Tao Te Ching Teachings: Living Lowly


“Dwelling places most people loathe

It is therefore close to the Way!”

Water is everywhere. An indiscriminate wanderer, it resides wherever it can – in valleys, puddles, ditches, toilets, bellies, bladders, swamps, sewers, and just about anywhere else it able to squeeze itself. Being one of the core constituents of most earthly matter, it can’t help living within the lowest of the low, the most ungainly of the ungainly. Living in men and animals, it can be found inside criminals, junkies, alcoholics, corrupt statesmen, and evil warlord; in animals, it can be found in a fox’s asshole, an elephant’s trunk, a horse’s penis, a whale’s spiracle, a badger’s ear. Excepting the most dry and arid of deserts, it’s difficult to find a place on earth where it does not reside.

The same is true of the Tao. Interpenetrating and manifesting in all things, it makes no difference between living in a king’s palace, an alien’s coffee pot, or grizzly bear’s colon – it all the same to Tao. As Chuang Tzu put it in an amusing dialogue:

Master Easturb inquired of Master Chuang, saying, ‘Where is the so called Way present?’

‘There’s no place that it’s not present,” said Master Chuang.

“Give me an example so that I can get an idea,” said Master Easturb.

“It’s in ants,” said Master Chuang.

“How can it be so low?”

“It’s in panic grass.”

“How can it still be lower?”

“It’s in tiles and shards.”

“How can it still be lower?”

“It’s in shit and piss.”

Master Easturb did not respond.

The Way is the greatest force in the universe – it is the force of the universe. If this great force is able to indifferently dwell everywhere, even in complete repugnance, what does this say about the follower of Tao?

We should be no different. The greater and more powerful we become, the more humility, selflessness, and impartiality we should accumulate. We should not consider one place as sacred, and another as profane, as one person as being beneath us, and another as worthy of our respect. If Tao does not make such distinctions, why should we? If you turn your nose up at another, you’re only mutilating your own face. Live in harmony with all beings, not just those you like. Be at peace wherever you are, not just in mountains and valleys.

This is what Zen Masters call overcoming likes and dislikes.


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