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”. While true, I suspect this may 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 and beyond. It is not the seeking, but the finding that limits and blinds 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 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. The Correlation process, (p.565) first began chipping away at this belief. Then, while out in the driveway one day, it dawned on me that any notion of true 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, and so 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 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? Need pulled toward; 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 to 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 and fear ≈ death(1). Of the two, death corresponds to the primordial Nothing. Indeed, death is the foundation, like the nothing that preceded the Big Bang. 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 merely 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 emotional 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, I’ll stop beating around the Taoist point-of-view 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, yet 15 years and continents of countries later I still found no point. I gather that this innate quirk in my nature continually drives me to look deeper in pursuit of the point—any 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 for granted helps insure that I will always end up seeing outside every cultural box.
This ‘what’s the point’ personality trait of mine 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.
Erwin Colón says
Thank you for your wisdom and insight, sir. Reading the Tao Te Ching and your commentary has reinforced many of the answers I have stumbled upon in my own readings over the years. The Tao Te Ching has enriched and aided my understanding some of the stories in the Old and New Testaments. Case in point: In Matthew 20:16, Jesus said after telling the parable of the vineyard workers, “Truly I say to you the first will be last and the last will be first.” My initial ‘belief’ and ‘perception’ was the same as many; a switch in roles ‘in heaven’. I’ve come to understand he means there is no first or last. There is no differentiation in heaven. No need for competition. Just eternal contentment.
Another case in point, is the parable of the Prodigal Son. This knocked my ego in its keester. The story, to me, is more about the short-sighted, self-righteous, ego-centric, meritorious-based sense of ‘good’. Funny how the ‘good’ son, who ‘did the right thing’ and ‘played by the rules’ turned bitter toward the father and brother. Funny how this ‘good’ starts looking more like ‘evil’… the other side of the same coin, as you stated, or as in the to Garden of Eden, two parts of the same fruit.
As a ‘re-minder’, I keep an image in my mind of Adam and Eve at the Tree of Knowlwedge of Good and Evil at the time BEFORE they parttook of the fruit… When life was ‘all good’. There will come the day when I will leave the fruit self-preservation behind… Check my ego at the ‘Pearly Gates’ and have no use of it anymore.
Again, thank you for helping me simplify my daily life and for being a source of Good in the world.