The ancient masters were profound and subtle.

Their wisdom was unfathomable.

There is no way to describe it.

One can only describe them vaguely by their appearance.

 Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.

Alert, like men aware of danger.

Courteous, like visiting guests.

Simple as uncarved wood.

Hollow like caves.

Yielding, like ice about to melt.

Amorphous, like muddy water.

 Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?

Who can remain still until the moment of action?

Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment.

Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change


I was completely lost the first couple times I read this verse, for some reason the meaning escaped me. I was reading it but I was not listening to it. I was trying so hard to force myself to understand it, and then it hit me. I was doing the exact thing this verse teaches us not to do. The fifteenth verse of the Tao Te Ching describes the state of enlightenment the sages of old were able to obtain. Their perfect alignment with nature and the Tao were unfathomable to those they came in contact with. In reading this book I can agree with this statement. The states of mind the sages have obtained and lived described by Lao-tzu are beyond my comprehension. It amazes me they were able to stay consistent with such a perfect way of life.

They had immeasurable impact yet did this subtly without action. The sages consistently lived in the moment aware of their surroundings. A winter stream is dangerous because the ice is very thin. The sage is watchful for cracks or changes and is consistently aware of the dangers around them. The sages consistently showed love and courtesy to all those they came in contact with. The sage stays in a constant state of pu the uncarved wood. They held onto their childlike way of thinking.

I am not sure the meaning of “hollow as a cave.” Could this possibly be living with an open mind? Yielding like ice about to melt incorporates living with the flow of nature. Nothing in nature can be rushed. We need to let go and just allow things to happen without force. Our purpose is to stay in harmony with nature; as shapeless as muddy waters. We need to learn to sit quietly while the mud settles; this shows patience and highlights the importance of remaining still. Muddy waters are allowing themselves to settle. This is the perfect order, the mud does not ask to settle just as much as the ice does not ask to melt; it just does.

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalms 46:10. 

This lesson in nature applies to humans as well. We are unfolding in a divine order we can not possible understand any more than the ice understands it is melting. Much like nature all we require will be provided in divine order. We need to let go of our desires and demands be aware of the present moment and trust in the Tao. We should all make stillness a part of our day. Sit back and imagine all your dreams and things you “need” to accomplish. Take these dreams and desires and just let them go; allowing them to come to you. When we give up the desire to control every facet of our lives and become an observer we are mastering the way of the Tao. If we stop talking and taking, instead become a listener and receiver; we are able to receive the wisdom of the Tao.

  How can a man’s life keep its course,

If he will not let it flow?

Those who flow as life flows know

They need no other force:

They feel no wear, they feel no tear,

They need no mending, no repair.

“The Way of Life According to Lau-Tzu” By: Witter Brynner

Give up struggling against the current and trust in the wisdom of the Tao.

  1. Give up struggling against the current and trust in the wisdom of the Tao.

    I agree with the first part of the statement, but not the second. Tao has no wisdom to share. Tao isn’t a thing; it’s the process of life itself. Struggling against the current provides the seed of wisdom for those who look. We learn — through experience — that Tao doesn’t struggle. And so, in being open to Tao, we gain wisdom. Not from Tao but through Tao.

    • Tim Lundmark says:

      Thank you for the clarification. I have such a hard time understanding what the “Tao” really is. I am from the religious background that says a higher power is a “person” I get the Tao is a life force, but there are times I have difficulty describing the Tao. My dad is a christian extremist. He asked me once in a debate “what is the Tao” and I found he had stumped me. I tried to explain it was a force, and he wouldnt buy it. Does the Tao have thought? I would really like your help in figuring this out so I have more to go off of and to get closer to the force of the Tao

      • Tao is the Grand Mystery. It is the essence of life itself. It is that mysterious thing that makes everything possible.

        Since it is formless and nameless, it has no identity, no personality, no knowledge and no thought. In actuality, Tao is not an it, a specific entity of any kind.

        It’s like electricity. You can’t hold electricity in your hand. You can’t point it out in the air. It’s not a tangible thing, yet my computer couldn’t run without it.

      • Tim Lundmark says:

        Ok that makes sense. One verse says the Tao is the mother of God. Did God come from the Tao? So the Tao has no thought. Was the Tao created during the Big Bang or did the Tao create the big bang? Digging beyond the surface level of trying to understand the Tao sometimes makes me more confused

      • Typically, when a translator makes use of the word “God” you can bet the individual is coming from a Christian perspective. I’ve read several translations of the TTC in which the word “God” is never used and others in which “god” is used in a generic sense.

        Tao or whatever a person wants to call it undergirds everything. Science seeks to describe, not define, the indefinable. The Big Bang is nothing more than one of the many manifestations of Tao.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s