Have you ever noticed that when you over-think something, it all falls apart? Te explains why. Te is ‘the unthinkable ingenuity and creative power of man’s spontaneous and natural functioning.’ Intrigued I continued reading The Way of Zen by Alan Watts.

The centipede was happy, quite,

Until a toad in fun

Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?”

This worked his mind to such a pitch,

He lay distracted in a ditch,

Considering how to run.

Have you ever thought about how you pump blood through your heart? Have you ever forgotten to breathe? Like the centipede there are a lot of things we do without thinking. The idea of te is that we can ‘become the kind of person who, without intending it, is a source of marvelous accidents’.

You know, like when take a wrong turn but because of your wrong turn you meet a friend you haven’t seen in years, who offers you a new job and changes your life. Why did you take that turn? What a marvelous accident that might be!

How do we learn to make more of such wrong turns?

Taoism describes a path, but not using words. It’s through a different sense, a sixth sense if you like. Like representing a three dimensional object in two dimensions – what we can talk about in words can never be more than a representation.

Lao-tzu says:

Superior te is not te,

and thus has te.

Inferior te does not let go of te,

and thus is not te.

Superior te is non-active [wu-wei] and aimless.

Inferior te is active and has an aim.

Te is a ‘spontaneous virtue which cannot be cultivated or imitated by any deliberate method.’ Virtue in this sense is not a moral virtue, but the good that comes from something like, for example, the ‘healing virtues of a plant’.

We have to learn to ‘let our minds alone’. We have to let our minds function integrated with our surroundings, without trying. It can’t depend on rules or laws – this becomes ‘conventional’ rather than ‘genuine’.

So stop thinking, listen with your body, and simply be.


Alan Watts, The Way of Zen, (London: Arkana, 1990). p 45 and 47.