This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 5: 虛用


Heaven and earth are not like humans, they are impartial. They regard all things as insignificant, as though they were playthings made of straw. The wise man is also impartial. To him all men are alike and unimportant.

The space between heaven and earth is like a bellows, it is empty but does not collapse; it moves and more and more issues. A gossip is soon empty, it is doubtful if he can be impartial.

dao o ching Chapter 5


It is often hard for western minds to understand that there are many philosophies in the world that do not assume the universe is compassionate or at all concerned with the fate of humans.  The Taoist view is that the universe acts on its own impulse and that humanlike feelings, good or bad, are not motivating forces.  This can seem quite cold and unfeeling, especially at the end of the first stanza when the reader is advised to behave impartially toward men.  

Understanding of this passage may be accessed from a distance and then approached slowly.  Consider, for example, an asteroid striking a distant planet.  A person with a telescope observing this might feel elated, excited.  What a wonderful thing to see.  Now let us consider the same person the next day when an asteroid strikes near his house.  Disaster!  This is a terrible thing to have happen.  We can see here, that the asteroid follows Dao at all times and the human's perception based on our relationship to the event.  Can we then observe the asteroid striking near our homes and understand that it is still only Dao?  That the pain we feel is because of our relationship to the event and not because of the event itself.

If we can begin to experience this impartiality then we can begin to approach this Chapter.  Can we also see that all the other people in our lives are behaving in accordance with their nature the same as the asteroid?  Can we remain detached and observant as if we were viewing them through a telescope?  If so, then we may access the Tao through this chapter.

Note:  The Chinese characters in the first stanza here interpreted as meaning "playthings made of straw" actually refer to straw totems used in rituals and then discarded.  This word choice suggests that things, people, events, do have value in their time, but that clinging to that value outside of the moment creates conflict.
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