The Secret To My Happy Life

Act without doing; work without effort.
Think of the small as large and the few as many.
Confront the difficult while it is still easy.
Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus, she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus, problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I could write every day about the political philosophy of Lao Tzu. And, Lao Tzu certainly gives me plenty of opportunities to do just that; as I go through the Tao Te Ching, one chapter at a time each day. Writing on those chapters is easy for me to do. It isn’t anything that hasn’t been core principles in my thinking for as long as I have been thinking politically. But I have come to enjoy chapters like this one today, which are much more radical for me. They are the ones that got me to challenge core beliefs about the way things are. They are the ones that introduced me to the notion that things aren’t what they appear to be. That there is an eternal reality that I wasn’t even aware of, but was there, present, whether I was aware of it, or not.

I was raised in the protestant work ethic, that idolized work. Making it, almost an end in itself. It has only been in the last two or three years, that I began to see that work was not an end, but a means to an end. Then, I started questioning whether the means was really helping me to get to the end, or whether it was more of a hindrance to achieving the end. That caused me to rethink how I perceived the purpose of work.

I needed chapters like today’s where Lao Tzu is talking about effortless action. Today’s chapter isn’t the first time he has talked about this. It is a core tenet of philosophical Taoism. But, it was the one thing that I found most difficult for me to grasp. I said it was only in the last two or three years, but this has been going on a lot longer than that. My whole life I have been questioning accepted norms; but then, pressed by the needs of my present circumstances, I put serious questioning on the back burner.

I know when my father was nearing the end of his life, back in the last six months of 2002, I was being forced to look for answers. Here was my father, my hero, reduced to almost helplessness. And he told me on more than one occasion that his own life had been a failure. I tried to soothe him by telling him that he had managed to put his children through college. We were all doing well. He was nearly out of debt. There was a lot of reason to say that he had succeeded in life. But he knew better. He understood then, at the end of his life, what I needed to understand at a much younger age. There are things that are so much more important. Something that he had always put off to the future, that he had toiled away at for all of his life, and never got to enjoy.

And he died, and I was left with no immediate answers. I was freshly divorced. Raising two children all by myself. Working 50-60 hours a week, and trying to homeschool my children, too. Yes, those questions had to wait. I would put them off and put them off, until my children were both grown. Even then, it took life throwing me a curve, when I was swinging at a fast ball, for me to finally find my whole world shaken to the point that I could no longer put off considering those questions again.

That was when I encountered Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. And that, my friends, has made all the difference. I loved Lao Tzu’s obvious libertarianism. I ate that up. That was easy. He was just saying what I already believed. But I spent a great deal of time trying to understand wu-wei, the practice of effortless action. It wasn’t easy. It was so very different from the glorification of work with which I had been raised. But my own father’s doubts at the end of his life, nagged at me. I reasoned that if Lao Tzu was right about libertarianism, certainly he could be right about this. So, I kept at it.

And that is how I got to where I am today.

All my adult life I had been reaching for the great. And I never achieved greatness. When I ran into difficulty, it only made all my work that much more difficult. But that was my lot; or, so I thought. I spent a great deal of my life clinging to whatever comfort I had; and, cursing the darkness, when problems arose; that I felt I had no way of working through. Though work through them I must; my children were depending on me, after all. Does life really have to be a drudgery? Is that what life is all about? Is this life really worth living?

It did finally “click” with me. Oh, I can’t tell you the exact day and hour that it did. Aren’t those moments supposed to be able to be well documented? Well, mine wasn’t. I don’t even think it was a direct result of this particular chapter in the Tao Te Ching. I don’t think it was anything that I learned at all. I think it had a whole lot to do with a whole lot of unlearning that I was doing. Every day another little something was dropped, until I arrived at non-action. Wu-wei.

Now, I can act without doing. Now, I can work without effort. I think of the small as large and the few as many. This is important guys. We get overwhelmed by the great task. Lao Tzu is wanting to spare us from that. Confronting the difficult while it is still easy, became easy. It didn’t used to be. I started accomplishing great tasks by a series of small acts.

