To use words but rarely
Is to be natural.
Hence a gusty wind cannot last all morning, and a sudden downpour cannot last
all day. Who is it that produces these? Heaven and earth. If even heaven and
earth cannot go on for ever, much less can man.
That is why one follows the way.
In all of nature, our specie is the only one which uses words—at least to the extent we do. Not only do we use words to communicate with each other, but more importantly, we use them internally for thinking and maintaining an idealized world in our minds. It’s this later use of words that complicates my life. Instead of following the way things are, I idealize life and press for the way I think life SHOULD be. I miss out on appreciating what is, yet never succeed at forcing reality to conform to my ideals. What a waste.
I spent much of my youth leading life. I pushed toward various goals, urged on by the delusion that through winning my current goal I’d find happiness. This biologically based illusion keeps us striving and surviving in nature. But in the complicated and artificial circumstances of civilized living, this instinct leads to confusion and waste. As I realized that things cannot go on for ever, neither success or failure, my faith in winning the former and avoiding the latter began dying. All I can do now is follow the way. As the Zen saying goes, ‘in summer I sweat, in winter I shiver’. Accepting reality, is for me, following the way. Nothing gives me greater peace.
One follows the way, doesn’t mean passively accepting reality and ceasing to act. But, it does help cut down on unnecessary and wasteful activity. Following allows me to better notice how things really are and thus find an appropriate response. When I lead, instead of follow, I end up projecting my own mental world of words on reality and so I see more (or less) than what is really there; it follows that any subsequent response is either more or less than what it needs to be. Essentially, I get stuck in a wasteful and futile attempt to eliminate pain and maximize pleasure.
I use words to divide reality into contrasting qualities, i.e., hot & cold, long & short. Differentiating nature like this makes things distinct which allows me to manipulate it. Words are the basic tool which enable us to create civilization out of wilderness. Unfortunately, they also are a barrier to experiencing life naturally so. After all, as a thing the way is shadowy and indistinct [see ch. 21]. We developed words to help us survive, but now the words have taken over our minds. Thus, I’ve learned to have much more respect for them and use greater caution with them, as I would with any dangerous tool.
A man of the way conforms to the way; a man of virtue conforms to virtue; a
man of loss conforms to loss. He who conforms to the way is gladly accepted by
the way; he who conforms to virtue is gladly accepted by virtue; he who
conforms to loss is gladly accepted by loss.
Whatever I identify with becomes a way to brace up my self identity. The more I brace up my SELF identity, the more I isolate myself from the whole way. It is a little like putting all my eggs in one basket. It seems to make life easier and more secure, but like any crutch, it hinders me in the long run.
‘As you sow, so shall you reap’ seems the Biblical equivalent to this precept that whatever you conform to will gladly and naturally become your lot in life.
I conform to what holds meaning for me, and through conforming I find connection and comfort. I no longer feel so alone, and yet this security is tentative; this is what underlies habits and addictions. I must keep up my ‘habit’ to feel secure—be it work, food, drugs, reading, identity or whatever. My habit shields me from the sides of life I wish to avoid. Only by conforming to the way can I avoid the pitfalls that come with this. The way is not a thing I can control or hold on to. I can only follow.
When I conform to the way, distinctions blur. I can see gain and loss, virtue and sin as relative and transitory. Where there was once an inner battle raging in me between these, there is now peace. The way is immeasurable and undefinable; when I conform to it, I’m less inclined to get sidetracked my the molehills of duality.
When there is not enough faith, there is lack of good faith.
This verse is repeated from an earlier chapter. In the older Ma Wang Tui manuscripts it isn’t in this chapter. Thus, it found its way here in the interm, i.e., between 200BC and 300AD (the manuscript this translation is based on).