All posts by Chuck Gullion

libertariantaoist is a blogger living in the Missouri Ozarks. He enjoys tutoring children and sitting outside in his backyard smoking his pipe while observing nature. He blogs a chapter each day from Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" (81 chapters in all); and adds his own commentary, interpreting current events from his own unique libertarian and taoist perspective.

He Wouldn’t, or Couldn’t, Just Say No

This past Friday night, I slept through two tornado warnings – and the premeditated and unprovoked attack on Syria by the United States, Great Britain, and France. I awoke Saturday morning to the news, and surveyed the area surrounding my home, finding no damage – I can’t say the same for Syria.

Why couldn’t we mind our own business? Why must our solution, to everything under the sun, be acts of aggression, violence, intervention, where we have no right (legal or moral) to behave in such a way?

I have come to the conclusion that America’s wars of aggression are as common as tornadoes in the spring. Only our bombs do far more damage.

I am 54 years old, so I have witnessed countless initiations of aggression by the imperialistic United States against sovereign peoples all over the world. The justifications are always the same, I am always stunned that they are uttered with a straight face by these perpetrators of violence. And today, as always, I wonder why it is that the millions we have killed have no defender. No one to stand up and apply the same justice against us that we claim to have the sole right to administer.

I am disgusted and ashamed to be an American citizen. But, Howard Zinn was right, when he said, “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.”

Those who say Trump is a puppet are both right and wrong. He is a puppet, but he isn’t Putin’s puppet. He is a puppet of the Deep State. Just like his predecessors, Obama and Bush. The evidence of that is incontrovertible; so, much greater than the contrived evidence against Assad.

So, here, I take my stand. The US government does not act for me. Its will is not my will. Its purpose is not my purpose. I do not, and will not, abet its wars. And, today, I offer a dire warning to all of us who live in the United States of America: America will reap what it has sown. We can’t, and won’t, escape the Law of the Harvest: As you have sown, so shall you reap. America likes to think of itself as a “Christian” nation, but it has never heeded the words of Jesus concerning judging, “As you have meted out justice, so it shall be meted out to you.” Our days as a nation are numbered. Will we make it to our 250th anniversary as a nation in 2026? I highly doubt it.

Today, I weep for the people of Syria; and the people of Yemen, the people of Libya, the people of Iraq, the people of Afghanistan, the list goes on and on and on. And, I weep for my own country. But, justice will come to the United States. And when it does, I will weep no more.

Just Say No to War in Syria

The same refrain gets old after being repeated, like it has been, so many times. I am talking about every time Trump actually starts talking sense when it comes to America’s foreign policy; then, within days, some false flag attack (complete with pictures and videos of suffering children) brings tears to the Donald’s eyes, and all sense is thrown out the window in favor of a rash of violent rhetoric – and that generally leads to “the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air” and just in case you were wondering who is doing the aggressing, through the night, it is our flag that is there.

Yeah, I am not a fan of our national anthem, though it is a fitting anthem for a country which has been at war for 93% of its existence. As Randolph Bourne so aptly put it, “War is the health of the State.” And as every US president has stated in his “State of the Union” address, the State is alive and well. Too alive and well for my liking. Since, as I am typing this, war with Syria seems imminent.

Wait! Who am I kidding? War with Syria isn’t just imminent, it has been ongoing for a number of years now. All the president is trying to do with his tweets is justify further escalation of the war. If there is one thing we can always count on, Washington wants to escalate war somewhere and somehow.

And what are we going to do about it? Call Washington? Beg our president, our representatives, not to do it? Seems futile. They don’t represent us. They represent only those who profit from war.

So, am I saying we should do nothing? I always get accused of this. But, I would argue my doing nothing is actually doing something quite productive. Instead of pleading with the State to turn from its wicked ways (which it can’t possibly do, and still thrive), let’s all double our efforts to make the State more and more irrelevant to our lives.

This will involve some civil disobedience. And I don’t mean protests which devolve into riots, looting, arson, and other assorted violence. What I mean is living your life as if the State already didn’t exist. Because, quite honestly, I can’t think of a faster way to hasten its extinction.

What I am, of course, talking about is what individuals can do about States who want endless war. We can choose not to participate. Refuse to be a soldier. Avoid paying taxes which will inevitably go to fund it. Yes, I know that may mean drastically changing your lifestyle. But is anything less required of individuals, than our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor?

What Assad allegedly did is none of our business. It isn’t in my interest, much less my country’s interest to overthrow him, or drop some bombs on his country. We have quite the history of regime change operations, and they have all ended badly. This one won’t be any different.

State actors have proven they cannot be trusted to ever learn the lessons of history: That violence always begets more violence. But we can refuse to participate in their violence.

The Root Is Violence

After my blog post on “The March for Our Lives,” my son told me there had been another shooting – at YouTube. He told me we need to do something about guns. Did he read my blog post? I think not. Anyway, I told him the root cause of the problem is violence. And, that the violent person chose to use guns is incidental to the problem of violence. Guns are merely tools. They can be used for good or evil. What we should be addressing isn’t guns, but violence, which is the root of the problem.

He didn’t like my answer. First of all, because he thinks violence is too systemic, it can’t be dealt with. Guns (on the other hand, he thinks) can be dealt with. I explained to him that there are far more guns in our country than there are people. They are too prevalent, and there is no getting rid of them. That genie is already out of the bottle. There will always be a supply of them, making them illegal won’t matter. Because, where there is a demand for something there will always be a supply of that thing. If guns can’t be possessed or purchased legally, they will simply be possessed or purchased illegally.

The conversation went on for a whole lot longer than I am covering in my brief paraphrase. He insisted that making guns illegal would probably reduce the amount of gun violence. I insisted that we can’t know that, but even if it did, at what cost? He really couldn’t have read my previous blog post. I went on to talk about cutting off branches, while leaving the root intact. Violence is like crabgrass. Are you familiar with crabgrass? It is very hard to eradicate. I hated it in my parent’s garden, when I was a child. You inevitably break some of it off, leaving the roots to spread.

My son is right about violence being systemic. It seems, as I told him, to be wired into our very nature as humans. While I think of myself as a pacifist, it sometimes seems that nearly every other human being is just looking for an opportunity to be violent. Our culture glorifies violence. I am not talking about the entertainment industry, which I think is only peddling what they know sells. So, you won’t see me wanting to ban movies, or TV shows, or video games, because they are violent.

I am thinking more of how the State glorifies violence. How it promotes war. And we honor those who “serve” in the military, awarding them with medals, parades, holidays, statues, monuments. And the more violence they have perpetrated, the more prestige they earn.

