“The Solid is the root of the light; the Quiescent is the master of the hasty. Therefore the Sage travels all day yet never leaves his provision-cart. In the midst of honor and glory, he lives leisurely, undisturbed. How can the ruler of a great country make light of his body in the empire (by rushing about)? In light frivolity, the Center is lost; in hasty action, self-mastery is lost.
(Tao Teh King 26)
Human beings habitually “live backwards” like Merlin. That is, they confuse cause with effect, and continually mistake the order in which things arise. They also confuse things with one another. For thoroughly negative people, peace is war and war is peace; virtue is vice and vice is virtue. So Lao Tzu is going to dispel some of our misperceptions.
The universe is composed of two basic processes: involution and evolution. They are mirror images of one another, exact opposites. For example, the involution process involves moving from formlessness into form, but evolution involves moving from form into formlessness. In this section of the Tao Teh King Lao Tzu is speaking of evolution.
The Solid is the root of the light.
Legge: “Gravity is the root of lightness.” We must first be perfectly “grounded”–defined and stabilized–before we can consciously (i.e., intelligently and purposefully) begin to refine, expand, and ultimately resolve back into all-pervasive formlessness, into pure consciousness.
The Quiescent is the master of the hasty.
Legge: “Stillness, the ruler of movement.” We cannot act meaningfully until we can be perfectly still within action, identifying with the core of silent, unmoving consciousness that is at the heart of everything. There is a lengthy section from the Bhagavad Gita that is very relevant to this subject:
“What is action? What is inaction? Even the wise are confused in this matter. This action I shall explain to you, having known which, you shall be released from evil.
“You must know the nature of action, the nature of wrong action, and also the nature of inaction. The way [path] of action is profound.
“He who perceives inaction in action, and action in inaction, is wise among men; he is steadfast in yoga while performing all actions.
“He who has excluded desire and motive from all his undertakings, and has consumed his karma in the fire of knowledge, him the wise men call a sage.
“He who has abandoned all attachment to the fruits of action, always content, not dependent, even when performing action, does not do anything whatever.
“Performing action with the body alone, without wish, restrained[controlled] in thought [mind] and self, with all motives of acquisition abandoned, he incurs no evil.
“Content with whatever spontaneously comes to him, transcending the dualities [dwandwas: the pairs of opposites], free from envy, the same in success or in failure, even though he acts, he is not bound.
“The karma of one who is free from attachment, who is liberated, whose mind is established in knowledge, who does action only as a sacrifice, is wholly dissolved” (Bhagavad Gita 4:16-23).
Therefore the Sage travels all day yet never leaves his provision-cart.
Legge: “Therefore a wise prince, marching the whole day, does not go far from his baggage wagons.” We must never leave the center of our existence–spirit-consciousness–however far we “travel” in our lifespan. For that is the essence of our life, our very existence. To forget our selves in wandering through earthly life is to invite frustration, misery, decay, and death.
In the midst of honor and glory, he lives leisurely, undisturbed.
Legge: “Although he may have brilliant prospects to look at, he quietly remains (in his proper place), indifferent to them.” Unpleasant things at least have the advantage of causing us to withdraw into ourselves in defense and retain our independence and integrity. But pleasant things draw us outward into identification with them and forgetfulness of our true nature as the Tao. We literally lose ourselves in them. Great and wise, then, is the one who can live in the midst of glamor and glory, untouched and undisturbed by it.
How can the ruler of a great country make light of his body in the empire (by rushing about)?
Legge: “How should the lord of a myriad chariots carry himself lightly before the kingdom?” Our life sphere is our “kingdom,” but we must not trivialize ourselves by becoming so absorbed in the kingdom that we forget our kingship and forsake our throne. The sage is the absolute opposite of the shallow and trivial people who rush around “living life” to their own detriment.
In light frivolity, the Center is lost.
Legge: “If he do act lightly, he has lost his root (of gravity).” This is a truth that should occupy our concern. Although there are many ills in the world today, perhaps cheapness, shallowness, insubstantiality, and triviality are the worst of all. Our “consumer society” is the fruition of such deadly roots.
In hasty action, self-mastery is lost.
Legge: “If he proceed to active movement, he will lose his throne.” Once again we encounter the necessity to act from the still point within so that only the body acts while the mind and spirit remain in perfect stillness. In this way all things can be accomplished within the ever-moving, ever-quiescent Tao.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: On Stealing the Light
Chapters of Tao Teh King for Awakening
- On the Absolute Tao
- The Rise of Relative Opposites
- Action Without Deeds
- The Character of Tao
- The Spirit of the Valley
- Living for Others
- The Danger of Overweening Success
- Embracing the One
- The Utility of Not-Being
- The Senses
- Praise and Blame
- Prehistoric Origins
- The Wise Ones of Old
- Knowing the Eternal Law
- The Decline of Tao
- Realize the Simple Self
- The World and I
- Manifestations of Tao
- Futility of Contention
- Identification with Tao
- The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
- The Four Eternal Models
- Heaviness and Lightness
- On Stealing the Light
- Keeping to the Female
- Warning Against Interference
- Warning Against the Use of Force
- Weapons of Evil
- The Peace of Tao
- The Rhythm of Life
- World Peace
- Unity Through Complements
- The Principle of Reversion
- Qualities of the Taoist
- The Violent Man
- The Softest Substance
- Be Content
- Calm Quietude
- Racing Horses
- Pursuit of Knowledge
- Conquering the World by Inaction
- The People’s Hearts
- The Preserving of Life
- The Mystic Virtue
- Stealing the Absolute
- The Individual and the State
- The Character of the Child
- Beyond Honor and Disgrace
- The Art of Government
- Unobtrusive Government
- Be Sparing
- Governing a Big Country
- Big and Small Countries
- The Good Man’s Treasure
- Difficult and Easy
- Beginning and End
- The Grand Harmony
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