Tag Archives: lose the self

Thursday Tao: Tao Te Ching – Chapter 13

Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.
What do you mean by “Accept disgrace willingly”?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain.
This is called “accepting disgrace willingly.”

What do you mean by “Accept misfortune as the human condition”?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?

Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.

Most philosophies on life that I have encountered share one major tenet: lose the self to gain what is sought. For religions based in the search for salvation, losing the self is a means of securing a place in heaven. In Matthew 10:39, for example, Jesus says, “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”* In other words, if a believer lives his life for himself, he forsakes eternal life, but he gains salvation by living for Jesus. The word Islam itself actually means self-surrender to the Will of God. Looking past the self to live for God is the ultimate form of devotion in these ways of life.

But what does it mean for an atheist Taoist to surrender oneself humbly? I seek no salvation, no forgiveness for the ineffable sin of simply being, but I do seek something through the Way: effortless living. That is, in a nutshell, the ultimate goal of taking the lessons of the Tao Te Ching to heart. Some might call it enlightenment, but it is really just living in perfect rhythm and harmony with the life that moves around you. It is working with the current, even if it takes you to unexpected places, rather than exhausting yourself fighting against it and risk drowning.

Consider again the Pale Blue Dot. In relative terms, we are infinitesimal specks, fleeting notions of substance. We are essentially nothing. Accepting that, embracing it, can completely change the way you look at the world and at yourself. For if we are nothing, then what is a bit of misfortune in our lives? What is fortune, for that matter? What is embarrassment or disgrace? When you take the long view, all things become equal, and subjectivity disappears. No longer do you fight against that tumultuous current, for what does it matter if it brings you fortune or ruin? They’re both part of life, and rather than gnash your teeth in despair or preen in self-congratulation it is more useful to simply say, “This is what is happening now, but it may not be what happens in the future. I’ll be fine either way.”

* If you’re going to read the Christian Bible, go with the King James version. It is pure poetry, even to an atheist like myself.



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