Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep it to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become
supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you can see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and govern your domain
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting without expectation,
leading without controlling or dominating;
this is the primal virtue.
This verse imparts the essence of Lao Tzu’s teaching with great directness and clarity. The first sentence, asking if we can coax our mind from its wandering and keep to the original oneness, urges us to tame our restless minds and be rooted in that still centre of peace within. This is the art of meditation: finding the space of pure awareness that existed prior to every thought, memory, emotion and perception and remaining centred in that.
This is again referenced when Lao Tzu speaks of cleansing our inner vision, which is often obscured by the untamed mind’s relentless barrage of thoughts in much the same way as heavy storm clouds block the sunlight. He compels us to step back from our own minds and thus allow true understanding to emerge. The Tao cannot be understood by the analytical mind and indeed, it may even sound quite nonsensical. But beneath the surface there is a place of inner stillness in which these words of wisdom can be understood and realised; the part of us that is fully at one with the Tao, in its pure undifferentiated state.
The rest of the verse relays some of the other prominent themes of the Tao Te Ching, as Lao Tzu implores us to lose our rigidity, relinquish our attachment to possessions, let go of our need to control others and instead let events “take their natural course”.
The entire Tao Te Ching might be seen as a set of directions to bring us back in touch with our essential nature and to live our lives more in tune with the flow and rhythms of the natural world, of which we are part.
Our perpetual striving and grasping is not only harmful for us and those around us in the long run, but it also runs counter to our true nature as expressions of the Tao. To live in tune with this mysterious essence is to rediscover “the primal virtue”.