So how do we deal with violence? Well, we get rid of the one institution which thinks it has a divine right to commit violence – the State.

That, also, wasn’t a satisfactory answer to my son. You might think that living with me for all these years would have influenced him more. But, I raised my two children to think for themselves, and he is making real progress, actually. There was a time when he thought FDR was great. Our discussions over the years have always been good ones. I point out his logical fallacies, and he points out mine. Still, there will come a time, and probably sooner than he will care to admit, that he will realize that anarchism works. It worked, for example, when I was “raising” him and his sister.

But that is an aside. How do we get rid of the State, the single greatest purveyor of violence in the world today? Here, my approach may differ from many.

My method is based on what I learned from Lao-tzu over the last few years. “Let it be.” Evil thrives on opposition. If you don’t give it something to oppose, it will disappear all by itself. I don’t confront the State. I simply ignore it. I don’t flaunt how I live my life. I don’t crave attention from the powers that be. I simply live my life following my own code of ethics. And I do what I want. I get away with that, because doing what I want harms no one; and harming no one keeps me from being noticed. I kind of prefer to be ignored. And so should you.

But does ignoring the State actually work to curb violence? I guess that depends on your perspective. It isn’t hard to look and see the State’s violence being perpetrated like always, only with greater magnitude. But what exactly do I expect to be able to do about violence on such a grand scale? I am only one person. All I can expect to do is to effect change within my own small sphere of influence. So my mantra is, “If you don’t want to see violence in your world, be the change you hope to see.” Don’t set your sights on greater spheres than you can possibly influence, merely don’t practice violence in your own small part of the world. It is simple, really.

Too simple, for those who think that is doing nothing; and we really have to do something. But that, I have always thought, was Lao-tzu’s whole point. Doing nothing, out does doing something. When I busied myself with doing something, there was always something more to be done. I never ran out of things to do. Something was always left undone. But when I do nothing, nothing is left undone. We only need to, wait for it, let it be. That is laissez-faire.

And, contrary to what you have been brainwashed to believe, laissez-faire has worked every time it has been practiced. It just isn’t practiced as often as it has been accused of being practiced. Laissez-faire gets blamed whenever our interventions go badly, as they always do. They will say, “We didn’t intervene enough, or we waited too long before intervening.” That isn’t laissez-faire. No, what caused the problem was we intervened too soon, and too much. It would have been better to have let it be. For, whatever evil we felt we needed to confront would have sorted itself out, if we had simply let it be. In other words, it isn’t the fault of laissez-faire that your escalation of violence caused violence to escalate.

Having said all of that, I know my approach, my method, leaves something to be desired. And I could remind you all “desire” is a problem you are going to have to deal with on your own time. Look, I know my own sphere of influence is quite small. I never know whether my blog posts are read by more than a handful of people. I haven’t even managed to convince my own flesh and blood “just live and let live” is always the best course of action. But I am convinced that slow and steady wins the race in the end. And anyway, I am not trying to change the world. That would be biting off a whole lot more than I could ever chew.

Still, I am impacting my own little corner of the world. I know that is true, because as far as my own life is concerned, I have nothing to complain about.

I begin each day knowing I won’t be initiating any violence today. And I end each day knowing I didn’t initiate any violence today. Put simply, I practice minding my own business. And I would recommend you all do the same thing. It makes for a good night’s sleep, every night. Yes, the State is still alive and well, as far as appearances go. But its impact on my own life shrinks and shrinks and shrinks. And when enough of us leave it behind (i.e., stop propping it up) and, otherwise, get on with our own lives, wholly independent of it, it will soon enough collapse under its own weight.

At least that is what I think. And writing down what I think is the purpose of my blog. You, of course, are free to disagree. You probably have an entirely different approach to ending the State, and/or curbing violence in your world. And that is just fine with me. In fact, I think the more diverse methods we all use, the merrier we will all be. If you want to engage me in discussion, or argument on any of this, I welcome the opportunity for dialog. Until then, and as always, have a great day!

The March for Our Lives

This is now my fourth attempt at writing on the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington DC. My first attempt got scrapped because I thought the tone was snarky. The second attempt got scrapped because I thought I was sounding patronizing. And the third attempt failed in its attempt to prove the old adage, the third time’s a charm, true. Snarkiness crept its way back in. And, I was dogged by this nagging doubt that anything I have to say is going to actually change anyone’s mind on the topic of gun control.

Interestingly, I didn’t feel that way when I was writing about abortion, last week. And while I don’t know if I changed anyone’s mind on that subject (I didn’t get enough feedback to make that determination) I was driven, while writing, by my own change of mind on the topic. Hey, if I can change my mind on something, then anyone can, right?

That is my theory, anyway. But, I have never changed my mind on the subject of guns. And that, I think, has been putting up hurdles for me, while I attempt to take a step back from all the hollering going on, on both sides, to write a rational blog post.

Is it better to just remain silent? I certainly have that right, for now.

That is why I initially remained silent after the Parkland shooting. Yet another shooting in a gun-free zone, where people aren’t supposed to bring in guns and start shooting the place up. I remained silent, while smelling something fishy about this particular shooting.

It was clear (to me, at least) that this wasn’t just another school shooting. The students mobilized much too quickly afterwards (the bodies were still warm). There wasn’t the usual lag time, which we should expect, owing to shock. While I don’t doubt we all deal with stress, and loss, in diverse ways, I can’t think of another example of this kind of immediate response. That it was choreographed, and probably weeks in advance, seemed likely.

No, I am not suggesting that I subscribe to some “conspiracy theory” about the shooting. It is just that I wish the narrative we are presented with, what we are told should pass for reality, didn’t make conspiracy theories seem quite so plausible.

And here I am with my fourth attempt to put down on “paper” what I am thinking in my own mind. With any luck, I will succeed after trying and trying, again and again.

Why am I trying to do this? Anyone who knows me, or is familiar with my blog posts, knows how offended I am by violence of all sorts. As I cycled through the verses of the Taoteching over and over again, Lao-tzu offered me myriad opportunities to talk about the virtue of non-aggression, and how abhorrent violence and the tools of violence (e.g. guns) are. Yet, Lao-tzu understood, and I understand, that in dire necessity the use of tools of violence can be justified – when we are forced, and as a last resort.

That is the whole purpose of the second amendment to the US Constitution. Our founders understood that the right of the people to keep and bear arms must not be infringed. It was a necessity, if they were to guarantee a free state.

Already, many of my potential readers have tuned out.

