Link to the Feng Translation

Verse 1    Verse 2

Verse 3    Verse 4

Verse 5    Verse 6

Verse 12    Verse 13

Verse 19    Verse 51


Why read something you can't understand or don't care about? Sorry, this is not a discussion about going to school; its about reading a fairly ancient text to acquire fairly modern wisdom. But it is not Western wisdom; it is Chinese philosophy! Is it even possible to present it in a way that appeals to the average Westerner?

The way we spell Tao de Ching is a derivative of the all but defunct Wade-Giles romanization of the Chinese characters 道德经. Modern Chinese romanization uses Pinyin, which looks much closer to the way it sounds: Dao de Jing. But in the U.S., for a relatively new country, old habits die hard. Hence the book's title: “Dales from the Tao“ is pronounced in English as "Tales from the Dao", and in Chinese, it is pronounced as "Tales from the Dao".

When I first tried to read the Tao, it made no sense to my Western mind. It seemed to say the same thing over and over again, yet never clarified what was really different in each passage. It was a similar experience to that which I had when reading other philosophical treatises, old and new, like the Quran, the Bible, Hare Krishna and Vedic Hindu writings,








Urantia (new age), the Book of Morman (the real “Book”), and Variance, the name of the Journal of the Proceedings of the Casualty Actuarial Society. (Trouble sleeping? Try that last one!)









When you read an English translation of the Tao, you hear expressions like the "ten-thousand things." Yeah, right; very meaningful. Even when you come to understand that it is the Chinese way of saying "a countless number," it still doesn't feel quite right. Oh, and then you read that "that which is named is nameless; that which is nameless is that which is named." Wow! Now who in their right mind wants to read nonsense like that? But then one must ask why have billions of people read it and continue to read it? Is there something within that we just don't get, or are we justified in our arrogance as superior Westerners?

The difficulty is found embedded in the nature of Language. Human thinking exists exclusively within language. (Try to think of anything without the little voice in your head throwing in its two cents' worth!) Language drives thinking, and thinking drives language, and in turn, environment drives thinking, and thinking drives the cultural adaptations to the environment. As a consequence, the culture is both reflected by and reflective of the language. If you understand this, then you can understand why our American jokes may not seem funny to Canadians. To complicate the issue, the Tao cannot be explained in words, but only by experience.

So how did I, an Alabama-raised Westerner, come to understand the Tao? It happened, because I have always loved A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh since early childhood. Don't follow? Doesn't make sense? All right, then, an explanation: A man named Benjamin Hoff wrote a best selling book called The Tao of Pooh. His underlying premise is that Pooh is the exemplary Western Taoist. That idea got my interest, and his writing style kept it for me and millions of other readers, and also drove me to some of the original source literature. The Taoism he and I present is not religion; rather pure Taoism is a way of understanding some of the ways we behave as Humans and understanding new ways we can approach living a balanced life as Humans. In some parts of the world, Buddhism and Taoism has been integrated with prior religious teachings, and thus have become religions for many. But it is well worth mentioning here that both of their teachings in their pure original form are of practical tools to use through one's daily life and are thoroughly independent of religion, just as learning how to use your TV's remote control is independent of religion. (Having said that, I do know of some who prayed that they could learn to use it properly!)

So why did I decide to write these Western stories to help people understand Taoist thought? As mentioned before, the Tao cannot be explained in words, but only by experience. It occurred to me that if people could vicariously experience the Tao, they would be able to identify with the components of the ideas and create their own personalized Tao. So the 81 short stories are about human experiences that illustrate the 81 verses. All are indeed similar, yet all are unique. Ooh, even that sounds like something from the Tao!

Each story is prefaced by the verse from the Tao. I suggest you first read the verse, then the story, then the verse again to see if it makes more sense to you after reading the story. [NOTE: The translation used is by Gia-fu Feng, and is commonly referred to as the Feng translation.]

At this time, there are six stories completed, as this is a work in progress. But it is not open ended. When I complete the other 75, it will be time to flow into another challenge.

At this time, there are ten stories completed, as this is a work in progress. It is open-ended, in that everyone is invited to join in and submit stories and music to be incorporated here (full credit to be given to the authors and composers). Feel free to contact me if interested, or simply submit your stuff to me!