Okay, that last paragraph was all just repeating Lao Tzu verbatim. How do I flesh this out for you? I left behind the daily grind of participating in the labor force. Now, I work for myself. I do what I love to do, and I only do what I love to do. The work that I do gives me pleasure, where before it was drudgery. I tutor children, small children. Most of you that have been following me for very long, know that already, because I talk about it from time to time.

Tutoring takes up about 16 hours out of every week. The rest of my time is spent in leisure. Leisure was always a luxury that I could ill afford. That is that protestant work ethic talking. But my Dad never had time for leisure; and, I wasn’t going to wait to the end of my life to discover that I had wasted mine, too. My leisure is spent outside whenever I can. I love to watch my garden grow. Or, just sitting outside in the sunshine, smoking my pipe, and watching the turmoil of beings. When I am inside, I am on the internet. Or, reading. Or, spending time with friends. Or, whatever I want. Because now, I have the time to do it all. And that makes living an art.

No, I don’t have a whole lot of money. And I probably never will. But, voluntary poverty isn’t all that bad; when you quit trying to cling to your own comfort. I make enough to keep a roof over my head, plenty of good food to eat. And enough to spend on, well, me. I am not making anyone else wealthy. But, I do think I am offering a much needed service to the parents that entrust me with their children. And, I don’t take any handouts from the State. So, I think I am a net positive for the world in which I live. And, those pesky problems? Well, they are no longer a problem.

What Is Beyond All Value?

The Tao is the center of the Universe.
The good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words.
Respect can be won with good deeds.
But the Tao is beyond all value;
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find; and,
when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu goes back to talking about his favorite subject, the Tao. But he does so while still thinking about the art of governing, and the one thing we can do to help a leader.

Lao Tzu has told us before, many times, that we need to center ourselves in the Tao. Today, he begins the chapter by telling us that the Tao is the center of the Universe. Our entire Universe is centered in the Tao. And we, as integral parts of the Universe are, likewise, centered in the Tao. I understand this intuitively. I look inside myself and that is where I find the Tao. It is my center.

But, I understand why this need to center ourselves, if we are already centered, might seem a bit confusing. I want to try and clear up the confusion by explaining the difference between what is the eternal reality, that the Tao is centered inside of us, with the way things sometimes appear to be. The way things sometimes appear to be, I will call that the illusion, distracts us from what is eternally real. Things are not what they appear to be. The illusion that we are not one with the Tao, seems very real. We even start behaving as if the illusion is the only thing that is real. More and more, the things that we do are less and less, in accord with the Tao. That does nothing to change the eternal reality. But it sure does make a mess of our lives.

Lao Tzu instructs us that when a new leader is chosen, that offers of help with our wealth or our expertise, while having some value, are not the best of ways to help. Instead, we should offer to teach him or her about the Tao. Why is that? Because the Tao is beyond all value. Notice what Lao Tzu is saying in today’s chapter.

Remember that he is talking about helping newly chosen leaders. He says that honors can be bought with fine words. And, respect can be won with good deeds. Honors and respect both have a certain value. Just like wealth and expertise do. But the Tao? The Tao is beyond all value. Let that sink in. You can buy honors with fine words. You can win respect with good deeds. You can create wealth for yourself, and others. And, you can become an expert at just about anything you set your mind to do. Those all have value. And, they all have a price. We understand that, and gladly pay the price. But the Tao? No one can achieve it.

This is what Lao Tzu is wanting us to grasp. But, if no one can achieve it, what is the point? I am so glad you asked. It is the answer to the question of why the ancient Masters esteemed the Tao. This Tao, beyond all value, is the good man’s treasure and the bad man’s refuge. When you are one with the Tao, and you are, whether you appear to be or not, when you seek after that treasure, you will find it. And, when you make a mistake, because we all do that too, we are forgiven. It is our refuge too. That is why everybody loves it. And, that is why it is the best thing we can teach our new leaders.

You Know What Would Be Really Great?

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea.
All streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao;
thus, never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The last few chapters, Lao Tzu has devoted to talking about how to be great leader, and how to govern a country well. In today’s chapter, he zeroes in on the target: A country that has obtained great power. Yesterday, he said that governing a large country is like frying a small fish. Today, he is talking about that country’s constant need to practice humility. When a nation has become great and powerful, humility would seem to be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind. We’re not just great, we’re the greatest! Where is there room for humility in that sentiment?

