On Knowing And Mastering Yourself

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I don’t know about the rest of you, I want true wisdom and true power. The intelligence required, only to know others; and the strength required, only to master others; is nothing compared to knowing and mastering myself.

But what does Lao Tzu mean by knowing and mastering myself? The knowing comes in realizing that I have enough. I have no need to compare or compete with others. I have enough. Coming to realize that, will make me truly rich. That is knowing, but what is mastering?

Mastering myself is staying in the center of the circle and embracing death with my whole heart. We have talked recently about staying in the center of the circle, but this embracing death thing, that is a tough one. How do I embrace death with my whole heart? I begin with mastering my fear of it. Remember, fear is just a phantom. It isn’t based in reality. It is something we conjure with our minds because we are thinking of preserving ourselves. We fear death for a variety of reasons. Fear of the unknown. Fear that we won’t be there for our loved ones. Fear of prolonged pain and suffering. Perhaps, you can think of others. But, they all need to be mastered.

Mastering our fear of death, and then embracing death as a natural part of the cycle of life, is key to a life that will endure forever. For that is how we really need to come to understand how the Tao operates in our Universe. Embrace it. We live on and on and on.

If And When And The Difference It Makes What You Know

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop, you can avoid danger.

All things end in the Tao,
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

At first glance, Lao Tzu’s introduction to today’s chapter would seem to provide us with little hope. The Tao can’t be perceived. That is pretty black and white. If it can’t be, it can’t be. But we have been talking about the imperceptible for thirty-one chapters now. Let’s not give up hope just yet. After all, what is smaller than an electron does contain uncountable galaxies. And that certainly means that within it is contained all the potential in the Universe. If that doesn’t fill you with hope, you might already be dead.

So let’s talk about that imperceptible Tao. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu offers us an “if” and a “when” which speak to the potential contained within the Tao. And, I think those two words are powerfully distinct; because they offer the difference between dreams and reality.

The “if” comes first. This one is about hopes and dreams for a far better world in which to live. If only powerful men and women could remain centered in the imperceptible Tao.

Imagine, with me, the kind of world that we would have. If only…

All things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.

Does it all sound too good to be true? Who wouldn’t want to live like this?

But, like I said before, this is a dream; it isn’t reality. Oh, it could be reality. If powerful men and women could stay centered in the Tao. But Lao Tzu has been talking about that imperceptible Tao for awhile now, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the only way to be centered in the Tao is from a position of humility. The powerful are far too lofty in their ivory palaces; and will never lower themselves to try to perceive it, let alone center themselves in it.

And let’s not forget what Lao Tzu has been telling us in the previous chapters. The world is sacred and can’t be improved upon. Our job is to accept the world as it is; and, to be content with it. It is the only one we have.

Still, I don’t mean to make light of the importance of dreams. Dreams may not be reality; but they do give us a reason to hope. The potential in that imperceptible Tao is eternally real. And that brings us to the “when” that Lao Tzu offers us today. Where the “if” dealt with dreams, the “when” does speak to us of reality.

I fear that while holding out for the “if” we may miss out on the “when” and the “when” is upon us.

It is the election season. A time when quite a few people go to the polls with hopes and dreams that they will elect the right powerful men and women into power; and they will center themselves in the Tao, hand the world a coke, and have us all singing of peace in perfect harmony.

The rest of us are sane. We understand that election after election we are given the choice between tweedledum and tweedledummer. That that isn’t any real choice. And because there isn’t any real choice, nothing is ever actually going to change. So, we opt out.

But this particular election, you will just have to count me with one of the insane. In my own 8th district in Missouri, we actually have a friend of mine running as an independent, Terry Hampton. She isn’t affiliated with any political party. Hasn’t taken any corporate money. And offers the people of the 8th district something they haven’t had in eons. An actual real choice. An independent citizen representative in the U.S. Congress.

I know this means I will likely have to hand over my secret decoder ring. And I have wrestled with this all year long with her. Like I told her, if she had told me she was running as either a Republican or a Democrat, I would have wished her the best and not been at all involved with her campaign. If she was taking corporate money I would have said, “You’re being bought and paid for, and I will have nothing whatsoever to do with you.”

