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.
In Mitchell’s translation, it says that when the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals the lower the results. Watching the strength of the addictive nature of power play out in real time is very difficult, though not surprising. The lure of power may be the most potent drug there is.
Star’s translation says that good fortune hides within bad fortune. In light of today’s events, I hope that good fortune comes out of hiding. For me and for many people I know, a touch of good fortune would be most welcome. It’s something to hang on to, even though the Tao isn’t much in favor of hanging on to anything.
It’s funny; this exercise was supposed to be a respite from the day-to-day, an exploration of more universal themes. Today’s randomly selected verse was so clearly aligned with the unfolding events as to make the thought of respite irrelevant.
In their translations, Hogan says the greatest beauty is invisible, and Mitchell says that the greatest art seems unsophisticated. What at first glance seems contradictory is apparently a glimpse into the great unknown.
Star’s translation says that Tao is always becoming what we have need for it to become. If it couldn’t do this, it would not be Tao.
I find myself hearing that last bit as both mystifying and reassuring – another seeming contradiction. I’m not sure whether I need to look deeper into that or just roll with it, although I’m leaning toward the latter.
Star’s translation says that if you need rules to be kind and just, if you “act” virtuous, this is a sure sign that virtue is absent.
MacDonald says that talk of patriotism is a sure sign that the country is falling into chaos. The same theme shows up in all four translations, whether the example is country or family. Talking about it, labeling it, be it patriotism or family loyalty, is seen as a substitute for the real thing.
The teenagers I used to work with who were truly dangerous individuals never talked about it. And everyone knew they were the real thing. Those guys knew that if you had it there was no reason to advertise it.
Just do the right thing, the kind thing, the just thing. Don’t talk about it or make rules about it.
If one has lost the Way, there is still integrity. If that is lost, there is kindness. If kindness is lost, there is still justice. If justice is lost, all that is left is rules of conduct.
We spend much of our time, energy, and resources creating, codifying, and enforcing rules of conduct, which in this list is set as the lowest bar. It’s the most easily quantified, so there is that advantage.
In Star’s translation, he says that when men rely on rules for guidance, ignorance abounds.
Maybe following the rules is the least we can do.