Please enjoy!

1 January 2013; updated 14 February, 2013; last updated 22 September, 2020.


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The Western Tao

Verse 1

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.

The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

Ever desiring, one sees the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source but differ in name; this appears as darkness.

Darkness within darkness.

The gate to all mystery.


Justin wanted the mountain.

He was certain he would be the most popular kid in school if only he could somehow conjure the mountain into his bedroom.  But alas!  The mountain was a “fourteener,” and his room was only a ten!  He instead had to satisfy himself with the fantasies of inventing the ray gun which succeeds in shrinking the mountain small enough to allow him to cut it off at the base with an oversized machete and drag it into his room with a system of levers, motors, and pulleys over a distance as long as this sentence.

Like most twelve-year-olds, his desires and wishes were often focused on his own benefits.  (This is, after all, as it should be, for this is the age when one begins to be concurrently aware of one’s own power and one’s own inadequacies, real and imagined.) So it was only natural that the mountain was a source of potential power for him, and its natural beauty was, like the view from a mountain hairpin curve, overlooked.

Justin’s parents weren’t so sympathetic to his power play, and found it difficult to offer encouragement for his efforts at developing the ray gun.  They did, however, encourage him to join the Nature Scouts. There his creativity and sociability grew with the other boys and girls who were members. They enjoyed merit badges for everything from the arts to politics, from camping to innovative designs for rakes and other yard tools. He especially enjoyed the “Anything Goes” merit badge, where he got to design the project that warranted the badge upon completion. By the time Justin was fifteen, he had long forgotten about the ray gun, the machete, and the mountain.

It was the November 14th weekend hike that caught them unaware. The group that included Justin was to travel around the north face; the other group in his Nature Scouts troop was to hike the south. The storm, uncommon but possible this time of year, was expected, but not for another day.  As it came out of the Northeast, the other group was able to make it back to camp in time. Justin’s was not so lucky.

Although they were dressed warmly, they were not prepared for the blizzard. Justin’s leader sought for and found a recess in the West Side of the mountain and led in the eight youths that were under his direction. Justin was relieved that the mountain was kind enough to provide them with plenty of wood to build a comfortable fire.

The wind blew until even the rocks seemed to howl, but the fire barely flickered in the wind; the mountain’s recess provided a haven from the blowing snow and wind. Although scared and hungry, the youths found it surprisingly easy to fall asleep; the floor of the mountain’s recess was rock, but had enough bumps and dips in the right places that it seemed to be made to accommodate body parts.

The storm passed over by daybreak, and Justin’s band awoke to sunlight. Their leader quickly discovered a natural path that seemed to be carved out by the mountain itself. The wind, which created drifts in places over three meters deep, could not keep the snow banked on a narrow ledge which went in the direction of the camp. The youth hiked back with renewed confidence, dazzled by the intensity of both the sunlight and the mountain’s beauty.

Relief, tears, jokes and breakfast greeted the weary travelers as they entered camp. Vikki commented to Justin that he seemed unusually quiet. He was indeed much quieter that usual, for something seemed strange to him.  Something seemed familiar, yet very different. He had no idea what this idea was.

That night, after an early dinner, he and his parents watched him and the other Nature Scouts on the news. They showed the camp, they interviewed a couple of his friends and the leader, and interviewed the mountain. Well, they at least showed the mountain, but from the other side. It fit nicely in the television screen—suddenly, Justin understood.

He remembered the mountain he desired for his room—this mountain! He could put its picture in his room. He could put the television in his room and watch the mountain on the news. But now he knew why having the mountain in his room wasn’t important. Because he got to see the mountain without desire, he saw its beauty, he saw its compassion, he saw its soul, and he saw its love. And most importantly, he saw himself in the mountain, and the mountain in him.  He saw his own beauty, his own compassion, his own soul and his own love. The mountain did not belong in his room, even as a picture. The mountain belongs to everyone, to no one. But how, he thought, was he to explain this, the unexplainable? He knew of only one way. For starters, he told his parents he loved them.


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The Western Tao

Verse 2

Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.

All can know good as good only because there is evil.


Therefore having and not having arise together.