But, Terry is different. That is why I signed the petition to get her on the ballot, and encouraged others to do the same. It is why I have been helping staff her campaign headquarters. And, why I have been assisting her with treasurer duties. I like Terry. And, I don’t mind admitting it. Even if my anarchist credentials are taking a pounding. The truth is that it changes nothing about the “when” in today’s chapter.

Because the “when” is now. When you have names and forms and institutions, know that they are provisional, know where their functions should end. What exactly is Lao Tzu talking about? What are these names, forms, and institutions? Well, I think he was talking about powerful men and women just a little bit ago. Perhaps, he was talking about them. What are the names and forms and institutions that make them powerful? If names and forms are only provisional, if they are only meant to provide or serve for a certain time, wouldn’t it be good to know when their time is up? When and where are the functions of institutions supposed to end? Don’t you think you ought to know?

If we know when to stop we can avoid danger. But what is the danger? All things are going to come to an end. Whether we are prepared for their end, or not. Sometimes, that end is long in coming and can be seen a long way off. Sometimes, it is swift and sudden; giving you little time to prepare. But there is danger in not being prepared.

Maybe powerful men and women will never condescend to center themselves and stay centered in the Tao. But we can. Then we can know when enough is enough. Then we will be prepared for the end. All things end in the Tao, just like rivers flow into the sea.

A Litmus Test For Human Decency

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.

Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory,
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how the use of force is a failure to rely on the Tao. He specifically warned that for every force there is a counter force; and, that violence always rebounds upon oneself. He was framing all of that in the context of being content with yourself, and with the world.

I will readily admit that I don’t really understand the mindset that applying the golden rule, treating everyone like you would like to be treated, is somehow quaint and naïve; and, that it is not a way we can go about living our lives. The idea that we should treat people only like they treat us; or, that if we perceive that they are thinking ill of us that we should preemptively lash out against them, is antithetical to how I want to live my own life. And, in living my life in such a way that I don’t manufacture enemies out of thin air, I have found that I don’t actually have any enemies. Live and let live. Look for all the ways that we are similar, rather than focusing on what makes us different. Mind my own business. That is how I choose to live my life. And that, my friends, is a life of contentment.

Today, Lao Tzu offers us a litmus test for human decency. He tells us that weapons are the tools of violence and fear. Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about violence. And previously, he said that fear, as much as hope, is a phantom that only exists because we are thinking only of our selves. Given that we are talking about something that is only going to rebound on ourselves; and, that it isn’t even real, but just an illusion of our minds; it would seem to me that Lao Tzu’s litmus test for human decency is a reasonable way to gauge how we are choosing to live our lives.

This is the litmus test for whether you are a decent human being:

Do you detest weapons? Do you try to avoid them, only use them in direst necessity, and use them only with the utmost restraint? I think these are important questions to be asking ourselves.

Now, before I go further, I do want to be clear that I believe self-defense is an inalienable right of all humans. Just because you have an arsenal of weapons and ammunition does not mean you don’t detest them. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t try to avoid them. Or, that you only use them in direst necessity and with the utmost restraint. I understand there are real threats to our persons and our property. I am not suggesting that people should have their right to self-defense infringed upon, in any way, shape, or form.

Still, if you are a decent human being, peace should be your highest value. If the peace has been shattered, how could you ever be content? And remember, my friends, being content is what the art of living is all about. Decent human beings understand that their enemies are not demons, but fellow human beings, just like them. A decent human being would never wish a fellow human being personal harm. Decent human beings never rejoices in victory. How could they? How could they delight in the slaughter of fellow human beings.

I like this litmus test for human decency. It seems like we have so mangled the words decent and indecent. When it comes to indecency, some people only seem to care how much of your skin is covered by clothing. That, to me, is superficial. Lao Tzu gets to the heart of the matter. What is decent and indecent? If we are going to consider that question, let’s leave off with worrying about the surface of your skin.

I know indecency when I see it. I see it when I see our rulers laughing it up on late night talk shows about killing people with drone strikes. Decent human beings enter a battle gravely. They are full of sorrow that it has devolved to this. They feel great compassion considering the huge cost in human lives. They behave as if they were attending a funeral.

