On Dressing Plainly

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 29, 2013

For as long as I can remember, I have never liked wearing a suit and tie.

I’ve always sensed that donning formal wear is unnatural – too stiff, too uncomfortable, too severe for my liking. I’d much rather wear clothes made of cotton, where the cloth is loose, soft, flowing.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 70

Admittedly, this verse is not about dressing plainly, although doing so does figure prominently, by way of contrast, in getting its message across.

My teachings
are very easy to understand
and very easy to practice;
yet so few in this world
understand, and so few
are able to practice.

My words
have an ancestor;
my deeds have a lord.
The people have
no knowledge of this,
and therefore
have no knowledge of me.

This is why
sages dress plainly,
even though
their interiors are filled
with precious gems.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

Living a Tao-realized life offers access to a different kind of treasure.

My Impressions of the Verse

This verse reads more like a lament than a passage of words pregnant with wisdom, and yet, if you make the time to contemplate it, you’ll get the underlying message by way of implication.

My teachings
are very easy to understand
and very easy to practice;
yet so few in this world
understand, and so few
are able to practice.

You might think that something so very easy to understand and so very easy to practice would be understood and practiced far and wide, but no. Why might this be the case?

My words
have an ancestor;
my deeds have a lord.
The people have
no knowledge of this,
and therefore
have no knowledge of me.

Here, Lao Tzu pledges allegiance and obedience to something far greater than himself: an infinite mind that knows no bounds and a spiritual presence that manifests everywhere, in everything.

Lao Tzu also makes it clear that because many people knew nothing of this allegiance and obedience, they could not very well understand or appreciate his presence or his contribution to the world.

As Thomas Cleary, an articulate commentator of the Tao Te Ching and the author of The Essential Tao, eloquently translated it: those who know me are rare; those who emulate me are noble.

This is why
sages dress plainly,
even though
their interiors are filled
with precious gems.

The reference to precious gems is a reference to the three treasures.

Even though Lao Tzu held fast to mercy, frugality, and humility and watched them closely, he still chose to dress plainly, holding the contrast for those who were anything but merciful, frugal, or humble.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

The implication for personal fulfillment is that natural desire in and of itself can be channelled and orchestrated appropriately by a single intention: living by the Tao and the Tao alone (the supreme virtue) by way of the three treasures (the basic virtues).

Living in harmony with the Tao is so very easy to understand, so very easy to practice, as and when you awaken to the realization that you are part and parcel of something bigger, greater, and more unified, even if you cannot always see it, hear it, or feel it.

In my daily experience of reading, studying, and writing about the Tao Te Ching week after week after week, I have found that this noble, spiritual awakening requires a constancy of witnessing, receiving, reflecting, responding, releasing, and discerning.

For those who have yet to wake up spiritually and for those who are in a process of spiritual awakening, perhaps the teachings and wisdom contained in the Tao Te Ching are not so easy to understand, not so easy to practice. Might it help to dress plainly for a while?

Next up: Exposing the Sickness (Living Without Sickness)

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

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