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The Character of the Child

Part 55 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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One who is steeped in Virtue is akin to the new-born babe.

Wasps and poisonous serpents do not sting it, nor fierce beasts seize it, nor birds of prey maul it.

Its bones are tender, its sinews soft, but its grip is firm.

It has not known the union of the male and the female, growing in its wholeness, and keeping its vitality in its perfect integrity.

It howls and screams all day long without getting hoarse, because it embodies perfect harmony.

To know harmony is to know the Changeless. To know the Changeless is to have insight.

To hasten the growth of life is ominous.

To control the breath by the will is to overstrain it.

To be overgrown is to decay.

All that is against Tao, and whatever is against Tao soon ceases to be.

(Tao Teh King 55–Wu translation)

One who is steeped in Virtue is akin to the new-born babe.

A new-born child is only peripherally, even minimally, aware of the material world, but still dwells mostly in the higher consciousness of the subtle worlds. A new-born has no idea about anything, no opinions or classifications of things. Nor has it ambitions and aims. As it is, so it is.

One who is perfected in virtue is very similar, though of course in a higher, more spiritually meaningful way. In a sense, a new-born is an idiot, but a virtuous person most certainly is not. So we must not exaggerate the similarities of piety with earthly things.

Wasps and poisonous serpents do not sting it, nor fierce beasts seize it, nor birds of prey maul it. It has often been seen that infants may have a kind of providential protection, particularly in being safe or immune from various forms of harm that would certainly befall someone else. During my first days in India I was fortunate to come into contact with a remarkable yogi who shared a great deal of esoteric knowledge with me. One time he spoke of the fact that holy protecting spirits (devas) surround a child until the age of three. Proof of this has certainly been seen throughout the ages. And I have myself seen this to be true about the highly virtuous of whatever age.

Its bones are tender, its sinews soft, But its grip is firm. Continuing with the likeness to an infant, this indicates that a virtuous person is gentle in all his ways and is harmless. Yet he is really strong, possessing great self-disciplinary power, courage,and invincible will.

It has not known the union of the male and the female, growing in its wholeness, and keeping its vitality in its perfect integrity.

Chastity is an essential trait of the virtuous. Retaining his inherent powers through celibacy, he is established in the consciousness of the One. Through preservation of his innate powers through continence he is a perfect image and likeness of the Divine.

It howls and screams all day long without getting hoarse, because it embodies perfect harmony.

Active to a degree often far more than ordinary people, working uninterruptedly, the virtuous are not exhausted, but accomplish more than anyone else. We see this in the lives of the saints over and over, including those that were in very poor health. Why? Because they embody the perfect harmony that results from following the divine law and purpose in a complete manner.

To know harmony is to know the Changeless. To know the Changeless is to have insight.

This perfect order in the mind and heart of the virtuous enables him to know the Highest, and in that knowledge to possess understanding of all things relevant to him. This is why even simple saints have stunned the glib and worldly with their direct, unpremeditated wisdom.

To hasten the growth of life is ominous.

Mabry: “Trying to extend one’s life-span is dangerous and unnatural.” Byrn: “To unnaturally try to extend life is not appropriate.” False Taoists through the centuries have been known for their attempts at extending life and even attempting to attain physical immortality. Often their methods have been virtually vampiristic: robbing others of their life essence to increase theirs. At the same time this may merely mean that trying to expand life in the sense of possessions, influence, etc. is unwise and leads to collapse of the egocentric. As Solomon observed: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

To control the breath by the will is to overstrain it. Mabry: “To manipulate one’s energy with the mind is a powerful thing.” Byrn: “To try and alter the life-breath is unnatural.” Breath control and cultivation of exotic modes of breathing are a part of the “Taoist magic” intent on bodily immortality. But wise yogis in India have counseled aspirants against unnatural breathing methods considered authentic pranayama. One illustrative incident comes naturally to mind. One time when I was going through a list of various disciplines and asking Sri Ma Anandamayi if they were worthwhile for me or not, I just said the single word “pranayama.” Immediately Ma gave a kind of sitting jump and loudly said: “No.” Years later in Benares she spoke to me at length about the delusive character of false or misguided pranayama, which only gives an illusion of spiritual benefit that eventually evaporates, leaving the yogi an empty shell. (There is such a thing as real, beneficial pranayama, but this is not the place to begin such a subject. See Soham Yoga, the Yoga of the Self.)

To be overgrown is to decay. Mabry: “But whoever possesses such strength invariably grows old and withers.” To artificially alter one’s strength or physical function by the false “Taoist” methods (obviously not known to Lao Tzu or certainly not approved of by him), is to eventually pay the price by rapid degeneration or loss.

Once a friend telephoned and told me to be sure and watch the upcoming television broadcast of a top-rated interview show. I did, and saw three people who were claiming that they had discovered the secret of physical rejuvenation and possible immortality. They made amazing claims but talked around and around it, not telling what it was. The next day my friend called and asked if I had watched the program. When I said I had, she told me that she knew the three very well, that their secret rejuvenation method was a singularly repulsive form of group sex. (Being a lady, she did not describe it.) They had created a sex cult with quite a few members. However, she told me, both of the men were wearing wigs because they had become prematurely bald, and the woman had undergone several cosmetic surgeries. Lao Tzu knew.

All that is against Tao, and whatever is against Tao soon ceases to be. Mabry: “This is not the way of Tao. All those who do not follow the Tao will come to an early end.” Byrn: “Changing the natural is against the way of the Tao. Those who do it will come to an early end.”

Lao Tzu continually counsels moving with and accommodating the natural tides. In this way we are in harmony with the Tao and therefore with the principle of true immortality. To “stick in our own oar” is to disrupt the harmony and therefore our synchronization with the Tao.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Beyond Honor and Disgrace

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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