Tao Te Ching 34 - Translated and Explained by Stefan Stenudd
The great Way is all-pervading.
It reaches to the left and to the right.
All things depend on it with their existence.
Still it demands no obedience.
It demands no honor for what it accomplishes.
It clothes and feeds all things without ruling them.
It is eternally without desire.
So, it can be called small.
All things return to it,
Although it does not make itself their ruler.
So, it can be called great.
Therefore, the sage does not strive to be great.
Thereby he can accomplish the great.
It's Great to Be Small
Lao Tzu again describes the humble nature of Tao, the Way. Its greatness lies exactly in its modesty. It has made the world appear and keeps it from disappearing. Every creature exists because of it. Yet, it's discreet with its presence, as if hiding, and it allows us to follow it or not, as if we had a choice to alter the very laws of existence.
The first cause of the universe is quiet about its feat.
This grand example is for everyone to follow. The sage, knowing this, makes sure not to strive for greatness. What would at all be great compared to Tao? One learns Tao by imitating it, so the sage avoids greatness – not in order to accomplish it, but to be in accordance with Tao, the greatest of all. This imitation leads to great accomplishments.
It can also be described as behaving in accordance with nature. When we learn the natural way, we find solutions to problems no matter how big they are, and our actions meet no resistance. We still have the freedom to counter nature, and often we succeed. The question is what it costs us. And we continue paying as long as we want to keep it up.
We can fly, although it's not within our own nature. It took quite an effort to succeed, and it continues to be a complicated endeavor. Lao Tzu would have preferred us to remain on the ground. We change the courses of rivers, drill tunnels through mountains, drain lakes, and tear down forests. It's not for free.
That's Our Nature
On the other hand, this refusal to accept nature's order is part of our nature. That's how we are, evidently. We developed this big brain and need to use it. So, we replace nature by culture. Cities expand and we hurry between them at increasing speed.
It may pillage our planet, but we can't stop ourselves. We are victims of our own capacity.
Lao Tzu was surely aware of this paradox. Already in his days, this urge of ours had forced nature to retreat a few steps. He could see civilization grow, and didn't expect his fellow men to reverse the process.
Instead of restraining our urge to excel, maybe the solution lies in developing how this urge is expressed. If the brain is what causes it, why not turn the ambitions to it?
Instead of struggling with our outer world in efforts to improve it, which is a quest that seems endless, we might find greater satisfaction by working on our inner worlds. Our minds. They are worlds just as complex as the one we see around us.
Exploring the mind, cultivating our thoughts, contemplating our awareness – that's where we are the most likely to find the answers to the questions with the same origin. That's also how to satisfy our longing, without ravaging the world around us.
It could also lead to the discovery that there is not so much we need from the outside world.