“The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
Teaching without words,
Performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
What is the hardest thing in the world?
The images this passage summons are the gentle river patiently wearing down the hard mountain, or the martial artist deftly deflecting a rushing attacker. The hard is found in the heavy and the dense, the crude and the brutal. But these are not the hardest thing in the world.
The hardest thing in the world is a human mind that believes it knows the world. Words are futile volleys of arrows glancing off its proud façade. Actions aimed at prying it open only tighten its grip. How to teach without words and perform without actions? Look to the true Master.
The true Master is nature. “The gentlest thing in the world” is a mountain. Precisely by not moving—through its supreme silence and inimitable inaction—it forces the human mind and body to yield to it. In return, it reveals the view from above, helping us let go of the view from below. And as we descend, it makes us let go of that view too.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”