Friday, June 25, 2010

Daodejing, Verse 39

Daodejing - Other Voices
working in harmony with Tao, leaving no trace
The ongoing news about the torrent of oil spewing continuously from a man-made hole on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, with its devastating impact on the environment, is sickening. My son’s kindergarten teachers have been discussing with the kids the Quaker testimony of stewardship, the idea that, during our limited lifetimes, we are responsible for the earth and how we treat it. Despite the current fashion among advertisers to promote everything as “green,” there is an impetus in our modern culture for each of us to maximize our profits, push the envelope, make an impact on the world, make our mark. But what kind of mark do we want to make, exactly?

“Give up wanting to be important; let your footsteps leave no trace.”
–Chuang-tzu, translated by Stephen Mitchell in “The Second Book of the Tao,” Penguin Books, 2009, p. 86.

Rather than pushing the envelope at all costs, there is a way to use our scientific and technological advancements with less greed and carelessness, with more wisdom, and more of a sense of stewardship. In other words, there is a way to work in harmony with Tao. For example, our curiosity, our scientific and technological progress can be directed toward energy sources like the wind and the sun, using what is all around us, barely leaving a trace of waste behind. When you work in harmony with Tao, you can accomplish things without leaving an artificial swath of destruction in your wake.

“In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.”
–Tao Te Ching, Chapter 39, Stephen Mitchell translation

In working with Tao, in becoming like the Tao, you can accomplish huge feats, yet can do so with such graceful fluidity, with such lack of forcing, with a such a sense of respect for what is around you, that you seem to leave no trace…you almost seem to have never been there at all, and yet, what you achieved was so much a part of the Tao that it never dies.

“To him who dwells not in himself, the forms of things reveal themselves as they are. He moves like water, reflects like a mirror, responds like an echo. His lightness makes him seem to disappear. Still as a clear lake, he is harmonious in his relations with those around him, and remains so through profit and loss. He does not precede others, but follows them instead.”
Chuang-tzu quoted in the Te of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff, 1992, p. 186

In the Forward to his translation of the Tao Te Ching (1988), Stephen Mitchell notes that, “About Lao-tzu, its author, there is practically nothing to be said….Like an Iroquois woodsman, he left no traces…All he left us is his book…” The Iroquois woodsmen and other Native Americans were able to live in harmony with the natural world, valuing it and using it as a source of sustenance, but not depleting it or destroying it. By setting aside our greed, corruption, and impatience, by cultivating wisdom, we in the modern world can do the same, using our science and technology to preserve the world, rather than destroy it.
~ from Aspiring Taoist, author Aspiring Taoist, original post date: 5/14/10 ~
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

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