My first exposure to the Tao Te Ching was like emerging from a forest. My first twenty years spiritually were a lot of straight lines, all somehow standing at their own angle, none particularly true, always seemingly in the act of shifting. A lad with an eye open for sterling examples of humanity on which to model his own behavior saw the man who sings loudly in church but hits his kids; the kids who gleam like angels in public then slink away to wrap themselves tightly around burgeoning hatreds, addictions, or vanities; preachers not practicing. I was still able to agree in broad terms with the morals and principles they espoused in public and in church but unable to reconcile those morals and principles with their known private behaviors. I didn’t feel motivated to involve myself in blame of them, either Jesus Christ or these individuals, but I could not help connect how the same teachings from the same minister in the same church could yield such an inconstant, cognitively-dissonant result, or how other denominations in titular service of the same divinity seemed to fare no better. I was unaware at the time of Gandhi’s observation “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” but would have found the words reassuring, naked as they left me.
As a minor I wasn’t free to wander off and worship as I saw fit, so I went with my family where they went (as a lad will) and sometimes that was church. I was no longer expecting Jesus there. I had grown accustomed to not looking but was happy to still find him along the way in the form of moments of relevance and real-life value of his words and teachings (not an apparition or disembodied voice thankfully). When at 20 I was required to read the Tao Te Ching in an East Asian Philosophy class my Way appeared beneath my feet, a little track through the edge of the bamboo, winding away over the sunny plain. I still find Jesus out here, but also Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Confucius, and the numberless monks, poets, and sages, all singing.
Empty yourself of everything.
Let the mind rest at peace.
The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return.
They grow and flourish and then return to the source.
Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature.
The way of nature is unchanging.
Knowing constancy is insight.
Not knowing constancy leads to disaster.
Knowing constancy, the mind is open.
With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Tao is eternal.
And though the body dies, the Tao will never pass away.