Lenten Observance: Day 19

Tao 37 & 38

37: “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.”  This seems to be the central point of ch. 37, that it is human desire (and the competing desires) that cause things to become muddied and troubled, that being centered in the Tao, one could escape that up and down cycle and things would get done.  On the line “If powerful men and women could center themselves in [the Tao],” there is a note by Mitchell: “they can!”  It made me chuckle and want to add, “Thanks, coach!”  I was wondering if the little train could — “it can!”  Isn’t it obvious that the author of the Tao believes that people can become centered in the Tao — why else call attention to it, if it were all fruitless?

38: This seems a recap of two points from before, that the truly powerful person does nothing, but leaves nothing undone, but others do a lot, but leave a lot undone — the problem of busyness, which might be seen as a malady of the late 20th and early 21st c.  It seems we are always doing stuff and have a pile more to do.  Simplifying life would keep us focused on the essentials and we might not find ourselves on a treadmill.  The other point is that if the Tao is lost, people devolve into ritual and rules.  There is the line “Ritual is the husk of true faith, the beginning of chaos.”  I think so far as one is going through the motions, ritual can be simply empty procedure, but ritual, it seems to me, can also be a time of focus and heightened awareness.  And at times ritual can be a means of keeping the monkey mind busy so that you can see past it to some greater and deeper truth.  So I’m not so sure that ritual is so bad, unless it is just a case of going through the motions, but not paying attention.  After all, a meal is a ritual activity, but can be the center of friendship and thoughtful conversation.

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