Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Taking sides

Verse 5 of the Tao Te Ching

The Tao doesn't take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn't take sides
she welcomes both saints and sinner.

The Tao is like a bellows;
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces,
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.

Hold on to the centre.

I don't know about you, but I was raised to take a stand. If there was an injustice, I was taught to expose it, shame the producers of it, and then eradicate it.

I was the offspring of Civil Rights Movement parents who really worked toward equality between black and white people in the United States. They worked to erase redlining in housing districts, put an end to police violence and profiling, balance the massive educational inequalities, and obliterate inhumane treatment of African Americans. Civil Rights advocates brought justice to criminals who carried out racist acts or allowed them to happen. Advocates worked to remove racists from office or at least jail them for their crimes. It was a divisive time. People were polarized. Even those working to erase racial lines were drawing lines of their own: Rich vs. poor. Young vs. old ("Don't trust anyone over 30"). Republican vs. democrat.

It was fuel for the fire of change.

So talking about not taking sides isn't an easy one for me. Clearly, aren't sides important? Wasn't all of that work for equality for a reason? Clearly, CLEARLY, we have things to accomplish still in the area of civil rights - but doesn't the civil rights movement beautifully illustrate that taking sides, making a stand, IS important?

So living in "Tao" is living without taking sides? How can I possibly do this in this world of inequality, oppression, hatred? How can one do that when we so value describing people things as beautiful or ugly, smart or stupid, worthless or an idol?

The first time I read this, I shook my head. That is, until I read the last sentence. Hold on to the centre. That stuck me in the gut. And the image I have in my brain, looking back (although I was pretty darned young during the 60s and 70s), is that we, as a nation, were so far away from the center that a jolt back to it had to come. The country was so divided. So angry. So opinionated. So frustrated (hmmm...this sounds familiar...). So oppressed.

Something had to give. Something bold had to explode from such a culmination of the energy of a nation of people at a boiling point.

And maybe it knocked us back toward the center. Maybe that was the overall point.

Living closer to the center, i.e. in balance, I know that I no longer feel the need to take a side, judge good and evil, separate sinners and saints. When I'm balanced, the need just isn't there. And honestly, I have the ability to be both saint or sinner for a reason. We need both - balance.

I'm not advocating going out and committing crimes, and then turning around and sincerely apologizing in order to stay in balance. But I am beginning to see that evaluating what is right/wrong, good/bad, painful/pleasant is useless because in the long run it all just...is. In the big picture, not in specific circumstances, it all just is. Whether by mistake or by intention.

What happens in life, whether it's on a personal or national level, just is. Like the bellows opening and closing. It may be fanning the flame to make it grow. It may just blow the flame out. Either way it isn't the end. Just a shift. Another flame comes. Infinitely capable.

So now I'm going to quit chatting about it, clear out the drama, stay centered and live.

See ya.

Other translations:

Nature is not kind;
It treats all things impartially.
The Sage is not kind,
And treats all people impartially.
Nature is like a bellows,
Empty, yet never ceasing its supply.
The more it moves, the more it yields;
So the sage draws upon experience
And cannot be exhausted.

translation by P. Merel

Nature acts without intent,
so cannot be described
as acting with benevolence,
nor malevolence to any thing.

In this respect, the Tao is just the same,
though in reality it should be said
that nature follows the rule of Tao.

Therefore, even when he seems to act
in manner kind or benevolent,
the sage is not acting with such intent,
for in conscious matters such as these,
he is amoral and indifferent.

The sage retains tranquility,
and is not by speech or thought disturbed,
and even less by action which is contrived.
His actions are spontaneous,
as are his deeds towards his fellow men.

By this means he is empty of desire,
and his energy is not drained from him.

-S. Rosenthal