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Tao is Like the Sea

Part 32 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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Tao is absolute and has no name.

Though the uncarved wood is small, it cannot be employed (used as vessel) by anyone.

If kings and barons can keep (this unspoiled nature), the whole world shall yield them lordship of their own accord.

The Heaven and Earth join, and the sweet rain falls, beyond the command of men, yet evenly upon all.

Then human civilization arose and there were names. Since there were names, it were well one knew where to stop. He who knows where to stop may be exempt from danger.

Tao in the world may be compared to rivers that run into the sea.

(Tao Teh King 32)

Tao is absolute and has no name.

We hear about things that are “too big to be ignored,” meaning they are too vital or even crucial to our welfare or so obvious that they cannot be overlooked. But the Tao is not “big” or “small” and is not “looked at” or “overlooked.” Therefore the unenlightened mind has no perception of It whatsoever, and therefore no response of any kind. The mind simply cannot deal with the Tao, and in the first verse of the Tao Teh King we were told that it could not be named, much less spoken about. This approach to Reality is common to the religions of the East.

Though the uncarved wood is small, it cannot be employed (used as vessel) by anyone.

In order to be usable by human beings, wood must be shaped into a form conforming to their intentions, but the Tao is never shaped into any mode of being or function, for It cannot be “used.” The Tao is eternally What It Is. Not only is the Tao inexpressible, It is untouchable. No one can relate to the Tao. They either know themselves as the Tao or they do not. As Yogananda often said, God cannot be intellectually known, but God can be known by direct experience beyond the intellect. This is because the Tao is the Truth of our being, “open vision direct and instant” (Bhagavad Gita 9:1). Knowing (Gnosis) is our nature, for we are consciousness itself. We must come to realize this for ourself. “Therefore, become a yogi” (Bhagavad Gita 6:46).

If kings and barons can keep (this unspoiled nature), the whole world shall yield them lordship of their own accord.

I once read in a book (so many years ago I have no memory of its name) a fictional dialogue between Tiberius Caesar and a high Roman official who remarked that the Christian ideal of love and overcoming evil with good was impossible. “How do you know?” asked Tiberius, “No one has ever tried it.” To do so would take a faith and daring that could only be supernatural. In the same way, it is doubtful that government officials would dare to put to the test Lao Tzu’s assertion that if they live as manifestations of the Tao they will be acknowledged as such and listened to by all people. Considering the careers of all great master teachers of humanity, we can see why politicians would have “reasonable doubt.” Yet we find this in the Gospel: “And while he yet spake, lo, Judas, one of the twelve, came, and with him a great multitude with swords and staves, from the chief priests and elders of the people.… And, behold, one of them which were with Jesus stretched out his hand, and drew his sword, and struck a servant of the high priest’s, and smote off his ear. Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” (Matthew 26:47, 51-54). So the difficulties of the great teachers of humanity are part of the natural order of things: of the Tao.

Yet we who are of lesser social order can often find Lao Tzu’s principle to be true. Many spiritual aspirants find that strangers are friendly to them and that they are given help by others on occasion without having to ask for it. I have known holy people who were spontaneously loved wherever they went, but I suspect that was because they did not have “bad people karma” and so never encountered them. Nevertheless, we must endeavor to live in the Tao literally.

The Heaven and Earth join, and the sweet rain falls, beyond the command of men, yet evenly upon all.

Since ego grips human beings, it is no surprise that religions claim to be the special and chosen (even the only) people of God. But the Tao is not an egotist and looks upon all people as integral parts of Its own Being. And in the Gita: “I am the same to all beings. There is no one who is disliked or dear to me” (Bhagavad Gita 9:29) in the sense of rejecting or favoring anyone. “The Omnipresent takes note of neither demerit nor merit” (Bhagavad Gita 5:15).

Therefore when heaven, earth, the human and the divine, are united in harmony, good will toward all prevails. Those who would be one with the Tao must cultivate this equal-vision and have benevolence toward all sentient beings.

Then human civilization arose and there were names. Since there were names, it were well one knew where to stop. He who knows where to stop may be exempt from danger.

When human beings live together, obviously there must be rules all agree to, and as long as this association is simple and small, a grass-roots matter, things work very well and the integrity of the individual is not violated but preserved. But when the association grows and the inevitable conflicts appear, then “civilization” with accent on “civil authority” begins to develop with classifications and institutions meant to preserve the original harmony but not the the original freedom of the individual. For example, in the administration of FDR we had the rise of a multiplicity of governmental departments adorned with strings of capital letters representing their titles. Put all together they meant regulation of rights and freedom that really entailed the loss of rights and freedoms. From that point on government to the people began to steadily replace government by the people. The wisdom to stop was certainly not exercised, here or in other countries. Only some of the “third world” nations today are free of such false development and advantages that have put citizens in civil strait jackets from which there seems little hope of escape.

As said before, each of us is a kingdom-nation unto ourselves. Therefore we, too, need to know “where to stop” and not clutter up and clog the flow of our lives. The Tao is simple, and an uncomplicated life is an advantageous setting for the pursuit of the Tao. Danger comes from going too far in the elaborations of the ego, including the spiritual ego. That brings great danger; but knowing when and where to stop can exempt us from further danger. And tracing our way back by eliminating the ego’s tangles can free us from all possible dangers. Simplicity and Unity are inseparable.

Tao in the world may be compared to rivers that run into the sea.

Byrn: “All things end in the Tao just as the small streams and the largest rivers flow through valleys to the sea.” Wu: “The Tao is to the world what a great river or an ocean is to the streams and brooks.” Mabry: “All the World is to the Tao as rivers flowing home to the sea.” Blackney: “In this world, compare those of the Way to torrents that flow into river and sea.”

Each of the foregoing translations has a special nuance of its own. The essence is that we are all flowing toward the Tao. This is our inviolable nature and therefore our inevitable and unavoidable destiny. To delay the flow is to continue in birth, death, suffering, and frustrated hope. But to accelerate the flow through the right ordering of our lives and the cultivation of interior evolution is the way to end all that. As Yogananda said: “Spirit to Spirit goes….”

“Purified by knowledge-based tapasya, many have attained my state of being” (Bhagavad Gita 4:10).

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Knowing Oneself

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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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