A useful Taoist analytical tool – The Three Endowments

tao the three endowmennts

We often say that Tao teaches us to flow with nature.  If we can do as Tao says, then we will be able to perform whatever things effortlessly — a state of non-doing or wuwei.

Theoretically, this is easy to understand and agree to. The challenge is how to get started and put the theory to work?

Fortunately, Taoists are very good at encapsulating complex issues in a few words. For example, by using the two words yin and yang, they are able to explain how the universe works.

As far as analytical tools are concerned, the one that I find to be very useful is san cai, literally means ‘three endowments’. They include: Heaven, earth and men.

For you to be successful in doing anything with ease, these three elements will have to be present at the same time. Lacking any one of them, or having any one of them at a sub-optimal situation, you would either fail to get the things done, or having them done with sub-optimal results.

When you are using the analytical framework, you would have to adapt the framework to the issue you have at hand, and use it to find the right match among the various elements for the best results.

For example, when you are cooking your favourite dish of spaghetti for your guests, the ‘three endowments’ of heaven, earth and men may be interpreted as timing, place and people. These three things must be in place to produce the meal you want.

Timing wise, the spaghetti has to be prepared at the right time, so that it can be served warm when your guests are ready for the food. The duration for the cooking has to be just right, neither too long nor too short, for the dish to be delicious.

Place here is the kitchen and the equipment and the utensils. The oven must be in good conditions, and the utensils clean and presentable.

As for men, first and foremost is clearly the cook. He has to be skillful and passionate. Equally important would be the diners, who should ideally be spaghetti lovers and enjoy the company.

If the three elements are all right, you will enjoy a pleasant meal of spaghetti with your diners. If any of the elements are not right, you do not get the result you want no matter how hard you try.

The framework sounds simple, but it has being used by great men and women from century to century to do wonders from fighting wars to building nations.

Observing the ‘three endowments’, you are flowing with nature. Otherwise, be prepared to fight against the flow of current – in addition to tackling the issue at hand.

“Being one with Nature, he is in accord with the Tao.
Being in accord with the Tao, he is everlasting.”

Tao Te Ching quotes


Thanks to fauxto_digit for the picture.




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