The Way of Water


"Carps in the Water", Huang Leisheng (1928 - 2011), Chinese

"There is nothing in this world that is softer and meeker than water. Even those that can conquer the strong and hard, Are still not superior than water. Nothing can substitute it. Hence, what is soft can overcome the strong. What is gentle can overcome the strength. This is known by the world. However, people cannot put it into practice. Therefore, the saint said as follow: He who can take the disgrace of a nation, Is said to be the master of the nation. He who can bear the misfortune of a nation, Is said to be the ruler of the world. Truthful words may seem to be the reverse of worldly practices." - "Tao Te Ching, Chapter 87", Lao Tzu

Since the time when it was first written, Lao Tzu's (or Laozi) "Tao Te Ching", has long transcended the borders of its country of origin. It is widely known and read, and very often, quoted outside of the context. The religious philosophy that takes "Tao Te Ching" as its foundation, Taoism or Daoism, is mostly known through its famous symbol of yin and yang, once again, very often out of the context of the generally, very rich Taoist cosmology and metaphysics. However the symbol is also used in other Chinese philosophies, religions and traditions. Even though today's theme is not a lecture on that topic, it is useful to remind, or learn, that yin and yang form the "whole" of Tao. It is an ontological principle that supports all of the creation and nothing could exist without their interplay. Simplified yang is in that dialectic, the light, active, masculine principle, often represented by the element of fire and yin is dark, receptive, feminine principle, often represented by the element of water. Yin is the locus of manifestation for yang. "A man of violence who is in disharmony between Ying and Yang that is the physical body and true self, shall die of an unnatural death" , says Lao Tzu in Chapter forty-two It is important to note, that while Confucianism extends the concepts to gender roles, in Taoism it is more esoteric, and as such, is principle that is present everywhere, in everything and in everyone, the very thing which makes existence possible. However, in today's article the focus shall be on that which is spoken in Chapter eighty-seven, and a few others and that is the way of water, or the way of water and softness and non-resistence.

The Gentle Strength

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” - "The Penelopiad", Margaret Atwood It has already been mentioned that the active principle is the principle that falls in the realm of yang. It is a burning fire that cannot bear to stay within or in state of inactivity, but rather, with a burning urge, acts, usually externally, onto the world. Within yang is the source of life which the yin nourishes. But yang, being active, burning, when imbalanced, burns everything around itself and finally ends up burning itself. It is a machine with fire inside of its heart and if it keeps running for too long, it eventually explodes. Simply put, the creative fire, activity, can become destructive. Yin, being receptive, calm, when imbalanced, without light, without fire to nourish, becomes unaware, a pool of darkness, of non-differentiation, but its strength it is that even in absence of light, it can simply be, it does not have the need to act, to be seen, to go towards. Of course, as mentioned in Chapter forty-two which was quoted earlier, the goal of every individual would be the perfect balance between the two, neither of them dominating over the other. In previous article, "Dolce Far Niente ", I have mentioned however, that many of us, live in the modern and fast world that values productivity, efficiency and action. The accompanying state of mind, of spirit, seems to be the one of resistance, of constant restraint and tension. People are neurotic, worried, anxious and impatient. There is almost a constant inability to accept circumstances as they are and begin to work within them, rather they exert all of their energy in attempt to change the circumstances, often artificially, only to find themselves powerless and exhausted. Countless times have people told me that, the harder they tried, they seemed farther away from their targets, almost as if the swift Mercury was appointed as a ruler of our world, laughing at our attempts, taking away the medal just before our eyes. Our anger, his laughter, our grief, his pleasure. When we try too hard, it often comes from a place of anxiety, insecurity, of almost desperate need to have the world fit our expectations, it does not come from secure places of conviction and vision, but rather out of need for affirmation, validation, confirmation. The mischievous Mercury takes joy from making our a joke of our egos.


Lao Tzu tells that water, in its softness can be stronger than anything hard, Atwood uses the similar idea when she says that water wears away the stone. The strength of water is that it does not resist, it does not go in the world wih the need to manipulate it or act on it, water simply takes all its joy in simply being water and living in its principle of expansion. However it does not forcibly expand, but rather with patience, with nonresistance it carves the way. It takes any shape or form, and yet always remains the same in substance. It nourishes, heals, openly and receives.

To Embrace the Water To live the way of water, to introduce the way of water in one's life, would mean to learn to live without the constant anxiety and need to manipulate the external reality. It means to at least, for a moment, try, not to see our identities in all the external outcomes and possibilities, but rather within - to sustain, inspire, nourish from that space. It is to not offer resistance to life, but rather to live, embracing every experience within just like water does. It is far from being idle or lazy, but it is to do with steady, patient, constant rhythm until even the rock, the mountain is reshaped and changed. There is no force, no explosive actions and no destruction that comes with it. Perhaps, for many people, to fully live so is hardly possible, as few of us take the journey of sages and mystics, but all of us, to varying degrees can embrace the wisdom of water. Chapter Eight of "Tao Te Ching" speaks of it better than I ever could: "A person of great virtue is like the flowing water. Water benefits all things and contends not with them. It puts itself in a place that no one wishes to be and thus is closest to Tao. A virtuous person is like water which adapts itself to the perfect place. His mind is like the deep water that is calm and peaceful. His heart is kind like water that benefits all. His words are sincere like the constant flow of water. His governing is natural without desire which is like the softness of water that penetrates through hard rocks. His work is of talent like the free flow of water. His movement is of right timing like water that flows smoothly. A virtuous person never forces his way and hence will not make faults. "

Links Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu "The Penelopiad", Margaret Atwood

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