Chapter 25 – Only Human
There is something formlessly created
Born before Heaven and Earth
So silent! So ethereal!
Independent and changeless
Circulating and ceaseless
It can be regarded as the mother of the world
I do not know its name
Identifying it, I call it “Tao”
Forced to describe it, I call it great
Great means passing
Passing means receding
Receding means returning
Therefore the Tao is great
Heaven is great
Earth is great
The sovereign is also great
There are four greats in the universe
And the sovereign occupies one of them
Humans follow the laws of Earth
Earth follows the laws of Heaven
Heaven follows the laws of Tao
Tao follows the laws of nature
Translation by Derek Lin (2006) (see www.taoism.net)
It is a little bit comforting to think that even Lao Tzu, the Old Master, was only human and not omniscient. Just like the rest of us, his heart and soul created questions that his mind could not answer. The big question here is, What was there before the Beginning?
What brought the physical world from the formless? Before the so-called Big Bang, was there an energy or consciousness?
Lao Tzu was able to conclude that yes, there was something. He called it “Tao” (the Way) for lack of a better word. Beyond that he called it “great,” but used that term in a special sense – the sense of passing, receding (moving away) and returning. In other words, the Creator or creative force is cyclical, just as the nature we observe around us is cyclical. Then, using that meaning, he tells us that Heaven and Earth and the sovereign also follow cycles, as they are aspects of the nameless Way. He seems to use the words “sovereign” and “humans” interchangeably here (at least in this translation); and certainly the sovereign is now recognized as only human, even if that was not always so in ancient China..
Like our friend Lao Tzu, other great spiritual leaders were, in fact, only human. Look at the Buddha. He lived a pampered life in his father’s kingdom and he lived an ascetic life in the countryside. Through it all, he was a mortal being living human experiences. Eventually he became an “awakened” human, though the transformation did not make him any more or less a human. He told us that we could all wake up. That is only human.
Jesus too was a human being. It took him 40 days of fasting in the desert, facing the temptations of Satan, to recognize his divinity. Although he may have had a recognition that he and the Father were one, he still clung to his human nature and seemed to believe it was something less than divine. Even the night before his crucifixion, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he told the force or being that he had called Abba (which means something like “daddy”), “Not my will but Thine be done.” In other words he still accepted the duality and the idea of a separation between the human and the divine – placing himself on the human side of that divide.
Is there really a separation? There are many who tell us that we are all a part of the One, of the divine, of God. If that is so, then we can say that God, too, is only human – at least the part of God that is you and me and the rest of our race.