[The solstice has turned and we are once again, as the poet would say, moving toward the light. A new year and a new decade, with all the hope and apprehension -- the yin and the yang -- inherent therein. For thousands of years people have seen the year come and go, the light dwindle and return, and faced the new year with the same mixture of hope and apprehension that we do. So this first morning of 2010 it seems fitting to turn to the ancient wisdom of the Tao Te Ching, in the 39th chapter of Stephen Mitchell's masterful (if somewhat free-form) translation.]
In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
[For good measure, here is another, perhaps more literal, translation of the same chapter by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English:]
These things from ancient times arise from one:
The sky is whole and clear.
The earth is whole and firm.
The spirit is whole and strong.
The valley is whole and full.
The ten thousand things are whole and alive.
Kings and lords are whole and the country is upright.
All these are in virtue of wholeness.
The clarity of the sky prevents it falling.
The firmness of the earth prevents it splitting.
The strength of the spirit prevents it being used up.
The fullness of the valley prevents it running dry.
The growth of the ten thousand things prevents them dying out.
The leadership of kings and lords prevents the downfall
of the country.
Therefore the humble is the root of the noble.
The low is the foundation of the high.
Princes and lords consider themselves
“orphaned,” “widowed,” and “worthless.”
Do they not depend on being humble?
Too much success is not an advantage.
Do not tinkle like jade
Or clatter like stone chimes.