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Rumination #1

Ruminations about Chapter 8 of Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching.
[translation by Stephen Mitchell]

By the Rt. Reverend David Locicero, DD

Posted 15 July 1999

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Chapter 8

The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.


Water is essential to life. The earth is 4/5ths water. We areeach of us 70% water. Water nourishes and sustains man, animals and plants alike. It is important. And yet, it is lowly, falling from the sky, flowing along the ground, collecting the the lowest places and eventually soaking into the very earth itself.

And so too is goodness. It is essential for man and the earth. Goodness nourishes our spirits and lightens our burdens. Goodness is important. But Lau-tzu is saying that goodness is as lowly as water. Goodness is not a lofty, rarely achievable ideal, but a mundane habit.

It is possible every day and in every act to practice goodness and act with good intent. Imagine a child splashing in puddles after a rain. It is an expresion of joy that life is fun and good. Water and goodness collect in the low places where it is needed most and eventually soak into the earth to provide nourishment. In this way water and goodness are like the Tao.

The simple rules to live by are deceptive. Each area of human life comes with expectations [even 2500 years ago!] which are influenced by society. We are reared to expect that we should strive for the high life, think complicated thoughts, always crush our enemies, maintain control, endure our jobs and escape to our families.

Lao-tzu confounds those expectations and turns them on their heads. Instead, he says, we should strive for the opposite of our expectations. The expectations become a form of torment. Because when do we know if we've made enough money? When have we learned enough? There is always more we need to control. This is a reminder that if we are to live the Way we must balance our expectations with acceptance of what we have right now. The future never comes. It is always today. To be happy we must enjoy what we have and not compare it to what might be.

Who are you? Who am I? We are who we are today. We are not the person of our past, nore are we the person we might become in the future. We can only be who we are today.

Be content in who you are today: student, parent, child, spouse, teacher, carpenter, webmaster. When we are content with today we act with confidence knowing that we are alright; we can be nobody else than who we are today. We are not trying to be somebody else, nor are we competing to get ahead. I am me. You are You.

The self-assurance and confidence that comes with this knowledge provides us with the ability to treat others with respect. For they too can only be who ther are today.

Secure in ourselves, treating others with respect, we will be respected and admired in return. Goodness will come when we act in awareness of this. Without aiming at heavenly ideals of goodness we will become good. We can only be good and act in ways which are good when we stop trying to win, when we stop judging ourselves and others. We act, in other words, without an adgenda. We can only be who we are today. They can only be who they are today. We are all together in the same low place with the water and goodness.

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The Virtual Church of Orthodox Spirituality and the Rt. Reverend David Locicero can be contacted via email at

copywrite, 1999, Rt. Reverend David Locicero

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