Tao Te Ching: Chapter 22

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Hulk to be whole.

Bend to be straight.

Empty to be filled.

Wear down to be renewed.

Reduce to gain.

Excess confuses.

Therefore, the sage embraces the one,

And is an example to the world.

He does not show off, therefore he shines.

He does not justify himself, therefore he is revered.

He does not boast, therefore he is honored.

He does not praise himself, therefore he remains.

Because he opposes no one,

No one in the world can oppose him.

The ancients said:

Hulk to be whole.

Are these just empty words?

Indeed, he shall remain whole.

When you compare yourself to another person, you are putting that person’s head higher than your own. Comparisons often make you feel that you are not enough. You become envious of those who have succeeded, while never feeling fully satisfied with what you do have.

Comparisons create divisions within you. Those divisions are based on your own ideas of what’s worthy and unworthy, praiseworthy and blameworthy. They are not reality, but rather, develop into a narrow view of what reality is.

You’ve been conditioned to compare. You’ve been told that you must be smarter, stronger, more attractive, more powerful than others, to gain rewards and avoid punishments.

You fear that you will lose what you have while desiring to gain more.

More is never enough. You are like one of the hungry ghosts: human-like creatures with sagging bellies and necks as thin as needles. While they ravenously desire more and more, they can never satisfy their cravings, suffering from their own greed.

Willard and Marguerite Beecher once wrote in Beyond Success and Failure, “Comparison breeds fear, and fear breeds competition and one-upmanship. We believe our safety depends on killing off the one above us by outrunning him at his own game. We have no time to enjoy any game of our own making lest we lost ground in our race against others for status and preferment. And we may not rest lest those below us steal ahead in the night when we are not aware. The higher we rise, the greater will be our fear of failing. And so we are fearful regardless of whether we win or lose the daily skirmishes.”

Comparison reinforces your fear of not being enough, not having enough, not being worthy enough, not doing enough, and so on. When you are afraid, you will boast and criticize, while feeling a sense of inadequacy. Only when you‘re present can you be free of possessiveness.

When you compare, you fight for an illusion of superiority, while looking over your shoulder for any threats. You know that your accomplishments and rewards are only temporary. They will never satisfy you for long and will fade away.

Eventually, someone who is smarter, more talented, younger, and so on, will come along and beat you at your own game. Habitual comparison makes you feel weaker, emptier, lonelier. It is a feeling of greed and impoverishment. It degrades you overtime.

When you follow the way, you do not need to blame and praise. There is no need prove how superior you are to others when you are able to be yourself. To follow the way is to adapt to the nature of what is, and to walk each step mindfully, open to a mystery not put into words.

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Parable of the Chinese Farmer

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”

The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.

Alan Watts telling the parable

What is good arises with the bad. What is bad arises with the good. There is no in without an out or an up without a down.

Each depends upon the other, follows the other, is within the other, changing from extreme to extreme, and from nuance to nuance, in an intricate web.

Life is a changing process with no definite end. Things happen to people and then people judge those events as right or wrong, good or bad. They make divisions in the world of symbols and act as if those divisions are true. Separating the whole into an innumerable number of parts and clinging to specific parts, while denying the rest of life.

It is easy to make judgements about life. When something unpleasant happens, a person claims that it is terrible, clinging to an idea of terribleness. When something appears to be good, then someone will claim it as good and cling to an idea of good, but will suffer when it goes away.

Those who are wise are not attached to ideas of good and bad, right and wrong, ugliness and beauty. They patiently watch without judgement, aware of change, and open to what may come. They are not as fixed on conclusions about the answer in life, but rather, live in the mystery. They listen in stillness, not overflowing with opinions about how something appears, or should be, or what they believe about it. Mindfully, they accept what is arising and passing. They do not hide from their fear or anxiety or uncertainty. They flow with what comes, not stuck to their thoughts, open to unfolding nuances.

We Are Not Alone

“Whenever we throw something away, whether in the garbage can, the compost, or the recycling, it can smell terrible. Rotting organic matter smells especially badly. But it can also become rich compost for fertilizing the garden. The fragrant rose and the stinking garbage are two sides of the same existence. Without one, the other cannot be. Everything becomes a part of the garbage. After six months, the garbage is transformed into a rose. When we speak of impermanence, we understand that everything is in transformation. This becomes that, and that becomes this.

Looking deeply, we can contemplate one thing and see everything else in it. We are not disturbed by change when we see the interconnectedness and continuity of all things. It is not that the life of an individual is permanent, but that life itself continues. When we identify ourselves with life and go beyond the boundaries of a separate identity, we shall be able to see the permanence in the impermanent, or the rose in the garbage.”

Thich Nhat Hanh


In a universe of many things, there is interconnection.

From the many, there is one.

Out of one, there are many.

