Living the Tao
           by Richard Lang

Push far enough towards the Void,
Hold fast enough to Quietness,
And of the ten thousand things none but can be worked on by you.
I have beheld them, whither they go back.
See, all things howsoever they flourish
Return to the root from which they grew.
This return to the root is called Quietness;
Quietness is called submission to Fate;
What has submitted to Fate has become part of the always-so.
To know the always-so is to be Illumined;
Not to know it, means to go blindly to disaster.
He who knows the always-so has room in him for everything;
He who has room in him for everything is without prejudice.
To be without prejudice is to be kingly;
To be kingly is to be of heaven;
To be of heaven is to be in Tao.
Tao is forever and he that possesses it,
Though his body ceases, is not destroyed.

from the Tao Te Ching (c. third century B.C.)


Tradition tells us that the Chinese sage, Lao Tzu, wrote the Tao Te Ching, though who exactly Lao Tzu was is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps he was an archivist of the Court, a public servant. One story says that when he retired from public service he rode out west into the desert regions of China. When going through the pass to the province of Ch'in he was asked by the guardian of the gate to write down his philosophy for the benefit of mankind. In two days Lao Tzu completed the Tao Te Ching. He then rode off into the desert never to be seen again.

The Tao Te Ching is one of the major texts of Taoism, alongside the writings of Chuang Tzu. Taoism is concerned with living from one's true centre. Other Taoist names for one's centre include the Abyss, the Valley, the Void, the formless Origin of all things, the Uncarved Block, Quietness, the Always-so.

So living well means listening to, and living consciously from the Silence at the heart of one's being. This Silence is also the heart of all beings, all things. It is actually what gives life to the living universe. In contrast to the conventional view of yourself - you as an infinitessimally small part of the cosmos with a very limited range of influence - you are really the life-giving Centre of the world, affecting every atom. Actually, both perspectives are true. For others you are a finite thing in the world. For yourself you are infinite No-thingness, the Source of all things, omnipresent and all-powerful. (See the Experiments:

From this No-thingness, this Awake Void, arises each moment, and back into this Void returns each moment. Your breathing, your thoughts and feelings, your relationships, your life, the stars and galaxies, all appear and disappear in your Consciousness, in the Space of Awareness.

You have always been and always will be this Awake Space. Or as the Indian Advaita tradition puts it, you are neither this nor that - you are the timeless Self. Each spiritual tradition expresses in its own way this fundamental truth.

Lao Tzu says, "He who knows the always-so has room in him for everything." Thomas Traherne, the seventeenth century English mystic, expressed the same truth in his own way:

"No brims nor borders in my self I see, My essence is Capacity."

The late Indian teacher Krishnamurti used the phrase 'choiceless awareness' when speaking about being Awake. Because one's true nature is not a thing, but is Room for things, it has no means of refusing any particular thing as it appears in awareness. It accepts whatever is given. (It is also the active Source of the given.) Lao Tzu describes the same thing when he says that he who has room for everything is without prejudice. As individual human beings we are limited, we like some things and not others. But underneath this, at the root of our humanity, awareness is choiceless. The Tao is Capacity for all sides of us, including the shadow side. This too comes and goes within Awareness.

As we keep awakening, and re-awakening to our true nature, we come to see that Awareness is really in charge, rather than our individual human self. The will of the Tao prevails in each moment. Since our true identity is the Tao, each moment is a bodying forth of our deepest will. We may not, of course, like what is happening. This too is part of the given.

Living the Tao is allowing the Tao to live through us. Gradually we discover that, mysteriously, the Tao arranges things well. The Indian saint Ananda Mayi Ma taught that all things are well managed from Here - from the Centre. The mediaeval Christian Saint, Julian of Norwich wrote something similar: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Both these women saints were expressing the same truth as Lao Tzu, though at different times, and in different cultures. The Source, which is closer to us than our breathing, nearer to us than our hands and feet, is trustworthy.

To be the Tao, the source of all things, is to be kingly, to be of heaven. I am reminded of the words of D.T. Suzuki, the man who in many ways brought Zen to the West:

"The strange fact is that when a door opens and a light shines from an unknown source into the dark chamber of consciousness, all time - and space - limitations melt away, and we make a 'Simhanada' (lion-roar). 'Before Abraham was, I am,' or 'I alone am the Honoured One above and below the heavens.'

There are so many riches in this short extract from the Tao Te Ching. It ends with the triumph of the spirit over death. Though our body will die, our true nature is immortal.

Richard Lang
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