Difficult and easy complement each other.

Long and short contrast each other:

High and low rest upon each other;

Voice and sound harmonize each other;

Front and back follow one another.


Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.

The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,

Creating, yet not.

Working, yet not taking credit.

Work is done, then forgotten.

Therefore it lasts forever.


Jennifer was upset with the birds.

It wasn’t as if they were slighting her. They simply were not cooperating.

When she saw the “bird woman” surrounded by the pigeons in the movie, she was convinced she could do as well. It would be but a matter of patience.

So for the past two weeks Jennifer gathered whatever old bread, cookie crumbs, and seeds she could find and went to the park to be one with the birds.

At first, she tried calling the birds, talking to them, inviting them to her hands to feed. She quickly developed the knack of attempting to talk to them in their own languages, making all sorts of whistling, clucking, and smacking sounds, the same kind of sounds you would make if you were the one trying to call them to you.  But it was to no avail. She realized the birds must have perceived her as something other than a bird, no matter how bird-like she might talk.

Each day she would visit the park. She would sit. She would stand. She would broadcast seed and breadcrumbs in a wide circle around her. She would sit again. She would observe the birds in the trees, seemingly oblivious to her presence. She would wait. She would stand. Then she would walk home.

Each day it was the same. Until this day.

This day, as before, she visited the park. She sat. She stood. She broadcasted seed and breadcrumbs in a wide circle around her. She again sat. She observed the birds in the trees, seemingly oblivious to her presence. She waited. She stood. She walked home. Well, she started to walk home. But she heard some bird sounds in back of her. Some new sounds she had not heard before. She turned and looked. The birds, in the renewed security of her absence, had flown to the ground to partake of the daily feast she had placed before them. She realized that this must have been happening every day before.

She further rejoiced at the prospect that this would occur every day after. Jennifer was no longer upset with the birds. In her heart, she knew that she and the birds had become as one heart, with the life-force pumping and circulating vigorously between them. She sat. She watched. Jennifer, the bird woman, watched the birds, watched from a distance, and it was that distance that made Jennifer and the birds into One.


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The Western Tao

Verse 3

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.

Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.

Not seeing desirable things prevents confusion of the heart.


The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.

If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever people will not try to interfere.

If nothing is done, then all will be well.


Why, who would’a thought that strawberries could cause such a stir! Land sakes, Clem ‘n Edna shore didn’. Why, everone there had somethin the other was good; no one had to go a’stealin’.

Well, it happened like this, you see. Clem and Edna, they grew stuff justa like everone else did, their cabbage, taters, squash n’ carrots. Gathered the blueberries an’ razzleberries off’n the slopes, but grew crabapples, ‘simmons in the trees an’ strawberries aroun’ the rubarb and flower garden. Well, somehow the strawberries took it to a mind of their own, an’ started growin’ like apples. Well, it don’ take no gen’us to see they got to winnin’ all the prizes at the fair, don’ ja know. Them was jus’ the sweeetest, juics’est, biggest strawberries you ever did see.

Well, come next year and they’re jus’ a growin’ even better than before and whatta ya know: Edna come out one morning to tend the garden and see some of the strawberries disappeared, pulled up by the roots. She call Clem out, and at first they think some animal come and grab ‘em. ‘Cept they notice nothin’ else been took, not even the syrupy ‘simmons on t’ groun. But that night, they hear a noise and look out and see someone out there in the moon’s shadow. They don’ know what to do.

So they talk about it, and they decide this: Well, it shore is nice to win fairs an’ stuff, but we already won it, and it’d be nice to give our neighbors a chance to win, too. So they come up with a plan.

Next year, everbody’s talkin’ ‘bout the strawberries, ‘cause no one’s sure exact what happened. Seems everone’s got Clem ‘n Edna’s strawberries growin’ in their gardens. H’ain’t no way now no one’s gonna steal their strawberries.

Well, can’t say no one knows what happened.


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The Western Tao

Verse 4

The Tao is an empty vessel; it is used, but never filled.

Oh, unfathomable source of ten thousand things!

Blunt the sharpness,

Untangle the knot,

Soften the glare,

Merge with dust.

Oh, hidden deep but ever present!

I do not know from whence it comes.

