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Does anyone want to take the world and do what he wants with it?
I do not see how he can succeed.
The world is a sacred vessel, which must not be tampered with or grabbed after.
To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it.
In fact, for all things there is a time for going ahead, and a time for following behind;
A time for slow-breathing and a time for fast-breathing;
A time to grow in strength and a time to decay;
A time to be up and a time to be down.
Therefore, the Sage avoids all extremes, excesses and extravagances.
I feel that this is a passage that every politician, every corporate CEO, and every Wall Street banker should read. It is essentially the same idea as expressed in the sayings “Live simply so that others may simply live,” or “The Earth does not belong to us; we belong to the Earth.” As I look around at the mania associated with the frantic quest after more and more, I cannot help but acknowledge that this mindset is totally unsustainable. If we continue to tamper with our world and strip it of its resources, we will ultimately initiate our own demise. Lao Tzu, who lived in the 6th century BC, already understood this. Why is it so difficult for people to grasp today?
The other thing that struck me as interesting about this passage is its similarity to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which was put to music in the song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” I am not sure whether there was a sharing of ideas between the east and west in antiquity, or whether the authors had both tapped in to the same source of divine inspiration, but the parallel is something worth pondering.
Today, I will avoid all “extremes, excesses and extravagances.” If we all made a conscious effort to do this, what a change it would make in the world.
Good walking leaves no track behind it;
Good speech leaves no mark to be picked at;
Good calculation makes no use of counting-slips;
Good shutting makes no use of bolt and bar,
And yet nobody can undo it;
Good tying makes no use of rope and knot,
And yet nobody can untie it.
Hence, the Sage is always good at saving men,
And therefore nobody is abandoned;
Always good at saving things,
And therefore nothing is wasted.
This is called “following the guidance of the Inner Light.”
Hence, good men are teachers of bad men,
While bad men are the charge of good men.
Not to revere one’s teacher,
Not to cherish one’s charge,
Is to be on the wrong road, however intelligent one may be.
This is an essential tenet of the Tao.
This is an interesting passage and begs the question: what does it mean to save? It appears that a sage is efficient at saving both people and things.
The saving of things is something dear to me. In our consumer society, things are too often used and discarded. Items have built-in obsolescence so that they break and cost more to fix than they do to replace. Unfortunately, this path is not sustainable, and if we do not change how we use and reuse our valuable and limited resources, we will reach a point where we will no longer be able to continue with our current economic model.
The other act of saving regards people, and this immediately kicked up negative associations of proselytizers knocking on my door and attempting to convert me to some form of religious doctrine. But I do not think that is the kind of saving that Lao Tzu was talking about here. I suspect that he is instructing the sage to practice compassion and empathy, to not be judgmental of others, and to serve as an example of how to live in balance with nature and spirit.
Essentially, I can sum this passage up as an instruction to help other people while not being wasteful.
I’ve been pretty busy lately with work and the Olympics, so I thought I would read something short and fun. “The Canterville Ghost” by Oscar Wilde was the perfect choice: quick, entertaining, well written, and thought-provoking. Basically, it’s a story about an obnoxious American family that moves into an English country house that is haunted. The ghost finds the family so insufferable that it becomes depressed.
One of the things I found the most humorous was the Americans’ obsession with brand-name products, suggesting that the ghost use “Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator” to oil his chains so as not to make too much noise at night. It seems that little has changed. American’s still appear swayed by marketing and advertisement. I can’t turn on the TV without being bombarded by commercials telling me which brand is preferred by 4 out of 5 ______ and how this car will make all the women look at me. Whether you want to admit it or not, we are a consumer society.
For me, the most intriguing line of the story was the very last one: “Virginia blushed.” This was in response to her husband asking if she would tell their children about what happened when she was with the ghost. It is not clear why she blushed. It would appear that the idea of them conceiving children was the reason, but I suspect there is something else going on, that there was some form of intimate relationship between Virginia and the ghost. There are two clues that make me think this. First is the ruby necklace that the ghost gave to Virginia, the crimson color of the rubies symbolizing the blood associated with the loss of virginity (Virgin/Virginia). The second was that after Virginia returns from her time with the ghost, the twins point out the blossoms that appear on the almond tree, blossoms representing the blossoming of a virgin into womanhood.
There is a lot to contemplate in this short story, so it is definitely worth a read. If you want, you can download a free copy from Project Gutenberg. Enjoy!!