Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Tao Te Ching
This chapter consists of three parts that have little to do with one another. The first part talks about offerings, the second about a bellows, and the third about words.
The division of the Tao Te Ching into 81 chapters was not done by its author, but introduced much later. So, here I suspect that three separate sayings have been combined into one, although Lao Tzu did not intend it.
The first part speaks of a ruthlessness that seems terrifying. The offerings that Lao Tzu mentions were straw dogs used in religious rituals, and discarded afterward. We have no doubt that nature treats all its components and creatures with such indifference, simply because it lacks awareness. Storms whip the forests, oceans chew on land, winter kills what summer nourished, and beast feeds on beast that feeds on beast. It's like a machine.
But why should the sage do the same? Should we not be compassionate and do our utmost to save fellow men from pain and misfortune?
Well, Lao Tzu probably refers to society as a whole – like nature is a whole. Too much concern for single individuals can bring mayhem on society. We should be like straw dogs in the sense that none is worth more than the survival of the society that contains us all.
So, the sage would not dream of harming society for the benefit of a few of its members. On the other hand, he would not hesitate to sacrifice a few for the need of all. To guarantee the survival of society, he would be prepared to offer almost all of its inhabitants.
Anyone who is given the power to rule a nation would do the same. Actually, people demand it of their ruler. It's the very basis of any society. Nothing within it is worth sacrificing all of society for, and no price is too high to save it from destruction.
This is not only the case in a crisis, but in everyday life as well. Individuals cannot demand to be treated better than what is good for the whole. On the other hand, there is no reason for making the citizens suffer more than what is needed for society to prevail.
The most precious society is the one that needs the least sacrifice of its members.
In this space we move about freely, and there seems to be no end to what is brought forth in it: countless generations of animals and vegetation, the cycles of the seasons, the splendor of sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon. Everything moves and renews itself. The creatures feed on what grows from the earth, they breathe the sky, and they multiply.
The world is filled with tireless reproduction. It's as if the sky is a breath of life, its winds stirring the cornucopia that is Earth.
Words and the thoughts behind them may be clever, perhaps inspired, but still there can be enough of them. Then it's better to take it all in silently. We don't need to describe everything we experience, or to express all that we learn. Words are mere shadows. If we focus on them we may lose sight of the reality they try to imitate.
Instead, we should trust that our inner stillness finds the Way, and makes us see the patterns in the constant bombardment of information that is our daily life.
The word `centered' in my translation of this chapter is jhong (or zhong) in Chinese. It means middle or center. It's used in the name for China (Jhongguo or Zhongguo, the Middle Kingdom), which makes the word a strong symbol indeed for its people. The Chinese pictogram for the word is a simplification of an arrow hitting the center of a target.
In Lao Tzu's use of the word, inner balance and steadfastness is implied, somewhat like the keel of a boat that's unaffected by the waves on the sea. That's how the human mind should be – calm in whatever turmoil surrounds it, confident even in a rain of urgent questions.
The answers are to be found in that calm.