It is the forefather of the gods.


They had been laughing and joking about it: much as she thought it was a good idea, there was no way Helen could ever be in the medical industry. At their lunch her pharmacist friend Arao had shown her his paper cut he got when turning a page of a book he was reading, and the sight of it reminded her of her first (and last) roller coaster experience.

"But maybe I could at least be a nurse. I see how they are so good at taking care of the patients."

"Helen, nurses do that, but they also get to take care of paper cuts, knife cuts, burns, broken bones, and lots of blood. I don't think you could even be a medical receptionist; you'd occasionally see stuff like that even then. There are times when even a receptionist may be asked to do something unexpected."

"Then I guess I'll have to keep looking for something outside of medicine. If I saw something I couldn't handle, I know I'd freak out."

It was a nice lunch, but after the thank-you's and good-byes, it was the train ride home. Standing room only, of course; the subway was always full early Saturday afternoons, tourists mingling with locals, some reading maps, many talking, a few lucky ones in seats, practicing their post-lunch siestas.

Most passengers were quite courteous, and most of the elders had seats. Helen, standing, noticed one older man standing a couple of people away from her, and thought about asking someone to give up a seat. He looked like he was in his mid-late 50s, but she noticed he looked a bit pale for someone that age.

She had no opportunity to ask. The next moment, he was face down on the floor of the train. Nearby passengers quickly backed away with an audible gasp. Someone had the decency to turn him over; he was not breathing. Another took his pulse and quickly exclaimed "His heart has stopped!"

Someone else asked "Is there a doctor?"

Another said "Anyone know CPR?"

No one answered either question.

Helen, untrained in CPR, shared the helpless feeling with the others. All she knew about CPR was what she had seen on TV shows, and she knew that in reality only five to ten percent actually survive, and only if they receive proper follow-up after CPR. But she also realized that the man had no chance at all unless someone did something.

These thoughts had time to bounce around her head for but a fraction of a second, because she promptly knelt down and started chest compressions the way she had seen it done on TV.

Someone asked "Are you a doctor?"

"No," Helen yelled, "Someone call a doctor!"

Five minutes later, a woman gently put her hand on Helen's sweaty arm, and stopped her. "I'm Doctor Belin; I'm a cardiologist." She checked the man briefly, covered his head with a handkerchief, and turned to Helen. "A relative?" she asked. Helen shook her head.

By now, most passengers had exited the train, and two medics with a gurney came aboard to carry away the body. Brief conversations took place; some papers were signed. The doctor returned to Helen, who was sitting with her head in her hands, and sat next to her.

"What you did was very good, but I'm afraid it was not good enough. But your CPR training shows."

Helen looked up. "I haven't had training."

The doctor looked surprised. "You looked like you've been doing that for years. Have you thought about going into medicine?"

Helen thought of the man under the handkerchief; a tear crept down her face. "I can't even look at a paper cut without almost barfing."

The doctor smiled. "My husband's just like that. The house is in trouble if he cuts himself shaving. He can't understand what I do or how I do it, but I love it. But you know, he's been doing social work for years. He's probably saved more lives than I have. My daughter's a musician. She's probably mended more broken hearts than I have."

"I didn't think; I just did it."

"What's your name?"

"Helen. I can't believe I did that."

"Helen, not everyone can do what you did. You followed your instincts. Most people have the same instinct, but don't act on them, for fear of making the wrong move. If I did everything exactly the way I was trained, there would be a few less people in this world. I just hope that, whatever your profession, whatever your passion, you continue to trust your instinct."

"Thanks, Dr. Belin. That does make me feel better. But I think when I get home I'm gonna barf anyway."

"You do that, Helen; get it out of your system. I didn't have my first barf until my second year residency, but it was a good one! Medicine, social work, music, homemaker–it's all the same. Spontaneous CPR, barfing, singing a song–it's also all the same. When a push becomes a shove, follow your instinct."

There was a long pause; Helen was thinking. Dr. Belin started to get up but was stopped with Helen's question.

"Dr. Belin, what kind of social work does your husband do?"


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The Western Tao

Verse 5

Heaven and Earth are impartial;

They see the ten thousand things as straw dogs.

