Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 7 Commentary

This is part of a series examining the Tao Te Ching from a Christ-centered, LDS perspective.

Chapter 7 of the Tao Te Ching examines the importance of selflessness in achieving steadfastness and other goals.
Heaven and Earth. Image here.

The chapter reads:

Heaven and Earth are everlasting
The reason Heaven and Earth can last forever
Is that they do not exist for themselves
Thus they can last forever
Therefore the sages:
Place themselves last but end up in front
Are outside of themselves and yet survive
Is it not due to their selflessness?
That is how they can achieve their own goals

Selflessness, a Christian virtue

Generally speaking, this is Christian doctrine. Matthew 19:19 explains that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. The Sermon on the Mount really expands on this idea, urging Christians to "go the extra mile" (Matthew 5:41), to give those who sue us for our coat our cloak also (Matthew 5:40), and generally bless those that curse us and do good to those who hate us (Matthew 5:44). What are all these admonitions but a call to stop existing for ourselves, and start existing for others--placing ourselves last? 

This concept is also widely recognized in the secular world.
Image here
Who really wants to walk an extra mile with that Roman soldier? Who really wants to give up their cloak after they've already been sued for their coat? Who wants be kind to those who hate them? Right? Anybody? These are not natural reactions. Mastering them requires selflessness and a willingness to "place [ourselves] last." But we know from the Bible that keeping these commandments results in "last[ing] forever" through eternal life, and "acheiv[ing] [our] own goals" of salvation. 

Yin, Yang, and a Celestial Marriage

Now I want to note is the reference to Heaven and Earth. In Taoist philosophy, Heaven is yang and Earth is yin (Heaven is infinite, Earth is finite). So this is very much referring to the masculine and feminine aspects. In that way, it can be understood to be offering advice for a solid marriage, if you choose to read it that way. Heaven and Earth--yin and yang, masculine and feminine, male and female, "can last forever," because "they do not exist for themselves." The wise therefore "place themselves last but end up in front," "are outside of themselves and yet survive."

Yin and yang. Public domain.
But this is also Christian doctrine. I say Christian and not just Mormon because it is straight-up right there in the Bible. Here is one succinct scripture about the concept, Ephesians 5:23-25
23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; 
 Christ is Infinite, the masculine aspect, and the church is finite, the feminine aspect; as Christ is yang to the Church, husbands are yang to their wives. Or at least, they are supposed to be.


Verse 24 commands wives to be "subject" to their husbands "in every thing." Not just some things, but actually everything (see also 1 Corinthians 7:10-14--where it is recommended that wives even stick with their "unbelieving husbands," and 1 Peter 3:1, where wifely "subjection" is said to make disobedient husbands come around to follow the Word). What is this, as a wife, but not existing for yourself? I can speak from experience when I say that subjecting yourself to your husband in all things necessarily means putting yourself last. In my case, I've made a number of sacrifices in order to keep the commandment to "subject" myself to my husband "in every thing."
Eve covenanted to obey her husband.

Yet, as his wife, I've enjoyed miracles as a result. Every time I have put my own self aside in order to keep that commandment, I've ended up being more blessed as a result. For more on this Biblical order, see Colossians 3:18 and Ephesians 5:22, or even just Genesis 3:16 and Moses 4:22 (and go ahead and recall the first covenant in the endowment ceremony). There's more than just that, also. Consider the Proclamation to the World on the Family. If fathers are to "preside," that puts them in the leadership position and the wife in the subordinate position. They are still "equal partners" when living this Biblical edict. Submission is not weakness; actually, it is strength, as the Tao Te Ching explains later. If God's house is a house of order, someone has to be in charge. The Bible explains who that person is supposed to be in a godly marriage.
And as the TTC explains, along with books on Biblical marriage like Fascinating Womanhood, and as personal experience will verify if you attempt it, living this actually does allow "Earth" or the yin aspect, women, to "achieve their own goals" as this chapter of the Tao Te Ching concludes. I can verify with personal experience that when I live this Biblical recommendation (if not commandment), I end up happier in the end.


On the yang side, men are commanded in the scripture I quoted about (Ephesians 5:25) to love their wives as Christ loved the church--to the point of giving up their lives for them. The Proclamation explains that the role of husband is to "preside," "provide," and "protect." This puts them in the leadership position in the home (a function only made possible by a wife willing to submit to his leadership), as well as in the position of working every day to provide the necessities of life, and in the position of protecting their family from harm. Those are all big jobs and come with a lot of responsibility. They take self-control, just as wifely submission takes self-control on the part of the wife.

Just as it is natural for women to want their own way, and to resist submission, it is natural for men to not want to work all the time, and not want the responsibility of a family. A functional marriage and family relies on both partners putting the other ahead of themselves. When a man puts his wife's needs above his own by providing for her, protecting her, and presiding over her and his family, even if he might rather be viewing pornography or playing video games full time, and when a woman meets her husband's needs by submitting even when he seems wrong or wants to do something she doesn't want to do, they both come out ahead.

[Obviously, pray and follow the Spirit with this. And no woman must obey a husband who commands something morally wrong. The Biblical pattern for a family is man and woman, yet we also allow for single parenthood while recognizing that it is not ideal. It is not our job to judge others' situations, but it IS our job to recognize what the scriptures say about the wife's role in marriage, and pray about how the Lord wants us to live that role. Sometimes the Lord wants us to get out of a bad marriage. But sometimes He wants us to follow the Bible instead, even though it is hard. Follow the Spirit.]

This is such a huge topic, it will need another post. Or two. Or three. Or a book. But hopefully this covers some of the basics.

To go back to the text of the chapter from a marriage-based perspective: when each partner in marriage decides "not to exist for themselves," they can "last forever." When we "place ourselves last," we "achieve our own goals."


 The Tao Te Ching provides a Biblically-sound pattern for marriages that fits with both ancient Christian writings--from as far back as Genesis--and modern LDS teachings, although the concepts are couched differently for each audience.

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