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Taoist Philosophy - Conversations II

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Confucius was already fifty-one years old and had not yet heard of Tao. Then he went south to P’ei to see Lao Tan, and Lao Tan said to him, “I hear you are a wise man from the north. Have you found the truth (Tao)?”

“Not yet”, replied Confucius.

“How did you go about to search for it?” asked Lao Tan.

“I had been searching for it by a study of governmental systems and institutions for five years and without avail.”

“Then, what did you do to find the truth?”

“I tried to find it in the principles of Yin and Yang for twelve years and again in vain.”

“Yes, you are right”, said Lao Tan. “For if Tao could be given as a gift, everybody would have offered it as tribute to his ruler. If Tao could be made a present, everybody would have presented it to his parents. If Tao could be told about, everybody would have spoken to his brothers about it. If Tao could be inherited, everybody would have bequeathed it to his children and grand-children. But no one could do it.

"Why? Because if you haven’t got it in you, you could not receive Tao. If the other person hasn’t got it, the truth would not penetrate to him. What is felt in oneself cannot be received from the outside and the Sage does not try to communicate it. What is received from the outside cannot stop within, and the Sage does not try to keep it. Remember that reputation is something that belongs to the public and should not be striven for too eagerly. Humanity and justice are but like roadside inns to the ancient kings, where one could stop overnight, but not stay permanently. To be seen often is to be criticized often.

"The perfect men of ancient times traveled by the road of humanity, stopping for a night at the inn of justice, to go on and wander about in the wilds of freedom. They fed themselves by growing food in the field of Without-care and lived in the vegetable garden of No-obligations. Freedom means doing nothing; Without-care means there is no problem of food; and No-obligations means there are no expenditures. The ancients called this wandering in search of grace. For a successful man cannot give another person his salary, a famous man cannot donate his fame to others, and a man in a high position cannot give his power to another.

"Holding that power, a man is frightened when he has it and worried lest he should lose it. And these people go on forever without ever stopping to see what it is all about. These are the damned. Resentment, favor, give, take, censure, advice, life and death - these eight are means for correcting a man’s character, but only one who comprehends the great process of this fluid Universe without being submerged in it knows how to handle them. Therefore, it is said, “You rectify what can be rectified.” When a man’s heart cannot see this, the door of his divine intelligence is shut.”

Edited by Marblehead
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