In the pursuit of learning one knows more every day;
In the pursuit of the way one does less every day.
One does less and less until one does nothing at all,
And when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone.
One does less and less until one does nothing at all is an awfully hard precept to face, especially in a culture where action and the attendant success is so glorified.
The reason I do anything arises out of a sense that some thing is undone, and I need to correct the situation. The biological origin of this is rooted in the survival instinct, it keeps me doing what I need to do to get food, for example. However, whether I get that new car (or whatever) has nothing to do with survival in any real sense. It’s just that I feel I’m not right with the world until I have it.
When I’m content, the universe looks just perfect and there is nothing in it that is undone. In the pursuit of the way I am tentative and bewildered which enjoins me to see reality on its own terms. From that perspective it’s easy to see the perfection of each moment. And so, quite naturally, I do less every day to change things. Instead my life energy goes toward maintenance. Nothing is left undone in another sense… there are no loose ends.
It is always through not meddling that the empire is won. Should you meddle,
then you are not equal to the task of winning the empire.
This puts me in mind of the ‘snowball effect’. If you start a little snowball going down hill it just gets bigger and bigger. Any meddling easily leads to more meddling and to unintended consequences. Of course the life force will always compel me to meddle a bit, but knowing the danger, it’s a little easier to stop while the snowball is small. Thus, there is no such thing as meddling too little or doing too little—when one does nothing at all there is nothing that is undone. Holding this precept as a ideal ‘goal’ helps keep me from chasing after GOALS. Then I can slow down and savor this moment—life—more.
I feel I win the empire when my perspective is broadest and I feel a part of the whole (part of the cosmos, God, way or what ever name we like to use.) The feeling is just like that comfortable feeling I have when I’m with close friends or family. There is nothing more precious than the sense of eternal belonging. I only feel this when I’m not narrowly focused on some issue, i.e., meddling if not in deed, then in thought. Such focus blinds me to the whole and suffocates my senses until I feel nothing but the ‘issue’ that needs fixing. Passion consumes the spirit and leaves me isolated.
Winning the empire is not to say that I win ‘it’ like some possession which I can have all to myself. Rather, I win what I really wanted all along—happiness and contentment. When I don’t feel content, I scurry about to win an empire of things for myself in the mistaken belief that things can make me happy. Only nothing can do that, which is what makes Taoism such an peculiar path for folks. The multitude are joyous, As if partaking of the ‘Tai Lao’ offering, Or going up to a terrace in spring. I alone am inactive and reveal no signs [see ch. 20].
How can I tell healthy action from meddling? I must be very cautious with any action which I’m passionately drawn to. My desire betrays some discontentment I’m experiencing with this moment. Duty is also easy to discern; it’s simply that which I know I must do but don’t particularly want to. Duty whispers and pulls me, often toward restraint… ‘thou shalt not’…, whereas desire yells and pushes me to act now.
When I approach each moment of my life tentative, as if fording a river in winter, hesitant, as if in fear of my neighbors [see ch. 15]., I’m often able to catch myself in time. Maintaining balance is easier. When I take life for granted by-paths are common place. I lose touch and flounder about in the search for meaning. Futilely, I look to worldly matters to find it. I go forward to find an ideal home instead of returning to my real home.