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Part 8 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.

The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness; that of associations is in their being with the virtuous; that of government is in its securing good order; that of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability; and that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness.

And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle (about his low position), no one finds fault with him.

(Tao Teh King 8)

The highest excellence is like (that of) water. The excellence of water appears in its benefiting all things, and in its occupying, without striving (to the contrary), the low place which all men dislike. Hence (its way) is near to (that of) the Tao.

Once when someone asked Swami Brahmananda, the great disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, if he would bless him, the swami replied: “We have nothing to give but blessings,” referring to the superstitious idea held even today that sadhus have the power to curse as well as bless. The simile of a rose and a piece of sandalwood is often used in relation to truly good people: when crushed they only give forth their sweet fragrance. Without water nothing can live; in the same way the benevolence of the wise extends to every form of being.

Furthermore, the wise occupy the lowliest position as uncomplainingly and as naturally as water flows to the lowest level. Water on the mountaintop and water deep in the earth is still water and possesses the same characteristics. In the same way the sage is unaffected by any external conditions or situations.

Late one afternoon in Delhi I was sitting in a taxi as a friend of mind was buying rice. From a distance I saw a remarkable-appearing sadhu. His entire appearance was that of someone from a century before. Even his eyeglasses were of a style I had only seen in photographs from the previous century. But the outstanding quality of his appearance was his great dignity and tranquility. People flowed all around him, jostling him here and there, but he remained unresponsive, obviously centered within. One man ran into him violently and nearly knocked him over. His reaction was to look at the man with complete calmness and a caring and compassionate look. He had no blame, but understood the inner turmoil that had propelled the man along so heedlessly and so unconsciously that he had made no apology but kept hurtling on. He turned back and resumed his calm pace. Right then my friend returned to the taxi and I asked him to take some money from me and give it to the sadhu. He hurried after him, bowed and touched the sadhu’s feet and handed him the money respectfully. The sadhu’s demeanor never changed. He turned and looked for a moment as my friend came back to the car and then walked on unaffected by any of it. That day I saw that the ideal of the Gita regarding evenness of mind in the pleasant and the unpleasant, in honor and dishonor, could be realized. As my friend Hari Dutt Vasudeva used to say regarding such people: “That is the glory of India.” God is the same, the godly being merely reflections of that Absolute Goodness.

The excellence of a residence is in (the suitability of) the place; that of the mind is in abysmal stillness. It is not the dwelling place of the body, but that of the mind which is of prime importance. And by “dwelling place” we mean the state or level of consciousness, not the type of discursive thoughts. Mere thoughts do not at all indicate where we “live,” for they come and go and constantly shift in character. Sri Ramakrishna often mentioned the scriptural scholars that spent hours a day talking about the highest reaches of philosophy, but all the time were intent on the money they were going to be given for their discourse and all the material things that money would buy. “Vultures soar very high in the sky, but their eyes are fixed on rotten carrion on the ground. The book-learned are reputed to be wise, but they are in search of carrion. They are attached to the world of ignorance.”

Every religion has its exhortations to keep the mind in heaven or with some sacred figure or deity, but Lao Tzu gives us the ultimate advice: our minds should ever dwell in the silence of transcendental Reality: the Tao. The only way for that to be possible is to often enter that Silence through the portal of profound meditation. It is through meditation alone that our consciousness can be established in the Primal State.

That of associations is in their being with the virtuous. However much we may like someone, if they develop a highly contagious and deadly disease, we stay away from them. Just as association with them would be the height of foolishness, so also is friendship with the unvirtuous, for they, too, carry a deadly disease: vice and the root of vice, ignorance. Association with such people inevitably results in our moral and spiritual contamination.

Yogananda often said: “Company is stronger than will power.” That is why in India satsang, the company of worthy spiritual seekers, is considered an essential ingredient of successful spiritual life. It is possible to “catch” virtue as much as it is possible to catch vice. So we should actively seek such association. If we cannot find anyone to establish satsang with, then we should do so through reading books about and by those of higher consciousness. If we can find audio or video recordings of them or their lives, that too is valuable. We should keep their depictions in our homes and where we meditate. In India it is common to see holy imagery in autos, busses, and painted on trucks and taxis (especially three-wheelers). As Jesus said: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

That of government is in its securing good order. Lao Tzu did not separate private from public life, and Taoists have always had a goodly bit to say about how society should be ordered. Unhappily, most governments are interested in order only, and not good order. However that may be, it is our duty to secure good order in our minds and lives through regular discipline and spiritual practice.

Any practice that does not produce such order in us is useless. A lot of “yogis” sit and “get high” only to come out of meditation and live very low. One of the most cruel and spiteful people I ever knew would have “ecstatic” meditation every day, being visited by saints, avatars, and gods–or so she said. But when she got up after meditation her family and associates ran for the exits, for she embodied our slang expression “hell on wheels.”

I knew a “lady” swami that continually roamed about like a bear with a bur under its tail, though occasionally pausing to write articles and poems about love and devotion for her magazine. It only took a few hours for her to terrorize the entire staff of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. When her long-distance groupies came to escort her to a pre-arranged place for talks and classes, one of the staff at the hotel desk laughed and said: “Are you ever in for a surprise!” He was right, for she came charging into the lobby and into the midst of the groupies and whirled around and shouted at a friend of mine (who would not believe me when I had earlier warned her about “swamiji’s” real character): “I WANT A DRINK OF WATER!!!” As the group was leaving the manager quietly told the person who had made the reservation for her that she would not be permitted accommodation in the future. Well, at least she made a mark in the world. But we must be different.

That of (the conduct of) affairs is in its ability. Somehow both East and West have gotten the ridiculous idea that impracticality is a trait of spirituality. It is not. As Sri Ramakrishna said: “If you can weigh salt you can weigh sugar.” He was very strict with his disciples about developing good sense and practical and efficient ways. “Be a devotee, but why a fool?” was his comment. We, too, must live effectively on all levels. We should not become sharpsters and wheeler-dealers, but we should be sensible and capable people. This will not be hard if we have an ordered and orderly mind. Meditation is the means for that, too.

And that of (the initiation of) any movement is in its timeliness. Knowing when and how to act is a true virtue of mind, as is the ability to know whether something is even worth doing or not.

And when (one with the highest excellence) does not wrangle, no one finds fault with him. A worthy person is not argumentative, oppressive, or repressive. He lives to himself, setting an example for others but not pestering them. The Gita describes such a one as “he who agitates not the world, and whom the world agitates not” (Bhagavad Gita 12:15). It must be acknowledged, though, that the solitary life is a Taoist ideal, since few are they that follow the example of the wise.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Danger of Overweening Success

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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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