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The Softest Substance

Part 43 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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The softest substance of the world goes through the hardest.

That-which-is-without-form penetrates that-which-has-no-crevice.

Through this I know the benefit of taking no action.

The teaching without words and the benefit of taking no action are without compare in the universe.

(Tao Teh King 43)

Here, too, yin and yang are being considered, because we often mistake which of two contradictory forces is the strongest and therefore make mistakes in our decisions and expectations.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world,” “Get them before they get you,” its variation: “Do it to others before others do it to you” and “Look out for Old Number One” are utterly fallacious slogans thrown around constantly, especially by criminals of varying degree. The real nature and meaning of Survival Of The Fittest is never understood, because people seem incapable of realizing that the strongest are not at all the fittest to survive. Often oppressors have only been remembered by those they oppressed. Shelley certainly got it right:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The meek and often despised are the only ones who look at that colossal wreck and read the words. They alone even know the name Ozymandias.

The softest substance of the world goes through the hardest.

Byrn: “That which offers no resistance, overcomes the hardest substances.” Jesus, Confucius and Lao Tzu followed the path of non-resistance, and only because of our admiration for them do we remember their persecutors. Who today would have ever heard of Pilate if not for his shameful refusal to exonerate Jesus and ordering his crucifixion? Gandhi in our very own time proved the power of non-violence. “A soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Sometimes it does not work that way, and instead the suffering of the good is their sole weapon. Making ourselves soft and non-resistant is the path of power.

That-which-is-without-form penetrates that-which-has-no-crevice.

Mabry: “That which is without substance can enter even where there is no space.” Refinement and subtlety of mind and perception is another valuable tool for ultimate success. Spiritual evolution is the only way to overcome the chaos and misery of mere materiality. It is the spiritual adepts that are the surest survivors. Some have even been killed and returned to life.

In my teen years I met an elderly man in Louisiana who had been present in 1890 when members of the Klan came to their church which even in the nineteenth century was condemning racial segregation and holding integrated meetings. Laughing, they described how the night before they had killed the founder of the church by beating him to death and had thrown his body into the swamp quicksand so he could not have the honor of a funeral. This grieved the church people tremendously, yet, being genuine pacifists, they meekly listened to the klansmen and let them go unchallenged (and unreported). Prayer was their sole recourse. A little over a week later, the founder came quietly walking into the home of one of the faithful, saying that he had indeed died, but had been sent back into his body, crawled out of the quicksand and stood before him alive. He could say with his Master, Jesus: “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive” (Revelation 1:18).

Then he sat down and wrote the following which later was made into a beautiful hymn:

Who will suffer with the Savior?
Take the little that remains
Of the cup of tribulation
Jesus drank in dying pains?

Who will offer soul and body
On the altar of our God?
Leaving self and worldly mammon,
Take the path that Jesus trod?

Who will suffer for the gospel,
Follow Christ without the gate?
Take the martyrs for example,
With them glory at the stake?

Oh, for consecrated service
’Mid the din of Babel strife;
Who will dare the truth to herald,
At the peril of his life?

Soon the conflict will be over,
Crowns await the firm and pure;
Forward, brethren, work and suffer,
Faithful to the end endure.

Lord, we fellowship Thy passion,
Gladly suffer shame and loss;
With Thy blessing pain is pleasure,
We will glory in Thy cross.

The Klan never bothered any members of that church again.

In the twentieth century the Venerable Master Hsu Yun was beaten to death by the Chinese Communists, but he returned to life and lived to the age of one hundred and nineteen years unmolested. He is even now a living presence in the world for the awakening of many.

Through this I know the benefit of taking no action.

Blackney: “By this I know the benefit of something done by quiet being.” “He who perceives inaction in action and action in inaction–such a man is wise among men, steadfast in yoga and doing all action” (Bhagavad Gita 4:18). Only that which is done in full consciousness of the divine Self, the Tao, can prevail, because it is the truth of things, the proof of the Sanskrit motto: Only Truth Prevails, or: Only Truth is Victorious: Satyam Eva Jayate.

The teaching without words… There are two forms of this. The first is the teaching conveyed through example. In my late teens I was very impressed when I heard a minister tell a congregation that their neighbors should know all the teachings of their church simply by living next door to them without ever speaking about religion. Such an idea implied people whose entire life was shaped by their faith. I was used to churches that made absolutely no difference in their members, and any attempt to do so would have been denounced as interference and fanaticism. Most church members seemed proud of the fact that they were just like everyone else, including those that had no religion. What the value of those churches were I could never figure out. Eventually I realized it was because they had no value to figure out.

Fortunately, later in life I came across the spiritual traditions of the East (including Eastern Christianity) that did make a great difference in the lives of those who not only believed in their value but ordered their lives according to their beliefs and principles. Of course, they were all labeled crazy, fanatics, devil-worshippers and even drug addicts by the ordinary American churchgoers around them. Among both the leaders and the followers of those oriental philosophies, and even more so among those in the countries of their origin, I met people whose entire being embodied their wisdom.

Great individuals such as Gandhi teach every moment of their lives. In India I have met and spent time with men and women who were living scriptures. Certainly the ideals of Indian religion could be learned by just associating with them. I have already several times mentioned Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh whom I can say without exaggeration was what the Eastern Christians call “a heavenly man and an earthly angel.” Such people are ever with God, and so are those who associate with them. The mere sight of them can awaken spiritual consciousness. In their presence profound understanding can arise spontaneously from within.

The benefit of taking no action. Chan: “The advantage of taking no action.” Feng and English: “Work without doing.” Wu: “The fruits of Non-Ado.” There is great wisdom and benefit in knowing when we should act and when we should not act. Much is accomplished both by acting and not acting. We just have to know the right time for each. The Chinese understood for thousands of years that hermits who seemed to being doing nothing were among the most beneficial members of society. Their inactivity tempered the worker ant attitude of aggressive business and government. At the same time, their speaking from the perspective gained by their stepping back from ordinary life brought great benefit to those who consulted them. Throughout history in both east and west the leaders of society have asked the counsel of those who have withdrawn from the common order of things. Both their example and words led many to understand how to better to live their lives in the company of busy mankind. Plato insisted that without such contemplatives and solitaries, a healthy society was impossible.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Be Content

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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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