I read, just yesterday, that retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has said that the second amendment is antiquated, a relic of the 18th century, and should be tossed in the dust bin. And, I have heard, so many times, “No one needs an ‘assault’ weapon.” And, “How can anyone expect to stand up to the power of the government’s military prowess?” Try telling that to the “insurgents” which have been keeping our US military at bay for going on seventeen years in Afghanistan; and the people of many other sovereign countries who haven’t greeted us as liberators, much to the surprise of our country’s leaders. No, our founders understood that dire necessity would justify that the people keep and bear arms, just as people do in other countries, otherwise we won’t remain a free state.

The second amendment was never meant to be about hunting, or defending your property against thieves, or defending your school against lone gunmen, though those are certainly legitimate uses for guns. The second amendment, along with the other amendments which make up the so-called Bill of Rights, was written, and included, not to grant rights, but to restrict the government from infringing on our rights.

Many people don’t understand this today. Though it is vital to our freedom that we do understand it. It was the great fear of our founders that people would later misunderstand, and think this was a listing of our rights. What the founders were concerned with in agreeing to the Bill of Rights is that our natural rights would be protected from government encroachment.

We used to know and understand this. Amendments were added to the Constitution to protect the rights of the people. Amendments were added which banned slavery, which ensured voting rights, not just for a select few, but for all, regardless of the color of our skin, or our biological gender.

But our history has also witnessed amendments added which allowed the government to encroach more, rather than less. I am thinking of the amendment which allowed the income tax, and the amendment which banned alcohol consumption. At least we later came to our senses and added another amendment overturning prohibition. I am still waiting for the amendment which will overturn the 16th amendment.

The point I am trying to make is that amendments, especially in the Bill of Rights were designed to rein in government. Not to grant us a select number of rights. And the 9th and 10th amendments make clear, this isn’t an exhaustive list of our rights. They are only meant to restrain the government.

I am no Constitutional scholar; but I was required, back in high school, to pass a test on the Constitution, proving I had a basic understanding of it. They still require that, don’t they?

Getting back to the issue of guns, I am not going to start citing statistics to support my argument that guns prevent more violence than they inflict. That gun violence has actually gone down as the number of guns has proliferated. That the nations with the most guns have the lowest crime rates. I also won’t be citing statistics about the places in my own country that have the greatest degree of gun violence, the cities where guns are the most restricted. Nor will I cite statistics about the reality that gangs armed with illegal guns are the ones committing the most violence. I won’t cite the statistics because both sides have cherry-picked statistics where numbers have been manipulated to make their arguments appear valid. There is a reason Mark Twain railed against “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics!”

I hope that my first three attempts to write this blog post managed to get all the snarky and patronizing out of my system enough to write a thoughtful analysis of the situation. That you can agree or disagree with me, as you will. But any accusations that I was just throwing mud are self-evidently refuted.

I do want to address these students who, we are told, mobilized themselves to march to Washington “for their lives.” I listened to some of the speeches. And the students are right about a number of things. They are right that the adults have failed them. And they are right that enough is enough. But they are wrong when they blame guns.

It wasn’t the fault of guns. It was the fault of the young man who used the guns. And, it was a failure of law enforcement. I could respect these students, if their march on Washington was to complain that law enforcement failed them. That would be legitimate. Law enforcement did fail them, from the local level right on up to the FBI. Nothing short of gross incompetence was involved. And heads should roll because of it. That is what these students, marching for their lives, should be demanding.

I am in great distress, as I fear for my nation that common sense, and a clear reading and understanding of our Constitution are going to be relegated to the dust bin. And we won’t remain a free state.

Once again, I want to encourage my followers to give me feedback on this blog post. I certainly put plenty of effort into it. Let me know what you think. And, as always, have a great day!

For my first blog post, post-Taoteching, the subject is Abortion

For my first blog post since discontinuing my daily commentaries on Lao-tzu’s Taoteching I have decided to tackle a very difficult topic to discuss. Abortion. I was inspired to do this because of a dialogue I got involved in on my personal Facebook just last week. Before I get into it, I want to add this caveat: This is a very emotional issue for some. I personally think women confronting an unplanned pregnancy are dealing with a tragic circumstance. And whatever they choose to do about it, it is a heart-wrenching decision that they are having to make.

Now, to begin with, I need to preface with just a little bit about myself. My followers know me as libertariantaoist. And I am a libertarian anarchist, and a philosophical taoist. I want to write this blog from my unique libertariantaoist perspective. However, there are some other things you all need to know about me, as well. I am not a woman. I am a man. Some think that men don’t have any right to speak on this issue, that it is strictly a women’s issue. But it takes two to tango, and being the father of two, now adult children, I think I have as vested an interest in talking about this issue as anyone. My two children, a daughter and a son, they mean everything to me. They were my reason for being for all the years I was raising them. And I did raise them, as a single parent, from their preteen years. I home-schooled them too. But that is enough about me for now, let’s get into the heart of this, shall we?

Abortion. I used to be staunchly pro-life. No abortions, no exceptions. I was involved in my local community, protested outside abortion clinics, hassled state politicians, even traveled to Washington DC, back in January of 1993 for the March for Life on the anniversary of Roe V. Wade. My credentials in the pro-life movement were extensive.

But, unlike some, over time my positions on various things have changed, as my convictions, my belief in the primacy of liberty, have solidified. I don’t have time to go into everything which changed my mind on this issue. I don’t even know if I know them all. But one thing has stuck with me. It was thinking about Patrick Henry saying that he valued liberty over life. That really resonated with me.

Anyway, I began to realize that if we really cared about the life of the unborn, we should be providing more choices to women who found themselves in the tragic circumstances of having an unplanned pregnancy, not fewer. I realized that some of the most vociferous opponents of abortion were also opposed to all forms of birth control. These pro-life people were really anti-choice. And being a libertarian, I couldn’t be anti-choice.

Still, I don’t consider myself pro-abortion. I wouldn’t want abortion to be anyone’s first choice when it comes to family planning. I just can’t reconcile forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term with living in a free society. And I want to live in a free society. And not just free for me, but free for all.

So anyway, for me, the issue is about offering more options to women faced with the prospect of an unplanned pregnancy, not less. What I want more than that abortion is not an option, is that it is not the only option. If women have more choices, ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies from happening in the first place, like fuller access to a plethora of birth control options, and making adoption a more viable option. But, of course, I am not suggesting these things should be paid for by taxation. I don’t think the government needs to be involved in this at all. That would kind of defeat the whole, “we don’t need no stinking government” narrative, wouldn’t it?

