on my recent post.
    Sending warm thoughts and hugs your way!

    1. So true, LeAnn. All wisdom traditions seem to reveal the same basic teachings, using different language and images.


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