Tao Te Ching 5


The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.

The Tao is like a bellows:
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the center.

When we fall into the clutches of judgement, we fall away from the embrace the Tao. As we seek the image of ourselves in others, we turn our backs on the Image of God in everyone.

It is there: in the confusion of Love, the misperceptions of Beauty, and the ignorance of Truth, the Source of perfect Love, universal Beauty, and unfolding Truth, is still to be recognized. We can perceive it. We can, even if it is only a hunch, be assured of its Presence. We can begin to be embraced again,  and we can be healed of ourselves.

Our tethers to the heart of God are those who live in wonder, whose questions outnumber the answers they’ve found, and whose lives are lived in perceptible and widening circles of inclusion. In those persons, and in each blade of grass and every towering oak, we can touch the Tao.

Tao Te Ching 4


The Tao is like a well:
used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
filled with infinite possibilities.
It is hidden but always present.

I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.

Most followers of the Abrahamic faith traditions will bump up against this statement about the Tao. But think of it this way:

Everything we know about God has come after an eternity of God’s already being. What we know, is what we talk about, write about, exegete, and argue over. All that was before “In the beginning” and all that we don’t know today and will never know, is the Tao. We could, as we have done with God, try to define, reveal, and expose the Tao, but we would be doing the Tao an injustice- just as we do God an injustice even when we speak of God in exclamatory terms, by what we are unable to say.

The Tao will always be more unknown to us than known. Because it is filled, and always filling, with God.

But it’s what I haven’t said about all of the above, that is infinitely more important than what I have.

Tao Te Ching 3

If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything will fall into place.

Jesus taught with parables- little stories that had the potential to bend the mental framework of those who were listening, into shapes of God.

He didn’t hammer home the point he was making. He didn’t didactically demand that his disciples conform to his image for them. He simply spoke the story, and trusted the words to find a new home.

Say “No” to a child, and she’ll wonder about “Yes.”  Build a fence, and watch the other side of it become paradise. Tell a story, and allow imaginations to run free.

Does this matter? The Master would answer such a question with silence. Because he knows the answers that are already in us; and he knows it may take some time for us to find them. But when we do (he knows this, too), we will follow him.

Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

Tao Te Ching 2..

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad…

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

To say that I love the Tao Te Ching, is to implicitly say that there is some other text or texts I do not love. Up is a part of down; left is fundamental to right; and good is vital to bad. The Tao gives rise to those individually perceived and sometimes agreed-upon definitions, but none of them define anything specific about the Tao. And I do intensely dislike reading stock market analyses and anything by Danielle Steele. The texts I love or don’t love are my texts to love or despise, and while you might agree or disagree with me about them, nothing about the Tao is affected by our discussion of them. My cultural, intellectual, emotional, and temporal preferences cannot be yours. They may be similar, but they will never be the same. We are each pregnant with an always-growing body of variables for such perfect agreement to ever happen.

That’s where a Great Teacher can make a difference. And each of us, even within our own particular set of recognized limitations, can be a Great Teacher to someone else. We can all be a Master, for a moment or many moments, in the life of another who is learning. Each person has the opportunity, many times in a lifetime, to affect the evolutionary flow of humankind in the universe, and to be agents of enlightenment for others along the way.

To wit:

Remember your favorite teachers. It might have an instructor at school, a parent, a friend, even someone- given the times in which we live- on television. Did those Great Teachers instruct you, or allow you to discover on your own? Did they you give you a point by point analysis and defense of their opinions, or did they tell parables and allow your mind to be shaped by your observations of the object under study? Don’t tell me your answer; I already know.

Great Teachers recognize the Tao; they understand something about God that enables them to trust their students in presence of the Source of All.  Great Teachers make introductions, then back out of the way so a true relationship between the student and that which is being studied, can begin. Great Teachers are bridge builders, never ditch diggers or constructors of barriers. They are not afraid of revelation, even when it differs from what they themselves might believe.

And Great Teachers don’t have to worry whether or not they have taught rightly or wrongly, correctly or mistakenly. The Tao itself has a certain remarkable, however unspecific or unpredictable way of bringing forth in a person exactly that which needs to be brought forth.


Master words..

Tao Te Ching 1

The Tao Te Ching is at least 2500 years old, and is the basis for Chinese Taoism and is the conceptual language initially used in Chinese Buddhism. The text is steeped in Mystery, which gives rise to frequent new translations. Several in the English language are here, here, and here. Originally written by Lao Tzu (“grand old master”), the Tao Te Ching can be seen, on one hand, as the response to economic, social, and spiritual conditions in China over two millennia ago. On the oter hand, the contemplative truths within the text provide a contemplative feast for those of all faith traditions who are seeking enlightenment, further knowledge, or a simple set of triggers to abstract thinking.

I read it as a follower of Jesus. And, I think, I am a better follower of his because of it. This translation is a recent one by Stephen Mitchell.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

The Tao is the Way, the Path, the Journey itself..into that which is both mysterious and eternal. The Tao Te Ching enables the reader to begin to see the differences between that which is eternal and temporal, mundane and divine, real and not real. We are, according to the very first line, learning about something which if we can speak of it at all, is not the thing of which we speak.

It is Mystery. But it is Mystery we, if we’re honest, spend much of our time within. If we are unaware it is Mystery, we will flounder. If we know that it is Mystery- the Tao- through which we and everyone else are journeying, then it can be a revelatory, liberating, exciting and never-ending encounter.

Here’s a tiny part of what I know from the Tao Te Ching: What I call “God” is, by the very definitions of myself, “not God.” I am so limited in my ability to think about and explain God that, when I do, I am denigrating God by my words, no matter how extolling I might consider those words to be. My understandings of who God is represents (for instance) 1/1,000,000,000th of what God really is. If I tell you God is blue, I am unable to help you see that God is also chartreuse, magenta, gold, white, brown, and pink at the same time. And I am locking myself into a reality of God’s blueness.

It is imperative that I not stop at blue, or any other color, or any other attribute, in thinking about or describing God. That’s one “for instance.” Anything I can describe, or definitively name, is a particular thing, with measurable and predictable characteristics. That from which a particular thing arises, or is given form and substance by, is the Tao. It is not able to be described. It can only be talked around, in unfinished sentences, by groping for words that do not exist and definitions that are still unfound.

Go ahead, try to describe Love or Beauty or Justice. Take all the time you need- years if necessary. No matter what you describe, there will a five year old somewhere who will legitimately be able to ask, “What else is it?” And those three concepts are easier to describe than the Tao, because they have arisen from the Tao!

At this point, some might feel panicky about their impotency to capture or control the Tao. As soon as they release that panic (which is nothing more than their frustrated desire to hold onto and define the Tao), then they will have the opportunity to move further and deeper into it, where it becomes darker, and darker, even in the midst of the (en)light(enment) which has begun to fill their being.

Confused? Good! We’ve begun..

(There are 81 sections of the Tao Te Ching. Here is a flash forward to part of the last one, number 81:

True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

So, you might ask, why bother trying to learn about the Tao?

Good question!