the one book i can never put down

May 21, 2009

I keep my copy of the Tao Te Ching on my nightstand, and I read a verse at random from it every night just before lights out.  I am always in awe of the simple wisdom on every page.

I discovered the Tao just last year, so if you’ve only come across it now I feel privileged to share it with you.  A Chinese classic text by Lao Tzu, the Tao – closely followed by Herman Hesse’s Siddharta – is probably my favorite book.  The beauty of the Tao (or the frustration, depending on how you look at it) is that it can be interpreted in infinite ways, so there’s really no use in my telling you what it’s about.  All I can do is share what I think and let you make up your own mind, which is the same principle I apply to the information I give throughout the site.

To me, the Tao is about acceptance and appreciation.  If you read any personal growth book out there (and I’ve read more than is possibly allowed), you’ll find that they all come down to these two things.  And so does the Tao.

The verse below – number 39 – at once seems like incredibly timely advice about the environment.  But look closer and see that the message is a broader one about the destructive nature of control in general – in other words, the opposite of appreciating and accepting things as they are.

When we give up trying to control others or situations and instead accept them and value them just as they are, we discover true contentment.  Not only that, but when we move out of the way, let things be and trust in the natural flow, we clear the path for outcomes far better than we could have predicted.  Well, that’s how I see it, probably because surrendering to the moment and letting things run their natural course is one of the biggest challenges for me.  But if I listen to the Tao, I can accept myself for this, too, trusting it’s all part of the journey and all is well.  That’s why I read it every night; I need reminding!

How do you interpret it?

Tao Te Ching – Verse 39
From the phenomenal translation by Stephen Mitchell

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

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