There are those who will conquer the world and make of it (what they conceive or desire). I see that they will not succeed. (For) the world is God’s own Vessel. It cannot be made (by human interference). He who makes it spoils it. He who holds it loses it.
For: Some things go forward, some things follow behind; some blow hot, and some blow cold; some are strong, and some are weak; some may break, and some may fall.
Hence the Sage eschews excess, eschews extravagance, eschews pride.
(Tao Teh King 29)
In The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis writes of a woman who cannot stand to not be running other people’s lives. “Give me someone to ‘do’ something with,” is her constant demand. She cannot exist on her own, but must live through others. A great many people do this, not least those addicted to “spectator sports” as well as adulation of heroes and “stars” in many areas of life: usually all useless and mostly destructive in the long run. Terrible suffering is produced by the insistence of governments and families that their members must be ordered about and changed in various ways “for their own good.” I would like to offer you some advice: Whenever anyone says to you: “I only want you to be happy…,” RUN. For they really only want to be happy themselves by controlling and reshaping you to their ideas. Few things are more vicious.
My mother used to laugh and say: “There is not a thing in the world my father doesn’t think he can’t improve.” Actually, he was right, for my grandfather was a great creative genius who could accomplish just about anything in the external world, especially in improving gadgets and machines. Still, the addiction to tinkering with the people and things around us can be a grave defect, as Lao Tzu now explains.
There are those who will conquer the world and make of it (what they conceive or desire). I see that they will not succeed. Wu: “Does anyone want to take the world and do what he wants with it? I do not see how he can succeed.” Swami Vivekananda has expounded this far better than I ever could. Ego is at the root of the problem of “world changers,” and he explained their folly in this way in his book Karma Yoga.
“There was a poor man who wanted some money; and somehow he had heard that if he could get hold of a ghost, he might command him to bring money or anything else he liked; so he was very anxious to get hold of a ghost. He went about searching for a man who would give him a ghost, and at last he found a sage with great powers, and besought his help. The sage asked him what he would do with a ghost. ‘I want a ghost to work for me; teach me how to get hold of one, sir; I desire it very much,’ replied the man. But the sage said, ‘Don’t disturb yourself, go home.’ The next day the man went again to the sage and began to weep and pray, ‘Give me a ghost; I must have a ghost, sir, to help me.’ At last the sage was disgusted, and said, ‘Take this charm, repeat this magic word, and a ghost will come, and whatever you say to him he will do. But beware; they are terrible beings, and must be kept continually busy. If you fail to give him work, he will take your life.’ The man replied, ‘That is easy; I can give him work for all his life.’ Then he went to a forest, and after long repetition of the magic word, a huge ghost appeared before him, and said, ‘I am a ghost. I have been conquered by your magic; but you must keep me constantly employed. The moment you fail to give me work I will kill you.’ The man said, ‘Build me a palace,’ and the ghost said, ‘It is done; the palace is built.’ ‘Bring me money,’ said the man. ‘Here is your money,’ said the ghost. ‘Cut this forest down, and build a city in its place.’ ‘That is done,’ said the ghost, ‘anything more?’ Now the man began to be frightened and thought he could give him nothing more to do; he did everything in a trice. The ghost said, ‘Give me something to do or I will eat you up.’ The poor man could find no further occupation for him, and was frightened. So he ran and ran and at last reached the sage, and said, ‘Oh, sir, protect my life!’ The sage asked him what the matter was, and the man replied, ‘I have nothing to give the ghost to do. Everything I tell him to do he does in a moment, and he threatens to eat me up if I do not give him work.’ Just then the ghost arrived, saying, ‘I’ll eat you up,’ and he would have swallowed the man. The man began to shake, and begged the sage to save his life. The sage said, ‘I will find you a way out. Look at that dog with a curly tail. Draw your sword quickly and cut the tail off and give it to the ghost to straighten out.’ The man cut off the dog’s tail and gave it to the ghost, saying, ‘Straighten that out for me.’ The ghost took it and slowly and carefully straightened it out, but as soon as he let it go, it instantly curled up again. Once more he laboriously straightened it out, only to find it again curled up as soon as he attempted to let go of it. Again he patiently straightened it out, but as soon as he let it go, it curled up again. So he went on for days and days, until he was exhausted and said, ‘I was never in such trouble before in my life. I am an old veteran ghost, but never before was I in such trouble.’ ‘I will make a compromise with you;’ he said to the man, ‘you let me off and I will let you keep all I have given you and will promise not to harm you.’ The man was much pleased, and accepted the offer gladly.
