Success is as dangerous as failure.
Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet upon the ground,
you will always keep your balance.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
that arise from thinking of the self.
If we have no selves,
what trouble would we have?
Man’s true self is eternal,
yet he thinks “I am this body and will soon die”.
If we have no body, what calamities can we have?
One who sees himself as everything
is fit to be guardian of the world.
One who loves himself as everyone
is fit to be the teacher of the world.
This verse of the Tao Te Ching further deconstructs the way we see ourselves and relate to the world. Based upon the level of form, in which we appear as separate bodies, it’s considered ‘normal’ for human beings to be locked into a separate sense of ‘self’. This self is a conglomeration of thoughts, feelings, beliefs, conditioning and memories, all bound together by the glue of hope and fear, or what the Buddhists might refer to as attachment and aversion; the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain.
Lao Tzu warns that this sense of self, which might be referred to as the ego, is at the root of most of our troubles. This was echoed by one of the great Zen masters who, when asked to define Zen, simply stated: “no self, no problem”.
When we believe that we’re a separate ‘somebody’, alone and struggling to ‘make it’ in the world, our constant craving for success can actually be a great hindrance. Any attempts to climb the ladder will inevitably put us in a shaky position, no matter how high we might get. In fact, the higher we get the higher we have to fall – and inevitably we will fall, because what goes up must come down. Sooner or later we’ll have to come down from that ladder, either through choice or by force. Instead, Lao Tzu suggests that we might be better to keep our feet firmly planted upon the ground, for it is only there that we will find true solidity and balance.
The rest of the verse deals with what Albert Einstein referred to as an “optical delusion of consciousness”: namely, that we are separate selves enclosed in separate bodies.
Our true self is eternal, Lao Tzu states, yet so few people are aware of this and instead are bound by the tangible. Most people are aware only of the level of form and are completely unaware of the invisible, formless essence that breathes life into it.
If we could make a quantum shift in our awareness to encompass the greater aspect of our being instead of being stuck in the hollow surface level, we would be able to open our heart to all beings, because we would recognise the inherent oneness and interconnectedness of all life. As another translation of this verse simply states: “See the world as your self. Love the world as your self, then you will care for all things.”
I already referenced the words of Einstein and he beautifully encapsulated this wisdom in the following quote:
“A human being is a part of a whole called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”