Change in an Instant?


Derek, I understand your point about chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching – you have explained that great changes are made slowly, as gradual accumulations from many small steps. However, this seems to contradict self-help books and gurus who claim that change can happen in an instant. Shouldn’t Tao teachings also include this possibility of the sudden change?


I would like to caution you against teachings that promise instantaneous life-enhancing changes. I have seen quite a few friends distracted by such promises, only to end up disappointed.

The “change can happen in an instant” school of thought has a major weakness in that the positive changes people want can easily fall into the “easy come, easy go” category. For example, look at the people who slim down using a fad diet, only to regain the weight later. In their case, it is obvious that the positive change does not endure.

The teaching of the Tao says: “If it does not last, it is not the Tao.” This makes sense, since the Tao is defined as the eternal, everlasting principle. We can extrapolate from there to see that a real change must be something that is accomplished gradually.

This is how things are done in nature, even when it may not seem that way sometimes. Think about something like a flash of lightning. We’re tempted to think of it as a sudden and dramatic change, until we understand that in order for that lightning to manifest, there has to be gradual buildup of electric energy well in advance of the massive discharge. Although the ancient Chinese sages did not know much about electricity, they could and did observe the gathering of storm clouds, and they arrived at the exact same conclusion.

This is why Lao Tzu wrote:

A tree thick enough to embrace
Grows from a tiny sapling

He understood that although one could not perceive the growth of a tree from one day to the next, over a period of time, the imperceptible increments would add up to a towering, majestic tree.

Use this as inspiration to embark on a path of gradual transformation for yourself. You will feel the change within you, even if it may not be apparent to others. One day, your friends will suddenly realize that you are no longer the same person they knew before. That realization will hit them like a flash of lightning.

Derek Lin
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