The Ever-Present Human Condition

Reflections on Chapter 53 of the Tao Te Ching:

Fall Leaves

Fall Leaves

If I have the least bit of understanding,
I will walk the path of Tao
and fear to stray.

The path of Tao is level and smooth
but people prefer diversions.

The courts are full of splendor
while the fields are full of weeds
and the granaries are bare.

Dressed in fine clothing,
carrying sharp swords,
excessively drinking and
eating too much food.

Treasures accumulated,
this is the pride of thieves
and not the path of Tao.

The human condition has been around forever.  

The Tao Te Ching was written so long ago (2500 years ago!), so clearly this is not just about “the times we live in”.  Splendor has been trouble throughout the millenia. Lao Tzu has mentioned this prestigious outward persona and the pretense that goes along with that many times throughout the text.  In America, we basically don’t want to hear it. Splendor is our middle name! Aren’t we supposed to make lots of money? I guess the key is, what are you doing energetically with all of that financial energy? If you watch the American monarchy (Hollywood actors), so many times they have all this fancy stuff . They generally have way too much money. But a lot of them are doing some really good things with their spare change. I always admire that.  I am not opposed to making lots of money and finding some really fun ways to spend it on humanity. I think that is a great thing.

Hoopla and pretense are just not really necessary.

If you want the simple life, you don’t need all the stuff. I think it is interesting that this text is so old. These are ancient human patterns. We have been dealing with these same issues all through time. There is that lure of the stuff. We’ve talked about this on multiple occasions.

There is something to the beauty of nice things,
but there is a beauty that can be made from things that are very simple as well.

It is not about judgement of being rich or being poor, it is more about people taking a look at what is necessary. There is an energy to keeping stuff. I went through my clothes closet and got rid of a ton of stuff recently. As I was going through my closet, I couldn’t even believe that I could pull out that many clothes to get rid of! What I would like to get to in my own life is to have things be so simple that it is really just a few things, that I don’t need all these things.  If money is energy, then you are putting your energy somewhere any time you spend it.

What is that the best thing to spend your money on?
Where do you want to put your energy? 

There is an emptiness when things look full. “The graineries are bare” with our SAD (Standard American Diet) right now. For many modern cultures, there is lots of food available but much of it is of such low quality that it carries the illusion of splendor but is really emptiness. If you look at this phrase globally, you see some countries that have tons of food and some that have nearly none. This is such empty splendor. If we really look deeply at this, we all lack in these situations.

 This is an old pattern. Humankind has always behaved this way.

This pattern of “empty splendor” has been going on for centuries. It is a natural way to do things. Working on this in our own lives is not so much about trying to change, but about being aware. It is about making choices based on that knowledge of what is real and what is not real.

So what do you think? Do you think things ever change? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below!



  1. …while the fields are filled with weeds
    and the graneries are bare…
    I just love that you bring up that these have been the same lessons all this time. Life time after lifetime, such simple (and same!) lessons, over and over.
    I can see the kind sage standing over me, kindly pointing out that on the one hand, my closet is full…on the other, my savings account is empty and my fertile ground contains not food, but weeds…
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    • Ha! So funny to connect it with our closets. I hadn’t thought of that, but you are so right. I think that this relates to the whole credit card thing we’ve got going on in the world right now. Not sure how other countries are handling credit, but it sounds like they are having similar struggles that we are.

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