And, by the way, I also think men should be made to bear more responsibility in this whole thing. Once again, not by force of government. I am thinking of contractual obligations here. It takes two to tango, as I said earlier. Yet the brunt of the responsibility falls on women when it comes to what to do once she gets pregnant. Women need to have recourse to more options, once again, not less. I am already imagining the men’s rights activists raising heck with me. Perhaps I will have to address men’s rights in another blog post. So hold on there guys, I will get to you later.

You probably have already noticed I have only casually mentioned the life of the unborn in all this. And that is the real issue for a lot of you.

In my discussion with one person on Facebook, he wanted to know two things about my views. Is the fetus a human life, and if it isn’t why shouldn’t abortion be plan A, the first choice, for women facing an unplanned, and unwanted, pregnancy? The second question was when does life begin?

My answer to the first question: One of the reasons I don’t want abortion to be anyone’s first option is because abortions aren’t a simple procedure, and sometimes things go wrong. Horribly wrong. That is why we need to be expanding choice, options, rather than restricting them.

My answer to the second question, on when life begins, was and is, I don’t know. I used to believe the whole “Life begins at conception” narrative. And if you insist on believing that, then nothing I will say will probably ever convince you to moderate your views. It is a convenient belief. It saves you a whole lot of trouble. It is very cut and dried. I understand that. That was one reason I used to believe that way.

But then I spent some time thinking, and reasoning, and I came to realize life isn’t as cut and dried as we would like it to be. It simply is more complicated than that. So now, “I don’t know” will have to work, cause honestly, I don’t know. Somehow, I think viability outside the womb has to be a consideration. And medical technology is coming a long way in that regard.

I want to take a time out here, and consider the taoist side of things. I am libertariantaoist, after all. So what do I think is the taoist viewpoint. I don’t purport to know the official Taoist viewpoint. Or even the viewpoint of a majority of Taoists. There is a reason I choose to always list myself as a “small t” taoist. My viewpoints are my own.

As far as Lao-tzu is concerned, I haven’t the foggiest idea what his stance on when life begins would be. Namely, because I have never read anything purported to be written or said by him, which addressed this issue. I know he loved babies. Newborns were one of his favorite go-to metaphors for practicing the Tao. Second only to water. But he said nothing about babies in utero. That may or may not mean that he believed babies aren’t babies until they are born.

And by the way, “Babies aren’t babies until they are born” is just as convenient a belief as “Life begins at conception, period.” It saves one the trouble of having to think about that growing blob inside its mother. Having said that, “Babies aren’t babies until they are born,” may, in fact, be the best legal definition. Consider the natural rights we are all endowed with “by our Creator.”

When are we endowed with these natural rights? Is it at conception, or while we are still in utero? Or, is it at birth? Whenever I have heard any discussion of natural rights, the answer has always been, at birth. I am no legal scholar, but I think trying to extend natural rights to people before they are born presents us with a Pandora’s box full of troubles we will later regret opening.

Just consider the implications of this reality: According to the American Pregnancy Association, studies reveal that anywhere from 10-25% of clinically recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Notice that is just the clinically recognized pregnancies. What are the legal implications of these “deaths.” Did the baby die of natural causes? Or is someone, perhaps the mother, at fault? Did she faithfully do everything necessary (prenatal care) to ensure the life of her unborn child, whose rights are now to be protected by the government? Who gets to decide exactly what these necessary things are? Are we really going to put women through the agony of a court trial to prove their innocence, when they are already suffering enough because of the miscarriage? Talk of a miscarriage of justice!

Why did I ever decide to tackle this difficult issue? I guess the real reason is because when faced with uncertainty over when life actually begins, and comparing that with the certainty of liberty being infringed upon, I know where I must make my stand.

I understand how emotional the arguments can be on this issue. I have witnessed those emotional arguments countless times, even taking part in them. They often devolved into shouting matches. I hoped I could take a step back from all of that, and present a rational argument, not for abortion, but for more choice, and against any restrictions on liberty.

I wish every baby was a wanted baby. I wish every pregnancy was a joyful circumstance for both the mother, and the father, of the child. But that isn’t the case. And wishing won’t make it so.

I don’t want any woman to ever feel like abortion is her only option, but because I can’t reconcile forcing women to carry their pregnancy to term with living in a free society, I can’t be in favor of banning it, either. In a free society, we should be offering women more choices, not fewer. Placing any restrictions, laws crafted by bureaucrats with all sorts of legal hoops a woman has to jump through before she can get an abortion, are an infringement that I can’t justify; simply because, in a free society individuals, not society, get to decide what is best for themselves.

I am probably rambling by now, so I will end it here. What I am hoping with my blog posts, and not just this one, is to elicit thoughtful discussion. Let me know what you think. What giant gaping holes did I leave in my argument? Do you have the definitive answer to when life begins, and I am just too stupid to see it? Any other concerns? If there is enough feedback from my followers, perhaps I could continue this discussion with some dialogue from those who wish to be part of the discussion. If not, I will move on to something else. Thanks for reading through this. I hope it was thought-provoking. Have a great day!

Looks Like This Is the End

“True words aren’t beautiful
beautiful words aren’t true
the good aren’t eloquent
the eloquent aren’t good
the wise aren’t learned
the learned aren’t wise
sages accumulate nothing
but the more they do for others
the greater their existence
the more they give to others
the greater their abundance
the Way of Heaven
is to help without harming
the Way of the Sage
is to act without struggling”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 81, translation by Red Pine)

HUANG-TI says, “There’s a word for everything. Words that are harmful we say aren’t true” (Chingfa: 2).

TE-CH’ING says, “At the beginning of this book, Lao-tzu says the Tao can’t be put into words. But are its 5,000-odd characters not words? Lao-tzu waits until the last verse to explain this. He tells us that though the Tao itself includes no words, by means of words it can be revealed – but only by words that come from the heart.”

SU CH’E says, “What is true is real but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t beautiful. What is beautiful is pleasing to look at but nothing more. Hence, it isn’t true. Those who focus on goodness don’t try to be eloquent. And those who focus on eloquence aren’t good. Those who have one thing that links everything together have no need of learning. Those who keep learning don’t understand the Tao. The sage holds on to the one and accumulates nothing.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “True words are simple and not beautiful. The good cultivate the Tao, not the arts. The wise know the Tao, not information. Sages accumulate virtue, not wealth. They give their wealth to the poor and use their virtue to teach the unwise. And like the sun or moon, they never stop shining.”

