Reflections on Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching:
Heaven and Earth are without bias,
Treating the Ten Thousand Things
As precious meaningless straw dogs.
The sage lives without bias,
as precious straw dogs.
The space between Heaven and Earth
is like a bellows…
Empty and yet, providing a never-ending supply
of words and meaning,
Better to chose moderation
and pay attention to the Silence within.
One thing interesting about writing my own version of the Tao Te Ching is that there are some phrases that are really not used in our own language. I am learning the Chinese language as I am writing out these chapters, so it has been fun to come across these cultural references and read about what they mean. In Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu references “straw dogs”… what is a straw dog, anyways? I will attempt to explain it here.
In Ancient China, they used real dogs at one time to make ceremonial sacrifices. (This was a long time ago, people. A far more barbaric time than today…) One day, someone brilliantly decided to substitute straw dogs for real ones. (Yeah! Progress!) So, apparently, these straw dogs were ritualized and honored. If you have ever really looked closely at sacrificial rights, the item being sacrificed, if done properly, is extremely respected for giving its life for the sake of the people. (Does this sound familiar?) Staying on that vein, I think that is why Jesus accepted his fate so willingly. He knew he was really a straw dog. It was all cool to him. He knew that the form of his body was not what it was really all about. He knew that it was his spirit that meant something and he was willing to sacrifice his form to prove it.
If you read Chapter 5 of the Tao Te Ching, you will see that Lao Tzu was referencing the straw dogs to explain how our form is really just a superficial (and therefore meaningless) form of who we really are. After the ritual, the straw dogs are tossed in the dirt. Does this mean that we do not appreciate what those dogs represented? No. It means that we truly understand that what those dogs represented has nothing to do with form, so we toss the form.
*Image source: I contacted the owner of the website where I found this image and he tried to track down the contributor with no luck. He said that a woman sent it in and he sent an email to her to see where it came from and I never heard back. If you own this image, I would love to ask for your permission to use it!