Tao Te Ching Chapter 36

The Rhythm of Life

He who is to be made to dwindle (in power)
Must first be caused to expand.
He who is to be weakened
Must first be made strong.
He who is to be laid low
Must first be exalted to power.
He who is to be taken away from
Must first be given,
– This is the Subtle Light.

Gentleness overcomes strength:
Fish should be left in the deep pool,
And sharp weapons of the state should be left
Where none can see them.

Lin Yutang



1. That which is about to contract has surely been expanded. That which is about to weaken has surely been strengthened. That which is about to fall has surely been raised. That which is about to be despoiled has surely been endowed.

2. This is an explanation of the secret that the tender and the weak conquer the hard and the strong.

3. As the fish should not escape from the deep, so with the country’s sharp tools the people should not become acquainted.

D. T. Suzuki & Paul Carus


If You Want

If you want something to return to the source,
you must first allow it to spread out.
If you want something to weaken,
you must first allow it to become strong.
If you want something to be removed,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to possess something,
you must first give it away.

This is called the subtle understanding
of how things are meant to be.

The soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.

Just as fish remain hidden in deep waters,
it is best to keep weapons out of sight.

J. H. McDonald



One way to get past an unwanted thing is to not avoid it, which prolongs its presence, but rather to embrace it and give it as much power as you can.

An example would be grieving. When grief is denied, sadness can prevail for a long time. When grief is embraced and allowed to crest over us like a tidal wave, tumbling and thrashing us in its overwhelming fullness, it ebbs quickly and leaves us empty and exhausted and on new ground. We rise up and carry on, and our grief is not gone but attenuated into a balance of grieving and sadness and remembrance and acceptance.

I don’t think it’s unfair to observe that often when embarking on a path to understand life and the conditions and terms which prevail here, and the truth of it all, the beginner is in a heavily weighted yang frame of mind. We are determined to find the answer and discover the meaning of our circumstances by means of our own rigorous efforts and resulting achievements. In essence, to paraphrase Rumi, we ride out in the morning to seek a deer, and end up chasing, and being chased, by a “hog,” – by a Handle On God, which we unilaterally seek to discover, or install, thinking in this way we will become realized and whole.

This heavily active, aggressive yang mode of pursuit, in the terms of this chapter, is spread out, diffuse, unfocussed, strong, flourishing. The belief in gain through personal achievement is a closely held possession, and we are loath to give it up. To counter this imbalance, many spiritual paths of instruction meet the active, aggressive seeker with practices purposed toward leading the seeker to become exhausted and emptied of their yang ways.

When seeking by personal attainment is exhausted, and the seeker has become tired of desire – of desire to study and learn and discuss and know, to attain, to rise above, to transcend, to effect satori, to be wise and knowing, respected and known and seen – when that is gone, done, used up, the individual finds the void created by their release of “only yang” energy filling with an inrushing of yin sensibility, and the resultant  balance between the two is experienced as inexpressibly and indefinably truly strong and fulfilling.

Now, before anyone gets too excited about “achieving” true strength and fulfillment on the basis of this information, let’s remember together that most of us have already, and often, deflected ourselves from that condition or reverted back out of it once we became reconvinced by our ego that it really means we must become defenseless and empty in a world we perceive to require extensive, strong defenses and self-filling achievements.

It’s a cycle, a process, not a destination. A destination is static, a fixed point, an illusion. We all move in the dynamic Tao where, moving back and forth between perspectives weighted by yin and yang, we must constantly find our balance.

It is important to know what we have, accept what we have been given, and cooperate with what we are a part of. The sage tells us to remember pursuit of want and gain will lead to exhaustion, and when want and gain are done with then real strength and fulfillment will come, and we will remember who and what we really are.

Exhaustion is a good practice. We do well to exhaust desires, to not seek to quench them so much as allow them to occur in harmless ways, or at least in ways in which the only harm is to us, and the only harm there serves the greater purpose of helping us to become tired of them, exhausted by their practice, and so, finally, aware of what they are and what they are not.

When we allow all things to move through their cycles rather than resist certain stages within them we are seeing creation in a “Subtle Light.” It’s good to remember “the secret that the tender and the weak conquer the hard and the strong, that the soft and pliable overcomes the hard and inflexible.”

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