Tao a Day – Verse 8: In Accordance with Nature

The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them
It provides for all people
and even cleanses those places
a man is loath to go
In this way it is just like Tao

Live in accordance with the nature of things:
Build your house on solid ground
Keep your mind still
When giving, be kind
When speaking, be truthful
When ruling, be just
When working, be one-pointed
When acting, remember–timing is everything

One who lives in accordance with nature
does not go against the way of things
He moves in harmony with the present moment
always knowing the truth of just what to do – Trans. Jonathan Star

For comparison:

The best are like water
bringing help to all
without competing
choosing what others avoid
they thus approach the Tao
dwelling with earth
thinking with depth
helping with kindness
speaking with honesty
governing with peace
working with skill
and moving with time
and because they
don’t compete
they aren’t maligned – Trans. Red Pine

The flexibility to change and act accordingly


Although these two translations have some differences, I think the message is the same. The best way to live is one that flows along with the changes of life being able to adapt with them (“without competing” “in accordance with the nature of things”). Such a way benefits all by moving in accordance with them, rather than fighting against all out of self-interest. Notice, however, that this flexibility, receptivity you might say, does not mean that you don’t act–being dragged along with the flow. Rather, you act with virtue, straightforwardness, and a simplicity of purpose. For instance: “When speaking, be truthful” (“speaking with honesty”). Speech is meant to communicate, that means sharing the truth with others, not holding back and competing by using words to promote your own self-interest through deceit. Thus, speak to speak: speak with honesty. The same follows for the others. Of these two translations, Red Pine worked hard at compiling the most authentic rendition of the text (what we have is based on various copies hundreds of years after the original, which is lost) and translating that quite close to the words (not poetically). As such, I find Jonathan Star’s take of “thinking with depth” and turning it into “Keep your mind still” interesting. This fits well with the entirety of the Tao Te Ching and Taoism’s emphasis on seeing the Tao rather than conceptual thinking. Thought then, should get to the real heart of things, the Tao, which means keeping the mind still from the distractions and divisions of conceptual thought. However, I find the “governing with peace” of Red Pine a bit more interesting than “When ruling, be just”–“justice” is an impossibly difficult concept (just look at the history of philosophy, such as Plato’s “Republic” if you think I’m off). Who can say what justice is? Thinking of this could create endless discourse of conceptual analysis. However, governing with peace is more in line with the intuitive understanding of the Sage, seeing what fits in accordance with the nature of things and moving along with it, as water does.

Our takeaway: Live in accordance with the nature of things, with the flexibility and sustaining nature of water. This opens the way of “doing without doing” – wu wei, which doesn’t mean inaction, rather appropriate action: speaking fully, working fully, etc. It should be pointed out that being able to act so deftly comes from the sight of the Tao, the ability to see the way of things is necessary to move in accordance with them. Furthermore, moving with the way of things not only meets no resistance, it helps the whole as well: Water “benefits all things” (“bringing help to all”). In these points, we are reminded of the importance of intuitive insight in Taoism alongside a simple compassion found in working with Tao, and we can see the resonance with the prajna (knowledge of the way things are) of Buddhism and the skillful action that comes in acting from that knowledge in showing compassion to all, rather than pursuing your “self”.

May this help you find the Way.

Gassho.

Water’s Flux

Indigo waters gently stir
Under a night sky, black as emptiness
Foggy lights behind – the only luminescence
Ripples gently skim the surface,
Lapping at the dock’s beams
Lip, lup, lap, lup…

The water shimmers as it moves
Undulations in dim, pale light
A glittering, indigo, velvet flow
With each lap, the lake changes,
Water moves, dirt and particles shift
With every moment, fluctuation

The lake remains, but
It is imperceptibly different
I meditate – looking on the splendor
Of flux, of impermanence
As each ripple rolls toward me
Breathing in and out
Changing microscopically
With the lake
The “I” that appears the same
Just as the lake seems constant