All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skillful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.
So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.
All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see; ’Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.
(Tao Teh King 2)
All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have [knowledge of] what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have [knowledge of] what the want of skill is.
Thank you, thank you, Lao Tzu! As a right-brainer growing up in a left-brain society I was often stunned by the absolute stupidity of universally-accepted “truisms” that were as silly as they were erroneous. One of them that chafed me the most was the imbecilic statement that if we were never unhappy we would not know happiness, and variations on that. That is like saying that if we were never hungry we would not know what it was to be well-fed. Or that if we did not know everybody else in the world we would not know our own mother! In religion this foolishness runs amok in the words and writings of those who think that the way to know the truth is to first know untruth, and consequently grind out volume after volume of analysis and denunciation of “heresy” in the delusion that by this way they are expounding “orthodoxy.” Since very intelligent people accept and engage in this, the phenomenon is bewildering until we understand that right-brain/left-brain is a very real factor in human thought and behavior.
In relation to spiritual life we must realize that we do not need to go through all kinds of delusions to eventually come to the truth. Nor do we need to first suffer, wander, rebel, deny and go down dead-end byways before turning and seeking conscious union with the Tao. Those who assert that we do are simply trying to cover up their own vagaries as being necessary and therefore somehow acceptable and even worthy. When Jesus said: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33), he was speaking the simple facts. If we seek the Tao first then everything we need will come to us automatically. Long before Jesus’ counsel, the Mundaka Upanishad (1.1.3) referred to the Tao as “That Which, when known, everything is known.” For it is the Tao that is “the one thing needful” (Luke 10:42). As the Upanishad also says: “He shining, everything shines.” Knowing the Tao, all is known. And knowing It we become one with It.
In Indian philosophy we inevitably come across the idea that everything is dual in relative existence, manifesting as the dwandwas, the pairs of opposites such as heat/cold, wet/dry, light/darkness and so forth.
So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out of the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another. The meaning here is that one dwandwa instructs us in the existence of the other. The presence gives rise to the concept of the absence of an object or a quality. But the fundamental truth being aimed at is the fact that relative existence teaches us all about itself, that we need only observe it to learn the truth about everything. Buddha speaks of this in the Dhammapada, as well. Life is not just the best teacher, it is the only teacher.
Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech. This is an incredible insight, and is beautifully expounded in the Bhagavad Gita under the subject of the gunas, the modes of energy behavior inherent in the creation. (In the following citations, think of “energy patterns” when you read “gunas.”)
“The three gunas are the domains of the Vedas. Be free from the triad of the gunas, indifferent to the pairs of opposites, eternally established in reality, free from thoughts of getting and keeping, and established in the Self” (Bhagavad Gita 2:45).
“In all situations actions are performed by the gunas of Prakriti. Those with ego-deluded mind think: ‘I am the doer.’ But he who knows the truth about the gunas and action thinks: ‘The gunas act in the gunas.’ Thinking thus, he is not attached” (Bhagavad Gita 3:27-28).
“When the beholder sees no doer other than the gunas, and knows that which is higher than the gunas, he attains to my being. When an embodied being rises above these three gunas, which are the source of the body, freed from birth, death, old age and pain, he attains immortality” (Bhagavad Gita 14:19-20).
The wise realize that they are watching movies: movies that originate in the mind and are combinations of light and sound. The Cosmic Movie originates in the Divine Mind (the Tao) and moves along of itself. Our task is to realize this and learn to the fullest extent through calm observation. In this state of Perfect Silence he acts without acting and speaks without speaking. This is not gobbledegook, but is comprehensible to those who become proficient in meditation.
The great non-dualist philosopher Shankara spoke of it this way in his Hymn to Dakshinamurti (The Divine Teacher): “Strange,… he taught them by keeping silence, and the doubts of the disciples were all cleared up.” This has been the experience of many who came burdened with doubts and questions into the presence of the illumined. With a glance those liberated souls dispelled all doubt and lack of understanding.
When I was in India a man told me that a friend of his had several burning questions in his mind. Since he could not find the solutions anywhere or from anyone, he decided to go to the Aurobindo Ashram for Darshan Day when Sri Aurobindo could be seen, but would not speak. He went determined to speak with Aurobindo no matter what he might have to do. He went into a large auditorium with hundreds of other seekers. On a platform at the front there was a large screen. When all were seated and silence prevailed, the screen was moved away revealing Sri Aurobindo sitting there. Beginning at the first row the sage looked into the eyes of everyone present. When he looked into the eyes of my friend’s friend, all his questions were answered simultaneously, in an instant.
