Tao Tuesdays – chapter 15

Every Tuesday, Amy Putkonen posts a chapter from her excellent interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, her commentary on the chapter, and invites her readers to post own, commentary on their various blogs. Being Taoist at heart (the life philosophy kind…not the drink mercury to be immortal kind) I can’t resist an exercise like that! So let’s give mind and spirit a little exercise and take a look at chapter 15. I’ve missed quite a few chapters, but will catch them up eventually. To see more of Amy’s excellence, please visit TaoTeChingDaily.com

Chapter 15

The true masters of ancient times
cultivated the art of the
deep understanding of the subtle essence.

So deep as to be unrecognizable,
we can only describe their demeanor.

as if crossing a frozen stream in winter.

as if faced on all sides by enemies.

as if an honored guest in someone’s home.

as ice when melted.

As solid and simple
as an uncarved block of wood.

like a valley.

like a muddy pool
when you cannot see the bottom.

Who has enough stillness
to let muddy water settle?

Who is able to stay at rest
while generating the movement
of everyday life?

On this path of Tao,
one avoids the fullness of things
in order to be truly empty.

Therefore, one is able
to continually be refreshed.


There is a lot going on in this chapter. Deep, meaty, stuff that is a close to complex as the Tao Te Ching gets. I’m not sure I can get these ideas into words, much less do it simply or clearly, but let’s have a go at it anyway.

It reminds me of a meditation workshop a few years ago. Long story short, The Tao is obvious. Contrast that to my husband, who was, at the time,  in class to convert to Roman Catholicism – he talked about “reading books” and “digging deeper” to “get to the deeper meaning”. At first glace, this  chapter seems to hint at that same “dig deeper” idea. Turn that on it’s head. The Tao is obvious, despite the way that it can not be spoken. In that same way, mindset and practices of a Taoist Master can’t really be articulated with out missing the mark a little bit. Just as a finger only points to the moon but is not the moon itself, talking about how to be a Taoist Master isn’t quite the path or the mastery either one. Only walking it and being it…wordless things…can approach authenticity of it.

But Taoist Masters command the obvious. Taoist Masters are thouroughly authentic. We know mastery by knowing them. We know the Tao by following in their footsteps. They aren’t the moon, but Taoist Masters certainly are the finger pointing the way. The beautiful part is that anyone can be a Taoist master because the way of the master is simple and well, obvious.

  • Pay attention to what you are doing (Be mindful, as the Buddhists say)
  • Pay attention to what is happening around you (That’s mindful too)
  • Be polite, and do for yourself…like a good house guest. In other words don’t be a jerk.
  • Adapt. Be able to change and flow, like melting ice
  • Be simple. Plain, obvious, uncomplicated is closer to truth than frilly and obtuse
  • Be Honest, authentic and open
  • Take care who, what, when and how you teach. A little obscurity can be protective. Don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. No need to be preachy.
  • Be patient. Sit still and watch, let things settle a bit. When things settle and clear, then you can act wisely, efficiently.
  • Persist. “Just keep swimming” – Dori the fish, from “Finding Nemo”… “Keep Moving Forward” Wilber Robinson from “Meet the Robinsons”

The Zen proverb says that only an empty cup can be filled. These traits are how the Way of Wisdom and Virtue (Tao Te Ching) helps us to keep our cup empty and so live wisely and live well.

I forget where I read it, but somewhere online I read that the three treasures of Taoism are compassion, simplicity, and honesty. Combine that with this chapter and you have the treasured traits of one who walks the Way of the Tao: Honest, compassionate, authentic, mindful, patient, simple, persistent.