From Good to Great

by Christopher Lovejoy on April 21, 2013

From good to great: might this process require humility?

From good to great: might this require that I hold a modest or lowly view of my own importance?

I explored the meaning of ‘great’ in my post, Great = Boundless. In it, I wrote, and I quote, as follows:

The term ‘great’ implies a standard that measures extent, amount, or intensity; as applied to persons, this controversial term of judgment is synonymous with ‘distinguished’; in describing conduct, the term ‘great’ implies extraordinary significance in excellence.

Where the Tao Te Ching is concerned, however, the term ‘great’, as used in many if not all of the translations of verse 25, implies the quality of boundlessness: that is, “Great is boundless; boundless is eternally flowing; ever flowing, it is constantly returning”.

To merely say that “I am great”, that “I am extraordinarily significant in my excellence” is to beg a very common question: “says who?” For those who are perceived as great confer the status of greatness on those who are merely good on their way to being great.

To say nothing about being great, however, and yet be perceived as trusting and respecting the boundless Way with uncommon grace and ease speaks to another form of greatness that has little or nothing to do with reputation, status, and the perception of status.

To be good is to trust the Way; to be great is to trust and respect the boundless Way with uncommon grace and ease.

When I think about it, no humility is ever even necessary as humility is always already integral to being great.

Humility only becomes necessary when greatness is assumed and declared as necessary.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 34

I read this verse many times before the fullness of its meaning could sink into the heart of my soul …

The Great Way is universal;
it applies to the left or the right.
All beings depend on it for life,
but never are they possessed.

It accomplishes its purpose,
but makes no claim for itself.
It covers all creatures like the sky,
but dominates them it does not.

All things shall return to it
as if returning to their homes,
but never does it lord over them;
thus, may it be called great.

Sages imitate this conduct:
by not assuming greatness,
by not declaring greatness,
they relax into greatness.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

A subtle argument is presented here, one that argues by way of analogy.

But is this argument a sound argument?

My Impressions of the Verse

This verse invites us to view greatness as a natural expression of who we always already are, offering the sage as an example of how not to possess or dominate or control others.

Incidentally, I find it rather uncanny that the description in this verse closely matches observations made on the Other Side by those who have claimed close encounters with God.

The Great Way is universal;
it applies to the left or the right.
All beings depend on it for life,
but never are they possessed.

The Great Way is not partial to anyone or anything for any reason.

As the Great Way is impartial, no one can be possessed. That is, everyone, at one level or another, is free to choose, whether this means being free to choose to view freedom as an illusion or being free to choose within extremely limited and limiting circumstances.

It accomplishes its purpose,
but makes no claim for itself.
It covers all creatures like the sky,
but dominates them it does not.

The Great Way, being boundless in its greatness, need not make any claim for itself. As it always already imbues everyone and everything with its presence, promise, and power, it need not dominate anyone or anything for any reason.

All things shall return to it
as if returning to their homes,
but never does it lord over them;
thus, may it be called great.

The Great Way provides the perfect home for its creations as it always already is secure in having all there is to have, in knowing all there is to know, and in being all there is to be.

Sages imitate this conduct:
by not assuming greatness,
by not declaring greatness,
they relax into greatness.

If “greatness” is presumed and presumptuous in its efforts to possess, dominate, and control, then greatness made manifest through the Way is natural and spontaneous in its effortlessness.

Like the sage, we can choose to relax into greatness, allow greatness, welcome greatness, channel greatness.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Worldly ambition is central to the process of going from good to “great”.

Essentially, worldly ambition would have us contain and express strong desires to realize certain outcomes. By definition, it requires being wise, having smarts, and working hard; it might even require drive and determination.

But there’s a danger in striving for “greatness”, as verse 34 makes clear.

This is a lesson that many of us learn in the mornings of our lives. Where a clean, clear striving aligns with the Great Way, a muddy, muddled striving aligns with itself and the Great Way in a confused way until insecurity breaks it back.

If a muddy, muddled striving is thoughtlessly, compulsively ambitious, then a clean, clear striving is thoughtfully, compellingly ambitious.

Ideally, striving from good to great is a clean, clear process of reconciling spiritual ambition with moral ambition with respect to the Great Way.

Where the heart of a soul confirms its value, its worth, and its dignity through quality with a uniquely moral ambition, the soul of a spirit affirms its desirability, its competence, and its integrity through vitality with a distinctly spiritual ambition.

The implication here is that a sense of desirability, competence, and integrity requires and flows from a sense of value, worth, and dignity.

To confirm my value, my worth, and my dignity passively yet alertly through encounter is to trust the Way naturally; to affirm my desirability, my competence, and my integrity spontaneously yet assuredly through experience is to trust and respect the Way effortlessly.

To confirm my value, my worth, and my dignity passively could be as simple as following alertly my inner guidance to take some time out to rest and relax with friends over a cup of tea.

To affirm my desirability, my competence, and my integrity spontaneously could be as simple as following assuredly an impulse to go for a brisk walk or jog on a warm, breezy, sunny morning.

Again, to be good is to trust the Way; to be great is to trust and respect the boundless Way alertly and assuredly, with uncommon grace and ease.

As for how, here’s a vital clue: love yourself first and foremost with trust and respect for the Great Way before loving another as you would yourself.

Next up: Worldly Pleasures? (Living with Worldly Pleasures)

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

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