they softened their light and forgot about themselves
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The ancient masters of the Way had no ambition. Hence, they dulled their edges and did not insist on anything. They had no fear. Hence, they untied every tangle and avoided nothing. They did not care about beauty. Hence, they softened their light and forgot about themselves. They did not hate ugliness. Hence, they merged with the dust and did not abandon others.”
LI HSI-CHAI (FL. 1167). Taoist master, practitioner of Taoist yoga, and noted Yiching scholar. His commentary extends Lao-tzu’s teachings to the state as well as the individual. Tao-te-chen-ching yi-chieh.
In this verse of the Taoteching Lao Tzu asks us to consider an inner posture that allows us to be receptive to the Earthy Yin Qi. Li Hsi-Chai in this commentary mentions several benchmarks for this posture that we can contemplate more closely:
no ambition: this is the water-course way as water always seeks the lowest ground and does not strive beyond where it is;
dulled edges: can I let go of the sharpness of my mind that would love to split hairs and then split them again and again creating more and more separation;
no insistence on anything: give up my adamance and my rigidity and open up to the greater wisdom that wants to emerge in each situation;
no fear: looking at what I fear I can surrender to what is and find acceptance which dissolves the tension created by fear;
untie tangles: when fear subsides then I can reflect without any agenda and find the common ground;
avoid nothing: acceptance of what is and trusting that in union we will find all solutions;
not caring about beauty: the Taoist understanding is that each value creates its partner/opposite (ugliness) so having no preference opens me up to seeing both (all) sides of the situation and not being stuck in an agenda from the thinking mind (from the past);
soften our light: to me this feels like releasing the mind’s power of discrimination to allow all things to be seen in their inter-beingness and not with the analytical faculty that often prevents that sense of melding with the other;
forget about ourselves: compare Dogen’s Genjokoan: “To study the buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things. When actualized by myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.” When I let go of my self-image as a center of perception and action then perception of Reality is possible.
not hate ugliness: any hate or rejection of anything is the root of the perception of something outside of me that I will either accept or reject. Thus I create dichotomy.
merge with dust: here, too, I release my image of myself as something ‘better than’ and ‘separate from’ what it is that I feel is undesirable.
not abandon others: this is to see myself as part of this great Being that includes all other beings whose forms appear in my field of awareness.