The wise are impartial;

They see the people as straw dogs.


The space between heaven and Earth is like a bellows.

The shape changes but not the form;

The more it moves, the more it yields.

More words count less.

Hold fast to the center.

v vv 

We hear the stories of love, of how the more you give, the more you receive. But let me tell you the real story.

It was a lovely funeral. The right people were there, the weather was perfect, eventfully and comfortably warm for the season. Kind words were said, but that did not stop the pain. Debbie missed him. After fifteen years together, she has to experience this beautiful gathering without him by her side.

She and Mark had met in college, married within a year of graduating, and lived happily ever after. No one was to blame, really; the rock that crushed the car must have been sitting there for eons before breaking free. It was quite impartial; after all, she had thought, millions of rocks fall all the time without landing on cars. But what was difficult for her to fathom was why did it have to happen during the Christmas season?

The happily ever after was gone.

Her thoughts reflected on their agreeing years ago that every moment must count, good and bad. Their first date was one of the bads: the taxi got lost and over-charged; the reservation got lost and they had to wait; the service and the food competed for which was more terrible; the stains of the spilled wine never exited their clothes; and all in all, they had so much fun together that they almost had no choice but to fall in love.

When Debbie got home from the funeral, she went to the garage to sort through the stuff retrieved from the car. Among other things: a few coins, some maps, a book, two packets of Kleenex, bills and E-Lane cards still in the visor clip, a pair of cracked sun glasses, some scrap pieces of paper, a paper coffee cup, and even the partially crushed Christmas tree that he had tied to the top of the car. Her first thought was “why did they bring the tree?” Her next thought was “because they are not the ones to decide what to keep and what to toss.” That made sense to her, even though it brought intense feelings of anguish, as the plan to decorate the tree together was permanently extinguished.

She sorted through the stuff, tossed the scraps, cup, glasses, and some of the unneeded receipts in the trash, and carted the tree to the curb. She went back into the house, washed up, poured a glass of wine, and sat on the sofa in front of the TV. She picked up the remote, then without turning on the TV, set it back down next to her. She took a small sip of wine. It did not taste as she remembered wine should taste.

“What do I do now?” she said aloud. She thought of the saying “What would Jesus do?” Aloud, she said, “What would Mark do?” She suddenly sat up straight. A tear sneaked out of her left eye. She smiled. She resolutely got up, went out the front door and brought the damaged tree inside.

At first her friends were dismayed. “Shouldn’t you be in mourning?” they asked. Then they were amazed. “Mark and I committed our lives together to each other’s happiness. I will not deny him his happiness, even in death. I honor his love by honoring my commitment to life.”

When Christmas was over, she removed the decorations from the tree, and took it out to the back yard, and left it there to gradually return to the soil.

Two years later, she remarried, and had no problem loving her new husband more deeply than she loved Mark. One of the things her new husband really liked about her was her passion for returning their Christmas trees to the soil.


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The Western Tao

Chapter 6

The valley spirit never dies;

It is the woman, primal mother.

Her gateway is the root of heaven and Earth.

It is like a veil barely seen.

Use it; it will never fail.

v vv 

And Helen cried.

She had known death before: her grandmother, her grandfather, both died when she was old enough to understand, yet still unconsciously understandably did not yet understand.

Now it was her mother’s turn.

As the aging body slowly faded faster and faster, her mother’s acute awareness waved in and out of consciousness even as various body parts shut down. Helen’s brothers and sisters were there, as was her father. They had said their thank you’s and goodbyes, and now all they could do is wait and console each other.

Amid the gurgling and choking and coughing, Helen’s mom waved them over.

“You are my flowers,” she said with a hoarse, almost inaudible voice. “My work is done. But I never really did anything. You did it all.”

“No, mother,” Helen protested, “You gave us life. You’re the one who nourished us, fed us, raised us. You’re the one—.”  Her mother cut her off by weakly raising her hand.

“Listen to me: I did what mothers do; nothing more; I gave you the space to grow. When I am gone, I will still be doing what mothers do, and I will still be here for you. If you need to see me, look at any other mother. Look at the sky, look at the river. It’s all the same; they are all doing what I did, what I will continue to do. And I do it all for you. I will always be doing it all for you.”