We may organize our life into categories and feel as though we exist apart from everything else, but we do not. We may use our language to conceptualize, categorize, and systematize all of this existence into differences, but fundamentally, everything is in relation to everything else. There is no true separation.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu said, “The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of the ten thousand things. Ever desireless, one can see the mystery. Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.”

Our lives are dependent on the lives of others—not merely on our fellow human beings, but on the network of plants and trees, on the fish in the water and the birds in the wind. Without clouds, there would be no rain. Without the sun, there would be no flowers blooming. Without one, there would not be the other.

We are not alone.

We depend on the conditions of the world so that we can be. This world mutually rises and falls. It changes like water that flows through rocks. We may try to cling to a rock, struggling in our sweat, bleeding and grasping to security, or we can let go.


In our lives, are we balanced? Our intentions, thoughts and actions, should harmonize with inner and outer nature. We are in this fleeting, changing river. We are this fleeting changing river. All things are dualities, such as light and dark, female and male, life and death. Rather than clinging to one side or another, which causes great suffering, we must discover what lies beyond our conceptualizations.

Beyond the categories of right and wrong, we can discover an inner stillness.

As Chaung Tzu said, “The perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing; it refuses nothing. It receives but does not keep.”

We are often blocked and cannot see the world clearly. Our past experiences, judgements, opinions, reduce us. We then perceive though a filter of symbols, experiences, preferences, unable to feel this moment. How can we solve the conflicts of humanity if we cannot move past our own biases, fears, prejudices, and judgements?

In Zen in the Age of Anxiety, Tim Burkett said that we often see each other through our past experiences and expectations. Instead of actually perceiving a person for who they are, we are trapped in thoughts about that person. Our thoughts, rather than helping us see clearly, conceal who that person is. Others are placed in certain roles and are judged for who they appear to be, rather than seen as a changing process. Resentment, anger and fear, likewise, cloud our minds. Consumed with such states, we can’t honestly see the goodness in each other.


It is common to look to higher authorities to tell us what to do. We seek the guru, teacher, self-help book, scientist, politician, writer, and follow their advice. Meanwhile we deny our own perceptions, feelings, thoughts, merely following someone who will tell us what to do, how to think, how to live. Don’t become hypnotized with authority. Many charismatic people convince us to neglect our own minds. We can get caught up in their enthusiasm and clever rhetoric. Whenever we deny our own processes, we are not being intelligent.

Instead of relying on ourselves, we memorize the work of others. In them, as Emerson said, “We recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”

Intelligence is not about following others or about indulging in our own prejudices. It isn’t about adhering to an abstraction of the good life or finding an absolute answer for everything. Genuine intelligence comes from not rejecting our own souls. We must never stop questioning, doubting, investigating. We need to be mindful of life, sensitive to our feelings, thoughts, and perceptions.

Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun and author, said “To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ” When we are not able to clearly look within ourselves, when we are not brave enough to confront our own confusion or pain, when we harden our hearts, we will cause ourselves and others suffering. We cannot live in this world without a gentle awareness of who we are. Our ignorance will be our downfall. We need to be mindful of our own darkness, compassionate toward ourselves and others.

Furthermore, as Chodron said, “feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”

There is no absolute method to find the truth of our lives. We come into self-knowledge through our sensitivity to what changes. Sometimes we are afraid because, deep inside ourselves, we will find no solid answers to our pain, our sorrow, our confusion. There is an uncertainty, a groundlessness, which we are aware of. It is easy to hide, to run, to ignore that uncertain feeling. Most of our patterns in life stem from our fear of not knowing.

Our thoughts alone are limited. We live with a notion of Self—conditioned from experiences, memories, books we have read, teachers we have listened to, commands from our parents, instructions in schools, and so on. Death threatens our notion of Self—an ending to all our memories, to all the conditions that make up our permanent, isolated egos—and we tremble before our own annihilation. We seek security to hide, to not confront our fear. To be free is to be mindful of our fear and hate, desire and resistance, likes and dislikes. In silent awareness, we do not have to believe in anything. We do not have to belong to any group or religion or philosophy. We are not apart from everything else, floating down the river.

We are the river.

As Jiddu Krishnamurti said, “That silence has never been touched by thought, and only then that for which man has searched from time immemorial, something sacred, something nameless, supreme, comes. It is only that mind that is so utterly free from all the travails of life; it is only such a mind that can find the supreme. That means meditation, which is the expression of daily activity.”

When mind understands its movement, its thoughts and feelings, there is no judgement. There is no condemnation. From riding in a bus down a country road to sitting in a yogic pose, from hiking in the wilderness to laying to sleep, every moment is a practice of self-awareness. Life then isn’t merely the abstraction of what is good. It is the sight of our lover’s face, filled with light over their lips and the shadows in their hair. It is the unity of the breath with the birds singing, the plane humming over a mountain top, the leaves curling over grass.

