The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.
If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.
When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.
Stephen Mitchell’s commentary on this verse cites the line: If powerful men and women could center themselves in it, — and proclaims, “They can!” Well…while I have tremendous respect for Mitchell’s insight, on this point, I beg to differ. The space between “can” and “do” can stretch towards infinity. Which doesn’t negate the fact that when the shift happens, it happens. But holding that shift, embodying that shift, living in that shift, that’s the dance of true mastery.
Here’s a wonderful anecdote from Vipassana Meditation teacher Sylvia Boorstein writing in her book, It’s Easier Than You Think:
One of my important gurus was a woman whose name I don’t know… She taught me…that my view of life as perilous and hazard strewn is one particular perception, not the only perception….
I met the woman on the beach in Guaymas twenty years ago. It was summer and Guaymas in the Sonora Desert of Mexico, was very hot. I was staying in a large, air-conditioned modern hotel. Nearby was a caravan park, where people, including this woman, were camping in small trailers. This woman was young and she had two young sons with her. John, the elder, was four years old, and the baby was just beginning to crawl. She explained that she didn’t like to stay where she lived in Los Angeles in the summertime, so she camped in Mexico for several months, and her husband flew down to join them each weekend in his own small plane.
Everything in her story seemed worrisome to me:
* Being a woman alone on a beach in a foreign country.
* Having to watch a small baby crawling around at the edge
of the water while minding a snorkeling 4-year old.
* The problems connected with getting clean drinking water
or refrigerating milk and other perishables in that hot
* How close the nearest doctor was — had she even thought
* The danger of her husband flyingn down to Mexico by
himself each weekend.
Indeed, every aspect of her situation provided me with material from which I could construct a catastrophe.
She seemed to having a fine, relaxed time.
One night we had a huge rainstorm with booming thunder and flashes of lightning that filled the sky… The rain was torrential,, and I worried, as I looked out of my 6th floor window, about the possibility of flash flooding and what it might do to the caravan park. By dawn the the storm had passed and I hurried to check up on my woman and her children. The caravan park was a mess! The rains had washed everything outside the trailers…and people were busy sweeping up…. My woman was also sweeping, her children playing happily nearby.
“How was the storm?” I asked.
“It was great,” she answered.
“Did you have any problems with the children?” I looked over at them gleefully splashing in the puddles.
“Oh no,” she said. “The baby slept right through it, and John would have slept through it too, except I woke him up so he wouldn’t miss it.”
I was stunned. I thought to myself, “There is another way to do life!”
This verse also points to the distinction between desire as an obstacle to peace and desire as an internal force that opens us into being peace. Here’s a story from Hindu mythology that illustrates how even the deity can be trapped in that first form of desire…
Once upon a time, two demons were terrorizing heaven. In panic, the gods fled, appealing to Lord Vishnu for relief. Vishnu discerned that the demons had been granted a boon by Lord Shiva, whereby they could only be killed by each other. Since they were brothers, this was unlikely. So Vishnu transformed himself into a beautiful woman named Mohini and appearing before the two demons, began to flirt with them.
The first demon said, “Marry me!”
The second said. “No, Marry me.”
Mohini looked at the two loathsome creatures and said, “Hey, what kind of girl do you think I am? I can’t marry both of you. I’ll marry the one who is strongest and most powerful.”
Instantly the two demons began to fight over who would win her hand. The battle raged for days. Whenever one would begin to tire, Mohini would wink at him and the battle would resume. At last both demons exhausted themselves and collapsed dead at her feet.
Having accomplished her task, Mohini made a fatal mistake. She looked at herself in a pool of water and thought, “My, what a beautiful woman I am. No wonder those monsters wanted my hand.” And intoxicated with her own beauty, she sauntered off, admiring her reflection in every stream she passed. In fact, she soon forgot she had ever been Vishnu. She believed she was Mohini and decided that such a beautiful woman deserved a divine husband. So she approached the great Lord Shiva and offered to be his wife.
Shiva agreed and they went to Lord Brahma to perform the ceremony. But when they approached him, Brahma was aghast. He said to Mohini, “You can’t marry Shiva!”
“And why not?” asked Mohini.
“Because — you’re Vishnu!”
We also read a few lines from the Advaita Vedanta text, the Ashtavakra Gita. I think it’s fair to say this text not only descibes what it is to be centered in the Tao, it literally embodies the experience…
1. All things arise, suffer change, and pass away. This is their nature. When you know this, nothing perturbs you, nothing hurts you. You become still. It is easy.
2. God made all things. There is only God. When you know this, desire melts away. Clinging to nothing, you become still.
3. Sooner or later, fortune or misfortune may befall you. When you know this, you desire nothing. You grieve for nothing. Subduing the senses, you are happy.
4. Whatever you do brings joy or sorrow, life or death. When you know this, you may act freely without attachment. For what is there to accomplish?
5. All sorrow comes from fear. From nothing else. When you know this, you become free of it, and desire melts away. You become happy and still….
8. The world with all its wonders is nothing. When you know this, desire melts away. For you are awareness itself. When you know in your heart that there is nothing, you are still.
And the final words go to Ramprasad:
The Mother of the Universe captivates every world with her beauty.
Her long hair streams as waves of cosmic energy.
This drunken poet has fallen forever in love with her black luminosity.
Mystic union with her transcendent blackness in experienced by intense loovers.
This blackness even exhilarates Shiva, supreme Knower of Reality,
and inspires as well every heavenly being, every ardent saint, every awakened sage….
Utterly lost in delight, her poet lover sings:
“This is the dawning of enlightenment, the awakening to nonduality.
Her form and every form are now blending into one radiant blackness.
O mind, despise no being, reject no path.
See all in her and her as all.”