It is time to stop the indecency. It is time to be decent human beings. And that begins with me.

Can We Accept Who We Are In This World?

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon itself.

The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the Universe
is forever out of control,
and trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need other’s approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu has been instructing us on our roles in the world as lords of the country. He certainly doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. And nothing is more foolhardy than trying to control outcomes. We can’t improve on the world. It is a sacred thing. Stay in the center of the circle and let everything take its own natural course.

And so, naturally, today, Lao Tzu comes to the art of governing. It is natural that there will be leaders and there will be followers. Today’s instructions are for those that take their lordship to the next level. Those who want to be leaders.

Lao Tzu’s instructions for would be leaders, are really the same as for all of us. He wants us to rely on the Tao. Trust in the way things are. If we do that, we won’t try to force issues. Or defeat our enemies by force of arms. And Lao Tzu reminds us of something that everyone should already know and understand, but our rulers never seem to get. For every force, there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon itself.

With my tumblr blog, I often feel that I am “preaching to the choir.” Still, it is my hope that these chapters from Lao Tzu, and my humble commentary on them, gives you all, not only something to think on, but things that you, too, can share with people you are encountering in your every day lives.

Tune into the news from all over the world and it is rather grim. Even if I give my own government the benefit of the doubt, and assume that the violence they are perpetrating all over the globe is well intentioned, I can’t begin to forgive the ignorance and folly of our continued practice in the face of overwhelming evidence that our policies are rebounding upon us.

Actually, I have long ago given up the notion that any of our elected officials actually have any real power to bring change to our policies. It is my belief that the powers that be are invisible to us. And our elected officials, which are visible to us, are mere puppets on strings, wholly incapable of acting in defiance of the ruling elite’s goals.

But, if that is the case, then what value do Lao Tzu’s lessons have for us? As I have said before, I am trying to prepare a people who are largely ignorant of our true situation. I encourage people to make the powers that be irrelevant in our own lives. Live your life free, or as free as you can be. Render the system obsolete in your own life. Don’t be dependent on it. Because the day will come, when the inevitable collapse will happen. Our present system is unsustainable. It is only a matter of time.

I apply Lao Tzu’s teachings to my own life, without any regard for whether anyone else does. And I am especially thinking of the ruling elite as those who I don’t think will ever change their course.

I want to be like the Master, who does his job and then stops. He understands that the Universe is forever out of his control. He seeks to go with the current of the Tao; so, he doesn’t try to dominate events. If I am going to be more and more like the Master with each passing day, I have to do a better job of believing in myself. That means I don’t have to try and convince others. I have to do a better job of being content with myself. That means I don’t need other’s approval. And, I have to do a better job of accepting myself.

Accepting myself is closely tied to accepting that the way things are is the way things are. The Tao is luminous inside of me. I know this is true, even when I have a hard time seeing that light. But I don’t have to concern myself with shining my own light. I just need to let the Tao shine in and through me. As I accept myself, I find that the whole world accepts me.

This hearkens back to what we have been talking about the last couple of days. It is about our relationship with the world around us. And how we are to behave as lords of the country. We need to receive the world in our arms, to really embrace it. We need to be a pattern for the world, to be an example of the art of living as individuals in community with each other. We need to accept the world as it is, not try to change it. And, that will take accepting who we are in the world.

Can We Accept The World As It Is? Or, Does It Need A Little Tweaking.

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time explaining the principles of yin and yang and gave only passing notice to the other thing that Lao Tzu was talking about in the chapter, how we are to interact with our world. In the chapters preceding it, Lao Tzu identified us humans as one of the great powers and lords of the country. Because of our status as lords, we would like to be able to do great things in our world. And, Lao Tzu has plenty to say to us about what we can and cannot expect to do.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about receiving the world in our arms. Which speaks to me of embracing it. He spoke about being a pattern for the world. Which shows the proper role of a lord. Being an example. And, he said that we need to accept the world as it is. That is very important. And , lest, I miss how important it is to accept the world as it is, Lao Tzu starts off today’s chapter asking the question, “Do you want to improve the world?”

This is expanding on this theme of what we can and cannot expect to do. We need to accept the world as it is. For those of us that don’t think we can quite do that, we might have the heady notion that we can improve on it. And Lao Tzu stops us dead in our tracks. “I don’t think it can be done.”

