In ruling the people and in serving heaven it is best for a ruler to be sparing.
It is because he is sparing
That he may be said to follow the way from the start;
Following the way from the start he may be said to accumulate an abundance of virtue;
Accumulating an abundance of virtue there is nothing he cannot overcome;
When there is nothing he cannot overcome, no one knows his limit;
He can possess a state;
When he possesses the mother of a state
He can then endure.
This is called the way of deep roots and firm stems by which one lives to see many days.
This verse speaks, first and foremost, to the relationship I have with myself. Ruling the people correlates to how I conduct my life—my will. Serving heaven speaks of my ideals, even my Taoist ideals. I suffer my greatest life failures when I lean too far toward either.
To be sparing in how I approach life is the surest way to avoid extremes. No ideal nor activity can guide me along a middle way between extremes. Any such focus on tangibles seems to tip one way or the other, eventually. Sparingness is how to approach these tangibles—life’s ideals and actions—so as to keep them from taking over. This attitude is hinted at throughout the Scripture: Hesitant, muddled, still, silent, deep, no mind, nothing, content, weakness, tongue tied, submissive… and so on. These all correlate with sparing and together attempt to describe a Way of approaching each moment of life regardless of its content. The distinction is subtle but profound—sparing is not a Way to be, it’s a Way to approach being.
It’s in my approach to each ‘mundane’ moment of life where it’s determined whether I follow the way from the start or not. When I do, I don’t know (my) limit. My preconceptions limit me more than any lack of inherited abilities. Following the way from the start minimizes preconceptions.
Each moment of life, with its activities, sensations, and desires, is like a leaf on a tree. Its integrity depends on deep roots and firm stems. When I lose touch with the deep roots, life loses meaning and I become anxious, greedy and/or ambitious in a search for meaning. I get caught up in the leaves. My inner security becomes so precarious that I’m unable to be sparing.
The deep roots are the core of my faith: it is where ultimate value and purpose of (my) life lie. I can best grasp the nature of my deep roots by returning to ask, ask, and re-ask myself where meaning lies. The answer usually comes, but fleetingly. And then, again, I must return to this most fundamental question—’what is the root’? In youth I tried to nail it down in the form of dogma, but this is like pinning a butterfly to a board. Deep roots are kept alive through the question. Answers kills them.