Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 27

Good walking leaves no tracks
Good speech is without fault
Good counting needs no markers

The first line reminds me of the 70s TV show Kung Fu. In the opening sequence, the young Shaolin novice (“Grasshopper”) trains for years to walk across delicate rice paper without tearing it. It also reminds me of the concept of no trace camping, which means leaving your campsite in pristine condition as though you had not been there.

The character for “good” appears in this chapter eleven times. (You might recall that it was also repeated in Chapter 8, nine times there.) Some people think that the focus here is on skill, skill attainable through diligent practice. Indeed, Grasshopper tears up a lot of rice paper before finally being able to walk across it leaving it intact.

I’m all for practice. I just spent two hours this morning in tai chi and sword classes, practicing the same moves over and over. “Aggaaaiiiin,” my teacher is fond of saying, drawing the word out with a smile.

At some point, though, the movement transcends practice. The rules and structure fall away, along with the mover, and the movement flows effortlessly, perfectly, beautifully. In the very (very!) few times this has ever happened to me, I feel less like I am moving, and more like the movement is happening through me. I’m just along for the ride.

This is called entering the light

Entering the light comprises the characters xi    ming  . Each of these two characters has multiple meanings, with the result that this line has many possible translations. Xi means enter, but also to penetrate, merge, follow. Ming is made up of sun    and moon   . It means light, wisdom, luminous, insight, enlightenment.

So pick a meaning that speaks to you. Or embrace all of them. I love the fluidity of these meanings, which, to me, represent the elusive nature of Tao itself.

The end of the chapter shifts to the relationship between teacher and student. If properly aligned, the  harmonious interdependence and interplay of this relationship reflect the essence and mystery of Tao. We can appreciate this in our lives as we go through our day.

Try this. As you go through your day today, consider everything and everyone you meet to be your teacher. Pause whenever anything or anyone catches your attention and ask yourself what you can learn. Try not to judge; just have an open mind. And, as we would with any teacher, be respectful and give thanks for the lesson. If you like, share something you learned in the comments.

Bonus: Did you ever wonder how Grasshopper got his name in the Kung Fu TV series? In this scene, the new student encounters Master Po, who is blind. Master Po quickly teaches his novice not to assume that just because he has no eyes, he cannot see. Then he instructs his new student to close his eyes and listen.

Master Po: Can you hear the grasshopper at your feet?
Novice: Old man, how is it that you can hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you cannot?

If you want to see the scene, click here.

8 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 27”

  1. I really enjoyed watching this scene from Kung Fu, Galen. I never did watch the series, but now I wish I had!
    I love the concept of considering everything and everyone we meet to be a teacher, and will have to try it out. Think this practice would help us live much better in the present moment.
    Blessings to you!

  2. It was a great TV series, full of teaching from the Tao Te Ching. Quite progressive for that decade! On the other hand, the rumor is that Bruce Lee was supposed to have the starring role, but they thought America was not ready for an Asian lead. So there you go.

    After I posted this, I was thinking about the practice of seeing everyone and everything as your teacher. We could expand that to include seeing ourselves as always teaching. Makes you think about how you are presenting yourself in the world. Am I teaching peace or violence? Hatred or love?

    We are all teachers and all students all the time. You are right. If we all kept this in mind, we would live much better in the present moment. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Galen, This reminds me of how conscious and in the moment we must be if we want to walk, speak, etc., without a trace or without harm. Yes, it takes practice and I also have a feeling for those special moments you speak of when it becomes effortless. May they multiply for all of us!

  4. I liked your challenge to look at some things or someone and see what they teach me. I feel that I do look at people and learn many things from them already but I will try harder to stay focused on something or someone that gets my attention. I am in some ways a people observer and enjoy learning from others.
    I do remember the Kung Fu TV series. I liked the interchange between the Master Po and the Novice.
    I have a blind granddaughter and she is an Autistic Savant. She recognizes who you are by feeling your fingers. She has amazing skills with dates and numbers. She can also listen to music and then play it on the piano. We have learned many lessons from her. She works well with all her senses except her sight. It's all rather incredible.
    Blessings and hugs!

  5. Thanks for commenting, LeAnn. One way to advance your practice is to focus on something or someone that you have a negative reaction to, whether it's mild irritation or anxiety or anger. Those are our "graduate school" teachers–ha!

    I loved hearing about your granddaughter. You might know that I have two adult sons with autism. Neither has any particular savant abilities, but they both are very artistic and creative in their own ways. Your granddaughter sounds fascinating, and lovely.

Comments are closed.