But Lao Tzu explains the reason for that ever increasing need for humility. A country that is great and powerful, becomes like the sea. It is that “like the sea” that gives it away. A sea always occupies the lowest place. It is due to its humble positioning that all streams run downward into it. I don’t know of any great nation in history that didn’t have those humble beginnings. And, if my understanding of history is correct, I think we discover that it was only for so long as those nations remained humble, that they continued to be great and powerful. Once nations start exalting themselves, their doom can not be too far off.

Why is that? Once it no longer occupies the lowest places, streams are going to stop running downward into it. All the things that made it so great, begin to dry up. It is only a matter of time, until its vitality is lost to it.

Okay, we understand the whole water analogy. Water only runs downhill. Yeah, we get that. And, sure humility means putting yourself lower, rather than exalting yourself. We get that. But what does Lao Tzu really mean by humility? And how does that apply to my country?

Lao Tzu defines it very clearly for us. Humility means trusting the Tao. Yeah, but what does that mean? It means, among everything else we have been saying about the Tao for the last sixty chapters, that you never need to be on the defensive.

I really want you to think about that for a moment. Never needing to be on the defensive. That is what trusting in the Tao means. That is what humility means. When you choose to occupy the lowest place, when you don’t exalt yourself or think more highly of yourself than you ought, you will never find yourself on the defensive. People don’t compete for the lowest place. If you chart out that territory for yourself, you’ll never be challenged.

At least that is the way I look at it. Lao Tzu has this to say on the matter: “A great nation is like a great man.” See, here he goes. He always ends up making it about individuals, never the collective. This goes back to him saying, “If you want to be a great leader…” A great man, a really great man, when he makes a mistake, he realizes it. And, when he realizes it, he admits it. And after admitting it, he corrects it. That is how Lao Tzu explains what separates a great man from the merely mediocre. And the same applies to a great nation.

A great man, a really great man, occupies the lowest place, too. Those that want to be thought of as great, never seem to follow this advice. They are always busy exalting themselves. And, pointing fingers of blame at others. Anything to keep themselves on top. And, those people never seem to amount to much more than a flash and a bang. And, then they’re done.

But a great man, a really great man, because he is occupying the lowest place, considers those that point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. Anyone that can help keep him in his place, really is his greatest ally. Because the longer he occupies that place, the longer he will be great.

A great man, a really great man, understands that he is his own worst enemy. And, that any other enemies he will encounter are only his enemies because he has exalted himself. That is how that shadow gets cast.

That is how Lao Tzu puts it. That is our constant need to practice humility. For a leader that means trusting the Tao. It means centering your nation in the Tao. But I understand that all you would-be leaders out there are not entirely familiar with this concept of the Tao. That is why I appreciate that Lao Tzu tells us exactly what he means by a nation centered in the Tao. He says, that nation nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others.

That’s it. It is that simple. If it were to be put into practice. It is about the furthest thing from the ideals of anyone in my nation’s capitol. I don’t honestly believe that anyone that really wanted to follow the great Way that Lao Tzu speaks of, would ever manage to get elected to public office in Washington D.C.

Which is why it has been a very long time since we were a light to all nations in the world. And, it is why our doom is nearer, than anyone can imagine. Rome’s collapse happened over a long span of time. I think ours will come on suddenly.

How Much Is Too Much Poking?

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able
to step out of its way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago I said it was really easy to govern a country well. How is that? Because the world can govern itself. And, but for the will to power, it would. But, Lao Tzu has said before that, though the great Way is easy, people prefer the side paths. People seem to prefer to make things more difficult. I think it is in our programming.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us that governing a large country is like frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking. And, are we ever being poked!

That is really all that I want to say about the way we have been, are being, and probably always will be governed, at least as long as the will to power is in charge.

