One gives birth to two, two gives birth to three,
Three gives birth to the ten thousand.
One hundred and eight counts make one cycle,
Constant turning creates all things.
Today is the one hundred and eighth day. Why are numbers so important to those who follow Tao? Even today, when numbers are more commonly yoked to the service of finance and engineering, there are those who revere numbers with the cheap version of mysticism — superstition. Numbers form a closed world with mysteries to explore and exploit if our understanding is deep enough.
Followers of Tao emphasize certain numbers : One is the unity of Tao. Two is duality. Three is the unevenness that will generate movement. Four is the seasons. Five elements generate the world. Six parts of the body are the arms, legs, head, and trunk. Seven is the day of the waxing moon by the lunar calendar. Eight is the number of divination. Nine is the number of life. Ten is heaven’s cycles.
There are twenty-four periods in a year, each with its own characteristics. Thirty-six is six squared. One hundred and eight is three cycles of thirty-six and represents a greater cycle, although there are even more esoteric connotations attached to it.
Numbers are only symbols, a way for human beings to project order upon the universe. They are a language more precise than words. But does Tao talk? Numbers are important to master, but take care to look beyond language and numbers to the true reality that they foreshadow.
Activity is essential, but exhausting,
And its importance is only on the surface.
Withdraw into Tao at the end of the day.
Returning is renewal.
Each day is filled with activity. We rush around from meeting to meeting; we make all sorts of arrangements for the future. Such doings are important, but they are not all that there is in life. Even as we engage in them, we must remember that all human endeavors are temporary and provisional.
We cannot allow our accomplishments to divorce us from what is actually happening in the world. It is imperative that we withdraw to reflect upon the day’s events and collect ourselves for the continuation of our path. There is no need to go to a temple, a sacred spot, or a special room. We do not need elaborate ritual. All we need is a simple and natural turning within.
This is why followers of Tao always use the word ‘returning.’ They recognize the necessity of activity in life, but they also recognize the need to return to Tao. In Tao is the source of all things, and in the source one finds the renewal that one needs to go on with life. This back-and-forth movement between the source and the activity of life is the movement of all things.
See on Path
Two ducks nestled in lake-side grass.
Both marked by the same brilliant purple at the wing.
Water provides food, bath, and play,
What need do they have for scholarship?
Animals need no schooling. They are perfect, without any need for long instruction. They know what to do by instinct and example. Tao is always there for them. It sustains them and nurtures them. There is no need for them to be specially aware of Tao or to study it : They have no rational consciousness to separate them from Tao.
It is only humanity that constantly divorces itself from Tao. We therefore need methods of reintegration. If we could go beyond the interfering sense of the self, then we would know Tao in as constant and carefree a manner as ducks.
“Forget learning,” say those who follow Tao, but what they don’t append is that you must first have learning before you can forget it. If you would be unencumbered by the weight of knowledge, then you must return to a state of deep intuitiveness. This is not the same as mere selfish behavior — just doing what you feel like doing — because your actions are likely to be dictated more by lusts, obsessions, compulsions, and habits than anything natural. Only through the clarification of spiritual training will you reach the ground of deep intuition and the freedom that it affords.
Once you’ve seen the face of god,
You see that same face on everyone you meet.
The true god has no face. The true Tao has no name. But we cannot identify with that until we are of a very high level of insight. Until then, the gods with faces and the Tao with names are still more worthy of veneration and study than the illusions of the world.
With long and sincere training, it is possible to see the face of god. Holiness is not about scientific objectivity. It is about a deep and clear recognition of the true nature of life. Your attitude toward your god will be different than anyone else’s god — divinity is a reflection of your own understanding. If you experience differs from others, that does not invalidate your sense of godliness. You will have no doubts after you have seen.
Knowing god is the source of compassion in our lives. We realize that our separation from others is artificial. We are neither separate from other people nor from Tao. It is only our own egotism that leads us to define ourselves as individuals. In fact, a direct experience of god is a direct experience of the utter universality of life. If we allow it to change our way of thinking, we will understand our essential oneness with all things.
How does god look? Once you see god, you will see that same face on every person you meet.
A knife keeps its edge
Only with honing and proper cutting.
A warrior’s virtue is readiness.
A sage’s virtue is awareness.
This life is so competitive and challenging that one must remain in constant readiness for the problems and conflicts that come with each day. That is why followers of Tao meld the way of the warrior and the sage. They want the courage and preparedness of the fighter, the luminous perception of the wise. Each day, they dedicate themselves to maintaining their characters and perpetuating their development. But how does one maintain one’s edge without blunting?
There is a fable about a king who was watching his butcher. He was amazed that the man could dismember a whole ox without much effort and without dulling his knife. Seeking to learn, the king questioned his servant, who said that his secret was to insert his knife only in the spaces between muscles, thus parting the body along its natural lines. In this way, where an ordinary butcher had to grind his blade daily, he only had to sharpen his knife once a year.
From this we can learn that we must first hone ourselves to a sharp edge, but the proper use of our talents is equally essential. We must remember to take action along the basic lines and seams of the day. If we do this, we can never be opposed for long.
Hands grasp, but also give.
Mouth tastes, but also speaks.
Nose breathes, but also smells.
Eyes see, but also show.
Ears hear, but also balance.
The hands teach us not to be selfish.
The mouth teaches us to give thanks in word and song.
The nose teaches us to learn from our environment.
The eyes teach us to show compassion and sincerity.
All parts of ourselves both give and receive. They function on a principle of reciprocity inherent in their very character. If our senses are so noble, shouldn’t we be as well?
The eyes of a dedicated person show an inner fortitude and charisma that the eyes of the ordinary do not. Scientifically, we know that an eye is an eye, a mere organ, yet experientially we know that the eyes are virtual windows to the soul. For us to achieve similar depth of character, we must live according to the inherent nobility of our natures. Each one of our senses is not simply an information-gathering faculty but is a channel of expression as well.