Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 7

Heaven and Earth last forever.
Why do heaven and Earth last forever?
They are unborn,
So ever living.
The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.
He is detached, thus at one with all.
Through selfless action, he attains fulfillment.

Last week I visited the subject of emptiness as it pertains to the Taoist lifestyle (or at least my interpretation of it), and this week extends that idea somewhat to the concept of detachment. Consider the non-intelligent machine of the universe. It is not a mind. It has no emotions or thoughts or desires. It simply is, and because it simply is, it is eternal, without beginning or end. Constantly changing, but constant nonetheless. It wants nothing, so all needs are fulfilled.

What lesson can we take from this aspect of the universe? Should we be mindless automatons? Is ignorance bliss? Well, sort of, but perhaps the more important idea is that we should recognize that our attachments bring with them both positive and negative aspects. Mo’ money, mo’ problems. For everything that we desire, for every attachment we create or maintain, there is a cost, be it physical, mental, or emotional. So we must consider the cost versus the result. Is the newfound anxiety and stress worth the fulfillment of this desire? Or will I be happier if I forget about it and move on? And we must weigh the end benefits of our various desires against one another. Will the cost I pay to fulfill this desire bring me more happiness applied to a different desire? Is either desire worth the cost at all, really?

This does not necessarily mean depriving ourselves. It is more about learning to let go and choosing to maximize happiness and contentment. It is about finding balance. Becoming overly attached to some idea or some desire leads to losing other things that we care for. It can be dangerous, when it comes to things like drugs or alcohol, or it can lead to financial ruin when our attachment and desire outstrips our sense. Over devotion to an activity or idea can cost us our relationships, our careers, life experiences, or more. If we pull back, if we stop putting our immediate desires first, we can then choose to focus our energy on those aspects of our lives that give us real fulfillment. Often we will find that the cost associated with an attachment simply isn’t worth it.

In real world terms, what does this mean? For me, it means looking critically at my life and choices and desires, big and small. For example, I have an attachment to saving money. I am pessimistic when it comes to monetary matters, and if I let myself get too wrapped up with the idea, I wouldn’t enjoy the money that I work for each week. Just this week, for my wife’s birthday we went out to celebrate with a nice meal. Having a good time was going to bring me more fulfillment than being stubborn with my money. We splurged and had one of the best meals we’ve ever had. Could we do this every week? No. Getting too attached to that desire would lead to financial ruin. Getting too attached to my desire to save money leads to a loss of life experiences. Striking a balance is the key to more happiness for me. The more balance we can find, the more we can meet our various desires.



Filed under Taoism

2 responses to “Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 7

  1. For me, the problem with desire is that it produces stress and stress is the barrier between the finite and the eternal.

    When we want something, we worry about getting it or losing it. If we get one, we want two. If we get two, we want four. And we must also be on guard lest somebody else takes it.

    This is just as true for love as it is for a hot fudge sundae, a new promotion at work or an iPod.

    • Mike Bigtime

      Yeah, I agree with that, but at the same time, I feel like we just can’t go around denying ourselves everything. What is the point of living if we can’t enjoy it? My ultimate desire is to live as content and enjoyable a life as I can, which means not denying myself the pleasures of indulgence, but also not allowing any indulgences to create that stress and worry you mention. Detaching myself from my desires so that indulging them gives me happiness while still not creating that obsession or extra worry is the best approach to me. That is, if properly detached, I will enjoy those things that come my way but not lament those that do not, and I will accept the impermanence of all things and not get upset when I lose whatever it is that I have desired. That’s easier said than done, of course, especially in modern western society that puts so much emphasis on constant stimulation, gathering and hoarding. It all comes down to balancing my desires with my overall happiness and ensuring that any one desire does not detract from a lifetime of contentment.

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