CHUANG-TZU says, “When Lao Tan and Yin Hsi heard of people who considered accumulation as deficiency, they were delighted” (Chuangtzu: 33.5). Lao Tan was Lao-tzu’s name, and Yin Hsi was the man to whom he transmitted the Taoteching.

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “People only worry that their own existence and abudnance are insufficient. They don’t realize that helping and giving to others doe them no harm but benefits themselves instead.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “The wealth that comes from giving generously is inexhaustible. The power that arises from not accumulating is boundless.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Help is the opposite of harm. Wherever there is help, there must be harm. But when Heaven helps, it doesn’t harm, because it helps without helping. Action is the start of struggle. Wherever there is action, there must be struggle. But when sages act, they don’t struggle, because they act without acting.”

CHIAO HUNG says, “The previous 5,000 words all explain ‘the Tao of not accumulating,’ what Buddhists call ‘non-attachment.’ Those who empty their mind on the last two lines will grasp most of Lao-tzu’s text.”

WANG CHEN says, “The last line summarizes the entire 5,000 words of the previous eighty verses. It doesn’t focus on action or inaction but simply on action that doesn’t involve struggle.”

And RED PINE concludes, “At the beginning and at the end of the Taoteching, Lao-tzu reminds us not to become attached to the words. Let the words go. Have a cup of tea.”

So, we come to the end of another cycle through the Taoteching. If I counted correctly, this makes a total of twenty-one times I have gone through these verses, adding my own commentary. It has been great! I have learned so much since I started doing this in 2012. I think my writing has improved quite a bit, too. And I want to thank each one of you who have taken this journey with me. Some of you have been there from the very beginning with me. Again, thank you all so much!

But, as someone has said before, everything which has a beginning, has an end. And, I have decided, this is a good time to call it the end. I am grateful for the discipline it required of me to do these daily blog posts. Sometimes, I will admit to you, I didn’t feel like talking about the particular verse whose time had come for me to talk about. But, like it or not, I trudged onward. And I can’t say I didn’t benefit from doing this.

However, while I could continue to do this for many moons to come, I am feeling a call to devote time I have been spending on tackling these verses fresh each day, to writing on other things. I have wanted to write on a variety of topics over the years, but never quite had the time. Part of that lack of time is due to spending so much of my time just keeping up with these commentaries. There are so many things going on in the world, so many opportunities where a libertariantaoist viewpoint would be nice to share. And while I do put little tidbits of contemporary events in my blog posts, so many times, they just aren’t compatible with the verse for that day. Or even if they are, I am writing these commentaries days, even weeks in advance, and by the time they post, it is old news.

I am constantly being challenged by not having enough hours in each day. I am cursed by needing 8 hours of sleep every night. I hate it. Really. But I can’t function without it. And that means the time I am awake is very precious to me. I can’t read all I want to read. Nor listen to all the podcasts. Nor write.

Being challenged like this, I have to economize. I have to figure out the best uses of my time, so I can spend the little time I have, doing what I truly love. That is the reason I am ending this practice of taking a verse a day of the Taoteching. It doesn’t mean I won’t be blogging any more. You won’t get rid of me that easily. But I don’t expect to be posting daily any longer. What I want to do is spend more of my time reading, and writing. And hopefully, I will have something to say worth saying, one to two times a week. No, that isn’t as often as every day. But, as I have already said, I have been feeling myself in a time crunch.

I won’t leave the Taoteching behind. I still have plenty to learn from Lao-tzu. I haven’t reached “Master” level, yet. But I hope I have learned some lessons which will serve me well as I start writing about different things. I hope I have learned, “True words aren’t beautiful and beautiful words aren’t true.” And, “The good aren’t eloquent and the eloquent aren’t good.” And, “The wise aren’t learned and the learned aren’t wise.” These are good lessons to keep me from wandering too far astray.

But I think some of the most important lessons I have learned, on multiple journeys through the Taoteching, are lessons on how to help without harming, and how to act without struggling. What that means for me, and my future blog posts, is you will continue to get a libertariantaoist perspective in everything I write. I will continue to champion non-aggression and non-intervention.

I was talking to a friend earlier today, and he was concerned about Trump meeting with Kim Jong-un. He doesn’t trust that Trump won’t screw things up. I understand that fear. What I told him is what I want out of our foreign policy. That we would pull our troops off the Korean peninsula and let South and North Korea settle their differences on their own. He said if that would happen, the North would immediately invade the South, with China backing them up. While I don’t know whether or not that would be true, my reply is the same: Why is that our concern? America thinks it needs to have its fingers meddling in everybody’s business as if it were our business. It isn’t. It wasn’t back in the 1950’s when we backed the South against the North in Korea. And it isn’t any of our business today. As far as I am concerned, our foreign policy is giving our enemies exactly what they want. They want us meddling all over the world, because they know it will eventually bankrupt us, and then we won’t be around to meddle anymore.

See, these are the things I would like to be talking about, writing about, and it should be obvious, I can hardly wait to get started. But first I have to finish today’s verse. And you know what? I think I am done.

Imagining It Is Just the Beginning

“Imagine a small state with a small population
let there be labor-saving tools
that aren’t used
let people consider death
and not move far
let there be boats and carts
but no reason to ride them
let there be armor and weapons
but no reason to employ them
let people return to the use of knots
and be satisfied with their food
and pleased with their clothing
and content with their homes
and happy with their customs
let there be another state so near
people hear its dogs and chickens
but live out their lives without making a visit”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 80, translation by Red Pine)

HUANG-TI says, “A great state is yang. A small state is yin.”

SU CH’E says, “Lao-tzu lived during the decline of the Chou, when artifice flourished and customs suffered, and he wished to restore its virtue through doing nothing. Hence, at the end of his book he wishes he had a small state to try this on. But he never got his wish.”

YAO NAI says, “In ancient times, states were many and small. In later times, they were few and great. But even if a great state wanted to return to the ancient ways, how could it?”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “When sages govern great states, they think of them as small states and are frugal in the use of resources. When the people are many, sages think of them as few and are careful not to exhaust them.”

HU SHIH says, “With the advance of civilization, the power of technology is used to replace human labor. A cart can carry thousands of pounds, and a boat can carry hundreds of passengers. This is the meaning of “labor-saving tools’” (Chung-kuo che-hsueh-shih ta-kang. p. 64).

WANG AN-SHIH says, “When the people are content with their lot, they don’t concern themselves with moving far away or with going to war.”

THE YICHING CHITZU says, “The earlier rulers used knots in their government. Later sages introduced the use of writing” (B.2).

