The Way of Water

The Way of Water

Tao, often translated as “The Way,” is a fundamental teaching of Chinese philosophy, particularly within Taoism (pronounced Daoism).

The symbol of water is frequently used to represent the nature of Tao:

  • Effortless Flow: Like water, Tao is seen as a cosmic force that flows effortlessly, providing life and vitality. It moves around obstacles without trying to break or change them.
  • Simplicity: Water does not strive for recognition or complexity; it simply exists in its fundamental form, just like Tao.
  • Softness and Flexibility: Although soft and flexible, water can overcome the hardest substances over time. It adapts to its surroundings effortlessly. This aspect of water symbolizes the Taoist principle of yielding and passive strength.
  • Nourishment: Water nurtures all things without trying to control or possess them, reflecting the Taoist ideal of selfless action – Wu Wei.
  • Depth: Although the surface of water can seem calm and serene, its depths can hide powerful currents and profound mysteries, just like Tao.
  • Humility: Water always flows to the lowest places, symbolizing humility. Tao does not boast of its power, and yet it accomplishes everything.

The way of water serves as a powerful metaphor for Tao, encapsulating the key principles of flow, simplicity, softness, nourishment, depth, and humility.

The Tao of Power – Verse 8 – R.L. Wing Translation

Here’s R.L. Wing’s translation of Verse 8 of the Tao Te Ching from his book “The Tao of Power”:

The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to.
It flows to low places loathed by all men.
Therefore, it is like the Tao.
Live in accordance with the nature of things: In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
Stand by your word.
Govern with equity.
Be timely in choosing the right moment.
One who lives in accordance with nature does not go against the way of things.
One moves in harmony with the present moment,
Always knowing the truth of just what to do.

Wing, R.L. (1986). The Tao of Power: Lao Tzu’s Classic Guide to Leadership, Influence, and Excellence. New York: Doubleday.

This verse beautifully encapsulates Taoism’s core teachings – simplicity, gentleness, humility, and living in harmony with nature.

It encourages us to be like water, nourishing all things without striving, flowing to low places, and moving in harmony with the present moment.

The way of water is not just a ‘philosophical’ mental platitude.

Our bodies are made up of around 70% water.

So mentally, with our thoughts and actions, and physically, we need to align ourselves with the way of water. Qi Gong exercises will help with that.

Lets look at a couple of scenarios where the Tao – the way of water might be applied.

Water on the Streets

“Which nourishes all things without trying to” – In Western philosophy, we have the proverb – “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Here, Tao lets you know that; eventually, all things become self-correcting – naturally.

Does that mean we should not offer food to a hungry person on the streets today?

The reality is we are all born hungry. Food is one of the essentials for life.

The ‘natural’ thing to do is to feed someone who is hungry if given the opportunity.

One is helping to nourish life. That is living in accordance with nature.

One needs to have a state of mind of ‘no judgment’ when doing this.

No, “I’m a good person” mindset.

Here is a more difficult scenario

This is when the water is already muddy – and even completely polluted.

Is giving hypodermic needles to addicted people living on the streets a solution?

Is it truly compassionate? Is it real kindness? Is it in accordance with nature?

Users still need a way to get their drugs. How do they do that? We look the other way.

It is the ‘road to hell’ paved with good intentions. It continues to contribute to a person’s downward spiral.

Yes, those people need help, but this is a lazy; just move along, help.

Does this solve a person’s real issues? Will this address their perspective of helplessness?

Will this help them out of their dilemma?

How would the way of water address this?

This situation is a stagnant, polluted pool of water. The water is so polluted that there is no chance for life to exist as nature intended.

In this case, the damage starts from the top, from the people, either elected or appointed. They are corrupted—some by money, some by ideology.

Corruption is pollution; one needs to remove the source of the pollution before anything can change.

When things become too imbalanced, it can only lead to the destruction or dissolution of the entrenched system.

“The Management of Wordly Affairs is Like Cooking A Small Fish:

In Order to Lead the World To Peace, Do Not Disturb it With Force.

The More Stirring Takes Place, The Less The Fish In The Pan,

Can Maintain Their Shape.

The More Restrictions There Are On People,

The Poorer The World Will Become.

The More Powerful The Weapon One Holds,

The Greater The Hostility That Arises.

The More Scheming A Person Becomes,

The More Life Become Abnormal.

The More Laws And Regulations That Are Made, The More Criminals And Dishonesty Appear.”

From: The Uncharted Voyage Toward The Subtle Light – Hua Ching Ni

The Way Of Water And Governing

The way of water is often used metaphorically in leadership and governance teachings because of its unique characteristics.

  • Adaptability: Water flows and takes the form of whatever container it’s in. This signifies the importance of adaptability in governance. Leaders should be able to adjust their strategies based on the situation and environment.
  • Flow: Water always seeks the path of least resistance, yet it’s powerful enough to erode rocks over time. This teaches that gentle, consistent efforts can lead to significant results. In governance terms, it’s about being patient, persistent, and moving towards your goal steadily.
  • Nourishment: Water is essential for life. A good leader, like water, nourishes and supports growth. They should create an environment where people can thrive and develop.
  • Clarity: When calm, water is clear and reflects reality as it is. This should remind leaders to be clear in their communication, transparent in their actions, and reflective.
  • Depth: Water has depth which can be calm or chaotic. It suggests that leaders should have depth in their knowledge and understanding. They should be calm during crisis and energetic when required.

Remembering the way of the water can help leaders to govern with wisdom, compassion, and effectiveness.

Whether you believe in the ‘Big Bang’ or a ‘Big Guy in the Sky’ or Tao – we are all one.

We are all from one source.

Can you, individually, and we, as a society, start to act accordingly with the way of water?

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