Whoever takes the empire and wishes to do anything to it I see will have no
respite. The empire is a sacred vessel and nothing should be done to it.
Whoever lays hold of it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.
Judgments of the empire (world, self…you name it) lie in the eye of the beholder. The empire is a sacred vessel and nothing should be done to it points to nature’s innate perfection. When I judge the sacred vessel of life against self-serving ideals (and they ALL are), I lay hold of it and wish to change it. I do succeed, temporarily, but all in all, I have no respite. As long as idealized notions rule my mind, I see endless issues to lay hold of. When I just do what needs doing without the attendant idealizing and moralizing, I DO LESS, and what I do gets done more peacefully and with less collateral damage.
I don’t think it’s action that ruins it. Rather, it’s our excess, extravagance, and arrogance that upset the natural balance. We live so much in our mind and conjure up extravagant images of how things should be, and then arrogantly pursue paths of excess to achieve these goals. Just as the dinosaur got too big, physically, for its own good, maybe we have grown too clever for our own good; thus we ruin it and lose it.
This reminds me of the difference between nature and man. We lay hold of it and innovate, while nature maintains it. I suppose it’s our impatience with nature’s pace that compels us to get ahead of ourselves and hurry things along.
Hence some things lead and some follow;
Some breathe gently and some breathe hard;
Some are strong and some are weak;
Some destroy and some are destroyed.
This verse confirms the innate balance of nature. Of course, I naturally tend to favor one side over the other, like I prefer to be strong rather than weak. I cringe and empathize when some are destroyed, unless it is ‘me against them’; then I’d rather destroy than be destroyed. Accepting nature’s way helps relieve my fear of misfortune.
Society places much value on one side, or the other, of what are essentially complementary qualities. Throughout nature, some are strong and some are weak. It seems civilization is based in a formalized rejection of nature. The greater the rejection, the more civilized. Civilized society lays hold of nature and strives to change it’s empire to conform to a civilized ideal. A Taoist strives to do just the opposite, i.e., conform to natures way.
Hence some things lead and some follow helps me accept the particular role I’m in at any given time. This is nature’s way as opposed to my way, which struggles to stack the life deck in my favor. I guess that would be okay, if it worked; but constantly stacking the deck robs me of experiencing a full life.
Therefore the wise avoids excess, extravagance, and arrogance.
Nature reaches left as well as right, as far as the eye can see, Some things lead and some follow, so what shall I do? What is my proper role in nature? Well, of course instinct usually pushes or pulls me off center toward one extreme or the other. And that is where troubles begin—as consequences to actions. Thus, the wisest thing I can do is avoid excess, extravagance, and arrogance when ever possible. I don’t know if it’s really in my power to avoid, but at least I’ll point myself in that direction.
Therefore the wise avoids excess, extravagance, and arrogance is essentially the Taoist form of Buddha’s 4th Truth: the Golden Mean—Middle Path that leads to the sensation of suffering.
I always go too far in one direction, lead or follow, gentle or hard out of the delusion that such doings will resolve things. All I end up with is havoc. My respite comes when I let go and stop meddling.
Avoiding excess, extravagance, and arrogance is wise. Though I doubt we have any control over it. The more stable and secure I become, I’m not drawn to excess and extravagance. Not being pushed to excess results in me being wiser overall.
Strong and weak follow each other, like life and death, or pleasure and pain. Going too far one way evolves forth to its opposite; thus the wise avoid excess. Excess is laying hold of it; I tip the scales and end up too far on the other side. The art of living lies in maintaining balance. It’s ironic how many who have difficulty living balanced lives are most drawn to ‘art’.
Some are strong and some are weak also pertains to my inner self. The weaker I feel within, the stronger I strive to be to counter-balance. Inner pain pushes me toward worldly pleasure. Of course it doesn’t really work, for the worldly things I pursue aren’t really counter-equivalents to psychological states. In fact, it seems that my pursuit of pleasure actually deepens inner pain. Accepting pain, on the other hand, actually seems to diminishes it.