Tao Te Ching Chapter 22

Yield and remain whole
Bend and remain straight
Be low and become filled
Be worn out and become renewed
Have little and receive
Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves – and so are seen clearly
Without presuming themselves – and so are distinguished
Without praising themselves – and so have merit
Without boasting about themselves – and so are lastingBecause they do not contend, the world cannot contend with them
What the ancients called “the one who yields and remains whole”
Were they speaking empty words?
Sincerity becoming whole, and returning to oneself

Derek Lin

Yield and overcome;
Bend and be straight;
Empty and be full;
Wear out and be new;Have little and gain;
Have much and be confused.
Therefore the wise embrace the one
And set an example to all.Not putting on a display,
They shine forth.
Not justifying themselves,
They are distinguished.
Not boasting,
They receive recognition.
Not bragging,
They never falter.They do not quarrel,
So no one quarrels with them.Therefore the ancients say, “Yield and overcome.”
Is that an empty saying?
Be really whole,
And all things will come to you.

Jane English and Gia-fu Feng

What conditions need to prevail in order for the ego-mind to be connected rather than disconnected from the essence? This chapter covers that and affirms what sages down through the ages have spoken of: the spiritual power of selflessness, of emptying self of the desire to operate exclusively separate rather than be holistically incorporated with the essence of the One.

Transcending the ego, or, more clearly, yielding the desires of the ego to the essence of the One, is simple. The principle is expressed in the oft-misunderstood words of Jesus: “…I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” It’s basically about allowing the agency of free will all human beings possess to be open to the essence of being. This is the absolutely fundamental choice we are all called to make in every moment.

Yield and remain whole. Yield and overcome. Have little and receive.

That’s the basic choice. The correct choice of the ego is to yield, to give up its autonomous separation and “specialness” and thus remain whole and connected; to yield and give up acting according to the coercions of desire and so overcome its own limitations of selfishness. It’s a simple choice.

Self will is a tricky thing. It has the power to choose and act. Ideally, the fundamental choice self will makes is the choice to be aware of feedback from higher systems of organization beyond its perceptive locality. It can, however, choose to function from a local perspective. It is then self-centered, self-guided, and self-separated from connections with higher consciousness. My will, not thine, it says. What I know is sufficient, what I have is mine, I have merit, my way is the best way, I am the most important thing, my achievements, my possessions, my status, my ways and means define the universe, my contentious victories have made me supreme, look, see what I have and how I have got it and how I live, listen to me, heed me, follow me, worship me.

In our time we have been brutally made aware that selfish material gain comes at great cost. In America it is particularly hard for the fat camels we have become to pass through the needle’s eye of selflessness and enter the kingdom of the One.

In our nation every mansion creates a thousand hovels, every fortune covetously held for casual and extravagant gratification of the few creates a thousand poverties of roof, bed and bread for the many. No one has enough because only more than enough will do. Fear and pride tell us we must work for ourselves, gain for ourselves, hoard for our own sake, spend for our own sake, withhold from others for our own sake. And besides, we got it ourselves, we have it ourselves, it is ours and ours alone.

Yes, we care about inequity and justice and community; yes, we are compassionate and we deplore the plight of the poor, the aged, the sick, the infirm. We do care. We just care about ourselves more, and our personal perspective and a few judiciously applied rationales sort of, just – you know – conveniently blur and blot out the rest. All of which, when you think about it, really is secondary – and a poor second at that – to ourselves. Our self.

This chapter provides practical advice on how we can transcend the local selfish perspective in terms the ego understands. For ego, the path chosen must have an upside, a benefit, and the information passed along to it in this chapter relays that in terms ego understands.

Want the best possible result? What’s the action which produces the greatest benefit? In this chapter the essence informs the ego in this way:

Yield, bend, be low, be worn out, claim little.

Be assured that in spite of what you see these things to be, the opposite will prevail.

You will remain whole and straight, become filled and renewed, will be given much. Anything you claim to be yours alone will confuse you. 

Hold to the essence of the one, letting go of self desires.

If you do so you will not flaunt yourself in order to be seen, you will be seen clearly.

If you do so you will not flaunt yourself and be presumptuous in order to be distinguished, you will be distinguished by the excellence of the essence conspicuous in you.

If you do so you will have merit without self praise and self exaltation.
If you do so you will endure and be known and remembered.
If you do so, because you do not contend, the world cannot contend with you.

 If you desire to be wholly full, empty yourself,
make room for the essence,
and it will fully fill and fulfill you.

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3 Responses to Tao Te Ching Chapter 22

  1. Louis W. says:

    I read this at the same time as your comment on Chapter 23, and went back and forth between the two for awhile. Your thoughts are seemingly right on, in accord with what Lao Tzu might well think if he were with us today. It is so hard to get one’s mind around those thoughts, though. I want to say that your observations about mansions as the cause of hovels and other inequalities weaves into the discussion in Chapter 23 about loss. The loss is on both sides of the divide between rich and poor, from the perspective of willingly participating in the loss and of the lost happy to acknowledge a loss. It is no wonder you and the Dali Lama smile when perspective is mentioned.

    I don’t know if this has made any sense. It would probably suffice to simply say, “Good work here.”

    • bobgriffith says:

      It is sufficient to say that to all of creation: “Good work here.” And when I am availed of your thoughts and perspective, Louis, I say, “Good work there.”

      I have had another loss recently. My uncle, my father’s brother, passed away. And with him went a large chunk of historical information about an entire generation of my family which he carried in his mind and heart but held closely because of his nature and the pains there. My dad died at the age of 26, and his loss marked my uncle – actually, marked three generations of my family – with pains so deep and widespread that we were all changed forever. My father was one of those dynamic people who an entire generation venerates and is grievously stricken by their loss when they pass on – it’s an amazing story, far too long to go into here.

      My uncle was the last person with recollections of those years, particularly the early years of my father, and now he too has gone on. It feels like I am watching an entire age crumble and fall into history as time advances; it’s like watching large cliffs fall away from a calving glacier and disappearing beneath the water and never reappearing. I know the ice joins the water but in the moment I’m transfixed by his sudden disappearance. His loss is personally a deep sadness for me.

      The perspective from this viewpoint is unimaginably full and I will be away from my Tao Te Ching commentaries for awhile. I will continue to check in at Ralston Creek Review and will be back soon. I want to respond to the many good things you have spoken there. Keep up the “good work there.”

  2. Louis W. says:

    I am sorry to hear of your loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

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