Here is verse 3 of the Tao Te Ching:
If you overesteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
(Tao Te Ching, an illustrated journey, translated by Stephen Mitchell, published in 1999 by Frances Lincoln Limited of London)
I love the comments in the first few lines about great men and possessions. I think that we live in a society that has done both of the things warned against in the text: we look to famous and powerful people instead of empowering and improving ourselves; and we have elevated material possessions to have an undeserved place of reverence. I heard someone say that we should serve people and use things—and that if we start to use people and serve things, then we’re in trouble.
But the deeper spiritual lesson for me here is about the mind versus the “core,” which may be the body or the spirit. The author, Lao Tzu, tells us to empty our minds and fill our cores. And those who think they know things should be shaken up. This is a paradox for Unitarian Universalists, because we value our ability to reason. Indeed, my working definition for liberal religion is: religion which values reason and experience over scripture and tradition. If we value our reason in this liberal religion, how can we empty our minds?
My spiritual journey has called on me to appreciate the parts of me that are not my reasoning mind. We have the phrase “gut instinct” for a reason: there is wisdom in the body. We have feelings and intuitions. What Lao Tzu calls the “core” I think of as getting out of my head and into my body, my feelings, my spirit. This is not encouraged in our society, which places the highest value on intellect and thinking and logic. But I am learning to value these other parts of myself. The ancient wisdom from the sacred text of Taoism shows me that this is the path of enlightenment. Ironically, as a Unitarian Universalist I use my reason to decide that there is truth and meaning for me here.
Divine spirit, energy of the unfolding universe, you who were with the ancient ones just as you are with us now, hear my prayer.
May we all know the wisdom within our bodies, in harmony with the reason of our minds. May the spirit guide us. May we feel our feelings. May we trust both logic and emotion, finding the balance between the two that works for each of us.
Spirit of life and love, remind me not to think too much of “great men,” but to know myself, my family, my colleagues, my companions and to recognize what is good and worthy there. Remind me not to overvalue possessions, but to value love and experience and awareness as the truly precious commodities of my life.
May this prayer bless myself, my close circle, my community, my nation, and the whole world.