Tao Te Ching Chapter 23


Nature uses few words:
when the gale blows, it will not last long;
when it rains hard, it lasts but a little while;
What causes these to happen? Heaven and Earth.

Why do we humans go on endlessly about little
when nature does much in a little time?
If you open yourself to the Tao,
you and Tao become one.
If you open yourself to Virtue,
then you can become virtuous.
If you open yourself to loss,
then you will become lost.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
the Tao will eagerly welcome you.
If you open yourself to virtue,
virtue will become a part of you.
If you open yourself to loss,
the lost are glad to see you.

“When you do not trust people,
people will become untrustworthy.”

J. H. McDonald


Why is this? Heaven and Earth!
If heaven and Earth cannot make things eternal,
How is it possible for man?

He who follows the Tao
Is at one with the Tao.

He who is virtuous
Experiences Virtue.

He who loses the way
Is lost.

When you are at one with the Tao,
The Tao welcomes you.
When you are at one with Virtue,
The Virtue is always there.
When you are at one with loss,
The loss is experienced willingly.

He who does not trust enough
Will not be trusted.

Jane English and Gia-fu Feng

This is a continuation of Chapter 22 and begs an answer to the question why and when were they separated? But I guess that’s the big question here all the way along. And of course we are now used to different translations saying different things, and learning to listen for the bell of truth ringing in varying perspectives.

I have often thought it, but now I’ll say it: I think this is why the Dalai Lama laughs so much when he speaks of perspective. He understands how paradoxical perspective is. It is absurd to see one thing in so many different ways, and it is simultaneously delightful and perfect. I laugh with him about this.

McDonald’s translation with the “open, open, open” refrain within reminds me of a now apocryphal piece of lore I picked up along the way: You can make a pot of water boil with the energy concentrated in the vibrations of your voice. All you have to do is stand near it and start saying ‘boil boil boil boil’ – for ten thousand years.

Blunt force may well boil the water or open the doorway of the Tao. Perhaps that’s the principle behind reincarnations, we just keep lowering our heads and charging into the brick wall of attachment and desire until, finally, our manic energies expended, we sit instead of standing back up and know the wall which separated us from the One was never there.

It seems to me that “open” can be taken two ways here. {imagine that, the dualistic mind splitting something in half and creating opposites!… 😉 } It can imply action is necessary, and we must work at being open. All well and good, and in a sense that is what the seeker does, endlessly wandering and walking their path, working at it, chasing it, seeking it, getting hold of it, stuffing bits and pieces of it in the accumulating inventory in their backpack. Until they sit down.

It is also good to remember what is often lost after we set our course toward the active, self-managed aspect of opening. The passive aspect. Simply being open, simply getting out of our own way.

In this chapter the sage continues to inform the ego of the upside to being open and the downside of taking charge of the process all by itself. And the bottom line, the final instruction, is simple.


The existential gales and rain pass quickly, samsara is fleeting and insubstantial except for that part of the human self which sees it as endless, fundamental, and eternal. “Following” the Tao doesn’t mean traipsing after it, it means simply allowing it to be, and being in it, no traipsing required. Be open to it and it rushes to fill the huge void the ego left behind when it vacated our premises. We trust that we are worthy of being fully filled and so fulfilled, and so we become trustworthy to accept what fills us when we are…


When we open, get our self out of the way, we are no longer trying to be virtuous in spite of the obstacles and challenges and resistance we are so heroically and valiantly overcoming. Those things are gone, out of the way. They’ve passed like the gales and rains between heaven and earth. In the empty calm afterward we know:

Virtue is always there.

And what about “loss”? Combining both translations, what we get seems confusing:

If you open yourself to loss, then you will become lost.(1) He who loses the way Is lost.(2) If you open yourself to loss, the lost are glad to see you.(1) When you are at one with loss, the loss is experienced willingly.(2)

Good, bad, what? Loss? I think the sage is basically saying “Get good with loss of self, open yourself willingly to loss of self, lose your way, it’s going to be all right, you have company in the loss of attachment and suffering, and when you willingly let go of every-thing you will know no-thing IS every-thing.”

And so ends this week’s demonstration of the limitations of words and the linguistic pathways of linear mind… Just remember:



Virtue is always there.

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