It truly saddens me when I see how easily manipulated we are. The situation that has unfolded in Ferguson has been a very well-orchestrated poking. So perfectly timed. So very predictable. Cities and towns across the United States and the world are just like Ferguson. Cauldrons of water that the powers that be have always kept enough kindling under to keep them at a slow simmering. But then, the powers that be throw enough wood on the fire to make the pot boil over, and everyone blames the water.

Today, I got two opportunities to take a step back and reflect on what really matters. And, that is what today’s post is really all about.

The first, was this morning, when I looked out my living room window and it was snowing. Giant wet flakes were falling down from the sky. I immediately got up and quickly bundling up, I went outside to stand in the snow that was accumulating in my yard around me. And I paused to look and listen to it. The sound of snowfall is amazing. It is deafening in its silence. It was just what I needed this morning. The snowfall lasted only for an hour. It all melted away in another couple hours. But it was beautiful in that moment while it was falling.

The second, occurred this afternoon. I was meeting with a very good friend of mine. We were having coffee at a local coffee shop. And, we talked and talked. I think for about two hours we talked. It was cathartic. But that wasn’t my moment to pause and reflect. That moment came suddenly. Like the snowfall earlier. It was when my friend spotted a brilliant double rainbow out the window. That made us both jump up and run to the window. There is nothing like a rainbow to offer a sign of hope and promise. And I paused and reflected on that hope, that promise, before getting into the car and driving home. The rainbow was gone by the time I arrived back home. Snowfalls and rainbows are only temporary, friends. You must enjoy them in their moments.

Now, why am I sharing these two very personal, yet otherwise trivial experiences, from my day? Because I never want to miss an opportunity, when it presents itself, to pause and reflect on what really matters. The eternally real. And that is my wish for all of you, my friends.

There is evil in the world. Lao Tzu doesn’t deny it. But, he does tell us how to deprive it of its power. The answer lies in centering our country in the Tao.

Now, I understand that the powers that be want each of us to think that we need them to deal with all the evil. They have elaborate plans and schemes devised to manipulate us into thinking that only they can effectively deal with the evil. But, I think we have been poked too many times. That situation in Ferguson? Too much poking. A whole lot of spoiling. That situation with ISIS in the Middle East? Too much poking. A whole lot of spoiling. They promise that they can rid the world of evil. And we have long hoped that they would.

But that is ignoring the eternal reality. How do we deal with the problem of evil? We center our country in the Tao. Then, evil will have no power. Oh, it will still be there. But, you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Now, I have plenty of friends and acquaintances who are going to laugh and scoff at this idea. How naive. How utterly devoid of common sense. Step out of its way? No, we need to confront it. End it. Once, and for all. How I wish that it could be done.

This is the importance of those precious few moments ,that come on suddenly, and end just as soon. Take advantage of those, my friends. I can’t center my whole country in the Tao. But, I can center myself in the Tao. And, because I do, evil has no power over me. Oh, it is still there. But, I can just step out of its way.

Part Three On Being A Great Leader: It’s Not About Ferguson

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky.
All pervading like sunlight.
Firm like a mountain.
Supple like a tree in the wind.
He has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible to him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This post is not going to be about what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. After spending a great deal of time today, scrolling down my dashboard, I was shaken as if out of a dream. It happened as I read through two different posts I encountered in my scrolling. The first was an article that I didn’t reblog, but if you are interested, you would find by searching on bleeding heart libertarian. The author was making the moral case for killing agents of the State. That shook me awake. I am not saying that I endorse the author’s viewpoints. I simply found the article sufficiently disturbing to wake me up. The second article I encountered almost immediately afterward. It was a video produced by, I believe, truth stream media, and the gist of the video was that Ferguson proves predictive programming works. That video reminded me what I had kind of figured out back in the early days after the Michael Brown shooting, but I had been lulled back to sleep over the course of the next four months. Anyway, like I said, this post isn’t going to be about what is going on in Ferguson. I just wanted to report that I, too, am easily manipulated, to my great shame.

Now, to today’s chapter. If you have been keeping track, today would be part three on how to be a great leader. Lao Tzu has taken a break from speaking of the mysterious Tao; and, he is now showing how to apply it in a practical way to the art of governing.

