Attain the ultimate emptiness
Hold on to the truest tranquility
The myriad things are all active
I therefore watch their return
Everything flourishes; each returns to its root
Returning to the root is called tranquility
Tranquility is called returning to one's nature
Returning to one's nature is called constancy
Knowing constancy is called clarity
Not knowing constancy, one recklessly causes trouble
Knowing constancy is acceptance
Acceptance is impartiality
Impartiality is sovereign
Sovereign is Heaven
Heaven is Tao
Tao is eternal
The self is no more, without danger
~ Derek Lin translation ~
For me, this verse contains a powerful and multi-tiered message. For starters, it talks about the importance of meditation and how getting in touch with our center can bring us closer to peace with the world and ourselves. As Dr. Jill Henry of the Mountain Valley Center views it, it's all about mastering the practice of mindfulness.
Our own mind carries us away. Our thoughts are like unruly children, constantly pulling us here and there. And this constant pulling is the source of our stress and pain. Mindfulness is the skill that allows us to watch our thoughts and feelings without being pulled by them. Initially, in practice, all this mental chatter preoccupies us. Then we begin to realize that we do have control. By noticing and observing, we stop reacting. And it is our reactions to our thoughts that bring us emotional stress and physical dis-ease.But as Jorn K. Bramann of Frostburg State University reminds us, the practice of meditation is so much more than simply focusing ourselves on our own world.
The basic attitude of "no-action," of contemplative tranquility, allows one to see the world not only from the limited perspective of one self, from the perspective of one individual, but from a far more comprehensive point of view that brings into focus the whole of the world - the whole within which countless individuals come into being, interact with each other, and then return to the ground from which they sprang...Another important aspect of this passage is one that is very difficult for most humans -- impartiality. For The Doubtful Tao it's about seeing beyond the chaos this world throws at us constantly.
This verse talks about stepping back from the chaos of your world and observing how troubles and other circumstances come and go. But if you can step back and observe and recognize this cyclical pattern, you’ll see that this coming and going is part of nature and that each spin of the cycle does not mean the end of your world. In other words, the crazy whirlwind of life does not have to devastate you over and over again if you can manage to put it in perspective. You can be constant and impartial.Finally, Ursula LeGuin's comment about this verse seems to me like an apt way to end this post!
To those who will not admit morality without a deity to validate it, or spirituality of which man is not the measure, the firmness of Lao Tzu's morality and the sweetness of his spiritual counsel must seem incomprehensible, or illegitimate, or very troubling indeed.This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.