Star: A tree that cannot bend will crack in the wind.
Hogan: If you are rigid and unyielding you might as well be dead.
The young people I worked with some years ago would frequently back themselves into a corner by being stubborn. A sometimes dangerous and always unfortunate situation resulted when the staff who were charged with caring for and working with these teenagers behaved in a similar fashion.
Many times conflicts between individuals or groups reach an impasse when both sides take the position that they will change as soon as the other side does. This rigidity makes compromise impossible and a solution elusive.
Pierre, a man we hired to fell some trees close to our house, once told me, “Never climb a tree that won’t bend.”
Star: No greater curse than desire; no greater fault than selfishness
Much of our time is spent trying to satisfy desires of one kind or another. The structure of our society has encouraged a competition among us to accumulate more, larger, “better” stuff and more elaborate experiences. Many of us buy into this world view, which leads to envy, selfishness, desire, and a host of other ills we carry with us as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Laying aside all desires is certainly out of reach for most, including me. I have luxuries it would be difficult for me to leave behind. It doesn’t follow that I shouldn’t, but the act of leaving them behind also means a setting aside of the desire to immediately replace them with something else equally unnecessary. A life without desire is frightening to contemplate.
Mitchell: There is no greater illusion than fear.
McDonald: Know the honorable, but do not shun the disgraced; embrace the world as it is.
Recognizing both light and dark, honorable and disgraced, idealism and reality, allows us to glimpse the whole world. Several of the translations refer to the Uncarved Block, reality before it is divided into “useful” tools. The Uncarved Block carries limitless possibilities. Detaching pieces of it means you have something useful, but imposes limitations on what you can see and experience. Quite a high price, if you think about it that way.
Star: When the opposing forces unite within, there comes a power abundant in its giving, unerring in its effect, flowing through everything.
Mitchell: If you accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside you.
Star: Tao is eternal; it brings all things to completion without their even knowing it.
McDonald: Because it doesn’t seek greatness, it is able to accomplish great things.
It’s certainly the case that often the person out in front who is receiving all the attention is not the person who is actually getting the job done. Those who shun the spotlight are sometimes the ones who deserve the most credit. Without them, the people seeking the spotlight would have no accomplishments to display. The invisible ones are the key to much that is done for the benefit of us all. In the current pandemic sweeping the globe, those previously invisible are lauded as heroes, when by and large, they are all just doing their job. More difficult and dangerous due to the virus, but they’ve kept things running for a long time without being noticed. The fact that they do their work with no fanfare, no public recognition, is a measure of how great they truly are.
Hogan: Don’t spend too much time thinking about stupid shit. Why should you care about things that worry others?
Watching other people rush around, appearing to have goals and purposes, can make us feel like guests, like we don’t belong in this world. There is an advantage, though, in having that kind of vantage point. The wind and waves only appear to be aimless; they have direction and intention, it’s just not obvious from our viewpoint. Getting tied to things or places makes some things difficult to see. It doesn’t mean they’re not there. Being adrift on the sea of faith, for example, opens us up to truths from multiple perspectives.
Star: Should I fear darkness when that light is shining everywhere? Nonsense!
Star: We recognize beauty because there is ugliness, virtue because of sin.
Things exist together; difficult and easy, high and low, life and death. Seeing that the existence of one depends on the existence of its opposite runs counter to wishful thinking of all types, and means, among other things, that as long as there are kind people there will also be unkind, as long as there are privileged there will be those without privilege, and so on. Terms that assign value exist only and always because their opposite also exists. I think one thing we can understand from this is that we don’t give in order to achieve a certain end or receive something in return; rather, we give because we have something available to us that we can give. Later, we will be in a position to receive. We experience joy knowing that sorrow will certainly come to us, and experience sorrow knowing that joy is its companion and will show up in due course. Whatever we are experiencing, it won’t last.
Gia-Fu Feng: Creating, yet not possessing. Working, yet not taking credit. Work is done, then forgotten.
Do the job, and move on to the next one. Let the thing that is leaving, leave. A skill I’m still trying to master.
Hogan: Doing the right thing is like water. It’s good for all living things and flows without thinking where it’s going.
It’s that last part that struck home on this reading. It is difficult to act without an agenda, whether open or hidden, but if we can do the right thing without worrying about whether it ripples out or stays close, damages or enhances our reputation, gets us blame or credit, inspires others or goes unnoticed, then it’s more genuine. There are so many unintended consequences in this life that trying to figure out all the ramifications of our actions is fruitless, and, more importantly, misses the point. Star, in his translation, said when acting we should remember that timing is everything. I’ve heard that’s true of comedy. It only makes sense that it’s also true in a larger context.
Star: Wealth is the fruit of generosity.
Possession for its own sake leads to misery; the more you have, the more you have to lose, and the harder you have to work to protect your pile of stuff. Accumulating beyond what it takes to sustain is a burden we not only accept but ask for, sacrifice for, believe will bring happiness and security. This is false. Being generous creates the kind of wealth that cannot be stolen and does not need to be guarded, because it cannot be measured or possessed, only experienced.
Mitchell: When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
Star’s translation says give without conditions and people will prosper. The singer Dolly Parton gives in large measure on a regular basis, from books for children to fire relief to medical research, and undoubtedly much more that we don’t know about. She doesn’t lack for money as a result of this, and is seen as a shining light not only by those touched directly by her giving, but by those who hear about it and are similarly inspired. There is a saying in the Christian tradition: Cast your bread upon the waters and it will return a hundredfold. There are many real-life examples of the value and rightness of giving without strings attached.
Hogan says a wise leader keeps quiet and people do the right thing on their own.
Mitchell: If you want to be a great leader, stop trying to control.
We don’t need leaders to tell us what’s good. Most folks are doing their best, frequently in difficult circumstances. Changing the world a little bit at a time. We could let ourselves recognize and celebrate that more often, and help it grow and spread. Casting our bread, so to speak.
Get rid of sanctity and morality, Hogan’s translation says. His reading, like the others, points to the basic goodness of people. We all know, on some level, what is right and good and moral, and those who take it upon themselves to instruct us in those things more often than not just get in the way. We have a harder time rediscovering love on our own, which is the only true way to get to it, if someone is whispering in our ear or shouting from a platform about what it’s supposed to look like and sound like and feel like. The teens I once worked with were barely functional (much less successful) in “normal” environments, frequently crashing into one set of rules or another. Almost without exception, though, when the situation was genuinely important they not only knew what was necessary and right, they did it without instruction or argument. Remarkable, really.
Also from Hogan: Do your work as best you can. Don’t think about what you get for it. Stay focused.
Just stay at the center of the circle, says Mitchell. On my good days I have a sense of where the center is, and on my better days I can spend some time there.