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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Emulate the Tao

Question: Derek, Tao Te Ching chapter 4 says that the Tao blunts the sharpness, unravels the knots, dims the glare, and mixes the dust. Does the idea that we should emulate the Tao apply in this case? If so, how?

Answer: Yes, we emulate the Tao. Exactly how we can do that may be a bit puzzling at first, but keep in mind that the macrocosm of the Tao is reflected in individual human beings. The descriptions from chapter 4 refer to the eternal nature of the Tao at the macroscopic level. At the same time, they are also life lessons to us at the personal level.

To blunt the sharpness means being careful in what we say to others. Words can carry a sharp edge, and sometimes we say things that hurt others without meaning to. The wise cultivator of the Tao is someone who uses words in skillful and gentle ways.

Knots represent complexity. To unravel the knots means to reduce complexity. Those in tune with the Tao always seek to simplify life as much as possible. Living this way means freedom from clutter and greater peace of mind.

Glare in this context means mental brilliance. To dim this glare means not display or flaunt one's intelligence. People who understand the Tao tend to be very intelligent, but they are also low-key and do not wish to draw attention to themselves. They are secure in their self-knowledge, and therefore have no need to show off.

Dust is an often-used metaphor for the material world. To mix with dust means to participate fully in the worldly affairs of human society. Real cultivators of the Tao do not run away from civilization in order to live like a hermit in remote wilderness. Instead, they learn from social interactions, and measure their progress by how well they handle everyday life with other human beings.

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