“Hope is as hollow as fear.
What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear?
Hope and fear are both phantoms
That arise from thinking of the self.
See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
Then you can care for all things.”
Two of the three theological virtues in the Christian tradition are invoked here by the translator—hope and faith—yet to convey an apparently un-Christian message. The notion that hope is a hindrance may strike Western ears the way the first noble truth of Buddhism—“life is suffering”—often does: as a world-weary pessimism. Yet it is hard to read the last lines of the chapter and not detect notes of Jesus’ “love your neighbor as yourself.”
All is not as it seems. The key to this passage is the connection between hope and fear. Both are understood here in terms of desire for a future outcome that is the flipside of a rejection of the way things are. Of course we “hope” and “desire” for some things to happen and others not to; the key is to see things going our way as “bonuses” on top of a fundamentally good deal. In Christian terms, this means seeing existence itself—all of it—as an unmerited grace. How often does Jesus encourage his followers to not worry, to not be afraid?
The recipe for overcoming fear is not to hope for a future, better life—here or the hereafter—but to turn completely toward the moment.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”