Category Archives: Taoism

Tao Te Ching #39

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creature flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

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 stone.

Translation by Stephen Mitchel.

Are we interfering with the Tao?

Humility may save your life

I train in an empty hand martial art. I train with guns. Some would say I have a greater ability than the average citizen to hurt other people and perhaps end their life. And there’s no question, when you start to learn these things you get a big confidence boost in your ability to take care of yourself. Unfortunately, ego can get in the way… and you can get over-confident, and that could get you killed.

Over-confidence can lead to a false sense of what your skills and abilities actually are. Over-confidence might lead you to make choices, especially in the heat of the moment, that turn out to be less than correct and could lead you into greater trouble. And worse? Being over-confident might lead you to be arrogant, and that could lead to you getting your ass handed to you.

What is the point of self-defense? To come out alive with as little injury as possible. A realistic humility aids in this endeavor. If I know it’s a bad part of town, while perhaps I could take care of myself just fine, why should I even put myself in that situation in the first place? If there’s no need to go there, don’t. There we go, I’ve just defended myself, came out alive, no injury to myself. I didn’t let my ego get in the way with a “I’m going to go there, and if any punk tries to mess with me I’m going to fuck him up good!” sort of mentality — that’s more than likely just going to get me in trouble.

Realize as well that just because you have those particular skills doesn’t mean you have to use them. It’s the old “you have a hammer so everything looks like a nail” problem. I recall my first “force-on-force” scenario. I had a (fake) gun, I felt like I had to use it (it’s a gun class after all, right?). But in fact, that was the wrong answer; the best answer was to just call the police and avoid putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation. It was a humbling experience. Yes, my ego felt really bruised to have gotten the answer so wrong. I wanted to rationalize, I wanted to make excuses, I wanted to save face. But that’s the wrong way to go about it because I wouldn’t learn. Better to make the mistake in a forgiving environment and learn from it. The experience was humbling in and of itself, and by accepting my mistake in a humble manner, it’s a lesson that’s stuck with me and I’d like to hope I’m a little better off for it.

If someone opts to get in your face for something stupid, just apologize. Back off. Yield. Take on a submissive posture (tho still have the mental preparation and wherewithal to respond should the situation turn ugly). Even if you were wrong, still apologize. What’s more important? Being right? Or being alive and uninjured? This isn’t to say be wishy-washy, it’s to say you should be smart, you should be wise, and you should maximize the course of action that allows you to stay alive and unharmed. Don’t let your ego, your testosterone, your fantasy, your false sense of honor, get in the way and get you hurt.

Be humble. Yield. Knowing how to yield is strength (Tao Te Ching 52). Ponder Tao Te Ching 59:

The generals have a saying:
“Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.”

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

Bruce Lee on learning

Two separate but related quotes from Bruce Lee, on being.

It is the ego that stands rigidly against influences from the outside, and it is this “ego rigidity” that makes it impossible for us to accept everything that confronts us.


Seek not the cultivated innocence of a clever mind that wants to be innocent, but have rather that state of innocence where there is no denial or acceptance and the mind just sees what is.

Tao Te Ching #61

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

Translation by Stephen Mitchel.

Tao Te Ching #57

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

Translation by Stephen Mitchel.

It’s that middle section that really hits home today.

Tao Te Ching #75

When taxes are too high, people go hungry.
When government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit
Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.

Translation by Stephen Mitchell

Ancient wisdom, that still holds true today.

The Tao of Programming

While there are pretty HTML versions out there, I think there’s something about plain ASCII text that’s more appropriate.

Such is my world, in a nutshell

Update: There are also the Unix Koans of Master Foo.