And this is probably the fundamental reason why it is so important that we accept the world as it is. Instead of having delusions of grandeur, supposing we can improve upon it. Lao Tzu tells us that the world is sacred. It can’t be improved. We can embrace it. We can be a pattern for it. We can accept it. But we better not try to tamper with it. That is the surest way to ruin it. If we treat it like an object, we’ll lose it. No, we better get this one thing settled. There are things that lords of the country can expect to do. And, there are things that we better not do.

And Lao Tzu has some things to say that will help us to understand better how we can do what we need to do, while not daring to try the things we must not do. He says, part of accepting the world as it is, is understanding that there is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion and a time for being at rest. There is a time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger.

Besides being examples of yin and yang balancing things out in the Universe, these help us to see things as they are, without trying to control them. That is what the Master does. And that is what all us little lords need to do. Let things go their own way without trying to control them. Instead, reside at the center of the circle.

We keep talking about that circle. And, Lao Tzu keeps telling us to stay at the center of it. The circle, remember, is everything. And we, by residing at the center of it, are leaving everything to the Tao. The Tao will achieve balance and order. All in its time.

Where Yin And Yang Meet And Embrace, All Is In Balance

Know the male, yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white, yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world as it is,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block.
Thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu revealed the great secret of the art of living, for good and bad individuals living together in community with each other. And, he talked about how the Master embodies the light. Today, he uses the principles of yin and yang to expand on this theme of embodying the light.

So, let’s begin by taking a look at the familiar yin yang symbol. It begins with a circle, which represents everything. Within the circle you find the familiar black and white shapes, representing yin and yang. They represent perfect balance, harmony, and unity. It is a picture of fluid energy. Of change and motion. It shows how opposites interact with each other to cause everything to happen.

Yin and yang are the two fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy in general, and Taoism specifically. One of these fundamental principles, yin, is negative, dark, passive, cold, wet, and feminine; while the other, yang, is positive, bright, active, hot, dry, and masculine.

If we were to include the good and bad from yesterday, and remember that isn’t a moral judgment, it is merely referring to whether you are good or bad at something, I suppose we would say that bad is yin and good is yang. But I want to be careful here. Because I don’t mean to suggest that yang is good and yin is bad. Yin and yang are opposites, but they aren’t at odds with each other. One is not better than the other. They are always in perfect balance. That is why if you are bad at something you should seek out someone who is good at it. And if you are good at something you should seek out someone who is bad at it. A master and an apprentice. That is how things balance out. That is the way things are.

Because the way things are is always in a state of flux, things may appear to sometimes be out of balance. But don’t let appearances fool you. That is merely an illusion. The eternal reality is that you can’t have one without the other. Both negative and positive, dark and bright, passive and active, cold and hot, wet and dry, feminine and masculine, bad and good.

I want to make sure I am being clear that yin and yang are not in some tug of war where people need to pick sides. We are always being told to be positive. While being negative is frowned upon. Often people are afraid of the dark, when they aren’t complaining that the lights are too bright. Men are excoriated if they appear too feminine, while women are excoriated for appearing too masculine. The Tao achieves balance, harmony, and unity by using the principles of yin and yang. It isn’t up to us to choose sides. Some of the time I am more yin and some of the time I am more yang. I am not out of balance because of it.

This has been my long-winded way of explaining what Lao Tzu is saying when he says to know the male, yet keep to the female, To know the white, yet keep to the black, to know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. Lao Tzu wants us to embrace both yin and yang, equally. That is how we receive the world in our arms. That is how we become a pattern for the world. And, that is how we come to accept the world as it is.

Do we want to embody the light? This is how we do it. If you receive the world, the Tao will never leave you; and you will be like a little child. If you are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside of you; and there will be nothing you can’t do. If you accept the world as it is, the Tao will be luminous inside you (there is that light) and you will return to your primal self.

What does Lao Tzu mean by returning to our primal selves? Primal speaks of origins. And, remember the Tao is always moving through us bringing us back to our beginning. The world, itself, is formed from the void. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu wants us to understand what the Master understands. Know the utensils. But keep to the block. Then, you can use all things. Whatever the situation brings. Whatever people or circumstances cross our path on this journey of life.