In the midst of all their tears, Helen and her family understood, and saw the weak smile that briefly erupted before the long sleep.

And Helen laughed.

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The Western Tao

Chapter 12

                                    The five colors blind the eye.

                                   The five tones deafen the ear.

                                    The five flavors dull the taste.

                                Racing and hunting madden the mind.

                                  Precious things lead one astray.


                  Therefore the sage is guided by what he feels and not by what he sees.

                                 He lets go of that and chooses this.

v vv 

This is a story about beautiful rocks, and a girl named Claire.

I watched five-year-old Claire gather rocks for her beach sand castle, although the castle would hardly have been appealing even to a hermit crab. (She also found a couple of hermit crabs and explored the fragility of life as she mashed them into something less than a hermit crab, but that’s another story.)

The rocks she gathered were quite featureless by your and my adult standards: a large, softball-sized chunk of quartz, a midget-banana-shaped chunk of the same, and three irregularly shaped golf-ball-sized pieces of assorted drab yellow-grey-blackish colors. On a beach strewn with similar objects, including some human-made that reduced the beach’s pristineness, one would hardly have cause to notice any of them. But something happened that made these five stand out:  “Oh, look what I found,” Claire cried out excitedly, “and these two are diamonds; look how they shine!”

I looked through my eyes and saw five ordinary rocks, and re-experienced the obstinate reminder that my sense of beauty and wonder has been transformed by time. Yet in a universe of untold timelessness, just how much time does it take to transform one’s sense of beauty and wonder? Then a miracle happened. At the time it was just another ordinary adult human thought, but that same thought is what allowed itself to be instead perceived as a miracle. The thought was, why not see the five rocks through her eyes? Why not see them the way I would see them as a child?

The miracle was that my sense of beauty was again transformed. With a renewed sense of freshness, I get to see rocks, raindrops, grains of rice and sand, tissue paper, even trash as things of beauty, asymmetry as a living monument to change, randomness as a unifying force within us and within the universe, and the so-called ordinary as miracles.

I kept the five rocks, and still have them; they are on display in my living room. They remind me of the beauty that exists in everyone and everything. I like them there, because part of the randomness of my being human is I sometimes forget to see that beauty, which is in itself a beautiful experience, because it allows me to again be reminded of the beauty in everything when I look at Claire’s rocks.

If you’d like, I will sell them to you. Although priceless, I price them at $10,000 USD. I can do this, because I now know that I can always find some more beautiful rocks anywhere, anytime I want to.

And so can you!

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The Western Tao

Chapter 13

Accept disgrace willingly.
Accept misfortune as the human condition.

What do you mean by "Accept disgrace willingly"?
Accept being unimportant.
Do not be concerned with loss or gain.
This is called "accepting disgrace willingly."

What do you mean by "Accept misfortune as the human condition"?
Misfortune comes from having a body.
Without a body, how could there be misfortune?

Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care for all things.

 v vv 

A true story:

It was mid-December when we went into the store on the busy street. I set my backpack on a chair behind a desk, and took out my laptop. It was but a short trip up the twelve steps to the loft above where we were going to use the laptop for making our recording. We were going to create a message of good cheer for the New Year. After setting it up, I went back down to get my new camera for our recording session, only there was a problem: my backpack was gone!

It apparently did not take very long for the thief to notice the abandoned backpack through the open door, and made quick work of it. This was supposed to have been be the first use of the new camera!

I was despondent, not just for the loss (it was, after all, quite expensive), but also for my feelings regarding the person who took it. I did not like myself for the anger and resentment I felt toward that person; I don’t like feeling negatively about anyone. I held onto these feelings for two weeks; for two weeks these feelings were prominent in my thoughts, and I did not like that.

It is New Year’s Eve. My Chinese friends and I traveled outside of Nanchang to a quiet rural area, and came across a typical Buddhist temple. While my friends were exploring the nearby grounds where a feast was being served, I strove to visit the inside of the temple by myself. The artistry and craft in back of the artist’s creation rivaled that which might be seen at the Louvre or the Metropolitan! Various statues, brilliantly colored murals, and the giant statue of a gold leafed Buddha in the center—to me, all this paled in comparison to the massive 3D bias-relief Walls of Citizens. The temple’s monks must have taken years to create such a masterpiece!

