Chapter 46 puts forward a curious dilemma. According to that chapter, when the way prevails in the empire, fleet-footed horses are relegated to plowing the fields; when the way does not prevail in the empire, war-horses breed on the border. However, chapter 34 holds, The way is broad, reaching left as well as right. Add to this chapter 1’s, The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way. Let’s reconcile these seemingly conflicting views.
What does when the way does not prevail truly mean? Consider the reality of Nature versus how you or I feel about that reality. Saying, the way does not prevail speaks about the later, how you or I subjectively perceive the way, and not about The way that can be spoken of.
Regarding Nature, let’s consider the Chinese character/s for nature. This sheds light on the immutable reality of nature. Nature = dàzìrán (大自然). The characters breaks down thus: dà (大) = big, great; zì (自) = self, certainly, of course, from; rán (然) = right, correct, so, like that. Here are some ways to stick the English together: (1) great of course so, (2) big self correct, (3) great self so. Right now I prefer (3), great self so. In other words, it is what it is!
When I feel that the way does not prevail, I am merely voicing my perceptions, which merely reflect my personal needs and loves, or fears and hates. This doesn’t meet chapter 16’s Taoist standard of impartiality.
Moreover, chapter 19 counsels us to, exhibit the unadorned and embrace the uncarved block, have little thought of self and as few desires as possible.
Returning to chapter 46’s, when the way prevails in the empire, fleet-footed horses are relegated to plowing the fields, etc. How did this view that peace is more of the way than war find its way into the Tao Te Ching? In a Taoist worldview, war and peace, like everything else, doesn’t exist in pristine independence. To paraphrase chapter 2, War and peace, produce, complement, offset, harmonize and follow each other. Merely because I hate war doesn’t mean war is not of the way. Indeed, as chapter 67 bluntly states, The whole world says that my way is vast and resembles nothing. It is because it is vast that it resembles nothing. If it resembled anything, it would, long before now, have become small.
The difficulty in seeing life through Taoist eyes is that the view seldom supports what we desire to see. Yet, desire doesn’t deserve the blame really. From a symptoms point of view, desire merely indicates a lack of contentment. This void sparks the flames of desire. Conversely, when enough is enough, there is never a desire for more.
Therefore, it helps to see the desire for anything as only a symptom of the lack of contentment. This bio-hoodwink is how nature works. Feeling hunger and thirst arises from a perceived lack of food and water. In humans, these are also transferred symptoms of other forms of discontent. A desire, hunger, and thirst to travel is a symptom of not feeling content where you are — whether it is to travel to the toilet to pee, or to travel to an exotic place to play. Chapter 80 addresses this contentment issue.
Although, how one is supposed to bring that about is beyond me. Feeling content is one of the most mysterious ‘things’ to do. You can’t just ‘do it’, because doing it would have to arise from a lack of contentment with the status quo.
Broadening my view by remembering that the problem is constant, and solutions come and go helps. Although, you’d think it would be discouraging. Actually, fully accepting the dynamics of how life plays out fosters a kind of sober and resigned contentment. Put simply, it is easier to conform to Nature than to fight it. As chapter 65 says, Only then is complete conformity realized.
Finally, Buddha definitely had his priorities right when he lay out his enlightenment program:
The First Noble Truth is the existence of sorrow. Birth is sorrowful, growth is sorrowful, illness is sorrowful, and death is sorrowful. Sad it is to be joined with that which we do not like. Sadder still is the separation from that which we love, and painful is the craving for that which cannot be obtained.
If you really accept that, the rest takes care of itself!