Is not the way of heaven like the stretching of a bow?
The high it presses down,
The low it lifts up;
The excessive it takes from,
The deficient it gives to.
It is the way of heaven to take from what has in excess in order to make good
what is deficient. The way of man is otherwise. It takes from those who are in
want in order to offer this to those who already have more than enough. Who is
there that can take what he himself has in excess and offer this to the empire?
Only he who has the way.
I can’t give up what I have in excess if I don’t feel there is an excess. I cling to what I have to make up for my lack of the way. It seems a simple matter of balance. When I lack a sense of the way, I’m less secure and then look to various attachments to give me a ‘placebo’ security. I not only cling to stuff, but also opinions, ideals, likes and dislikes.
This helps me look more kindly upon life. My first reaction is—shame upon man for being so self-centered and greedy. But, then I realize such behavior is a result of being separated from the way. We are desperately trying to make up for the isolation we feel. And, of course nothing ever changes for us because all such clinging can never replace the security which the way gives.
Man’s pursuit of greater physical comfort and security over the past million years has increasingly isolated us from the way of heaven. It seems a bit of a vicious circle—the more isolated we become from nature, the more insecure we are which drives us to acquire still greater physical comfort and security. It is ironic, furthermore, that the only time we really appreciate what we have gained is when it is withdrawn—yet, the sense of isolation that results from this quest is with us constantly.
I used to harbor great disdain for this way of man. To take from those in want seemed despicable. Of course, I conveniently rationalized my own participation in this. It’s clear to me now that such greed is just a symptom of man’s isolation. We left natures ‘garden of Eden’ in our pursuit of tools, but it occurred so slowly, over millennia, that we never realized what we were giving up. And now that our tools have given us great comfort and security, can we give up some and offer this to the empire? If we had free choice like we believe we do, we could. Alas, we are more hapless victims of our own good fortune and intellect than we are masters of it.
The way of heaven in the Taoist sense reminds me of Buddha’s Middle Path. This is what I experience when the excessive I take from and the deficient I give to. What pulls me away from this into excess? Desire, in all its myriad forms and degrees.
Therefore the sage benefits them yet exacts no gratitude,
Accomplishes his task yet lays claim to no merit.
Is this not because he does not wish to be considered a better man than others?
Society functions through the dynamics of give and take. It uses merit and gratitude as levers to keep its tribal system working. Then the circumstances of civilization amplify and institutionalize this. Is pointing out that the sage benefits them yet exacts no gratitude Taoism’s way of saying that we have become over-civilized and we need to back off?
I have a two fold nature. Deep down I do not wish to be considered a better man than others? My more instinctual tribal nature is otherwise. When it is active, I judge others, compete and struggle to be higher in the pecking order. I regard the former as my sage nature. When this governs, I lay claim to no merit. This is one benefit of growing older. My competitive nature is quieting down which allows me to listen to my sage nature.
Youth sees itself as unique—at least I did. And, youth does things to enhance that sense—odd clothes, jewelry, music, politics. Considering myself different from others is not different from considered myself a better man than others. Our sage outlook emerges as we age.
Doesn’t human kind as a whole wish to be considered a better SPECIE than others. So it’s no wonder that we as individuals inherit this self-centric trait from birth. This correlates to the Christian ‘original sin’, I suppose. As we grow up and find the sage within we are able to see through this illusion.
Any expectation of gratitude reveals the true object of my benevolence—me! In the same sort of way, I need to lay claim to merit when I’m insecure about my own worthiness. Thus, our specie must harbor a deep seated insecurity which drives our claim of superiority (“merit”) as a specie.