“This world is like a dog’s curly tail, and people have been striving to straighten it out for hundreds of years; but when they let it go, it has curled up again. How could it be otherwise? One must first know how to work without attachment, then one will not be a fanatic. When we know that this world is like a dog’s curly tail and will never get straightened, we shall not become fanatics. If there were no fanaticism in the world, it would make much more progress than it does now. It is a mistake to think that fanaticism can make for the progress of mankind. On the contrary, it is a retarding element creating hatred and anger, and causing people to fight each other, and making them unsympathetic. We think that whatever we do or possess is the best in the world, and what we do not do or possess is of no value. So, always remember the instance of the curly tail of the dog whenever you have a tendency to become a fanatic. You need not worry or make yourself sleepless about the world; it will go on without you. When you have avoided fanaticism, then alone will you work well. It is the level-headed man, the calm man, of good judgment and cool nerves, of great sympathy and love, who does good work and so does good to himself. The fanatic is foolish and has no sympathy; he can never straighten the world, nor himself become pure and perfect.”
(For) the world is God’s own Vessel. It cannot be made (by human interference). He who makes it spoils it. He who holds it loses it. Wu: “The world is a sacred vessel, which must not be tampered with or grabbed after. To tamper with it is to spoil it, and to grasp it is to lose it.” The paragraph that comes right after the words of Vivekananda cited above will complete this picture. “To recapitulate the chief points in today’s lecture: First, we have to bear in mind that we are all debtors to the world and the world does not owe us anything. It is a great privilege for all of us to be allowed to do anything for the world. In helping the world we really help ourselves. The second point is that there is a God in this universe. It is not true that this universe is drifting and stands in need of help from you and me. God is ever present therein, He is undying and eternally active and infinitely watchful. When the whole universe sleeps, He sleeps not; He is working incessantly; all the changes and manifestations of the world are His. Thirdly, we ought not to hate anyone. This world will always continue to be a mixture of good and evil. Our duty is to sympathize with the weak and to love even the wrongdoer. The world is a grand moral gymnasium wherein we have all to take exercise so as to become stronger and stronger spiritually. Fourthly, we ought not to be fanatics of any kind, because fanaticism is opposed to love. You hear fanatics glibly saying, ‘I do not hate the sinner. I hate the sin,’ but I am prepared to go any distance to see the face of that man who can really make a distinction between the sin and the sinner. It is easy to say so. If we can distinguish well between quality and substance, we may become perfect men. It is not easy to do this. And further, the calmer we are and the less disturbed our nerves, the more shall we love and the better will our work be.”
It is essential that we come to perceive truly that the world is the ever-perfect Tao.
For: Some things go forward, some things follow behind; some blow hot, and some blow cold; some are strong, and some are weak; some may break, and some may fall. Wu: “In fact, for all things there is a time for going ahead, and a time for following behind; A time for slow-breathing and a time for fast-breathing; A time to grow in strength and a time to decay; A time to be up and a time to be down.” Everything in the world changes, and a skillfully living person knows when to change his response to them in accordance with their altered character. First he must be able to perceive the change and perhaps even to anticipate the change and prepare himself for the altered circumstances. It is only natural to wish stability in our life and mind, but we must be sure that what we mistake for stability is not really stagnation. Most people have stale personalities because their lives are stale. Instead of growing and changing they have been running in the same tracks for their entire life. We all know of people who dress, speak, and act like they did when they were in high school, the “best years of their lives” to those who have remained stunted in their minds and hearts. Such people always respond just as they have always responded. They make no differentiation between past or present, so when the future arrives they are the same old “psychological antiques” to use Yogananda’s expression. He said that they are so boring that when they die the angels say: “Oh, let’s send this one back quickly.”
Besides the teaching of this verse, it also demonstrates an important truth: the Essenes within Judaism studied the scriptures of other religions, for which they were officially condemned by the other Jews. (See The Christ of India.) In the book of Ecclesiastes, attributed to Solomon, we find the following:
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
“A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
“A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
“A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
“A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
“A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
“A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).
This is not coincidence, but a restating of what the author had read for himself in the Tao Teh King. The Aquarian Gospel also reveals that the Essenes were very conversant with the Taoist philosophy, and that Jesus had Taoist disciples that came to learn from him after his return to Israel from India.
Hence the Sage eschews excess, eschews extravagance, eschews pride. Wu: “Therefore, the Sage avoids all extremes, excesses and extravagances.” Knowing that whatever his present situation, it will eventually change, and so will everything including the people around him, the wise man does not allow himself to overreact to anything, but to avoid extremes, excesses, and extravagances at all times, including his own internal conditions. Especially he keeps his mind and heart unclouded by intense emotional or intellectual reactions, and consequently also acts at all times in a temperate and deliberate manner. In this way he perfectly expresses the Tao.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Warning Against the Use of Force