Sunday, December 7, 2014

Tao Te Ching: Chapter 13 Commentary

This is part of a series examining the Tao Te Ching from an LDS, Christ-centered perspective. I am not a spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are my opinions and observations only.

Chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching deals with the problems associated with the ego--ego being the part of us that views itself as separate from God and others. The chapter also cautions against putting stock in either good fortune or bad.
Favor and disgrace make one fearful
The greatest misfortune is the self
What does "favor and disgrace make one fearful" mean?
Favor is high; disgrace is low
Having it makes one fearful
Losing it makes one fearful
This is "favor and disgrace make one fearful"

What does "the greatest misfortune is the self" mean?
The reason I have great misfortune
Is that I have the self
If I have no self
What misfortune do I have?

So one who values the self as the world
Can be given the world
One who loves the self as the world
Can be entrusted with the world
Favor and disgrace make one fearful
A Yogi is a person for which success and failure are the equal.
- Bhagavad Gita (at least according to this guy)
Chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching really drives home the idea that investing one's emotional energies in either success or failure is a sure way to spend all your time afraid--or at least really stressed out. Obviously, it's smart to work for success, but to be attached to success is a way to be "fearful," as the chapter states. When a person can un-attach from material things, the things that are impacted by earthly success and failure, they will be a lot more peaceful.

This idea is echoed in the Bible when Jesus counsels people to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven instead of on Earth. Or check out 2 Nephi 9:30:
30 But wo unto the rich, who are rich as to the things of the world. For because they are rich they despise the poor, and they persecute the meek, and their hearts are upon their treasures; wherefore, their treasure is their god. And behold, their treasure shall perish with them also.
It might be easy to dismiss this scripture with an "Oh, but I'm not rich." Yet in America, even the poorest of us have access to riches unthinkable at the time of the TTC's writing. If you have modern plumbing, sorry: in a way, you are rich. 

But beyond that, the warning of this scripture is this: if your hearts are set on treasures, treasure is your god. And treasures fail you in the end. 

Better to avoid putting stock in failure and success as to earthly things, and focus on the treasures of heaven.

The Greatest Misfortune is the Self

I think of this phrase often. It is such a concise condemnation of the ego--the part of us that experiences separation from others and from God. The part of us that experiences pride, enmity, anger, and feelings of "other."  This is the part of us that brings out all of our misfortunes. A great book about this is As A Man Thinketh by James Allen.

In the book, Allen explains that everything in life has its roots in thought--and that everything in your life has its roots in your thoughts. Your suffering has its roots in the ego.

When we divest ourselves of our investment in the ego, in being "other" from those around us, we lose all senses of misfortune. When we allow ourselves to feel at one with even our enemies, even nature, even animals, even God, we no longer have the same reactions to previously painful situations. When you empathize with your enemies, their sins against you no longer have the same gall. The greatest misfortune is the self because as long as we view ourselves as "other" and as better than, we are subject to anger, sorrow, and feelings of injustice.

Incidentally, the Plan of Salvation is all about God's children removing the unclean parts of themselves and eventually becoming unified in God-consciousness. You've probably never heard it put that way but what is the unity and selflessness of true Gospel living but a divestiture of the self in favor of a sense of oneness with God, His children, and all of creation?

Loving the World as Yourself
14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
- Galatians 5:13
When we do manage to give up our egos in favor of loving the world as ourselves, we can be trusted with the world. When we view those around us with the same lens through which we view ourselves, with the same willingness to see the best in others as we see in our selves--when we are honestly just as motivated to make sure those around us have what they need and want as we are motivated to provide needs and wants for ourselves--we can be trusted with the world.


When we eradicate the ego and stop caring about earthly success and failure, we are able to be trusted with the world.

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