WU CH’ENG says, “People who are satisfied with their food and pleased with their clothes cherish their lives and don’t tempt death. People who are content with their homes and happy with their customs don’t move far away. They grow old and die where they were born.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “They are satisfied with their food because they taste the Tao. They are pleased with their clothing because they are adorned with virtue. They are content with their homes because they are content wherever they are. And they are happy with their customs because they soften the glare of the world.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Those who do their own farming and weaving don’t lack food or clothes. They have nothing to give and seek nothing. Why should they visit others?”

Regardless your opinion of John Lennon or his song, “Imagine,” I think the lyrics to that song are very similar to the imagining Lao-tzu invites us all to do in today’s verse. Wait, I think I may be already regretting that analogy. Does it leave some of my readers with a negative image? A positive one? Well, whichever it does, even if that analogy had a neutral effect on you, today’s verse probably got a similar reaction out of you.

I have always thought of today’s verse in positive terms. Maybe it is because it has always reminded me of Tolkien’s Shire, from his Hobbit books. “Imagine a small state with a small population.” Actually, I have no idea how small the population of the Shire was, in Tolkien’s mind. I just know it was filled with small folk.

Yet, I hear the criticism of those who read today’s verse, and complain that Lao-tzu was wanting us all to abandon modernity, to live primitively.

Certainly Lao-tzu taught that living simply was one of the keys to true contentment. But Lao-tzu, just as certainly, wouldn’t be about forcing everyone to live the way he envisioned to be for the best. Actually, I think those who dismiss Lao-tzu’s teachings, over his admittedly Utopian dream, are missing Lao-tzu’s whole point.

It isn’t about where you live, though I will admit, this is exactly the kind of place I’d like to live. And it isn’t even about how you live, though Lao-tzu does go on and on about how the people in this imagined place live – just imagine it. It is about whether or not you are content.

Let there be no arguments about the benefits of labor-saving tools. I happen to enjoy them, too. And would be loath to give them up.

Let there be no arguments about the benefits of traveling, of experiencing new and different cultures. I, too, agree we are enriched by diversity of peoples, places, and things. Sameness can get stale, stagnant. It’s good to shake things up every now and then.

And, please, let there be no arguments about the need for armor and weapons. Lao-tzu has already made clear both his disdain for violence and the tools of violence, weapons, while always acknowledging, we will have to resort to using them, when forced.

Can we please set all the arguments aside for just a moment, and just imagine a state of true contentment. Maybe what you imagine won’t be anything like what Lao-tzu imagines. That’s okay. Just imagine what true contentment would mean for you.

Does it involve being satisfied with the food you have to eat? Being pleased with the clothing you have to wear? Being content with your home? Being happy with your customs?

Can we set aside our petty differences, and just imagine being content with our lives? And then, having imagined it, can we make it a reality by being content with our lives?

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

HUANG-TI (27TH C. B.C.). Known as the Yellow Emperor, he was the leader of the confederation of tribes that established their hegemony along the Yellow River. Thus, he was considered the patriarch of Chinese civilization. When excavators opened the Mawangtui tombs, they also found four previously unknown texts attributed to him: Chingfa, Shihtaching, Cheng, and Taoyuan.

YAO NAI (1732-1815). One of the most famous literary figures of the Ch’ing dynasty and advocate of writing in the style of ancient prose. His anthology of ancient literary models, Kuwentzu Leitsuan, has had a great influence on writers and remains in use. Lao-tzu chang-chu.

YICHING CHITZU (APPENDED JUDGMENTS ON THE BOOK OF CHANGES). Attributed to Duke Wen.

How Can This Be Good?

“In resolving a dispute
a dispute is sure to remain
how can this be good
sages therefore hold the left marker
and make no claim on others
thus the virtuous oversee markers
the virtue-less oversee taxes
the Way of Heaven favors no one
but it always helps the good”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 79, translation by Red Pine)

TE-CH’ING says, “In Lao-tzu’s day, whenever the feudal rulers had a dispute, the most powerful lord convened a meeting to resolve it. But the resolution of a great dispute invariably involved a payment. And if the payment was not forthcoming, the dispute continued.”

WANG PI says, “If we don’t arrange a contract clearly and a dispute results, even using virtuous means to settle it won’t restore the injury. Thus, a dispute will remain.”

SU CH’E says, “If we content ourselves with trimming the branches and don’t pull out the roots, things might look fine on the outside, but not on the inside. Disputes come from delusions, and delusions are the product of our nature. Those who understand their nature encounter no delusions, much less disputes.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Murderers are killed, and criminals are punished according to their crime. But those who inflict such punishments offend their own human feelings and involve innocent people as well. If even one person sighs, we offend the Heart of Heaven. How can resolving disputes be considered good?”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “If someone lets go of both sides but still clings to the middle, how can he be completely good?”

CHENG LIANG-SHU says, “In ancient times, contracts were divided in two. In the state of Ch’u, the creditor kept the left half, and Lao-tzu was from Ch’u. In the central plains, this was reversed, and the creditor kept the right half.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Seeking to make peace with others is the Way of Humankind. Not seeking to make peace but letting things make peace by themselves is the Way of Heaven. Despite action and the expenditure of energy, energy and action seldom bring peace. Sages therefore hold the left marker because they rely on non-action and the subtlety of letting things be.”

CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG says, “If one does not make demands of others, disputes cannot arise. If one constantly takes from others, great disputes cannot help but occur.”

WANG AN-SHIH says, “Those concerned with taxes cannot avoid making claims on others and thus cannot prevent disputes. This is why they lack virtue.”

MENCIUS says, “The rulers of the Hsia dynasty exacted a tribute [kung] on every five acres of land. The rulers of the Shang exacted a share [chu] on every seven acres. The rulers of the Chou exacted a tax [ch’e] on every ten acres. In reality, what was paid was a tithe of 10 percent” (Mencius: 3A.3; see also Lunyu: 12.9).

LU TUNG-PIN says, “Those who are good cultivate themselves. They don’t concern themselves with others. Once you concern yourself with others, you have disputes. The good make demands of themselves. They don’t make demands of others. The Way of Humankind is selfish. The Way of Heaven is unselfish. It isn’t concerned with others. But it is always one with those who are good.”

And RED PINE adds, “The Way of Heaven always helps the good because the good expect nothing. Hence, they are easily helped.”

Today’s verse is another one where I expect there to be some resistance. Why? Because the way of Humankind is so very contrary to the Way of Heaven.

