The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;Tao Te Ching
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The Nameless is the origin of Heaven and Earth;
The Named is the mother of all things.
There was something undifferentiated and yet complete,
Which existed before Heaven and Earth.
Soundless and formless it depends on nothing and does not change.
It operates everywhere and is free from danger.
It may be considered the mother of the universe.
I do not know its name; I call it Tao.
All things in the world come from being.
And being comes from non-being. (form comes from formlessness)?
Chapter 5 Commentary
Heaven and earth are ruthless, and treat the myriad creatures as straw dogs; the sage is ruthless, and treats the people as straw dogs.
Treats the people as straw dogs sounds cruel at first. Buddha once pointed out that it’s not the external form that love connects with, but an eternal essence—what some now call Buddha nature. ‘Loving’ something for its characteristics really reflects my own needs. Indeed, I can only feel true love when need, attachment and desire subside.
Straw dogs are used in ceremony, and discarded afterward. It is not the actual form or composition which is revered but the sense of reverence and connection which a straw dog can facilitate. It serves as a vehicle. If it was the actual dog that was cherished, then who could discard it?
Heaven and earth are ruthless always reminds me of natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. Earth is just doing its thing—it’s not personal. Heaven and earth don’t show favortism because they are neutral. This reminds me of a judge’s ruling that makes both sides angry—they both think he’s ruthless; he didn’t give them what they wanted.
I can only be fair and just when I’m not attached. Integrity then becomes more important than outcome. Rather than life being ‘a means to an end’, it becomes ‘an end to a means’. Such detachment can seem ruthless.
Humankind has a specie-centric view. Humanity places itself at the pinnacle of evolution. God created us in his image. A re-incarnation demotion sends you back down toward the animals. Don’t act like an animal!… Heaven and earth are ruthless pokes through this specie-centric illusion.
Is not the space between heaven and earth like a bellows?
It is empty without being exhausted:
The more it works, the more comes out.
Empty is nothing, and so it’s easy to pass it by unnoticed. I’m always on the lookout for things in life, not no-things. It’s my biological instinct to interact with the tangible. Yet, when I ponder all my actions I notice that they are driven by emptiness in all its forms. I act to leave no-thing undone. I talk to fill the silence. I’m pulled out into life by boredom.
Empty nothingness is the condition that drives action. It lies at the root of insecurity. I act to improve my situation with the underlying intention of always ending up more secure. Then, when everything is safe and secure I soon get bored and notice something else that needs doing!
It’s ironic; the empty unknown makes me uneasy which pulls me into action. The empty known makes me bored which pulls me to action. Empty lies at the beginning and end of all. As I begin to notice the essential futility of goals—they’ll always bring me back to the beginning again—life becomes a deeper experience. I’m no longer just a squirrel going around in a cage.
When I remove something, I’m left with nothing. When I remove nothing, I’m still left with nothing. Empty is the foundation, the beginning and the end. It’s the body of God.
Much speech leads inevitably to silence.
Better to hold fast to the void.
This reminds me of the natural cycle. I begin action, like speech, from stillness and silence. I go, go, go, until I’m finished or grow weary; I fall back into stillness and silence… only to begin the cycle anew after a brief rest. When I hold fast to the void I can remember the cyclic nature of action even as I’m in the midst of it—I don’t get lost. Holding this perspective through the cycle makes the journey smoother. I expect less from action and so contentment comes easier.
I used to think that I SHOULD hold fast to the void to be spiritually pure. This guilt driven self-competitive approach never worked. When I gave this up, and just interpreted better to hold fast to the void as simply a statement about the natural cycle, I could actually hold fast to the void more. Letting go allowed me to hold on. Returning allows me to go forward.
If empty is the body of God, for me, then silence is God’s voice. The less I expect God to be, or try to define it, the easier it is to find myself in God’s presence.
Another translation puts this verse as: ‘Hearing too much leads to utter exhaustion, better to hold fast to the center’. ‘Center’ helps me picture the void a bit better. It is only the edges of a circle that are a tangible something. All the rest is nothing, with the ‘center’ being the most profoundly empty without being exhausted. All my senses operate at the edge of my life circle—hearing, seeing, touching… and all this constantly changing commotion only ends when I sleep, or more permanently, die. Turning back toward the center helps me let go of this tangible and chaotic edge of life. The center is constant through out my life.
This verse can seem to present an either-or-situation. Hold fast to the void or travel an exhausting cycle. However, holding fast to the void WHILE I participate helps keep the cycles of life from being so exhausting. Of course this is easier said than done. The merry-go-round circumstances of life are always pushing me right to the edge. Only holding fast toward the center keeps me from being flung so far afield.
Much speech leads inevitably to silence. In the silence I find peace. Likewise, problems come with activity. Usually, though, the solutions only arrive after I settle down into passivity and wait for an answer. All the commotion that comes with trying to solve a problem is like the price I need to pay for the solution… but it’s NOT what produces the solution.
The Tao Te Ching, transl. by D.C. Lau. Chapter 5 Commentary. CenterTao.org