The Great Secret, Revealed

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this,
you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago, Lao Tzu identified us humans as one of the four great powers. Yesterday, he said we were all lords of the country. Today, he expands on this theme by talking about how the Master is able to be good at what he does; and, what to do if you aren’t so good. He tells us how the Master embodies the light. And, he shares with us the great secret.

In speaking of the Master, Lao Tzu identifies certain qualities that make him good. It is because he has no fixed plans, is not intent upon arriving, lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants, has freed himself of concepts, and keeps his mind open to what is, that he is available to all people and doesn’t reject anyone. He is ready to use all situations and doesn’t waste anything.

This, Lao Tzu says, is called embodying the light. Now, I am going to assume, that like me, you want to embody the light. I have been encouraged the last couple of days by what I have been reading in the Tao Te Ching. Being identified as one of the four great powers, and being referred to as a lord of the country, has encouraged me to believe even more strongly that I, too, can become a Master at this art of living. I want, like the Master, to be a good traveler, a good artist, and a good scientist. And that means I need to start embodying the light.

When I am traveling, I need to have no fixed plans and not be intent on arriving. This is something that I have often struggled with. If I am going on a trip, I generally want to get from point A to point B as fast as I can. And that makes me unavailable to people. When situations change, all my plans get thrown off. But the Master is a better traveler than I have ever been. He leaves point A in no particular hurry. Like a good artist, he lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. Will he get to point B today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or perhaps never?… This doesn’t concern the Master. He wants to be available to all. He doesn’t want to reject anyone. Whatever situation he may encounter along his journey, he doesn’t let any opportunity go to waste. But this is a challenge to me. I have these concepts of how my travels should be. It isn’t about the journey it is about the destination. I just want to get where I am going. But why am I in such a hurry? Why have I allowed myself to become a slave to my concepts? The Master keeps his mind open to what is. And all along, I keep worrying about what might be.

Hmmmmmm. This embodying the light is not going to be easy for me. I could get discouraged right here. And I would, if Lao Tzu didn’t share with us all, the great secret. This is good news for bad travelers, artists, and scientists, like me.

The great secret is something that we must understand, if we don’t want to get lost in our travels. And it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are. That is more good news for people like me. When you are bad, you simply need to seek out a good teacher. And remember, if you are good, to seek out someone who is bad; so you can help them along their way.

There are things that I am good at. And there are things that I am bad at. In my travels, I regularly encounter people that are good at the things I am bad at, and bad at the things I am good at. We help each other. And we get better. To me, that is what the art of living as individuals in community is all about. Being available, when you are good. And finding someone who is available, when you are bad.

Being In Touch With Reality Is Being In Touch With Who You Are

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus, the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu identified us humans as one of the four great powers.Today, he refers to us as lords of the country. He has help for us in understanding how to exercise our power. He doesn’t want us flitting about like fools, or being blown to and fro.

To help us today, he uses the concept of yin and yang for maintaining balance in our travels. He says that the heavy is the root of the light. And, the unmoved is the source of all movement. What does he mean by this?

I think that what he is getting at, is he wants us to be rooted, to be grounded, in reality. We are, each one of us, lords. And he wants us to act accordingly. In our daily travels, whether near, or far away from home, we need to never lose touch with our root. The heavy, the root, is like an anchor that keeps us from being blown to and fro. It keeps us grounded in reality. Too often, we lose touch with reality. We get distracted by all the turmoil around us. And, we start to get restless.

But restlessness is not what should be moving us. When restlessness moves us we lose touch with who we are. Our source is what should move us, and that source is the unmoved, the Tao. The Tao is always on the move; yet, we describe it as unmoved. Why? We talked about this yesterday. The Tao is serene in the midst of the turmoil and chaos. Nothing shakes it. It is unchanging. It simply follows itself as it flows through all things; inside and outside, and returning once again to the origin of all things.

