by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
"There is no greater evil than desiring to change others. There is no greater misfortune than desiring to change oneself." (The Tao Teh King, p.45; Archie Bahm. Quoted in The Heart of Confucius; Archie Bahm.)
Surprisingly, Archie Bahm, in his book on Confucius, uses the Tao Te Ching to help explain Confucian terminology and thought, presuming the authors to be contemporaries. This raises all kinds of problems, but I find his translation of this unspecified part of the TTC problematical enough to fill the space here. Yet, I do not wish to even consider whether these sentences are true to the original or not. Let's strip them of all 'authoritative' context and simply take them as they stand. Let's look at them as ideas, not 'teachings'.
"There is no greater evil than desiring to change others." These are hard words. Immediately, numerous objections arise. Can we lay those aside for the moment and instead try and find the heart of their intended meaning? We needn't accept them as 'true' or 'correct' to do so.
I will here attempt to convey what they do for me, but it would be better if you let them do for you.
They throw me back upon myself; they ask me to mind the essential, which is wholly and only myself, not others. Ground zero of the transformative experience is here. It is my attitude, how I relate to world, that requires transformation. The need of others to change acts upon me not as a desire to change them, but to accept and affirm them. What manner of self-transcendence might that entail? Is this not open-hearted emptiness? Is it not "going along with things" and "opening into all things without losing one's fullness"? Here alone is a life's work — to realize this.
What would it be like to encounter someone who exemplified this? Would it not be transformative in itself? Might it not effect change? Is this not the very heart of the Taoist vision, the essence of how we understand Tao? Nothing is done, yet nothing is left undone. "A spring of ceaseless giving/yet of giving nothing knows."
"There is no greater misfortune than desiring to change oneself." If this self does not need changing, then there must be some other self implied! How could I not wish to change, if for no other reason than that I do wish to change others? How could I fulfill the first, without transgressing the second? Might it be that the same transformative power, the power of open-heartedness that non-actively transforms others, might likewise non-actively transform me? Affirmation and acceptance, expressions of open-heartedness, would then be the key to personal transformation. Charity starts at home. The path comes full-circle, only the words have deeper roots.
Open-heartedness is not an attribute of a realized self, but the precise expression of the very root of what we are, that inexplicable up-welling of life, that "empty room" of our tenuous arising. It is not something we do, it is that something we are.
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