Well planted is not uprooted,
well kept is not lost.
The offerings of the generations
to the ancestors will not cease.
To follow the way yourself is real power.
To follow it in the family is abundant power.
To follow it in the community is steady power.
To follow it in the whole country is lasting power.
To follow it in the world is universal power.
So in myself I see what self is,
in my household I see what family is,
in my town I see what community is,
in my nations I see what a country is,
in the world I see what is under heaven.
How do I know the world is so?
Here we see how the Tao is like a seed. It grows from the self to the family, the community, and on and on. The connection between self-improvement and communal improvement becomes demonstrated.
This is how the Tao creates a better world. It would be nice if we could just turn the world into a utopia overnight, but the Tao Te Ching shows that this is a gradual and evolving process. We must make small influences. If enough of them come together, it creates a ripple through the community, and that ripple becomes a wave over a nation.
This is something that I’ve been driving at in these reflections on the Way. The first half of the Tao Te Ching seems often concerned with power. With self mastery, with personal improvement, and then the power wielded by authorities, by leaders. Here we see how the world changes through you. Because your actions influence those around you, it makes sense for change to happen on a personal level. Following the way makes you a teacher, a leader, and it’s through following the Tao that others see this demonstrated.
When you act in accordance with the Tao, people will follow you. It will first be those who are closest to you. Your family. And then, as they follow the Tao, you will all become teachers and leaders, thereby shifting a community.
If only following the Tao were so simple! We wouldn’t have any problems at all.
And it is, of course, complicated by the somewhat difficult simplicity of the Tao. We are asked to be still, quiet, patient, to act without acting. We are asked to be happy, to find contentment.
It seems so simple! And yet, we are humans in a world gone made with desire and anxiety. I imagine it’s never been harder to be a Taoist than right now, with so much in your daily life to distract you, to fill you with pain and anxiety.
Since the election, there’s been a real focus on civil engagement, and I think this is the perfect time for the Tao to be highlighted. For it asks that we change our community. That we reimagine the world, and then create it, for the Tao is a generative process, a creative source.
And so I’m excited by what I see these days, and it’s what keeps bringing me back to the Tao Te Ching, to Lao Tzu.