The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.
When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials
spend money on weapons
instead of cures;
when the upper class
is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by saying that it is easy to follow the great Way. But if it is so easy, why is it that people don’t all follow it? Don’t we like easy? Why is it that people prefer the difficult to the easy? Because that is what the side paths are. Difficult. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us exactly why that is.
Staying centered within the Tao is easy. Or, at least, it would be, if we weren’t so easily distracted and swayed by the illusion. That is what those side paths represent to us. The promise of an easier way? A short cut to happiness? I think it is more systemic than individuals making lousy choices.
Lao Tzu wants us to stay centered. To stay on the great Way. But, you hopefully remember, the monkey wrench that Lao Tzu has been pointing out all along. Powerful men and women don’t want to be centered in the Tao. And they certainly don’t want you centered in the Tao. The Tao is the great Balancer of the Universe. The great Equalizer. But that right there is a threat to those who don’t want balance and absolutely don’t want equality.
Yes, the Tao is the great Balancer. Lao Tzu warns us to beware when things are out of balance. Because, that right there, shows that powerful men and women are interfering with the Tao.
The powerful maintain their power by a very strong illusion. The illusion that without them, all would be chaos. They promise all of us protection from those who would rob and plunder us. But, like I said, that is all an illusion. They are the ones who are doing the robbing and plundering. They are the ones creating the chaos. Do you doubt this? Lao Tzu gives us examples; so that we can see exactly what he means.
When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Rich speculators have the power to interfere with the balancing and equalizing effects of the Tao. They don’t want balance. They don’t want equality. The powerful know exactly what leaving things to the Tao will do. That is what they fear. It would mean that they won’t prosper.
When government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Say what you want about the efficacy of the ALS ice bucket challenge; to me, it epitomizes what the people actually want. Cures. And more has been raised, thanks to this grassroots’ effort going viral, than any government ever spent. Governments aren’t interested in cures. They are interested in war. It is what governments do. They don’t profit from peace. They profit from war, and the weapons that they can use to wage them.
When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Marie Antoinette is alive and well. Our whole economic system is designed to throw crumbs to the poor, to keep them just barely surviving; while Marie and all like her, are living like there is no tomorrow. I am not talking about capitalism or socialism or communism. Those are all just systems of illusion used by the powerful elite to prop up their power. The Tao is so much better than any of that. But the Way of the Tao is not for the powerful elite. If the Tao was left to its own devices, billions wouldn’t be subsisting; while only a few, thrive. The Tao would be a great equalizer. The Tao would balance things out.
These are all side paths. I know why the powerful prefer them. But what I find exceedingly frustrating is when those who don’t profit from interfering with the Tao, are so inured that they can’t see the great Way before them. They continue to wear chains that only they can shake loose. I can’t loosen their bonds. Only they can.
I am thinking about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. So close to home for me. I know too many people who rushed to defend the aggressor and blame the victim. I thought it was crystal clear, for all the world to see. Yet, I came to realize that what was so obvious to me, was just the opposite to a great number of people I know. They want to make it about race. And race is an important feature of this story. But race isn’t the only component.
The issue is about what is the role of the police in a community? And why does the question of any opposition to the status quo have to be answered with overwhelming force? Why have we allowed our local police to become militarized? And why would I expect anything different from the Congressional Black Caucus but what they offer as a solution? They are just part of the powerful elite. They have theirs. And they aren’t going to restrain the hand that feeds them.
People believe what they want to believe. And oh, the contortions they put themselves through, in order to believe the illusion. Lao Tzu would have you live free. Free of the illusions. Free of the sorrow. But if that is going to happen in your life, you will have to be aware when things are out of balance. It is not in keeping with the Tao; and, you don’t have to live this way.