Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Verse 41: No Corners

Verse Forty-One
When the wisest student hears about the Tao,
He follows it without ceasing

When the average student hears about it
He follows too, but not all the time . . .

And when the poor student gets wind of it
he laughs at it like an idiot!
And if he didn't, then it wouldn't be the Tao!

That is why the ancient ones said:

The path that is bright seems dull,
And the one who is going towards the Tao
Seems, in fact, to be going backwards -
And those who think that the Way is easy
Will find it extremely hard.

The greatest virtue is to be empty like a valley.
Those who think they are perfect never are -
those who feel that they are feel inadequate to the task,
and morals seem to be no more than a contrivance.

A great square has no corners:
A great work is never done with;
A great shout comes from a whisper,
And the greatest of forms
is beyond shape.

Tao without substance -
Invisible -

Forever creating.
~ Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer & Jay Ramsey translation ~
Again and again, the TTC returns to this idea of circles and cyclical patterns. We've visited these concepts before and we will find them again later.

So many human-developed things have precise points of start and end -- but so many of us refuse to understand that these definitive points are artificial contrivances (i.e., a human convenience). In nature, they simply don't exist.

I live in a small town next to the Willapa River (here's a link to a map of the area on Google). I can see it from both my front and back yards. A few miles west of here the river flows into a bay and, a few miles further west, the bay empties into the Pacific Ocean.

If you look at a map, there is a specific point in which the stream becomes a river and then becomes a bay and then becomes the ocean. However, if you were to walk the shoreline from the stream's source to the ocean, I bet you wouldn't be able to discern ANY precise points at all.

For instance, at what juncture does the river transform into a bay? The river channel gradually widens. Salt water mixes with fresh water. There's an overlap of the various ecosystems. There is no one singular place where one transforms into the other.

In essence, we have a genuine physical embodiment of the yin yang symbol. The river and bay each contain elements of the other and, with the tides, each flows into the other. And the same thing is true of the bay and the ocean itself. There is no one segment of the water that you or I can point to and say, "This is bay water and this is ocean water."

But oh, how we humans try to demarcate things that can't be demarcated!

Another grand example is the line between day and night. It's beginning the slow process here in South Bend right now of moving from daylight to dusk. However, if I go sit on my front porch for the next hour or so, there will not be a precise second when I exclaim, "Daytime just finished; it is now night." The process is too gradual to discern one from the other until we've gone long past the point of transition.

Of course, much of western society would scoff at this discussion. Such folks are the poor students that Lao Tzu refers to in this verse. They will continue to lead lives that run counter to the natural rhythms and will spend inordinate amounts of time drawing lines in the sand. And they will never understand why their lives are consumed by stress and a feeling of alienation -- alienated both from the world and themselves.

But even for those of us who better understand the natural rhythms and the interconnected web of life, it's still a struggle. It's not the easiest thing to wrap our minds around. We've been socialized within a different methodology and it's hard to unlearn all that we've been taught. Too often, our [learned] automatic thoughts kick in before we realize it and we must knowingly turn around to look at things a different way.

The Way is not easy and yet, it's easy as pie.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.


  1. hello Rambling Taoist,

    You stopped by my blog regarding a post I did which included a reference to Lao Tzu.

    Clearly, we are on different sides of the fence in regards to spiritual pursuits, but I wanted to stop by and check out your blog.

    thanks for commenting on mine. I was surprised to see a comment since I've done absolutely nothing to generate traffic for that blog. It's more of a personal dumping ground for some of my own "rambling" thoughts.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by.

  2. Well, thank you for stopping by here!


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