The Supreme Virtue

by Christopher Lovejoy on January 20, 2013

The human pinball is a most curious phenomenon.

Part creature, part object, the human pinball is quite reactive, as you can well imagine. Once it gets going, there’s no stopping it, unless of course it gets sunk by exhaustion – or despair.

The human pinball treats everything – every event, every occurrence, every situation – as an effect. The phrase, “live at cause, be the cause, just because” is foreign to its way of thinking.

Admittedly, it’s more of a challenge to feel sympathy or compassion for the human pinball when it attempts to push you around than when it comes at you in wide-eyed, slack-jawed desperation.

Needless to say, we all know what it feels like to be a human pinball.

We’ve all been there, done that. Well, at least most of us have.

Perhaps you’re the noble exception. Or simply divine?

Tao Te Ching, Verse 21

This verse reverberates with the first verse on The Beloved Mystery.

Pointing directly to what I call “the supreme virtue”, verse 21 reminds readers to stay true to the beloved mystery (the formless absolute) in a relatively dense world of relative mastery (the relatively formed).

I view this verse, not only as a call to live the mystery, but as an opportunity to explore a deep question.

The greatest virtue
is to follow the Tao
and the Tao alone.

The Tao is elusive
and intangible.
Although formless
and intangible,
it gives rise to form.
Although vague
and elusive,
it gives rise to shapes.
Although dark
and obscure,
it is the spirit,
the essence,
the life breath
of all things.

Through the ages,
its name
has been preserved
in order to recall
the Beginning
of all things.

How do I know
the ways of all things
at the Beginning?
I look inside myself and
see what is within me.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

In the midst of time, we hear of countless beginnings, but in the timeless realm, no time implies no beginning. How might we resolve this apparent paradox with reference to “the ways of all things at the Beginning” identified by verse 21?

In three dimensions of space, humanity has formed a consensus reality where time is perceived as linear, running from past to present to future, where time is measured as linear ultimately because separate objects can move, change, and be counted in space.

From the point of view of someone beyond space and time, however, like someone meditating on stillness from the witness perspective, timelessness prevails; the perception of time disappears into a neverending constancy of awareness, in peace or bliss.

Not this or that, but this and that: time and timelessness co-exist, one with respect to the other.

My Impressions of the Verse

From one point of view – a timeless point of view – the Beginning is an illusion. If the sum and source of who we are always and already has access to every event of every life lived, wherein lies the Beginning?

From another point of view – a temporal point of view – the Beginning is little more than a useful fiction, a fictitious anchor in time, an imaginary point of reference to grasp the ungraspable Sum and Source of ALL.

The greatest virtue
is to follow the Tao
and the Tao alone.

I have no problem in pressing the word ‘supreme’ into service, not as a pretense or pretext for being superior to you or anyone else, but simply as a way to describe what is paramount and sovereign, utmost and topmost, with respect to any virtue worthy of its name.

In deference to the mystical dimension of life, the supreme virtue is to follow the Tao and the Tao alone: this is what Lao Tzu has been maintaining all along, but here, he reminds us once again, setting us up to consider and contemplate what is to follow …

The Tao is elusive
and intangible.
Although formless
and intangible,
it gives rise to form.
Although vague
and elusive,
it gives rise to shapes.
Although dark
and obscure,
it is the spirit,
the essence,
the life breath
of all things.

Positively speaking, the impersonal aspect of the Tao could be referenced as an energetic, informational, transformational substrate both immanent and transcendent, serving this world of form as the source of matter, organicity, sentience, consciousness, and awareness.

Other names include the Implicate Order, the Source Field, the Zero Point Field, and the Universal Field.

Through the ages,
its name
has been preserved
in order to recall
the Beginning
of all things.

Through the ages? This seems like a rather odd thing to say some 5,000 years ago – unless of course it references the rise and fall of ancient civilizations.

Could it be that countless souls have carried the name of the nameless Tao forward through timeless time to recall the ever elusive (because presumed and fictitious) Beginning of all things? Or could it be that knowing the nameless Tao is as natural as breathing?

