“The great Way is easy,
Yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered in the Great Dao.”
Chapter 53, Dao de Qing, by Laozi
In stillness, we find clarity. By bringing ourselves into the present moment, we see the universe merely as it is, life around us as it is, ourselves as we are.
In his translation of the Dao de Qing, Stephen Mitchell quotes Zen Master Seng-ts’an:
“The great Way is not difficult
If you don’t cling to good and bad.”
The word “dao” can be translated as way or path. Laozi urged us to walk on the main path, and avoid side roads in life, and Zen Master Seng-ts’an suggests this is not hard to do. If we have any sense at all, we will stay on the great path and walk it without fear. If we fear, we are able to behave well only outwardly.
In past lectures on meditation, I have used a writer’s analogy to expand on this idea of clinging to good and bad. Imagine that each moment comes to us as a blank piece of parchment paper; when it lands on our desk, we reach for our quill pen, dip it in the inkwell, and write the next line in the poetry of our life.
But if we “cling to good and bad,” the parchment paper is not blank. It is filled with what we cling to, and there is no room for the next line in our life’s poem. That moment is wasted, never to be recovered. We failed to see it merely as it was; we had no clarity.
This is not to say that moments do not bring dire circumstances to us, or that we will never have to push back on a moment, or even push back hard. But, if the push is simply the instinctive response to what the moment has brought us, our walk on the main way is undeterred, and we simply walk on.
It will be instinctive, though, only if we see the moment as it is. And we can see it merely as it is only if our vision is not clouded by our clinging. Just before Laozi suggested the great Way is easy, he wrote in Chapter 52:
“If you close your mind in judgments
And traffic with desires,
Your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
And aren’t led by the senses,
Your heart will find peace.
Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.”
Honoring the Great Dao means respecting the way things are. Staying on the main path means not clinging to preferences and judgments. Seeing each moment with that clarity makes our response to it easy to discern and act upon, arising as if on its own. It is thus in harmony with the Great Dao.
It is not a matter of faith, though, and it does not originate in the intellect. In stillness, we recognize our place in the universe, in creation, just as Zhuangzi wrote: “The universe and I came into being together; and I and everything therein are one.”
In stillness, that recognition becomes who we are, becomes our essence. We accept our place in the eternal flow of the Great Dao, and do so without fear. We are not susceptible to praise or shame, the great sources of fear in our life, because the acceptance of our place in the Great Dao defines our existence.
Straightforwardness is the mark of a genuine person. With nothing to hide and nothing to defend, we act appropriately in the moment and move on to the next. In stillness, we see ourselves merely as we are. When we come to know ourselves, we can know others; and when we have mastered ourselves, we have no need to master others. We have nothing to prove, and can simply be.
Then, the great Way becomes easy, just as Laozi said.
Find that stillness; find your place in the universe, and live in harmony with it. Stay on the main path, and walk it without fear.