It is not the glib but the (truly) silent who are wise and impart wisdom. It is the Tao alone that teaches through those who have united themselves with It.
One of the major ploys of manipulative religion and esotericism is to insist that there are great secrets, major arcana, that cannot be known without the secret teachings and secret practices given only to the few that make themselves worthy through being completely subjugated to the dispenser(s) of the “hidden wisdom.” Secret initiations (a long series of these, preferably) are an especially favored means of keeping the attention and allegiance of the duped.
All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself. Jesus expressed it this way: “Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known.” (Luke 8:17). It is a matter of evolution. As the consciousness of the individual unfolds, so does the inner and outer universe unfold itself to his inner eye in proportion to his own degree of unfoldment. The cosmos, most particularly the inner world, teaches him as he advances. And all things arise before his awareness in time, “and there is not one which declines to show itself.” So there is no need for an external revealer of secrets without whom they would not be known. Everything is self-revealing.
What about teachers, then? They are very important when they are real teachers of truth: when they clearly and directly impart to the student the knowledge of the way to open his own consciousness. For that opening itself then becomes his teacher.
This was demonstrated in the life of my dear friend Swami Rama of Hardwar. At the age of nine he was idly playing in the streets of his birthplace, a tiny village in Kashmir. An elderly yogi came walking down the street, and as he passed by said: “Come with me!” The boy walked along beside him until they had passed a little distance beyond the village. There the yogi stopped and instructed him in a yogic practice, telling him to do it always. Then the yogi walked on and was never seen by him again. The child applied what the yogi had taught him and became a great saint. What is more, he openly taught to everyone the practice his teacher had given him, saying that there was no need for initiation or personal instruction in it. He declined to become a guru in the contemporary sense of becoming the presiding deity of the disciple’s life. Rather, he just told what he had been told, and those who applied it also attained higher consciousness. His teacher had known that everything would reveal itself to him in time if he persevered, that he needed nothing more than the simple knowledge he gave him. And Swami Rama proved that to be true.
So let me repeat: a true teacher shows how to be taught by the Tao and Its manifestation as creation. The rest is up the seeker. “All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13). We should read and listen to the words of worthy spiritual teachers, but only those such as I have outlined are worthy.
They grow…. The teachings of the Tao to the questing soul are not external formulations or concepts, neither are they artificial implants. Rather, they are the spontaneous developments of the aspirant’s inmost awareness. They are a matter of evolution: inevitable evolution. We need not seek here and there, only within. As we grow, so shall we know.
There is no claim made for their ownership. That statement throws a wrench into the workings of most religions and teachers. Every religion claims that it alone knows the truth, even when it is evident that many (and sometimes all) religions say the same thing. For example, Christians try to claim a patent on the Trinity. It may be true that their muddled way of presenting the Trinitarian concept as a mystifying mystery may be unique to them, but every true religion knows about the Trinity and teaches accordingly. It is astounding to see how there are religions claiming that they alone teach the existence of God! When challenged they just shrug off reality by saying that the other religions are teaching a misperception, a superstition, and not the real theism. And of course some even insist that everybody else is worshiping the Devil, not God.
There are many signs of false or foolish teachers, but a fundamental one is the teacher’s claim to enlightenment. They say “I am enlightened… I attained my enlightenment…,” and so forth. The Kena Upanishad says to such, and to us: “If you think that you have understood Brahman well, you know it but slightly…. To whomsoever it is not known, to him it is known: to whomsoever it is known, he does not know. It is not understood by those who understand it; it is understood by those who do not understand it. When it is known through every state of cognition, it is rightly known, for [by such knowledge] one attains life eternal. Through one’s own Self one gains power and through wisdom one gains immortality. If here [a person] knows it, then there is truth, and if here he knows it not, there is great loss. Hence, seeing [or seeking] [the Real] in all beings, wise men become immortal on departing from this world” (Kena Upanishad 2.1, 3-5).
A truly illumined person knows that the Tao alone is the source of enlightenment, that it can never be my enlightenment, only Its/his. “His shining illumines all this world” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.11). So say the truly wise. No one can rightly claim enlightenment for himself. It is the Light of the Tao alone that lightens our darkness. This is not hairsplitting. These self-proclaimed illuminati may not have the cosmic consciousness they claim, but they do approach the level of cosmic egotism.
