Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Way to be Sustainably One - Lao Tzu chapter 23

Laozi said,

A few words about the nature of things:

A violent wind does not sustain itself throughout the night,
A sudden rain does not sustain itself throughout the day.
What makes this so?
It's in the very nature of heaven and earth.
So, if heaven and earth does not sustain wind and rain forever,
then how can people possibly sustain their affairs?


Those who follow the Way in their affairs,
With respect to the Way, become one with the Way,
With respect to Virtue, become one with Virtue,
With respect to Loss, become one with Loss.

Those who are one with the Way are joyously fulfilled by the Way,
Those who are one with Virtue, are joyously fulfilled by Virtue,
Those who are one with Loss, are joyously fulfilled by Loss.

When Oneness is not enough,
then you are not One.

I think there is a tendency in our human nature to ever desire more, to keep progressively getting richer, smarter, more friends, more of everything.  It's kind of like a race, to continually progress, to get better.

It's admirable, I suppose, to seek for continual improvement.  In religious terms, we speak of becoming god-like in our journey toward "eternal life".  Mormons speak of "eternal progression" as this principle.

Yet there is something about this that can be unsustainable.

My wife's grandfather was a deeply spiritual man, a Patriarch, and successful in almost every way.  I admired him, and felt that his advice was a precious thing.  Yet toward the end of his life, he became bitter about losing his independence.  Deep within him, he identified with his accomplishments, spiritual power, and independence, and when these waned, he was deeply depressed.

I have seen ebbs and flows in my life -- times where I think I've done well, and other times when nothing goes well.  The Daoist writer Wenzi wrote a similar concept to Ecclesiastes, that there is a time for things, and when the time is about to come, there is no rushing to meet it, and when it leaves, there is no use in trying to hang on to it.

Becoming One with the moment, is realizing this time in the moment, amidst change. Try as we might, we often seek to manipulate things in such a way that the outcomes are always favorable to us. We want to continually progress and have success -- but such desires are often unsustainable.

In contrast, when we are faced with a situation, whether it be completely in harmony with the Way, or with Virtue, or with even a situation of grave Loss, the key is not to rue the loss of the Way, as it were, but rather, realize that the Way is simply in every situation -- even that of loss.  And if we embrace the loss, we become one with it.  This leads us to find fulfillment - healing -- becoming "whole" within the Loss.

So we speak of Oneness all the time, without realizing it.  We seek healing amidst loss, yet the terms "heal" and "health" are etymologically connected to "wholeness" -- or being One.  We speak of integrity in terms of faith and trust, yet the term "integrity" literally means, "that which makes us One" -- leading us to realize that faith and trust are the connection necessary to being One.  We realize our individuality, often thinking ourselves to be distinct from others, yet the term "individual" means "that which is not divided, not dual" -- our "individuality" is both our uniqueness, as well as our interconnectedness with all that makes us One.

We speak in religious terms about becoming "perfect", and yet, Jesus' words to this extent were intended to convey that we are to be "whole" in our dealings with others -- indeed, unconditional in love to others whether or not they are our friends or enemies (Matthew 5:43-48).  We hear Jesus praying in John 17 that his disciples might be One, in exactly the same way that Jesus is One with the Father.  He spoke to prophets more recently saying, "I say unto you, Be One, and if you are not One, you are not mine."

This desire to be One need not be something vague and impossible.  It certainly does not mean that we need to conform to a specific model of being.  Noting that the weather of wind and rain vary within nature, we too need to realize that we are all unique "individuals" with distinct identities (Identity is another word for Oneness).  Yet the key to unity is not to be divorced individuals -- a contradiction in terms -- but rather, connected, interdependent individuals -- lovingly One with all there is.

All this said, it's tough to "be one" at all times.  I feel loss, especially as I come to milestones of feeling old and useless.  I cannot sustain the relentless energy of the race track of life we call "career". Instead, I seek refuge in Oneness, and find peace even amidst loss.

Such a fool am I.

1 comment:

  1. Some translation notes:

    Laozi begins Chapter 23 with a vague statement: 稀言自然"/"few words self so". the pairing of 自然/ziran/"self-so" typically means "nature" in classical and modern Chinese. Yet the topic of this chapter is not about how speaking few words is the most natural way to be. While I have rarely seen any of the chapters of Laozi have an introductory statement, this chapter uses a few examples from nature to make a point about the sustainability of human affairs. So I have rendered it as an introduction, "A few words about the nature of things". The earlier texts of Laozi do not include this phrase at the beginning of the chapter, meaning it may well be a later addition.

    To the writer of this chapter, the key is "oneness", as reflected in the character "同"/tong, meaning "unity", when things are "together". Laozi chapter 1 speaks of how being and nonbeing, desire and non-desire, that which is named and that which is anonymous -- are simply different names/identities of that which proceeds together as one: "同". When Confucius, observing the divisions and class distinctions in his home state of Lu, spoke longingly of a condition of people where they were accepting and loving without distinctions, acquisition of possessions, and rigid societal rules. He called this 大同/datong/"The Great Unity". Paradoxically, the greatest advocate of societal rules felt that his own teachings were "the lesser tranquility" as compared to the "great unity" of being One with each other and all that is.