There’s no longer a fragmentation of life, only a transforming world.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (review)

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way (review)

Your teacher will be there when you are ready to accept the teaching.

When you are truly ready, there will be no teacher.

As you open yourself to what is, you will leave behind yourself.

The more you try to be someone, the more the opposite reveals itself.

Rather than lecture on how to be or not be, be and not be.

Without any expectation of praise or reward, without seeking to become, you already are.

There is no need to show off. There is no need to pretend to be favorable or powerful or important.

The Tao shines on what is pleasant and unpleasant, on what is good and bad. These are not separate things.

You are not special, nor is anyone else. No one is better than the nature which nourishes them. Those who are superior are not superior. Those who are truly special are ordinary. Do you understand? Can you learn to be quiet and receptive, without the need to do, without any expectation, without desires for success and rewards?

True self-interest is selflessness. Water runs down rocks, stilling in a pond.

One who studies the Tao doesn’t complain, but acts for the benefit of others. There is no self there.

Speaking simply, honestly, one does not push, but guides others to find themselves.

It doesn’t matter who gets credit or not — as long as there is harmony among people.

Reflect in quiet awareness, adaptable, not trying too hard or too little.

Dependence on a good reputation or success will only make you cling harder to those things.

Trying to appear intelligent is not enlightened, trying to appear spiritual is not holy.

Be rooted. Do not rely on gimmicks or tricks, but see clearly with stability.

You must be decisive when it is necessary, but not reckless. Just as you do, you also are being.

Eventually, to empty yourself of notions of doing and being, walk alone in silence. Sit in silence.

Be in nature to return with stability to the group. Once in the group, lead without forcing. To force is to create division, to overly-manage others is to split the group into hostile members. Do as little as you can with the utmost effectiveness. Do not try to attack or defend your ego from criticism. Look to be centered and not emotionally attached. The more you cling to what should be done, inflexible with how things ought to be, the more resentment arises in you and others. Your victories will become failures.

All things contain their opposites. Learn to see these things as they arise and fall naturally. Then follow what is natural, what underlies everything, from gravity and space-time to your own inner-processes. Separateness is an illusion. Power comes through your cooperation, your service helps you to find yourself, and to find yourself is to lose yourself.

To live wisely is to live according to nature. Consistently being with it, never resisting.

Never wanting, you see everything as it is, unnamed. Wanting, you see only what you want.

High and low, tall and short, up and down, before and after, depend on each other.

You don’t need to say that you know. You only need to do without doing, teach without teaching, speak without speaking. By letting go, you maintain. By not praising or criticizing, you’re noncompetitive. By not desiring, you have all that you desire.

With a pond that’s deep and still and clear, a world changes on its reflective surface.

What is most useful about a clay pot is the emptiness within it. Do you see?

When there is benefit in what is, it is because of what isn’t.

There is nothing to hold, nothing to see, nothing to hear.

All that is returns to what isn’t. All that isn’t merges into what is.

People who know this are subtle, mysterious, unfathomable.

They make what is troubled become still, what is still become quick.

To be still in the nameless mystery is to return. To return is to be open-hearted to what endures.

One who follows the Tao is almost invisible to others while leading them. One who follows on some days but not others is often loved. One who does not follow the Tao is feared. One who fully resists and tries to control others is despised.

Giving trust is getting trust. Not trusting anyone is to have no one trust you.

People will see themselves as solving their own problems when you lead them correctly.

It’s silly to pretend to be holy or important to anyone. Simply cut wood, sleep, shit, eat food.

Need little, want less.

If you give yourself up to the Tao, you will be there. If you give yourself up to power and greed and craving, you will be there.

Those who are not good help the good to be good. Knowing light is to know darkness.

To do something to the world, to impose upon its sacredness, is to destroy it.

To impose upon others — through violence and control — is to become lost.

These ways lead to grief.

To master yourself rather than mastering others takes excellence. Whereas other people may control each other through strength and intelligence, you will come to know yourself through wisdom of the Way. You will simply live and then die. When you finally die, that will be the right time of your death. You will not lay claim to anything and will not lose anything either. What grows will shrink and what shrinks will grow.

Everything looks after itself.

There is nothing to do, but people so often cling to trying, to becoming someone, rather than being.

They live through their opinions, views. They look to be defined and to define.

You don’t need these things. You only are, which comes from nothing and returns to it.

The more you seek to understand, the less you know.

Everything is done without doing, seeing clearly without knowing.

You are good to bad people, you are good to good people.

Your way is low, plain. Most people seek short-cuts to heaven.

Lie low to be on top. Treat the small as large. All great things begin with the small.

As a seed sprouts into a tree, a tree that is tended will grow. While a strong tree will crack and fall down in a storm, a pliable tree will bend in the wind. Weak overcomes strong, soft overcomes hard.

To be rich, give. To do, do not do. To be, don’t be.

To be everything, be nothing. That is the Way.