Heaven lasts long, and Earth abides.
What is the secret of their durability?
Is it not because they do not live for themselves
That they can live so long?
Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind,
But finds himself at the head of others;
Reckons himself out,
But finds himself safe and secure.
Is it not because he is selfless
That his Self is realised?
It’s kind of an oxymoron that self-realization only occurs when you shut off your self-importance and self-obsession. You must lose the ego in order to find your true self.
This makes me think of the spiritual principles of charity, compassion, empathy, and service. When you turn away from the cycle of chasing after personal gains and shift your focus to things outside yourself, something happens internally. There is a spiritual kindling and you realize that you are more than just your self; you are part of a larger whole that existed before you were born and will exist after you are gone. And you become aware of a deeper meaning to your existence. I think this is the key to finding meaning and fulfillment in your life.
In our crazy lives, it is increasingly difficult to step outside our small world of the self. But doing so is of utmost importance, especially in these turbulent times.
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The Tao is like an empty bowl,
Which in being used can never be filled up.
Fathomless, it seems to be the origin of all things.
It blunts all sharp edges,
It unties all tangles,
It harmonizes all lights,
It unites the world into one whole.
Hidden in the deeps,
Yet it seems to exist for ever.
I do not know whose child it is;
It seems to be the common ancestor of all, the father
Reading this passage was a contemplative exercise for me. It seeks to describe something universal and ineffable, which is the source of all existence. We are but tiny molecules in a vast and unknowable realm of existence. It is therefore impossible to answer the question: from what did the beginning of all things come? But to meditate on this makes you humble and puts life into perspective; for me it does, anyway.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the insanity of our daily lives. This passage encourages us to pause, to recognize that in the grand scheme we are fairly insignificant, yet at the same time, because we are part of the universal whole, we are also incredibly important.
Pause, meditate, and have a blessed day.
When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.
When all the world recognizes good as good, this in itself is evil.
Indeed, the hidden and the manifest give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short exhibit each other.
High and low set measure to each other.
Voice and sound harmonize each other.
Back and front follow each other.
Therefore, the Sage manages his affairs without ado,
And spreads his teaching without talking.
He denies nothing to the teeming things.
He rears them, but lays no claim to them.
He does his work, but sets no store by it.
He accomplishes his task, but does not dwell upon it.
And yet it is just because he does not dwell on it
That nobody can ever take it away from him.
(translation: John C. H. Wu)
I see two concepts expressed in this passage. The first half deals with the necessity of opposites in order to maintain a balance in the world. So in the first two lines, the key word is “all.” There is nothing inherently wrong about recognizing beauty or good in the world, the problem occurs when “all the world” sees beauty as beauty and good as good. This creates an imbalance. If all the world only saw and acknowledged the good, that would essentially eradicate all that is not good from the world. But the interesting twist here is that when all recognize the good and seek to not focus on the not-good, it ends up creating an evil, and thereby still maintains the balance. It’s somewhat ironic, similar to the old cliché that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The second half of the passage shifts to the contemplative state of the Sage. Here the spiritual seeker is instructed to foster a sense of detachment and to use the concept of the opposite to attain that which the seeker desires. Basically, to be a true seeker, you must stop seeking. As long as you actively search for something, you will not be able to find it. It’s like when you misplace your keys. You search the house, try to retrace your steps, but still you cannot find them. When you finally give up and sit down, the location of the keys becomes clear. This is the same as the wisdom that the Sage hopes to attain. That wisdom will only manifest at the stillest moment, when the searcher stops actively pursuing that which cannot be grasped, but can only be bestowed.