The Master, once again, is our example. Lao Tzu says she travels all day without leaving home. Home is her root. It is what keeps her anchored in reality. However splendid the views (and with it being the season of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, there are lots of splendid views), she remains unmoved by them. It isn’t that she doesn’t appreciate and enjoy them. But she doesn’t let them change who she is. She stays serenely in herself, throughout her day. Being in touch with reality is being in touch with who we are.

Before The Universe Was Born, It Is.

There was something formless and perfect,
before the Universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary.
Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the Universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside,
and returns to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The Universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the Earth.
Earth follow the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I used my blog to vent my anger at a tragic story out of my hometown. Today, Lao Tzu reminds me that the place that I spent half of my childhood growing up is not really my place of origin. My origin, and yours too, goes a lot further back than our hometowns.

Lao Tzu begins with talking in the past tense. There was something formless and perfect, before the Universe was born. This is really going back. But, if we need to know where we came from in order to know where we are going, then it is good to go back all the way to the beginning. While Lao Tzu begins in the past tense, he then suddenly shifts into the present tense. Why? Because The Tao, the eternal reality, is eternally present. It is beyond is and is not. It is beyond space and time.

This eternal reality, the way things are, flows through all things, inside and outside, always returning to the origin of all things. That is its movement. Always moving. Always returning. The Tao is the mother of the Universe. And it is serene, even in the midst of what we would term chaos. It is serene because it is unchanging and infinite. Nothing is going to shake it. It is empty, yet infinitely useable. It is solitary, yet never alone.

This is one of those chapters that really makes me pause and be still. Knowing where I came from and where I am going is what gives meaning to my life. It frees me to simply enjoy this present moment with disinterest and detachment. I am present in every being in the Universe. We are all one. There is such unity in the knowledge that we all come from the same Source. We have the same Mother. And, we all have the same End.

This kind of knowledge is exceedingly liberating for me. How can I hold grudges? How can I hate? How can I not have a deep love and respect for all of humanity? And, indeed, for all beings in the Universe. We are all One. Why are we so prone to point out trivial differences, when we are really all just the same?

Understanding how the Tao brings order out of chaos, comes as Lao Tzu explains how that order is maintained in the midst of what seems hopelessly chaotic. It comes from understanding how the four great powers (the Tao, the Universe, the Earth, and Humanity) get their power.

The way that Lao Tzu pictures it, there is a whole lot of following going on. But because the Tao is following only itself, I prefer to look at it as the Tao is leading. And all the other great powers follow that lead. Following the Tao is trusting our own intuition. The Universe naturally follows the Tao. And why wouldn’t it, the Tao is its mother. The Tao has laid out the course for the Universe to take. The Earth follows the Universe on that course. And we humans? We do to.

That is the way things are. Humans are listed as one of the four great powers and I do think that is significant. But at the same time I think we often take on a bit more than has really been entrusted to us. We sometimes act like we are THE great power. That it all depends on us. For me there is something humbling in looking at it the way Lao Tzu pictures it. When you look at it that way, you see that we humans are really only along for the ride. The Earth knows the course we should be taking. As we follow the Earth, we will find our way.

Tragic Story From My Hometown

He who stands on tiptoe,
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead,
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine,
dims his own light.
He who defends himself,
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others,
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his own work,
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Honestly, I don’t know what to say in commentary for today’s chapter. I have been thinking about a recent tragic story from my hometown of Willow Springs, Missouri. Willow Springs is a small town, population 2000 some odd people. And the tragic story involves a man, who I didn’t know, who is now in the county jail with a million dollar bond. This man thought it was acceptable behavior to beat young children living in his household with his belt, whenever their behavior didn’t meet with his exacting standards. We are talking about children under the age of 2. Though personally, I don’t think it is acceptable to beat children, whatever their ages. How long he had been engaging in this behavior, I don’t know. But a few days ago, a child under the age of two died at his hands. The child’s crime was apparently that he pissed himself. And that capital offense set the man off. How can I make sense of this? I can’t. All I can hope is that a whole lot of people in Willow Springs are thinking better of beating their own children right now.

This tragic story has little to do with today’s chapter. Or, maybe it has everything to do with today’s chapter. I know this miserable excuse for a human being had power over little children. But he couldn’t empower himself. He didn’t have a clue about the eternal reality. He wasn’t living in accord with the Tao.