On the walls on all four sides of the inside of the temple were figures of individuals, each around one meter in height, more than 450 individuals, each unique in stature, pose, coloration, dress, wealth, and facial and body emotion, carved to perfection down to the fingernails and eyelashes. There were people of trades—fishing, law enforcement, cleaning, writing, speaking, playing. There were people who were happy, sad, angry, frightened, loving, hating. There were people of royalty; there were people missing limbs; there were people sick and dying. Every figure on the wall had their own unique needs and desires, and at the same time every figure on the wall also shared the exact same needs and desires as all the other figures on the wall. I realized that each person on earth has at least parts of their unique identity represented by someone on this wall; I could see me on the wall!

Then it happened: I realized that one of these figures represents the thief, my thief. Like every figure, this real person has unique needs and desires, and at the same time also has some of the exact same needs and desires as all the other figures on the wall. But what does that mean if I’m also one of those figures?

If I want something and someone else wants that same something but they need it more than I do, is it really fair for me to keep it? I realized that my friend on the wall had a need that was greater than mine, and as a consequence is now in possession of what I once had. Now no more a thief, but an unknown friend on a wall full of humanity that I unwittingly assisted. I am now quite at peace with this (and subsequent) incidents.

I have another camera, and I take especially stringent care of it, because I want to be sure that if this one disappears, it is because someone else wants it way more, I mean way more, than I want it! (And yes, all this is indeed a true story!)

Don “Orfeo” Rechtman
11 September 2020

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The Western Tao

Chapter 19

Give up sainthood, renounce wisdom,

And it will be a hundred times better for everyone.


Give up kindness, renounce morality,

And men will rediscover filial piety and love.


Give up ingenuity, renounce profit,

And bandits and thieves will disappear.


These three are outward forms alone; they are not sufficient in themselves.

It is more important

To see the simplicity,

To realize one's true nature,

To cast off selfishness

And temper desire.

 v vv 

It is hard to think of a sillier name than “Hammer.” Not an impossible task, but definitely requires some effort. Sure, there’s musician Ryan Hammer, and rapper MC Hammer, and actor Armie Hammer, and—but a first-name Hammer? I can’t think of one. Except for Heidi’s Husband. Hammer. His name’s Hammer. Hammer Pan. Pan? He’s Chinese. His Chinese surname is Pan. So Hammer Pan. But names don’t always have to mean something, and sometimes names can be completely deceptive.

Heidi and Hammer doted on their son Kenneth, and their lives were centered around providing for his every need. So much so, that they invented needs that didn’t even exist, just to be sure they had covered everything. It was fairly easy for them, as they both had fairly cushy jobs, she in real estate, and he a successful municipal judge. They were enrapt with helping people, she in finding the ideal living spaces, he in ensuring fairness and justice. They were also enrapt with each other. But there was one issue that kept haunting them.

Their origins were in very humble, rural farm villages, and their metropolitan success had self-inflicted them with labels of the achievement of having beat the system. They should have been proud, and they were, but they were plagued with a question that kept peeking out from small crevices that were hiding in back of their success.

“Heidi,” Hammer would ask, “Have you thought about what I do for a living? I mean, what impact it has on us and on others? On our son?”

Heidi fully understood what non-enrapt people would consider a completely enigmatic question. “I know,” she would reply, “I think the same thing about my work.”

You see, the villages of their roots remain poor, and few escape the whirlpool of poverty that holds its victims captive. They were among the few who were lucky enough to have escaped, and it truly was a matter of luck, as most of the people they grew up with would work as hard as they did during their lifetimes just to stay afloat.

As in many of the villages that dotted China’s rural countryside, their village had a community program. It was designed to provide vocational opportunities for the young who lived in the area and who had interests matching those covered in the program. Also, as in many of the villages, there was a surfeit of counselors and teachers for the programs, and the budgets were typically quite low as well. It would take very a very special kind of dedicated person to fulfill the roles so often vacant to meet the requirements of the counselor positions.