As Sung Ch’ang-hsing notes in his commentary, “the way of Humankind is seeking to make peace with others.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? What could possibly be wrong with seeking to make peace with others? Yet, “the Way of Heaven doesn’t seek to make peace; Instead, the Way of Heaven is to let things make peace by themselves.”

Sung Ch’ang-hsing goes on to explain the reason for this. “Despite action and the expenditure of energy, energy and action seldom bring peace.”

Also, note what Lao-tzu says about those intent on resolving disputes. When they try to force it, “a dispute is sure to remain.” And, Lao-tzu wonders, “How can this be good?”

As good as seeking to make peace with others sounds, it hardly ever works out as well as we hoped it would. Does that mean we shouldn’t try to make peace with others?

Not at all; but that is where Lao-tzu’s practice of “doing without doing” comes in.

He points out how sages go about things, and how very different it is from the way Humankind does things. Lao-tzu says sages hold the left marker, a reference to the side of the contract which only involves one’s own obligations. It makes no reference to the other party’s responsibilities. Meaning, they don’t make any claim on others.

The need to resolve disputes can be avoided altogether, notes Chiang Hsi-ch’ang, if you don’t make demands of others. But great disputes can’t help but occur, if you are constantly making demands on others.

Lao-tzu finishes up today’s verse by saying, “The Way of Heaven favors no one, but it always helps the good.” I thought that sounded a lot like something Martin Luther King once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

That quote wasn’t necessarily original with King. I did a bit of research and found that Theodore Parker, a Unitarian minister and prominent American Transcendentalist calling for the abolition of slavery, published a collection of ten sermons in 1853 where he included figurative language about the arc of the moral universe:

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; But I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long, Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.”

And then there is is this gem from a book called “Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish rite of Freemasonry” with a copyright date of 1871 and publication date of 1905. The author was not identified:

“We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.”

Lao-tzu in his Taoteching, constantly teaches the very same thing. In verse 73, he wondered, “What Heaven dislikes, who can know the reason?” That was his way of saying, things don’t always seem to work out the way we know they should.

The lesson we should glean from all of this is to do what we know in our own hearts to be right, and don’t worry so much about what others do. It will all work out right in the end — if we will only let it.

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

CHENG LIANG-SHU (B. 1940). Classical scholar and a leading authority on the Mawangtui texts. His presentation of differences between the Mawangtui and other editions appears in Ta-lu tsa-chih vols. 54-59 (April 1977-October 1979). His study of Tunhuang copies of the Taoteching is also excellent: Lao-tzu lun-chi.

CHIANG HSI-CH’ANG (PUBL. 1937). Lao-tzu chiao-chieh.

Something Everyone Knows, But No One Can Practice

“Nothing in the world is weaker than water
but against the hard and the strong
nothing outdoes it
for nothing can change it
the soft overcomes the hard
the weak overcomes the strong
this is something everyone knows
but no one is able to practice
thus do sages declare
who accepts a country’s disgrace
we call the lord of soil and grain
who accepts a country’s misfortune
we call the ruler of all under Heaven
upright words sound upside down”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 78, translation by Red Pine)

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “The nature of water is to stay low, to not struggle, and to take on the shape of its container. Thus, nothing is weaker. Yet despite such weakness it can bore through rocks. Rocks, however, cannot wear down water.”

LI HUNG-FU says, “The soft and the weak do not expect to overcome the hard and the strong. They simply do.”

HSI T’UNG says, “You can hit it, but you can’t hurt it. You can stab it, but you can’t wound it. You can hack it, but you can’t cut it. You can light it, but you can’t burn it. Nothing in the world can alter this thing we call water.”

CHU TI-HUANG says, “We can alter the course and shape of water, but we can’t alter its basic nature to descend, by means of which it overcomes the hardest and strongest things.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “The reason people know this but don’t put this into practice is that they love strength and hate weakness.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Spies and traitors, thieves and robbers, people who have no respect for the law, disloyal subjects and unfilial children, these are disgraces. Excessive drought and rain, epidemics and locusts, untimely death, famine and homelessness, ominous plants, and misshapen animals, these are misfortunes.”

PO-TSUNG says, “Rivers and swamps contain mud. Mountains and marshes harbor diseases. The most beautiful gem has a flaw. The ruler of a state suffers disgrace. This is the Way of Heaven” (Tsochuan: Hsuan.15).

SHUN says, “If I commit an offense, it has nothing to do with my people. If my people commit an offense, the offense rests with me” (Shuching: 4C.8).

CHUANG-TZU says, “Everyone wants to be first, while I alone want to be last, which means to endure the world’s disgrace” (Chuangtzu: 33.5).

MENCIUS says, “If the rulers of a state are not kind, they cannot protect the spirits of the soil and grain” (Mencius: 4A.3).

SU CH’E says, “Upright words agree with the Tao and contradict the world. The world considers suffering disgrace shameful and suffering misfortune a calamity.”

LI JUNG says, “The world sees disgrace and innocence, fortune and misfortune. The follower of the Tao sees them all as empty.”

KAO YEN-TI says, “The last line sums up the meaning of the abstruse phrases that occur throughout the Taoteching, such as ‘to act without acting.’ The words may contradict, but they complement the truth.”

Lao-tzu called it something everyone knows, but no one is able to practice. And I wonder whether it is really a matter of inability, or unwillingness. But before we try to figure that one out, maybe we better make sure we truly understand what the “it” is, that Lao-tzu says everyone knows.

Lao-tzu says, “Nothing in the world is weaker than water, but against the hard and the strong, nothing outdoes it.” Lao-tzu is talking about water, here; but he is talking about it metaphorically. Why is it that the hard and the strong is no match for its weakness?

First, Lao-tzu says it is because nothing can change it. The change Lao-tzu is referring to, here, is its nature. It is the nature of water which nothing can change. Hsuan-tsung says the nature of water is to stay low, to not struggle, and to take on the shape of its container. Thus, nothing is weaker. Yet, despite its weakness, it can bore through rocks. Rocks, on the other hand, can’t wear down water. And Chu Ti-huang allows that we can alter the course and shape of water, but we can’t alter its basic nature to descend.

But, remember, I said that Lao-tzu only lauds the nature of water metaphorically. What he is really teaching, the “it” that everyone knows, is that when we become like water, as Bruce Lee taught, we can overcome the hard and the strong. When we are taught to be like water, what we are really being taught is to be soft, and by being soft overcome the hard. And to be weak, and by being weak overcome the strong.

This is what Lao-tzu says everyone knows. Being soft, being weak, enables us to overcome, because being like water, our nature is to stay low, to not struggle, to descend, and nothing can overcome that. Especially if “nothing” refers to the strong and hard. The strong and hard can’t (or won’t) compete with that.

