Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 4

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled.
Oh, unfathomable source of ten thousand things!
Blunt the sharpness,
Untangle the knot,
Soften the glare,
Merge with dust.
Oh, hidden deep but ever present!
I do not know from whence it comes.
It is the forefather of the gods.

From the grandest star to the meanest insect, everything that is ages and dies. The passage of time and the natural laws of the universe can be stopped by no man. That which is sharp will be dulled. That which shines brightly will dim. Everything returns to dust sooner or later. This is an immutable truth about our reality. This law has existed before we ever dreamed of gods, before even there was an Earth on which to dream. Whence comes this law is unknowable and unimportant. It is enough to know that it simply is.

Sometimes religious people ask me if, being an atheist, I am scared of death. No, I tell them. I have accepted that I — like everything that came before me and (presumably) everything that will come after — will die. And when I die, I do not expect to continue my existence in any form whatsoever. The matter that makes up my body will return to the Earth and, ultimately, to the universe, but when my synapses stop firing, my consciousness — that which makes me me — will no longer exist. That’s just how it goes. I am not afraid of it, but it does make consider that while I exist, I want to be happy, to enjoy my existence.

Consider the photograph above, “The Pale Blue Dot.” Taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 some 3.7 billion miles from home, it shows us Earth as we never see it (can you find it?). It gives us a perspective we usually do not get. In 1994, Carl Sagan gave us his thoughts on this photograph, a stirring and profound reminder that in the grand scheme of things, we live on but “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” He went on to say, “Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”

Now consider that this same sentiment applies just as much to our lives, to our time. Our universe has existed for billions of years and will exist for billions of years after we are gone. Each of our lives is a hint of a moment in the lifetime of the universe. What point is there, then, but to seek happiness in the brief time that we have, to bring happiness to those we care about?



Filed under Taoism

4 responses to “Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 4

  1. Bravo! That was an utterly beautiful post. I can’t think of anything to add to it.

  2. Pingback: Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 13 | Paperdubs

  3. Pingback: Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 13 « Bigtime

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