When the best student hears about the way
He practices it assiduously;
When the average student hears about the way
It seems to him one moment there and gone the next;
When the worst student hears about the way
He laughs out loud.
If he did not laugh
It would be unworthy of being the way.
Ever since I began reading this chapter, I’ve wondered which student I was. I was actually much more the average earlier on, but my pride wanted to believe I was closer to the best.
The moment desire rears up, wisdom is gone the next, only to return in hindsight. As the years go by, I find that I practice the way more assiduously. It’s not that I try any harder, and may even try less. I just continue learning, through personal folly, the dead end consequences of desire. My life energy has to go somewhere, and so practicing it assiduously is becoming the only meaningful option. There is just no other ‘choice’.
I feel sad for the worst students, for they waste their life energy in the futile attempt to escape reality. Of course they don’t realize their folly, so it’s not a loss from their point of view.
I think that if one is always aware of the way, they qualify as the best student. Practicing it assiduously means, for me, constantly remembering the Taoist viewpoint, e.g., The way that leads forward seems to lead backward, even when I’m compelled to act instinctively. I’m an average student only when I forget and fall into a hypocritical point of view, which alas is easy to do.
Hence the Chien yen has it:
The way that is bright seems dull;
The way that leads forward seems to lead backward;
The way that is even seems rough.
The highest virtue is like the valley;
The sheerest whiteness seems sullied;
Ample virtue seems defective;
Vigorous virtue seems indolent;
Plain virtue seems soiled;
The great square has no corners.
The great vessel takes long to complete;
The great note is rarefied in sound;
The great image has no shape.
The way that leads forward seems to lead backward, so of course the The way that leads backward seems to lead forward. And this lies at the heart of my problem. I fritter away much time and energy in the futile pursuit of progress.
Dull, backward, rough, sullied, defective, indolent, and soiled come closer to describing who I really am. I’ve spent much time attempting to appear otherwise. As I know and accept my primate reality more, I can relax more. This need to appear ‘better’ must originate in our social based hierarchical instinct.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. Taking what seems to be true as true is making the mistake of only seeing the surface. The Taoist view is so liberating for every observation brings with it, its opposite. Thus, great strength seems weak, and great weakness seems strong. The weakness within is counterbalanced by seeming strong, and strength within is counter-balanced by seeming weak.
Greatest comfort and security seems uncomfortable and insecure. The more I seek worldly comfort and security the more easily insecure and uncomfortable I can feel in changing circumstances. My sensitivity range narrows and it takes less and less to throw me off balance and into stress.
Taking life one step at a time seems to lead backward. This is what makes patience a difficult virtue. Rarely do we feel too much is being done—reality usually seems defective which compels me to act and change it.
Driving exemplifies this well, the way that is fast seems slow. If I’m content enough to go slow, the time passes fast and I arrive before I know it. Conversely, if I just can’t get ‘there’ fast enough, I rush forward and experience time DRAGGING by. I experience just the opposite of what I’m clinging too. When I can let go, differences fade as I enter a middle path. The differences between bright and dull, forward and backward, even and rough diminish.
The way conceals itself in being nameless.
It is the way alone that excels in bestowing and in accomplishing.
How different this view from the notion that I AM in control of things. Of course the illusion of I AM originates in clinging to things, according to Buddha. It’s a vicious circle of one delusion bolstering the other. As I realize it’s the way alone that excels in accomplishing, I can let go… or is it that I let go first, a little, and then I’m able to realize reality, a bit, which then helps me let go some more; a vicious circle unwinding itself.