And that brings me back to my earlier question. Is Lao-tzu’s assertion that no one is able to practice this really a question of ability, or is it unwillingness. If Lao-tzu was only talking about rocks, then it is obviously a question of ability. Rocks are rocks. They don’t have the capacity to will anything. So unwillingness on the part of rocks seems a silly notion. But, Lao-tzu isn’t teaching rocks a lesson. He is teaching people, who can be as hard in their unwillingness (in other words, obstinate) as rocks. Even the rocks are metaphors!

And now we really need to be honest, and say the “no one” that Lao-tzu refers to here, as opposed to the “everyone” he referred to in the previous line, are uses of hyperbole on Lao-tzu’s part. Everyone vs. no one. Like, always and never. Lao-tzu doesn’t really mean there can never be exceptions to the rule. And sages are one such exception.

They do have both a willingness, and the ability, to practice it. And that means, my good friends, that so can we.

What is it going to take?

To be like water, we have to overcome the hardness of our own hearts, the strength of our own will and desires. And that is going to take, wait for it, humility.

That is what the sages declared. You have to accept your country’s disgrace. You have to accept your country’s misfortune. Lao-tzu was teaching rulers in the art of governing, so he talked about it on a grand scale. On a more personal level, we might say, you have to accept your own disgrace and misfortune. Accepting means acquiescing to nature’s course. Are you willing to go even lower, to be last? Or, do you have to be on top, above, first? Your ability or willingness to humble yourself is the key to overcoming — if you can practice it.

So, can you? Or, should I ask, will you?

Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:

CHU TI-HUANG (1885-1941). Ch’ing dynasty official and early revolutionary. After fleeing China, he returned to devote himself to Buddhism and philosophy.

PO-TSUNG (FL. 8TH C. B.C.). Minister at the court of Chin. His views are reported in the Tsochuan: Hsuan.15.

SHUN (CA. 2250-2150 B.C.). Early sage ruler noted for his filial piety and noninterference in public affairs.

SHUCHING (BOOK OF DOCUMENTS). Collection of memorials from China’s earliest historical periods: the Hsia, Shang, and Chou dynasties. Reputedly edited by Confucius, there are two versions, one of which contains twenty-eight chapters and which most scholars think is genuine, and one with an additional twenty-two chapters of debatable authenticity. Translated into English by James Legge (1815-1897).

KAO YEN-TI (1823-1886). Classical scholar and member of the Hanlin Academy. In addition to providing several unique interpretations of his own, Kao’s commentary cites passages of the Taoteching that appear in other ancient texts. Lao-tzu cheng-yi.

It Isn’t a Call to Action

“The Way of Heaven
is like stringing a bow
pulling down the high
lifting up the low
shortening the long
lengthening the short
the Way of Heaven
takes from the long
and supplements the short
unlike the way of Humankind
which takes from the short
and gives to the long
who can take the long
and give it to the world
only those who possess the Way
thus do sages not depend on what they develop
or claim what they achieve
thus they choose to hide their skill”

-Lao-tzu-
(Taoteching, verse 77, translation by Red Pine)

KAO HENG says, “In stringing a bow, we pull the bow down to attach the string to the top. We lift the bow up to attach the string to the bottom. If the string is too long, we make it shorter. If the string is too short, we make it longer. This is exactly the Way of Heaven.” Red Pine’s reading of line two, which agrees with Kao Heng’s, is based on the Shuowen, which says, “Chang means to attach a string to a bow.”

TU ER-WEI says, “Not only the Chinese, but the ancient Greeks and Hindus, the Finns, the Pawnee, and the Arapaho all likened the moon to a bow. Thus the Way of Heaven is like a bow” (Lao-tzu-te-yueh-shen tsung-chiao, pp. 97-98).

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Way of Heaven is so dark, we need metaphors to understand it. To prepare a bow for use, we string it by pulling down the top and lifting up the bottom. Likewise, the Way of Heaven is to take from the strong and give to the weak.”

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “The Way of Heaven does not intentionally pull down the high and lift up the low. It does nothing and relies instead on the nature of things. Things that are high and long cannot avoid being pulled down and shortened. Things that are low and short cannot avoid being lifted up and lengthened. The full suffer loss. The humble experience gain.”

TE CH’ING says, “The Way of Heaven is to give but not to take. The Way of Humankind is to take but not to give.”

WANG P’ANG says, “The way of Heaven is based on the natural order. Hence, it is fair. The way of Humankind is based on desire. Hence, it is not fair. Those who possess the Way follow the same Way as Heaven.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who possess the Way supply the needs of the ten thousand creatures without saying a word. Only those who possess the Way are capable of this.”

LU HSI-SHENG says, “Who can imitate the Way of Heaven and make it the Way of Humankind by taking what one has in abundance and giving it to those in need? Only those who possess the Way. The Yiching [41-42] says, ‘to take means to take from the low and give to the high.’ And ‘to give means to take from the high and give to the low.’”

LI JUNG says, “Although sages perform virtuous deeds, they expect no reward and try to keep their virtue hidden.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The skill of the sages is unfathomable and inexhaustible. How could it be revealed?”

And RED PINE clarifies, “When Lao-tzu refers to ‘the Way of Heaven,” he is not simply referring to the sky above but to everything that lives and moves.”

Today’s verse always makes me kind of nervous. “Pulling down the high, lifting up the low…” What makes me nervous is those who think this is some kind of call to action. “Yeah! Take from the one percent. Take from the rich, give it to the poor. We need governments to redistribute the wealth.”

But that isn’t what Lao-tzu is teaching, at all. He says that is the Way of Heaven: Like when you string a bow, the high is pulled down, and the low is lifted up. What is too long is shortened, and what is too short is lengthened. The Way of Humankind is altogether different. And that is why this isn’t a call to action. For Humankind’s actions always, always take from the short and give to the long, always push the low further down, while raising the already high. Humankind isn’t about lifting up the oppressed, they are always about protecting, maintaining, increasing their power over others.

The rhetoric those in power use are always lies and deception. The Way of Heaven is completely natural. It is never forced. So, Lao-tzu asks, “Who can take the long, and give it to the world? Only those who possess the Way.” And those who possess the Way never use force to achieve their ends. “Thus sages don’t depend on what they develop, or claim what they achieve,” Lao-tzu teaches, “They choose to hide their skill.”

What that means is they don’t force anything. They let Heaven (what is natural) do its complete work. What makes a sage a sage is the alacrity with which they get out of the way, and thus follow the Way.