After working with various versions of the Tao these past few weeks, I found myself seeking straightforward answers. What exactly should I be doing? How can I turn this babbling brook into a directed stream?
The irony! I get it. Studying the Tao Te Ching is a practice in itself. In its roundabout way, it plants the seeds of patience and contentment and then nourishes them. Wanting to streamline the Tao is like wanting to hurry along the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. It will take its time.
Be that as it may, I did find the following exercise useful in digging deep into the text and to settling my mind. What I did was this, I sat with two versions, Derek Lin's and Stephen Mitchell's, and went through chapter by chapter writing out every piece of advice, every line that gave a command (do this/be this), and every example of what sages and masters do or are. Then I organized them by theme, while putting them in my own much less formal language.
These ideas, it turned out, could be separated into two categories: (1) finding the Tao within and (2) virtues of the person who is at one with the Tao. Here I'll post the former, with the latter to follow soon.
How to Find the Tao
- The Tao is within. There is no reason to seek it outside of yourself.
- In order to tune in to the Tao, practice
- Quiet introspection
- Work at understanding yourself.
- Step back from your own mind. Do not cling to ideas. Know that names and institutions are provisional, not the Tao. Empty your mind of what you think you know about the world.
- Realize all things change and don’t hold on to them.
- Cultivate the Tao quietly.
About the Practices
- Through these practices, develop emptiness, non-being, space within.
- Keep to the discipline and don’t be lured by shortcuts.
- The process is gradual and steady.
- When you identify with the Tao
- You will stay centered in oneness and let things take their course.
- You will see the world as yourself.
- You will be at ease.
- There will be no need to practice individual virtues; virtue arises spontaneously.