Living Conclusively

by Christopher Lovejoy on March 16, 2014

To live essentially and imaginatively, to live affirmatively and expressively, to live boundlessly and limitlessly, in accordance with your essence and your potential, in harmony with the living Tao, is to live fully and conclusively. To live fully and conclusively is to be deeply satisfied and wholly fulfilled.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 81

With all due respect to Wayne Dyer, author of Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, the essence of this concluding verse is not about living without accumulating; it’s about living conclusively.

His analysis of this verse, while deeply informed, fully inspired, and unusually provocative, is oddly incomplete: its emphasis on nothingness, on no-thing-ness, leaves something to be desired.

True words
are not beautiful;
beautiful words
are not true.
Good people
do not argue;
those who argue
are not good.
Those who have virtue
do not look for faults;
those who look for faults
have no virtue.

Sages do not
accumulate anything,
but give everything
to others; having more,
the more they give.

Heaven does good to all,
doing no evil to anyone.
Sages imitate it, acting
for the good of all, opposing
themselves to no one.

Edited slightly to enhance flow and to reflect more inclusive language

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

Ultimately (and truly), we find much if not most of our meaning in others, through others, for the sake of others, even as and when we covet the blessings of solitude, privacy, and freedom.

My Impressions of the Verse

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this verse impresses me as being absolutely fantastic (in the best sense of this word), having the quality of an elegantly essential and conclusive summation.

True words
are not beautiful;
beautiful words
are not true.
Good people
do not argue;
those who argue
are not good.
Those who have virtue
do not look for faults;
those who look for faults
have no virtue.

Speaking with gratitude for the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, I know enough to read, contemplate, and respond to these words with genuine humility and heartfelt compassion.

I also understand and appreciate with gracious gratitude that truthful words can sometimes be beautiful and that beautiful words can sometimes be truthful, while bearing no bias against beauty.

Romantic poet John Keats offered a partial yet significant truth when he wrote “beauty is truth, truth beauty” in the concluding lines of his belatedly celebrated poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn.

When reading and contemplating the wisdom of this final verse, let us also recall what Lao Tzu tells us in verse 49 on innocent wisdom, on how to treat others who appear bad or unkind.

Sages do not
accumulate anything,
but give everything
to others; having more,
the more they give.

Sages understand well the Law of Circulation, or more colloquially, the law of giving and receiving. For sages, things are not meant to be accumulated; they’re here to be appreciated, shared, and enjoyed.

Heaven does good to all,
doing no evil to anyone.
Sages imitate it, acting
for the good of all, opposing
themselves to no one.

Sages are wise enough to know enough that divine guidance is available, however we care to conceive it. They’re also wise enough to know enough that such guidance is most worthy of imitation.

Ultimately, we get what we give, and we receive what we attend; just be careful what you ask for.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

Before I address my reservation about the analysis of verse 81 given by Wayne Dyer in his book of commentary entitled Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life, I invite you to read it first.

In the tradition of religious mysticism – in particular, Advaita Vedanta – Wayne Dyer seems to place undue emphasis on the positive value of nothing and nothingness, or, as he puts it, no-thing-ness.

Advaita Vedanta would have us understand that consciousness is all there is, would have us give up the notion of identifying ourselves as actors and doers, would have us identify (for example) with seeing rather than the seen, with hearing rather than the heard, with sensing rather than the sensed.

With no identity of self, with no hard and heavy identification with the objects of body, mind, heart, soul, or spirit, there can be no attachments, no aversions, no conflict of opposites in the realm of duality; we are mere streams of consciousness, free of worry and regret, carefree to be as we are, wherever we are.

The hyphenation in no-thing-ness is an attempt to sidestep the negative connotation usually associated with “nothing” in the Western mind. Consider the following contrasting responses:

Q: “What did you do?”

R1: “Nothing” (Western translation: “I was distracted and I did whatever I felt like doing, even though it had no real meaning for me”)

Q: “What did you do?”

R2: “Nothing” (Eastern translation: “I was so blissfully aware of everything around me that it was all I could do to keep from getting lost in it all”)

As a point of contrast, no-thing has immense value in bringing attention to what is artificial and contrived, in exposing what inhibits us and interferes with our lives, as no-thing can be usefully referenced as invisible patterns of energy and information that underlie meaningful transformation.

Wayne Dyer quotes potent passages of wisdom from the writings of Saint John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, and D.H. Lawrence in his commentary of the final verse. These passages move me as being particularly relevant, but the one that stirs my soul most deeply is this passage by Lawrence:

Are you willing
to be sponged out,
erased, cancelled,
made nothing?
Are you willing
to be made nothing,
dipping into oblivion?
If not, you will never
really change.

In this rather negative and negating yet instructive light, we are pushed to consider the consequences of our egoic conditioning, but I ask you this: are we not also willing to be made full, to be fulfilled at rest?

A mystical tradition like Advaita is just one more point of view, as susceptible to being attached to you as a fixed point of view as any other, even that of Taoism offered by Lao Tzu and his followers.

My humble recommendation is that we construe these points of view as possibilities for play. Play with the perspective, get a feel for it, try it on for size, before moving on to the next in a spirit of discovery.

This way, we get to be a hero, and when we feel ready, move from hero to zero, and then back again, with a fuller, fresher perspective on life and living, open to being hero or zero as situations arise.

This way, we get to strike a balance, to have a sense of being no-one in the midst of constant change (one moment) and then have a sense of being some-one in the midst of a resting permanence (in another).

In my concluding post in this series, I will share, with a focus on living fully and conclusively, what I’ve learned from my months-long reading and study of that ancient text known as the Tao Te Ching.

Next up: Concluding Thoughts

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

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