A soldier who has the courage to fight will eventually be killed. But one who has the courage not to fight will live.
In these two, one is good and the other harmful. Who knows why Heaven allows some things to happen? Even the Sage is stumped sometimes.
The way of Heaven: Does not compete, but is good at winning. Does not speak, yet always responds; Does not demand, but is usually obeyed; Seems chaotic, but unfolds a most excellent plan.
Heaven’s net is cast wide and though its meshes are loose, nothing is ever lost.
(Tao Teh King 73–Mabry translation)
A soldier who has the courage to fight will eventually be killed. But one who has the courage not to fight will live. This is not about military endeavor, but about the individual who has realized the necessity for personal transformation, something that seems to require long and intense struggle. But Lao Tzu is going to introduce to us a different and more successful perspective.
The person who jumps right into hand-to-hand combat with ego and its negative forces from many past lives is certainly courageous, but because his basic approach is erroneous, combatting inimical forces with personal enmity which by its nature is egoism masquerading as nobility, he will be defeated and his efforts “killed” by complete reversal. But he who has the courage to follow the path of nature and not force, the way of Tao and not the way of the world, will not only live, he will be victorious.
There are two ways to approach our inner purification and restructuring. One way is negative, expressing itself as: “I am going to overcome this and fight it with all my strength,” or the positive way: “I am only and always going to do the right in the future.” The positive way invoked the person’s inner, divine nature. Such a one says: “By finding my true Self, all that is negative and harmful in my life sphere will dissolve and melt away.” Instead of saying: “I will never lie again,” he says: “From now on I will always speak the truth.” He never says: “I will not,” but “I will.” This is very important and is the difference between wasted effort and ultimate failure and true success. It is the way of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh who formulated the motto: “Be Good. Do Good.” It is entering into our essential being that is needed, not engaging in all forms of “doing” that only cover up our inner being.
In these two, one is good and the other harmful. Who knows why Heaven allows some things to happen? Even the Sage is stumped sometimes. One of the obstacles in spiritual transformation is the habit of looking outward at externals and stewing over them. “Why?” can be the path away from any discovery of truth. Lao Tzu is not telling us to be passive or indifferent, but to not bother with that which is none of our business. The philosopher Epictetus urged people to study their life and determine what they could influence or change in their life and what they could not. Then all their energy and attention should be focussed on what was in the scope of their will and action. Everything else should be accepted or ignored. So rather than trying to figure out the things over which we have no control, we should put all our attention on what we can control and change. It is a simple principle, but who thinks of it?
The way of Heaven: Does not compete, but is good at winning. Does not speak, yet always responds. Does not demand, but is usually obeyed. Seems chaotic, but unfolds a most excellent plan. Now Lao Tzu is going to tell us the way of Heaven which is the way of Spirit, of our own true Self. We need to take each phrase in turn.
Does not compete, but is good at winning. Actually, those who compete do not win in the long run. Those who do not pay attention to what others are doing, but mind their own business and invest their time completely in their own perfection will always win without even entering the contest. That is why Jesus taught: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). Put your mind and heart on the one thing, the Life of the Tao, and everything else will come to you effortlessly.
Two examples in Jesus’ life of those who did not have the right idea are Saint Peter, who liked to ask: “What shall this man do?” about others. As a consequence when under pressure he failed. The other was Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary Magdalene. “[Jesus] entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42). (Notice that Martha did not reprimand Mary, she reprimanded Jesus: “Lord, do You not care?” So she blamed Jesus, not Mary.)
Jesus also said: “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7). Those who seek in the world for the things of the world shall indeed find just that and keep finding it over and over through constant rebirth until such seeking is stopped. The wise stop it right now.
Does not speak, yet always responds. Those who do not occupy themselves with speaking, but keep silent and listen, will be able to respond to the inner call of their own Self and the upward call of the Tao.
Does not demand, but is usually obeyed. Just as the proximity of fire can kindle fire in something nearby, in the same way the presence of a sage can stimulate others to wisdom and righteousness without a word of teaching. Coming into the presence of a master has transformed many people. I met people in India who had reformed criminals (some of them organized crime bosses) when they just entered into a room where the holy one was. Just a sight of them was enough to change their lives forever. I have known yogis whose silent company could cure addictions and negative habit patterns. I well remember when I had decided to slack off and delay taking up the yoga life. All I had to do was look into the eyes of Swami Bimalananda, a great disciple of Yogananda, to be freed from that foolishness. Whenever my “fire” would burn low and be in danger of going out, Sri Daya Mata (in those days Sister Daya) need only enter the room and I would “flame on” again. Yogananda used to tell people: “Change yourself and you will change thousands.” But he meant a total change, not a token one.
Seems chaotic, but unfolds a most excellent plan. “You must be nuts!” These words or some like them have been addressed to the wise throughout the history of humanity. Ignorant people consider the wise foolish and stupid. “That makes no sense” is a common statement of condemnation when such people encounter truth, especially the truth of eternal verities.
When Yogananda decided to start a vegetarian café at the Hollywood center, several restauranteurs offered to help him, but when he told them his ideals regarding the preparation and serving of the food they insisted he would fail. But he did not. Eventually every day people would be standing along the west wall waiting for a table. After he had made a success of the Hollywood café, one day at the Encinitas hermitage he went with Sister Meera (whom I heard tell about this) to look at a ramshackle two-car garage on the property that everyone felt should be torn down. He stood in the center and looked carefully around and then remarked: “Yes. This will make a very good café.” When Meera protested, he told her: “Wait and see.” And she did: in time as many people were served there every year as at the Hollywood café.
The Hollywood center was born when Sister Meera went with Yogananda to the southeast corner of Sunset and Edgemont in Hollywood. At that time there were no buildings around, but only a decrepit park where homeless drunks lived and slept. It was considered a bad part of town by everyone. But not by Yogananda. He stood and looked around and told her: “This will make a very good center.” “But no one will ever come to this place” she protested “they will be afraid to!” “You see only with your two eyes,” Yogananda told her, “but I see with my one eye of intuition that one day there will be three huge buildings on the other three corners, and this fourth will be our center where many will come.” When I moved next door to the Hollywood center in 1961, the big Kaiser Foundation had been built right across the street. On the other two corners were extensive one-story business buildings that were empty. Before I went to India at the end of November of 1962, Yogananda’s prophecy had come true and there were two multi-story buildings on those corners.
Saints and masters embody the counsel of Saint Paul: “Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (I Corinthians 3:18-19). And the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world.
“Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).
Heaven’s net is cast wide and though its meshes are loose, nothing is ever lost. Lin Yutang: “The heaven’s net is broad and wide with big meshes, yet letting nothing slip through.”
The ways of heaven, the Tao, are found throughout the universe, and human beings consider them either non-existent or defective. But its laws, its meshes, gather up all in time and bring them to the Eternal Abode, the Tao.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: On Punishment (3)