Ubud (Bali, Indonesia) – Sharpening your knife

We walk through the rice fields with a guide. He talks about rice and medicinal herbs.

I think about Lao tsu’s Tao te Ching.

Lao tsu writes (chapter 9; translated by Steven Mitchell):

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.”

Lao tsu does not advocate striving for success as conceived by most people.

We walk by rice fields but encounter a stream of motorcycles. Lao tsu points out the futility of following the standard “endless quest” of life. I am thinking that I am not really in harmony with this place because I must avoid getting hit by a motorcycle.

The guide talks with Karen about cock fighting as we pass by the caged birds. I look at a Hindu shrine along the way. The people here offer “sacrifices” (small trays of food, fruit, cigarettes, drinks) each day, making a prayer.

We humans also compete and some win while others lose. We want to fill our bowls and sharpen our knives — but we also want to stay in harmony with the unseen reality.

Lao tsu says:

“Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.”

Spirituality, acknowledging the unseen world, helps us unclench.

Our guide takes us to a coffee plantation — where the best coffee in the world is processed. We watch the stages – beans, roast, grinding.

The best coffee is made from beans eaten and secreted by civets (a kind of nocturnal wild cat). The cat’s digestive system reduces the acidity and improves the flavor of the final product.


The situation is very uncool. The civets are held in small cages and fed a diet of coffee cherries — this differs from the wild civets and these caged cats do not look very happy. Workers sift through the excrement to get the beans. How much fun is that?


The resulting coffee is extremely expensive ($600 a pound) but we had a cup for a Starbucks-price.

It was REALLY good!


I look at vanilla beans and ponder my experience. The civets were so sad. The situation was unethical but…the coffee was delicious. This type dilemma permeates modern life — people in poor countries work hard so that others in rich countries can get fat — pleasure for some, suffering for others.


Cloves — tasty. But it is like this for all products — some people work hard and receive low salaries.

Turmeric — used in curry powder — it has medicinal qualities.

What would Lao tsu say?


We see many exotic fruits and spices.

I want you to be happy, get what you want, get out of your cage, get a good job, exciting partner, sharp knife, full bowl — but be in harmony with the unseen world.

We sample many types of coffee.

The tour guide takes us to a waterfall.


Karen is fearful while crossing over the narrow bridge.

We cross safely — and you can come with us.



An exotic scene — sharpen the knife, fill the bowl, but what about the coffee and morality?

Pondering seems futile.

Lao tsu says:
“Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.”

Meditation allows stepping back. Set aside time for meditation each day. Step back.

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