Episode from the podcastThe Tao Te Ching for Everyday Living

Tao Te Ching Verse 53: Keeping to the Tao

Released Friday, 25th September 2020
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Tao Te Ching Verse 53

translated by John C. H. Wu

If only I had the tiniest grain of wisdom,
I should walk in the Great Way,
And my only fear would be to stray from it.
The Great Way is very smooth and straight;
And yet the people prefer devious paths.
The court is very clean and well garnished,
But the fields are very weedy and wild,
And the granaries are very empty!
They wear gorgeous clothes,
They carry sharp swords,
They surfeit themselves with food and drink,
They possess more riches than they can use!
They are the heralds of brigandage!
As for Tao, what do they know about it?

Photo by Lucie Hošová on Unsplash

The Way
Let’s imagine that we are in the forest.  We are on a path.  It’s a wide one, and it seems straight enough, though we can see that it turns gently to the left at the limit of our vision.  There are green trees on either side of the path.  They filter out the harshness of the sun but there is plenty of light.  Little bushes grow alongside the path.  There are even some that are producing berries - the ones that you can eat.
Birds are calling to each other.  And it smells of fresh earth, maybe a little like the trees once in awhile.
It seems that all is well, and you happily walk on, wondering sometimes in the back of your head what’s next or when you’ll arrive at your destination, what you might do there.  But mostly, it’s pretty peaceful.
You’re hearing people in the distance.  This seems interesting - it’s kind of far off, but they sound like they’re laughing and having a good time.  You walk a little further and now it seems like the sounds are coming from the right.  A little further, and you see a little path, about half of the size of yours, veering off.  No one is on the path, but you realize the sounds you are hearing are coming from that direction.  The little path is more windy than yours - and it disappears down a hill and around a left curve just a little distance from you.
You wonder: where is all this going?  Those others seem to be having a good time.  Why should you even be walking on this path right now?  How did you get here?
For awhile, things get quiet again and it’s just the sound of you walking.  Then, just around the next curve, you see an object in the center of the path.  You keep walking, and reach it.  It looks like an elevator, and there is a sign that is encouraging you to get in. So, you do.
There’s only one button, so with a little hesitation, you push it.  The doors slide shut and you feel upward movement.  The walls and the door become transparent, so now you can see the tops of the trees.  In a couple moments, you are looking down on the forest.  You look forward in the direction you’ve been walking, and you see off in the distance, the forest ends turns into a beautiful landscape with rolling hills and lush green grass.  There aren’t any signs of what the place could be, but you inherently know it’s a magical place.  You can just feel it.
The elevator pauses for a moment, and starts its way back down.  Soon, you’re stepping out of it.  You look to the direction of your destination, and keep going.

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