How do I know
the ways of all things
at the Beginning?
I look inside myself and
see what is within me.

In time, the Beginning presumably precedes all, but this question can always be posed: what came before?

Timelessly, the Beginning is presumably now and only now, but now implies a reliance on references to time.

Being neverending, the ways of all things has no Beginning and no beginning other than your own beginning.

To know these ways, to find them and follow them, we simply begin by looking within. Looking, seeing, knowing, and following the Way (the ways of all things) through self and world is the supreme virtue – to follow the Tao and the Tao alone, timelessly and in time.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

If this verse is anything to go by, then the ultimate in personal fulfillment arises by following the Tao and the Tao alone, by being a witness of awareness, by being mindful of what emerges from this awareness, by being and becoming through knowing and following.

Practically speaking, I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of falsehood so that I can be honest enough with myself and others to accept and speak my truth, to live and love openly without fear of what other might think, say, or do in response.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of cowardice so that I can exercise courage at the right time in the right place, facing down false evidence appearing real (“whatever I fear, I shall face”), turning perceived problems into opportunities.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of cruelty arising or creeping into my life so that I can summon the compassion to call it out and face it down, all the while affirming my connections and my basic connectedness to everything and everyone.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of apathy descending, infecting, and spreading through the heart of my soul so that I can stay clear (or get clear) about what I truly desire, about what really matters to me, with meaning, purpose, and direction.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of distractions coming out of nowhere by making time to sit quietly, breathe deeply, and maintain focus so that I can concentrate on what I’m doing and be mindfully present to giving my attention to what needs doing.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of ignorance by thinking clearly and deeply about my life, by asking questions, by probing the validity of my beliefs, by staying curious and being interested to know more myself, others, and the world at large.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of irrationality in my thinking, my behavior, my conduct, so that I can call on reason and logic to lend structure and substance to my thought, to question false assumptions, and keep mad, bad, sad certainties in check.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of those who would remain unconscious so that I can strike a balance between spending time with those who can help me be more conscious and spending time with those I can help be more conscious.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of dis-ease by feeding body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit with the substance and energy they require to stay healthy, fit, and vital and by always being prepared to ask this question: “will this keep me at my ease?”

Finally, and most importantly, I follow the Tao and the Tao alone when I remain conscious of my intention to be conscious, by reminding myself of this: to be thyself, know thyself in time; to know thyself fully, be thyself timelessly. Not this or that, but this and that.

As a perceiver and creator of my own version of this world, I remain a witness to and an actor in a ceaseless play of people, places, and things. As a witness, I see the images, embody the sensations, giving attention to how I feel; as an actor, I connect with the events in my version of this world, negotiating them by navigating their objects and encounters, absorbing and generating experiences.

As an example, I might look within and notice that I feel at ease. At ease, I see what I can see and care to see arising from within, from a source as sacred and as mysterious and elusive and wondrous as the source of all that which appears to arise from without.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone by beginning to recognize that I am a pinnacle of creation in this world of form, albeit a very modest one, containing as I do not only matter, organicity, sentience, consciousness, and awareness, but a divine appreciation that this is so.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone by beginning to recognize that I am a mere fractal in a much larger mosaic, a much larger tapestry of being, knowing, and loving – a much larger creation, projection, presentation, and manifestation of encounter and experience.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone by beginning to recognize that I am a less-than-masterful creator of a world forever at choice about what, when, and whether to be, know, and love – about what, when, and whether to realize any part of my potential in human form.

I follow the Tao and the Tao alone by remaining tuned to “the ways of all things at the Beginning”, which is never now and always now, by remaining true to my self and my world, looking and seeing and knowing and following as and when I feel called to be, have, or do.

The urges and longings of soul and the impulses and yearnings of spirit both present countless opportunities to answer the call.

Eventually, and perhaps only ever intermittently, the within and without are no longer experienced as separate and distinct.

The witness and the actor become one and remain one in the O of O, the Ocean of One.

Next up: Wholesomely Whole (Living with Flexibility)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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