Well, after that little disclosure, you pretty much know the rest of the story: No longer a judge, ruling on crimes, including those of young people, Hammer now enriched the lives of young people, who as a consequence of their success and confidence were far less likely to ever have to face judgment in a court; Heidi, no longer in real estate, enriched lives of families by helping them make the most of their living space. Kenneth, their son, goes to the village school, and is well friended by teachers and students alike, and as a consequence, gets as good an education as anyone at any school, great or small.

It’s hard to think of a nobler name than Hammer. Heidi and Hammer Pan. By simply being true to their selves, they are helping to transform the world into a better place, one person at a time.

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The Western Tao

Verse 51

Every being in the universe

          is an expression of the Tao.

          It springs into existence,

          unconscious, perfect, free,

          takes on a physical body,

          lets circumstances complete it.

          That is why every being

          spontaneously honors the Tao.


          The Tao gives birth to all beings,

          nourishes them, maintains them,

          cares for them, comforts them, protects them,

          takes them back to itself,

          creating without possessing,

          acting without expecting,

          guiding without interfering.

          That is why love of the Tao

          is in the very nature of things.


 “Grandpa,” Aaron wined, “Joey says you love him more than you love me; is that true?”

Grandpa asked, “Do you really need to ask that?”

“Yes, I want to know.”

“Okay, I’ll tell you the truth, but first I want you to do something for me.”

“OK,” Aaron reluctantly replied, “What?”

“I’m a little hungry, and I’d like you to open a couple of walnuts for me. No, not with the nut cracker. Here, let me show you how to do it by hand.” Grandpa picked a couple of walnuts out of the bowl, held them in his fist, and pretended to strike his fist as he squeezed.[1] “See, you can hit your hand to make one of them crack the other.” He put the nuts back in the bowl. “Try it. First pick out one really strong one so it will easily crack the other. Don’t hit too hard; you don’t want to hurt yourself.”

Aaron carefully selected the strongest he could find, then picked out another one to crack. Grandpa helped arranged them in his fist, then he squeezed and hit his fist with the other hand. “Crack!”

“Good!” said Grandpa. Now you have some and let me have some. Delicious, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Aaron, “I’ve always liked walnuts.

“Now crack one more for me, Okay?”

Aaron took out another walnut, and as he put it in his hand, Grandpa said “Here, hold them like this.” He showed him how to hold the walnuts, and “crack!” went the walnut. But this time, when he opened his hand, his reaction to his discovery showed on his face as dismay. “Grandpa, the strong one broke. What happened?”

Grandpa said, “Look carefully at a walnut. See all the different bumps and lumps? Now look at another. It has the same bumps and lumps, but just a little bit different. It has the same color, but they’re all a little bit different. Now taste the walnut. Does it taste different from the other one?”

Aaron shook his head. “Umm, I think it tastes the same.”

“Let me try,” said Grandpa. He tasted it and confirmed “Yes, I think it has the same taste. Thank you, I enjoyed that. Now back to your question...”

Aaron smiled slyly. “Grandpa, I think you did it again!”

“Did what?” He smiled innocently.

“You said you would answer me after you ate the walnuts, but I think you already answered me. You like to do that.”

“I do? I did?”

“Yes! I see every walnut is different: some have strong spots; some spots are weaker. That doesn’t matter, because the inside is still delicious.”

Feigning surprise, Grandpa said “Yes, I suppose you’re right. I wish I had thought of that!

“All right, then,” Aaron said, “what if it was a walnut and a Brazil nut? How would you explain that?”

“Tell me,” Grandpa said, “which makes a better pet: a cat or a dog?”

Aaron looked a little confused. “I don’t understand. Is the Brazil nut the dog or the cat?”

“I don’t know; you tell me.”

Aaron laughed. “Grandpa, would you like me to crack another walnut for you?”


[1] The walnut shell consists of two halves, two “hemispheres,” demarcated by a thick seam. The seam, perhaps counter-intuitively, is the weakest part of the hemisphere, as it is the shell’s edge and is therefore not reinforced by the domed surface. If you crack the dome of one against the seam of the other, it is the seam that breaks. Grandpa made sure the first time the “stronger” one was used, its dome was against the seam of the other; the second time, he made sure its seam was hit by the other’s dome.


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Last modified: 02/23/22