Another favorite ruse of a false teacher is to claim that he has received a new understanding never before given to anyone else. “Now the world is ready,” they crow. And cash in. A variation on this is the claim that they have now been authorized to publicly teach what has been kept in secret by and for the few throughout the ages. “Now humanity has evolved enough,” they announce. But truth is never the property of any one individual. And of course there are the “only one world teacher at a time” charlatans who claim to be that only one.
Religions and spiritual institutions like to claim that they alone possess special knowledge, and even label their teachings accordingly. Here in America we have a yoga group that blatantly puts their organization’s name on practices that are known universally in India, and require their members to solemnly promise to never reveal them. Even more ridiculous is their claiming the simple equal breathing exercise that is known everywhere: breathe in as you count; hold your breath to an equal count; breath out to the same count. This is found everywhere in books on yoga and breathing, but I actually know of one of their dupes thinking he had to get their formal permission to teach this to someone.
Another shameful deception is the pretence that a teaching will be without power or effect unless it is imparted in the authorized way by the authorized teacher. This is especially done in relation to yoga methods. The truth is this: if a yoga method cannot work by its inherent nature, then it is artificial and cannot lead to higher consciousness or spiritual liberation. It may produce a lot of chills and thrills and wow the crowd, but it will begin and end in this world.
In contrast, a true method of spiritual development will work for anyone who applies it because it is based on the fundamental laws of existence, not on the whim or exclusive franchise of a teacher or group. One group I know of was started by an honest yogi who wrote down in black and white that his methods could be learned from anyone who practiced them. His words are now altered to say the opposite: that only those approved as teachers by the organization can teach the practice. Fortunately the truth is otherwise. (I was present when one of the yogi’s senior students was asked by a relative newcomer if he could teach the yoga to others. “Why not?” responded the senior, “you know the methods, don’t you?” Nothing more was required.)
I am making such a point of this because one of the Sanskrit terms for spiritual liberation is Kaivalya, which means, according to the Yoga-Vedanta Dictionary: “the transcendental state of Absolute Independence.” Another dictionary defines it as: “spiritual independence.” Kaivalya-independence thus is the purpose of true religion and true spiritual teachers. Dependency is never their desire. That is why Swami Vivekananda once asked a disciple: “If you find a better teacher than me, will you leave me and follow him?” When the disciple answered: “Yes, I will.” Vivekananda embraced him fervently and said: “Now I know you are truly my disciple!” For a true teacher wants only the freedom of the disciple, and instructs him accordingly.
They go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The creation is really an enlightenment machine, however much human beings try to subvert it and make it otherwise. When an aspirant enters into the stream of cosmic evolution everything unfolds and proceeds without any need for interference or direction. He need only keep himself in the stream by his practice. Consequently he does not hold “expectations” in the sense of wanting things to proceed in a particular direction or desiring a particular result, so he keeps himself in readiness for their revelation.
The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement). Once we have finished the course and completed the race, we leave the racetrack and go home. The purpose of the spiritual race is to transcend it, to pass beyond it. It is like tag: once we touch home base we are free and out of the game. So we do not come to rest at the top of the evolutionary current, we move on out of the stream altogether. Some freed souls do return to lower realms to point the way to freedom for those still moving upwards, but they first step out of the river to “the other shore.”
Lao Tzu completes this section with a couplet:
The work is done, but how no one can see;
’Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.
By this he means that the entire work of spiritual liberation is done without the observation of the ego, for that is left far behind alone with the mind and the intellect. Therefore no one sees its progress and completion, though the individual certainly experiences and manifests it. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that a salt doll went to measure the depth of the ocean, but when it entered the ocean it was dissolved, so who was left to tell of its depth? The Tao being “that from which the mind and the senses turn back” according to the Upanishad, It cannot be spoken of, and neither can the ascent to divinity. Like the Tao itself, union with the Tao cannot spoken about. “The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.”
How is it that Lao Tzu claims: “’Tis this [unseeable character of the liberation process] that makes the power not cease to be”? He is indicating that the moment something comes under the sway of the mind and the intellect it becomes enfeebled and stagnated. Oh, yes, we may play with it and delight in it like an infant with its toes, but the evolutionary flow will be stopped, for we shall have gotten out of the Stream. This again is why “teachers of enlightenment” are just not possible and why authentic spiritual development cannot be institutionalized.
To keep the power going we have to get out of the way–and into The Way.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Action Without Deeds