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On balance in the universe

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Note: All quotes are from Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao te ching.


In a recent non-dual zoom meeting, someone raised the question of whether there is balance in the world, or if there needs to be a balance between positives and negatives, yin and yang. Often, when questions like this come up, I go away, let them marinate in the Heart (not in the mind). The answer, at least for me, often comes as a sudden awareness; only then do I attempt to translate that manifestation into words.

I gravitated to the Tao te ching for understanding, since it is all about balance, though the Tao is the source, beyond any kind of balance. What is “balance”? Read all the definitions you want, but it has to be between two or more things, whether it’s physical objects (i.e., two people on a seesaw), ideas (good and bad), feelings (love and hate), or a work of art (positive and negative space complementary colors or shapes, contrasts).

It's interesting that, though the Tao is about balance, it always leads us back to the one source, the “not two”:

Success is as dangerous as failure. Hope is as hollow as fear.

What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure? Whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. When you stand with your two feet on the ground, you will always keep your balance.

What does it mean that hope is as hollow as fear? Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. What do we have to fear?

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.

The universe is too big: I can only speak for myself. I can only look for balance in myself. Nisargadatta said (I’m paraphrasing, but if someone wants it, I can find the passage) -- Universes come into being and collapse every moment. Why do you need to fix this world? Find your true nature.

I’m not going to look for balance in the world. Every day, I open myself to finding Awareness, to being in the space of Love, Peace, Beauty. The most difficult part of the day for me is often our zoom meetings: So many thoughts arise, so many issues and reactions. I sometimes feel I’m on a Tilt-a-Whirl, a carnival ride swinging me many different ways. I can’t respond in the moment. I take one or two ideas away, let them settle in me. Then sometimes, I try to write from a space of peace.

I may go in and out of Awareness all day, but I have a very hard time staying in the True Self during these meetings. But that challenge is what I love about them: It’s easier to stay in the space of peace and beauty when no one is around, when I’m just doing artwork or pottery or walking outside by myself.

The Tao says,

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?

The question of balance was really interesting to me, as I seem to be thrown out of balance in these meetings. Of course, it’s the separate self that’s unbalanced, never the True Self. But this question of balance caused me to look at what perceptions, what experiences shift me off my axis.

I was very out-of-balance when I retired: I had been an introvert, somewhat anti-social, in a people-intensive job. After retirement, the first volunteer job I had was at the Austin Animal Shelter, just walking dogs about one morning a week. It was such a pleasant relief. I realized that non-judgmental purity of the dogs helped me re-balance. When you see the refugees fleeing the Ukraine, maybe you’re driven to contribute to the World Central Kitchen (which is feeding refugees coming into Poland). This will not bring balance or peace to the world, but it might help assuage your sadness for those people.

Is there any way to bring balance to the world? Someone in the meeting suggested that 2/3 of what happens in the world is positive, one third negative. So first, you have to define what’s positive, what’s negative. Are some activities 10% positive, 90% negative? Who’s going to create the scale to measure these things? Not I: I have a t-shirt that says, “I’m an English major; you do the math.”

Again, I can only look for balance in myself; and that balance is really just in the separate self. The True Self never requires balance. It’s always in harmony:

Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source. Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow.

Again, I thank the person who brought this up; it was a useful topic that led me to my True Self.

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