In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus says, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. This is profoundly true, although I expect often misinterpreted. For example, I pray, “God, I want a new car”, and hope God hears me and thinks, “Sure, here you are”.
I would add to these three (ask, seek, knock) a fourth, ‘look and ye shall see’. Naturally, you won’t see immediately or sufficiently, but you’ll see more than if you never look. There is more to this though. We can look but not see, listen but not hear, touch but not feel, and so on. It comes down to what we settle for. We look and see something, listen and hear something, and easily end up missing everything else lying deeper beyond. It is not the seeking that limits, it is the finding that can blind us. As chapter 44 and 64 imply, ‘The more we hold on, the deeper the loss’, and ‘Of doing we fail, Of holding on we lose’.
My early and firmly held belief in free will speaks to this blindness. For forty-some years, I ‘knew’ I had free will. I imagined I could do anything I set my mind to. I assume the correlation process first began chipping away at this belief. Then, while out in the driveway one day, it dawned on me that any notion of true personal independence was absurd. If this was the case, what did it imply for free will and free choice?
Over the next decade or so, I gradually came to accept that my belief in free will was plainly a projection of my own needs — a need to have free will, just as my notion of independence was a projection of my need to be independent. Emotional need created a self-fulfilling ‘prophecy’, so to speak. I then began to wonder how this ‘You need it; you’ve got it’ illusion plays out in other areas of life. What was need really, and most importantly for me, what was its source?
Why? Why? Why?
I began to suspect “fear” to be the source spring of need, but that seemed ludicrous in some ways. I felt them to be opposite emotions. Fear was an aversion emotion; need was an attraction emotion — a Yin and a Yang. How could fear be the mother of need? One (need) pulled toward; the other (fear) pushed away. I finally realized that fear was indeed the mother of need. While they are complimentary emotions, fear is the origin. Naturally, merely saying that doesn’t explain it. Fortunately, many common colloquialisms parallel and therefore help elucidate Taoist points of view. In this case, “nature abhors a vacuum” helps clarify fear’s role in all living things.
The correlation’s process tells us that a vacuum shares the same reality as a void, and likewise, void ≈ emptiness ≈ silence ≈ stillness ≈ loss ≈ darkness ≈ death… and by extension, fear of death. On the other hand, fullness ≈ sound ≈ movement ≈ gain ≈ light ≈ life… and by extension, need to live. In short, need ≈ life; fear ≈ death(1). Of the two, death is the base, the root, the pre-source, the ‘before the big-bang’ reality. It parallels the primordial Nothing. Chapter 11’s, Hence, of having what is thought favorable, of the nothing think as the useful, and chapter 40’s, All under heaven is born in having, Having is born in nothing, both point to this ‘bottom line’.
“Be the same as dust”
Let’s return to my suggested addition to Jesus’s “seek and ye shall find”. My addition, ‘Look and ye shall see’ would be more about looking inward than ‘out there’. After all, ‘out there’ is merely a reflection of what’s within. If what we see is just a reflection of who we are, then self-honestly looking within is the only way to truly know. Indeed, chapter 47 hints at this outcome, Without going out the door we can know all under heaven. Without looking out the window we can see Nature’s way.
When I feel confused, agitated or irritated, I know it is because I am only seeing the choppy surface waters of reality’s deep ocean. In other words, the choppy waters are merely reflections of my own internal biased state. To regain balance, I must retreat. Chapter 56 points the way, Subdue its sharpness, untie its tangles, Soften its brightness, be the same as dust…This is called profound sameness. Okay, enough beating around the Taoist bush for now. It is time to heed chapter 44’s advice… Knowing when to stop, never dangerous. Then you can long endure.
(1) Looking over the last 70 years, it is apparent that I’ve always failed to see the point of anything whenever I really got down to it. I never truly bought into the cultural story my parents, schooling, or general American culture attempted to instill in me. At age 20, I set off to explore the world, yet15 years and continents of countries later I still found no point. I surmise that this innate quirk in my nature continually drives me to look deeper in pursuit of the ‘point’. That is a very inefficient way to go about life. It is like rediscovering the wheel repeatedly. On the other hand, this inability to take anything at all for granted guarantees that I will always end up seeing outside every cultural box.
This ‘what’s the point’ personality trait really hit home when my brother died. He was 18 and I was 22 at the time. Up until then, death was just an abstraction without a ‘point’; I never had any personal experience with it. Suddenly, death was real; still, what was the ‘point’? Why life? Why death? Why? No cultural story could answer that sufficiently for me, so I looked deeper and deeper, day after day for months on end. Finally, I reached the resolution I was looking for. Put simply, life and death are the same thing, or as chapter 2 says, Hence existence and nothing give birth to one another. The aphorism “two sides of the same coin” is about right too, especially when you emphasize the “same coin” aspect. Again, as chapter 56 notes, This is called profound sameness.