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  • In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu compares the Tao to water.

  • Water can give life, conform to any container, flow around any obstacle, erode mountains,

  • destroy cities, cleanse, heal, travel to the lowest and highest spots, move effortlessly

  • and efficiently, and transform into ice, water, or vapour depending on the circumstances.

  • And in one translation of the Tao Te Ching, in Chapter 8, Lao Tzu says, “the best of

  • men is like water.”

  • In Taoism, thisbest manis referred to as a Sage, and by taking on the qualities

  • of water, the Sage comes close to the Tao.

  • I said that water could be described in many ways, but I think it has one, chief characteristic:

  • it's formless.

  • And because it's formless, water is adaptable.

  • It can become whatever it needs to suit the situation, in cold turning to ice, in heat

  • to vapour.

  • So the water-like sage must be formless too, but what does it mean to be formless?

  • A formless mind is capable of endless, expansive growth.

  • A child is a great example of formlessness.

  • Its mind is still fresh, unjaded, and unconditioned by the world.

  • Nothing but potential lies in front of it, and it does nothing but learn all day.

  • But as many children grow older, their minds tend to calcify, they become more rigid, and

  • they stop learning.

  • But the water-like sage retains a mind that is formless, unbounded, and constantly learning,

  • lacking rigidity and capable of responding to any situation.

  • So what causes rigidity in the mind?

  • Rigidity occurs when the mind creates a barrier that prevents it from receiving new information.

  • Imagine a water-filled glass placed upside down on a table.

  • Next to the glass is a bottle of poison.

  • The water represents the mind, the glass represents the delusion, and the poison represents conflict.

  • The mind wants so badly to protect itself from conflict that it constructs a delusion

  • around itself by telling itself lies.

  • The delusion is a self-isolating barrier.

  • Although the poison can't enter the glass, no more water can either.

  • In other words, no more knowledge can enter the mind.

  • For example, a man, because he's awkward, has a few bad interactions with others.

  • But if the man acknowledges his awkwardness, he knows he would be conflicted, so he protects

  • himself from the conflict by constructing a delusion.

  • He tells himself that society is full of losers not worth talking to.

  • He protects himself from conflict, but he also cuts himself off from all knowledge that

  • would have helped him overcome his awkwardness.

  • And as he seeks to avoid conflict, he tells himself more lies, his delusions cut him off

  • from more and more knowledge, and as a result, his mind becomes completely fixed and rigid.

  • So why does he continue to lie to himself?

  • A lie is something that gives the illusion of resolving a conflict.

  • After telling the lie, the liar believes he's resolved the conflict in a quick and easy

  • manner.

  • But obviously, instead of resolving it, he pushed the conflict off into the future, where

  • it will grow in strength.

  • For example, a mother asks her daughter if she got into college.

  • The mother invested a lot of time and effort into the child's education, ensuring that

  • she would get in.

  • But the daughter never wanted to go to college, so she never applied.

  • The daughter knows the truth will result in conflict between her and the mother, so to

  • avoid the conflict, the child lies and says yes.

  • The daughter feels like she's resolved the conflict, but she's actually just pushed

  • it off into the future.

  • Eventually she will have to admit to her mom that she did not get in.

  • But let's say she's really committed to the lie, moves out, and calls her mom weekly,

  • putting up an act that she's at college.

  • She indirectly taught herself that lying is an effective and reasonable way to resolve

  • conflict, so now she'll begin lying to others when she senses conflict.

  • So not only will her lies continue to multiply and get out of hand, but she'll never learn

  • how to actually resolve conflict.

  • But how does the sage handle conflict?

  • The sage's mind uses its formlessness to grow to the size of an ocean.

  • Now if you drop poisonwhich represents conflictinto the ocean, what happens?

  • It's diluted.

  • Only an oceanic mind truly resolves a conflict, because it can take all conflicts into itself

  • and dilute them.

  • It cannot be touched by conflict.

  • Even if a strong poison was dropped into the sage's mind, as their mind grows and expands,

  • all poisons, pollutions, and conflicts are eventually diluted.

  • An oceanic mind is virtuous, not because it chooses to be, but because no matter what

  • it comes into contact with, it retains its purity, its life-giving quality.

  • The liar's mind, on the other hand, constructs delusions to protect itself from conflict,

  • and by doing so, becomes rigid.

  • Delusion cuts the mind off from knowledge and deprives it of its own expansion, so it

  • remains the size of a glass.

  • And so when the liar's mind comes into contact with the poison, it's easily contaminated,

  • losing its life-giving quality.

  • As always, this is just my opinion and understanding of the Tao Te Ching, not advice.

  • Feel free to use this information however you like, and if you have a different take

  • on the theme of water in Taoism, I'd love to

  • hear your

  • perspective in the comments.

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu compares the Tao to water.

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Lao Tzu - Be Like Water

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    Summer posted on 2021/10/23
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