Do that which consists in taking no action; pursue that which is not meddlesome;
savor that which has no flavor.
This counsels me to do just the opposite of what my instincts and emotions tell me to do; my biology impels me to approach life very actively. Gobble that which has flavor, meddle and change circumstances to suit my ideals, and take action to achieve my ends. In practice, I find that my biology has the last word. No matter how hard I might try to resist the call of instinct, I fail. The very push to resist instincts is driven by a fundamental survival instinct. However, it is helpful to know that biology lies behind my urges, and that ‘believing’ in their call will not make my life more peaceful. Looking to savor that which has no flavor helps me see through some of the excesses of my desires.
The ideal of doing that which consists in taking no action suggests that ‘less is more’. In practice, I tend to go to extremes, and so to lessen the extremes is to return closer to balance. I’m never really able to do that which consists in taking no action, but by adopting that ideal I do end up taking less action and thus come closer toward balance.
Pursue that which is not meddlesome suggests an approach to life. This ‘counter instinctive’ approach helps me moderate my meddlesome activities, and let things be.
Seeking out the flavors of life loosens my connection with the moment. I want to move out of the mundane here and now and get to the ‘good’ stuff. Approaching life with the intention of savor(ing) that which has no flavor helps me pay more attention to what I’m doing. When I pay attention I find more flavor in the mundane.
Make the small big and the few many; do good to him who has done you an injury.
Do good to him who has done you an injury reminds me of Christ’s ‘turn the other cheek’. Taking this at face value goes against my nature. It seems to tell me to DO SOMETHING good to someone who has harmed me. It’s the ‘DOING’ that makes this impossible. However, this sentiment of ‘turning the other cheek’ combined with do that which consists in taking no action is not only possible, but preferable; it increases my own peace of mind. All that I need do is to have a balanced viewpoint. By taking a more universal perspective I can more easily excel in saving people, and so abandon no one; excel in saving things, and so abandon nothing. This is called following one’s discernment. [see ch. 27].
When I’m able to savor that which has no flavor, I’m in the best frame of mind to do good to him who has done (me) an injury. My worldly senses and emotions have flavor. When I have a deeper ‘other worldy’ perspective, I’m less influenced by life’s flavors—there is much more to life than life.
Lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficult;
make something big by starting with it when small.
Difficult things in the world must needs have their beginnings in the easy;
big things must needs have their beginnings in the small.
While concepts like make something big by starting with it when small seem obvious common sense, it is surprising how difficult it can be to put it into practice in my own life. Difficult or big things always loom large and intimidate me. This discourages me from taking a first step. However, if I back off my judgments of difficult and big, and just start with the easy and the small everything takes care of itself. The great way is easy, yet people prefer by-paths [see ch. 53] comes to mind. By going with the easy I am on the great way. Only when I force the issue and enter the battle ground of expectations and ideals, do I feel isolated, stressed and off.
This reminds me of work horses trudging away all day. They don’t think about their task, they just do what they need to do, step by step; a journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet. [see ch. 64].
I’ve only slowly learned to really lay plans for the accomplishment of the difficult before it becomes difficult. I needed years of experience to bring home this reality. That it takes so long to really learn must indicate that we instinctively react to events without much forethought. ‘A stitch in time’ is wisdom learned the hard way, if at all.
Don’t we sometimes use difficulty as a kind of badge of honor. Overcoming this or that difficulty makes us more worthy beings. This point of view gives us a means to judge ourselves and others, which works fine as the grist for the mill of social dynamics, but a drawback in understanding reality.
Therefore it is because the sage never attempts to be great that he succeeds in
In youth, I attempted to be great. I pushed myself toward my ideal of what a great person should be. As the years went by, I was forced to give up this quest. I found that this attempt to be great only left me, in the end, with ever greater feelings of inadequacy. Ironically, as I give up this quest, I feel an ever increasing greatness. I feel great does not mean I am great in any comparative sense. It’s a subjective sense of self at peace. However, my actions do reflect this inner peace, and so others find me, if not great, at least easier to be around than when I was attempting to be great.
One who makes promises rashly rarely keeps good faith;
One who is in the habit of considering things easy meets with frequent
Therefore even the sage treats some things as difficult.
That is why in the end no difficulties can get the better of him.
What makes something difficult anyway? I feel difficulty when my expectations are out of sync with reality. If I’m working at something and expect to accomplish it with a certain amount of time and energy, its bound to feel difficult.
I know that my expectations give birth to my difficulties. But, expectations are part of the human condition. By being constantly mindful of this condition, I know the true source of my difficulties. They lie within me, and so I waste little time lashing out at external circumstances. All I need do is align my views to reality. Easier said than done, of course, but that’s life….
The ideal of the sage being beyond difficulty is like all ideals, out of touch with reality. How, though, can I avoid difficulties get(ting) the better of me? Difficulties only get the better of me when I become frozen in fear and unable to make a beginning in the small.
My instincts bring me difficulty for they lie and prod me to pursue that which has flavor. They beckon me to have sex with every beauty on the planet, to eat the whole cake, to win win win. My instincts promise me peace if I’ll only follow their commands, but they never keep the bargain. I’m instead set right out again on yet another futile quest. This is why I continually treat some things as difficult.
The sage treats some things as difficult reminds me of Buddha’s first Truth: about life being suffering (birth, growth, decay and death). Life is work, and when I face this reality squarely, I find it much easier to deal with life’s difficulties. I’m prepared for it; each problem that comes along only proves the rule. Thus, in the end no difficulties can get the better of me. I’m not thrown off balance by any ideals that life should be otherwise. Any happiness that comes my way is not a ‘right’, but a blessing.
Treat(ing) some things as difficult is not to say that I approach life expecting the worst. It is more like refraining from expecting the best! Life is most peaceful when I take a ‘wait and see approach’.
The fundamental difficulty of life is analogous to walking on a rail. This requires constant attentiveness so as not to lose balance and fall. In life, it is desire that pushes me off balance. Desire lies at the heart of my angers, fears, and obsessions. Desire is vital for life, but, like fire, can also burn me unless handled with great care. Or as Buddha advised: Right Understanding, Right Mindfulness, Right Attentiveness and Right Concentration.