I have been a (somewhat casual) follower of Tao for over twenty years now. I don’t know that I am a Taoist in a strictly religious sense, and I’ll save the story of how I found the Way for another post. But in a philosophical sense, the overarching ideas and themes of Tao or the Way have colored and informed my life greatly. It speaks to me.
I have read several translations of Lao Tzu’s Tao te Ching over the years, but I always find my way back to Stephen Mitchell’s. I have worn through several copies of his little pocket edition over the years, and my current well-worn one has the torn-off cover as a bookmark. I generally will read at least a chapter a day, usually first thing in the morning.
Chapter 53 jumped out at me this week and has been rattling around in my head, so I thought I would share it here:
The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.
When rich speculators prosper
While farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn-
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
Much of modern life is most definitely “not in keeping with the Tao.” We have turned onto a tangle of side paths that are far from easy. Income inequality is at an all-time high and climbing. The stock market is booming while jobless claims are jumping. The government seems to have little interest in OUR interests but cares very much about the will of corporations and wealthy donors. “…the poor have nowhere to turn–all this is robbery and chaos.”
There’s a fantastic experimental film, a documentary, from the 1980s called Koyaanisqatsi. The title is a Hopi word for “unbalanced life.” It has a run time of 86 minutes and contains no dialogue. It is merely a collection of video images of modern society juxtaposed against those of nature, all set to a haunting soundtrack.
It’s a little trippy. It’s the sort of thing you might have gotten stoned and watched in college. But it’s also very powerful. I haven’t seen the film in at least 20 years, but I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Especially as it relates to Chapter 53 above.
I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like my life has been out of balance for years. I don’t know when it happened or if it was just always that way. But I want to turn off the insanely difficult and treacherous side path our society has found itself on. I want balance. I want the the Great and easy Way of Tao. Here’s hoping we can all find it.