The way is the refuge for the myriad creatures.
It is that by which the good man protects,
And that by which the bad is protected.
Any mention of good and bad reminds me of—the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad. [see ch. 2]. Good and bad produce each other, just as Something and Nothing produce each other [see ch. 2]. Both these co-generating aspects of the universe have their origin and refuge in the way.
When I look at nature I don’t see good or bad. I only see the interaction between the myriad creatures: predator & prey, faults & earthquakes, comets & extinctions. The only time good and bad are real is when I’m involved personally. When you do me a kindness, that’s good; when you take my treasure, that’s bad. The only refuge from this, as Christ said, is to lay not your treasures upon earth…. Good and bad are simply statements of subjective preference, and so have no universal truth. Neither offers refuge.
When I remember that good and bad produce each other, I’m don’t cling so firmly to them in my life. I still have my preferences, and still regard some things good and other things bad, but only half heartily. I know a deeper reality, and this is my refuge from these warring cycles of good and bad which run through my life.
Another translation puts it The way is the cistern of the myriad creatures; it is the treasure of the good man, and that which is treasured by the bad man. My life is good when I know the way—I’m consciously connected and feel whole. Life feels bad when I’m disconnected; when I get ‘out on the wrong side of the bed’. In such times, I long for that treasured connection which I now lack.
Beautiful words when offered will win high rank in return;
Beautiful deeds can raise a man above others.
Don’t Beautiful deeds arise out of an inner harmony? The common view often gets this backwards, i.e., that Beautiful deeds, can increase inner harmony. Our actions reflect our core disposition. When I’m emotionally tormented my actions are tormenting acts. When I’m at peace, my actions are peaceful. As the Christ put it ‘For every tree is known by his own fruit…’.
Even if a man is not good, why should he be abandoned?
Hence when the emperor is set up and the three ducal ministers are appointed, he
who makes a present of the way without stirring from his seat is preferable to
one who offers presents of jade disks followed by a team of four horses. Why was
this way valued of old? Was it not said that by means of it one got what one
wanted and escaped the consequences when one transgressed?
Therefore it is valued by the empire.
In my youth I took making a present of the way to mean that I should enlighten others with my ‘profound’ insights into truth. Ha! This self-centric evangelic attitude is so universal, even in the most mundane ways, like promoting one’s favorite sport, food, book and so on… not to mention political or religious ideals.
The greatest gift I can give someone is the gift of non judgmental acceptance—in short, love. This involves no action on my part, no stirring from (my) seat, no ‘I should…’. It all rests within my perception; it’s anonymous and without expectations.
Offering a present of the way without stirring reminds me of: being a friend versus having a friend, or understanding versus being understood. In my youth I needed to have friends and to be understood, and was always disappointed. I find that when I’m kind and understanding I don’t need people to treat me in kind. Being at peace is its own reward, and nothing further is needed.
Escaping the consequences when one transgresses reminds me of the Christian concept of salvation being possible despite ones past sins.
I can escape the consequences of my actions through my connection with something deeper and more profound than the consequence, whatever it may be. The most serious being death, of course. Death is the consequence of life, and so no one escapes it in the material sense. But, when I know my integral unity with the way, death loses its bite. In a sense, though my body dies, the reality of my connection continues through eternity. It’s all a matter of perspective.
I feel inner transgression when I don’t live up to my own expectations. I notice that this sense of transgression declines as I let go of my cherished ideals. I’m also less quick to judge others. Letting go of my expectations is the first step to returning to nature. Nature is without ideals—it’s only real. There are no transgressions in nature.
The main consequences that I face in life are matters of perspective. If, for example, I take stepping on a thorn as a natural consequence of going barefoot, and don’t whine, I’ve escaped the consequences—even though I suffer the painful effects of the thorn.