(c. third century B.C., China.)
|by Richard Lang
The Sage regects That but takes This.
Lao Tzu. (c. third century B.C., China.)
What did Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching, mean when he wrote these words?
He was speaking about where to find the treasure that is the remedy for all our woes, where to find the truth that sets us free, where to find the well that never runs dry.
The truth of who we really are is Here, nearer to us than our breathing. Here is awareness itself, the very ground of being. You are This. What is this awareness made of? Awareness is like space - empty, boundless, clear, yet containing all things.
Rejecting That means seeing the difference between objects and you the subject, between things and awareness. Objects are There, presented in awareness. Everything we experience has some form or other, and comes and goes. But you for yourself, you as subject - you are not a peripheral thing. You are central and awake - the unchanging space that receives and contains all the passing things of this world.
Rejecting That but taking This means we come to place the weight of our trust in This, in our true being, rather than in things. This does not mean that we don't trust our friends, or our own skills, or whatever we are relying on in the moment, but that we recognise that these things can let us down. That's life. But our true nature, our Original Face as Zen puts it, the Self as the Indian Advaitists call it, or the Godhead as the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart named it - this never lets us down, never rejects us, never abandons us. So we have a foot in both camps - one foot in the things of the world, and one in the spirit. It is the endlessly creative spirit that can always be trusted.
Lao Tzu wrote his Tao Te Ching when, towards the end of his life, he rode out west into the desert regions of China. On 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.
I am imagining Lao Tzu finding himself saying yes to the man at the gate, and sitting down to write the Tao Te Ching. By this stage in his life he had come to a steady awareness of the Tao, of the clear awareness at the heart of his being. He recognised it for what it was - the immortal source of all things, the unborn fountainhead from which inspiration flows when needed. Bottomless, it never runs dry. But the Tao is paradoxical and elusive - it is no-mind, no-thing. It is the empty space within the pot, the water that in itself is formless though it takes on the form of its surroundings. Picking up his brush Lao Tzu might well have sat there feeling blank, not knowing what on earth he was going to write. What was his philosophy? What really was important to pass on to succeeding generations?
In this moment Lao Tzu rejected That in favour of This. He put aside all his learning and waited on the void, relying upon the unknowingness of his innermost being. Who after all held his brush? Not Lao Tzu but the Tao itself, the Godhead, the One. Alert, yet relaxing back into the silence of his own being, Lao Tzu stayed open and ready. And then from the void came inspiration. Following the image, following the feeling, he began.
As he wrote, as he watched the characters appearing out of nowhere, he might have wondered who was writing? From where did these words arise? Only silence greeted him. For though we can be awake to this most mysterious of places, to this infinitely creative simplicity at the heart of our lives, and though we can draw upon it in times of need, we can never define it, never pin it down.
As legend has it, Lao Tzu finished the Tao Te Ching in two days and then disappeared off into the desert, never to be seen again. But he must have been affected by this experience. I imagine him looking back on those two days of concentrated writing with wonder and gratitude. The story could have been different - he might have sat down to write only to find that nothing came. Yet something had come. The inner simplicity had delivered the goods, had produced just what was needed. He was reminded again of the wisdom of letting go, of letting the Tao act.
Now, more than two thousand years later, we read his words. And my question is, who now reads his words? In appearance you are a person - you are an object, a 'That'. But your subjective reality is absolutely different. Your true nature is This, is the One, the Self. In reality you are the Tao, the same Tao that abided within and inspired Lao Tzu - the very same! The Tao wrote those words, and now ponders on them so many centuries later.
Your true nature is an infinite wonder, and infinitely reliable. Awaken to this, and go on re-awakening to This, and you will find that it both surprises you, again and again, and never ever lets you down.