There are two primary approaches to life: One is striving to conform to ideals of how to live. This usually amounts to expecting yourself and others to conform to a moral code – frequently religious.
Chapter 65 hints at the other way…
I take “great conformity” to mean matching whatever is naturally so — the way things actually are. As chapter 68 puts it, This is called matching of Nature’s ancient utmost. This usually amounts to rethinking perceptions until you reach impartiality and the sense of utter acceptance that can bring.
Chapter 16 hints at the steps traveled… Knowing the constant allows, allowing therefore impartial, Impartial therefore whole, whole therefore natural, Natural therefore the way.
Each path has its own difficulty, perhaps equally difficult overall. However, our individual experience is where we live life. For me, I’ve always felt very frustrated and tense when attempting to shoehorn my life into a predetermined way to live — an ideal. But, boy did I try. When I finally gave up in total failure and began being just myself as best I could, life became simpler and a whole lot more gentle. Ironically, by giving up trying to be a ‘good person’ I became a better person. Looking back, I assume this is an example of chapter 36’s, In desiring weakness, one must first strive. In desiring to let go, one must first begin. In the end, Superior virtue is not virtuous, and so has virtue. Inferior virtue never deviates from virtue and so is without virtue, as chapter 38 notes.
I expect letting life ‘just be’ goes against the grain of one’s survival instinct. We innately feel a need to take action, to do something about perceived problems, i.e., any realities that stand in the way of what we desire (need + thought) or worry about (fear + thought) in life. We want change; change we can believe in! Such thinking and thought in general is the only major difference between animals and humans, and the main thing than disconnects us from nature. Therefore Taoist say, Realizing I don’t know is better, not knowing this knowing is disease (chapter 71). “Disease” is the literal translation of the Chinese — how blunt and true!
Our preference for action makes us more inclined to ask how rather than to ask why. That may account for some of the unintended consequences in which we find ourselves. Over time, I have found that pondering why leads to the most beneficial and effective how. This, more than anything else, avoids putting the cart before the horse.
Now I’ll let the Tao Te Ching embellish on the pictures “the path” and “the way”…
This last quote is from chapter 80, and flies in the face of what is nearly the universal human paradigm. Namely, humanity prefers to see itself on the path of progress. Naturally, we will never unwind our progress and Enable the people to again use the knotted rope #80. The computer, not to mention electricity, is here to stay. However, this call to simplicity helps keep perspective. Every gain we win comes at a cost, but the glitter of progress blinds us to those imbedded costs… Later we wake up with a hangover wondering why and to make matters worse seek scapegoats. All we need do is look in the mirror to find who is responsible!
(1) From this post onward, I began using the more literal Tao Te Ching, Word for Word translation along with D.C. Lau’s translation.