The Tao Te Ching has inspired me to realise some core truths about what matters and what does not in the spiritual sense more so than the rational philosophical. Yet perhaps that’s a bit of a fluff announcement in itself considering how the two were never mutually exclusive. There is a sense of great foundation in the 8th chapter, clearer perhaps to a layman than the other musings that have come before – some interesting things about the universe being inherently female is one but that’s another discussion in itself.
“In a home it is the site that matters; In quality of mind it is depth that matters; In an ally it is benevolence that matters; In speech it is good faith that matters; In government it is order that matters; In affairs it is ability that matters; In action it is timeliness that matters.” – Tao Te Ching, VIII
It’s rather to the point and as someone who has been criticised (or envied, depending on who you ask) for their pragmatism and bluntness, I rather appreciate its straightforwardness. It’s wholly beautiful, a code that requires few words and few interpretations to be understood.
In regards to the home, in my interpretation, the “site” refers to the foundations and environment. Homes are not houses and such, here we can say either this is in regards to a physical place or the family. Foundations of equality, balance, harmony and truth are the sticking posts of this structure, its confines filled with love stronger than concrete.
The depth of mind for me is comparable to the epithet from the Jedi friends: there is no ignorance, there is knowledge. A shallow mind is a stagnant one like a puddle. Quality is found in the growth and endless vastness; the ability to learn and expand beyond its own perceived horizons with infinite potential – a potential every human has access to if we just dare to see ourselves.
When it comes to allies, I’ve spoken about the stoic discussions of friendship before, specifically from Seneca. The same rings true here, in benevolence we find an ally and friend. That is the only motivation of a companionship: benevolence outwards and inwards, any relationship made to serve or fulfil a need other than the sake of friendship itself is fickle and flawed.
Now we come to the part that is less relevant perhaps to those not in office: government. I suppose it’s true though to an extent, anyone who watched the scenes coming out of Washington DC on January 6th would agree that chaos breeds chaos. An ordered mind, an ordered government is the only way to properly govern. Sure, the separation of church and state is important to ensuring the priorities of the people but so should there be a separation of self and state, because its not a career for the individual but a vocation of the communal – a shared responsibility that’s one for the greater good of everyone not just the few or fickle.
When we speak about affairs we speak about what we chose to do in our lives. For example, in my own affairs, it would be quite dim to decide to become a maths tutor when I’m not really good at maths nor do I like doing it. Ability and affairs are what we speak about when we talk about our natures in stoicism and what is true to our individual nature and what are we doing to enable we can live according to our greatest good in alignment with the greatest good of the collective humanity.
Finally, this line reminds me of the quote of Marcus Aurelius about never acting in a way that would be cause for regret. Action, while we can be actively passive, is required and necessary. If you a believer in divine timing and Providence, no action happens outside of when it is meant to, even your own. Living every day as it is your last, without some mad panic that the terrible “live, love, laugh” wall signs would have you believe is a good start. Even perhaps today you say, not today and you stay in bed, you are choosing to take that action and that’s fair enough. But if you decide to rush out of bed to get on a plane to take yourself off into the unknown chasing love and life, no time is the wrong time.