“The Way produces and nurtures all things,
yet does not claim them as its own.
Doing everything without boasting;
Guiding everything without controlling;
This is the profound mystery of The Way.”
— Tao te Ching, Chapter 10*
Today’s chapter offers a glimpse of a profound secret: though no one owns or controls it, the universe came into being, grew to its present state, and runs perfectly.
The *universe* runs just fine, without anyone (without me!) doing anything. If we all disappear tomorrow, the clockwork of the universe will glide right along.
And yet, we worry: about paying this bill, about finishing that report, about finding this gadget, about meeting that special someone.
There is another way, a better way, to live.
We can be in the moment. We can do the work before us. We can align our steps with the rhythm of The Way.
When we do, everything falls into place — just so.
Jesus said it this way:
“Do not worry about your life … Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? …Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
At work, at play, in love, in war, in public, in private: there is a design at work. When we work within that pattern, it unfolds around us, effortlessly.
This is not a license to sit and do nothing. This is not justification for wishing instead of working.
It is, however, a bargain the Universe strikes with us:
Listen with humility. Watch with alertness. Act without effort. Success will follow.
* About today’s text: Like the texts behind the New Testament, the text of the Tao te Ching is ancient. The original manuscript has been lost to time. The structure and vocabulary of the Tao te Ching suggests an origin three or four hundred years before Christ. The earliest existing text most likely dates to between 80 BC and 10 AD. Many partial and compete manuscripts date to between the second and third centuries.
And, like the texts of the New Testament, the Tao te Ching was authored in a foreign language. Unless you read Chinese, you’re dependent on a translator. Human translators bring their own agendas, biases, scholarship, philosophies, and styles to any text they create.
Today’s passage, quoted above, is not a translation, but my own synthesis, based on readings from several public domain translations. I don’t speak Chinese. I don’t profess to be a scholar. I’m interested, though, in synthesizing for myself a text that presents the Tao te Ching’s core ideas in simple, unadorned, approachable language.