Chapter 23 – When you Open Yourself

Nature uses few words:
when the gale blows, it will not last long;
when it rains hard, it lasts but a little while;
What causes these to happen? Heaven and Earth. 

Why do we humans go on endlessly about little
when nature does much in a little time?
If you open yourself to the Tao,
you and Tao become one.
If you open yourself to Virtue,
then you can become virtuous.
If you open yourself to loss,
then you will become lost.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
the Tao will eagerly welcome you.
If you open yourself to virtue,
virtue will become a part of you.
If you open yourself to loss,
the lost are glad to see you.

“When you do not trust people,
people will become untrustworthy.”

 Translation by J. H. McDonald (1996)

If ever a chapter called for brevity in interpretation, this is it (and here is my smile emoticon).

Monroe smile

 First, to provide a thorough commentary, it should be mentioned that the last two lines essentially repeat some of the language of Chapter 17.  This is important when the Tao Te Ching is considered advice for rulers or even for the personal interactions of us common people.  If you expect that others (or your subjects) cannot be trusted, then they will be untrustworthy and you expectations will be met.  If you do not have faith in those others, they will have no faith in you.

This chapter also tells of the temporal nature of the physical world.  Wind or rain come as they are supposed to in the natural course and then become calm or dry up as the cycles of nature continue.  These are physical phenomena, so they will not last forever.  If Heaven and Earth cannot produce the constant and the eternal, then how much less can human beings accomplish?

Chilean poet, and Nobel laureate, Pablo Neruda wrote a beautiful poem telling of a storm coming with its wind and rain and thunder and lightning, raging until “we were about to think that the world was ending,

all earth, all
at rest …”

 until the rain, too, was left behind.

The poem is too long to include here, but it can be read at  If anyone has time, it is a satisfying experience to read this “Ode to the Storm” aloud and with feeling.

Returning to Chapter 28, Lao Tzu tells us that we are capable of opening ourselves to whatever we desire, including the eternal Tao – and that to which we open is open to and accepting of us.  Thus the flip side of the thought that people become untrustworthy when they are not trusted is that all can become virtuous and trustworthy and at one with the Tao when we are open to – and we project – virtue and trust and our unity with the Great Way.  Or, we can become lost, for better or worse.

Reflecting on the concept that nothing physical is going to last forever has reminded me of a quote that is usually attributed to Marilyn Monroe (though I can’t determine whether it is something she actually said):

Monroe - Nothing Lasts

Whoever said it, I don’t think it is entirely correct.  It seems that whether you “wanted” it or not, everything that you experience, either by doing or observing, is that to which you have opened yourself.

With that thought, I will end this Tao Te Ching Tuesday essay – except for the fine print. The first picture in this post is in the public domain, but I found the second picture and quotation above on several web sites, none of which gave me any information about its creator or any intellectual property rights associated with it.  If by any chance the creator of the image should read this, I would ask your permission to continue to use this picture in this essay solely for non-profit educational purposes.  Thank you, sir or madam.

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