Chapter 34 – If You Can Read This, Thank a Great Teacher
The great Tao flows unobstructed in every direction.
All things rely on it to conceive and be born,
and it does not deny even the smallest of creation.
When it has accomplished great wonders,
it does not claim them for itself.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t seek to master the smallest creature.
Since it is without wants and desires,
it can be considered humble.
All of creation seeks it for refuge
yet it does not seek to master or control.
Because it does not seek greatness;
it is able to accomplish truly great things.
Translation by J. H. McDonald (1996)
Initially, I had wanted to write about the great Tao flowing unobstructed in every direction, so I could use this picture of Ralston Creek flooding a few months ago:
I had also thought that I should discuss how this chapter brings together several important ideas that have been raised in earlier chapters. I found, however, that someone else, a gentleman named Joel Stottlemire, had already done that. You can click here to read his thoughts, so I won’t repeat them.
This would also be a good place to mention how the Tao is to all things much as the Sun is to the Earth. It provides the very essence of our existence, yet asks for nothing, not even thanks, from any of us.
Instead, I feel that I should share a poem by Robert Bly. It is called “Gratitude to Old Teachers,” and it goes like this:
When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?
Water that once could take no human weight –
We were students then – holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us, the teachers, and around us the stillness.
Robert Bly is perhaps best known these days as one of the leaders of the “men’s movement,” emphasizing the need for intergenerational role models and ritual. In earlier decades he was instrumental in bringing to the American consciousness the works of such writers as Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca and Gunnar Ekeloef. He was one of the founders of American Writers Against the Vietnam War and has published admirable translations of poets such as Rumi, Hafez and Rainer Maria Rilke. His own writing has emphasized man’s relationship with nature; and although I feel this is a very important concept, there are only some of his poems that I really enjoy reading. This is one of them.
It fits well into a consideration of this chapter. The ice which supports the narrator as he travels is of the natural world, created without human involvement. However, that ice expressly represents his teachers – some of whom were human, I suppose, and others which were not. Around him throughout his journey is the stillness . . . the Tao.
It is always hard to say exactly where I am traveling (or trying to), but I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Tao and my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. O’Dell, and Mrs. Gray and Mr. Reveille and Mr. White and Mrs. Crawford and Mr. Ashton and Mr. Child and Fr. Schmidt and Fr. Verdieck and Prof. Visvader and Prof. Greenway and Prof. Kirgis.
I thank my parents, of course, and my brothers and Cathy and Michael and Suzanne, as well as Rudy and Tracy and Chip and Bob and Bert and Dave and Jim and Brett and Wheeler. Thank you, Bobbie and Annette and Kendra and Darlene and Barb and Mike and Dave and Nancy. I also need to mention Ginny and Terry and Greg and Kenny and Gay and Gary. Thanks, Rick and Al and Ruben.
I should also thank the drive over Wolf Creek Pass in a blizzard, the rain in Oregon, the beaches of Hawaii, the ruins of Delphi, the constellations that move in their precise order through the skies, Fall River, Mt. Evans, camping in the rain. Thanks, too, to Darcy and Tasha and Suzy and Buffy and Blue and Emmy and Tasha and Inua and Nancy and Mimi and Lady and Smoky and all the other animal teachers I have been privileged to know.
Thank you, God. Thanks to master and guides and angels. Thank you, Mark Twain and St. Augustine and Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and Doc Watson and Pete Seeger and e. e. cummings and Jesus and Buddha and Lao Tzu, as well as Hemingway and Shakespeare and Hesse and the anti-war movement and Jane and Bataan and Eva and John and Kathy.
I need to thank Amy, who initiated the Tao Te Ching Tuesday project. I could go on – and on – and on. I will, but will continue privately, off-line. There are so many great teachers, and most of them have never asked for the thanks that is richly deserved.
If it feels right, you might want to thank some of them, too. You can do it right now.