To recap what we have covered before. The world can govern itself. We don’t need rulers. But, we do need leaders. And great ones would really be appreciated. We have talked about the will to power and how it is that, that produces rulers. And we have contrasted a country that is governed with tolerance with a country that is governed with repression. Lao Tzu is seeking out people who will be content to serve as an example, and won’t impose their will.

Today, Lao Tzu begins by saying that if you want to govern a country well, nothing beats moderation. And then he proceeds to tell us the marks of a moderate person. So, let’s cover those, one by one.

The first mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas. What does freedom mean? Well, it certainly doesn’t mean that you don’t have any of your own ideas. You are certainly free to have your own ideas. And, have them, you do. But you aren’t a slave to them. What Lao Tzu is telling us is that the difference between a moderate and an immoderate person is that freedom. The immoderate person is plagued with a certainty that keeps them enslaved. They can’t see other ways of looking at things. It’s their way or no way, no how. The moderate person certainly has their own ideas; but, they have freed themselves from their own mind; and, they are able to work with the mind of the people.

The second mark of a moderate person is their tolerance. We talked a little bit about tolerance yesterday. Lao Tzu told us the benefits of a country that is governed with tolerance: the people are comfortable and honest. But you can govern a country with tolerance without being yourself, a tolerant person. Still, to save yourself from the contortions you would have to put yourself through to not govern according to your own nature, it would be well, if you let go of your own intolerance. Lao Tzu says the moderate person is tolerant like the sky. What does he mean by that? I think he means that the sky is the limit of your tolerance. Or to put it another way, your tolerance is without limits.

The third mark of a moderate person is that they are all-pervading like sunlight. Pervading means to become spread throughout all parts of something. The prefix “all-” would almost seem to be superfluous, but adding the “like sunlight” certainly sets the tone for us. This is a good kind of pervading. Just like when morning first breaks on the horizon, and the sun’s brilliant light spreads across the sky. A moderate person is infectious. With a good kind of infection.

The fourth mark of a moderate person is that they are firm like a mountain. Remember that first mark, which is freedom from their own ideas. I said then, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own ideas. And with this fourth mark, we confirm that; with, they are firm like a mountain. Mountains are not easily moved. Though they can be, with great effort. Firmness is not necessarily a quality that we would classically associate with a moderate person. But Lao Tzu says, oh, but they are.

The fifth mark of a moderate person kind of goes hand in hand with the fourth. It is that they are supple like a tree in the wind. This is a nice distinction between a mountain and a tree. When the wind blows, a mountain stands firm. But a tree? Well, a tree is a different kind of firm. And we see how it is different when the wind starts to blow. It is firm, yet supple. That is what will keep the tree from breaking. And that is the mark of a moderate person. They aren’t blown to and fro by the winds, in such a way that they become uprooted. But they can bend. They are flexible. And that means they can stand firm.

The sixth mark of a moderate person is that they have no destination in view. This seems to me just about the craziest of ideas, yet. If you don’t have any destination in view, how are you ever going to get wherever you are going? What does Lao Tzu mean? But, of course, this isn’t something Lao Tzu hasn’t been talking of all along. It is about centering ourselves in the Tao and being in harmony with the Tao. Am I really going to, after all of this time, choose my own path and my own destination? Or, am I really going to let go, and be free?

When you don’t have any destination in view, you can make use of anything that life happens to bring your way. That is a defining mark of a moderate person. Nothing is impossible for them. Because they have let go. And now? Now, they can really care for the people’s welfare. Just like a mother cares for her own children. That, my friends, is how a country is governed well.

Part Two Of What I Began Yesterday, or “Don’t Be Stupid.”

If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus, the Master is content
to serve as an example,
and not impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we began a break from talking about the mystery of the Tao, and started talking about the art of governing in harmony with the Tao. Today’s chapter is really part two of “If you want to be a great leader” so, I hope you read yesterday’s chapter with commentary.

Today’s question for would be leaders is, “Can you be content to serve as an example, and not impose your own will?

Yesterday, we were contrasting leaders and rulers. The defining difference between the two is the will to power. The mark of a leader is someone in whom the will to power is non-existent. Rulers, on the other hand, must be in control.

Oh, don’t misunderstand me here, many rulers have high ideals and good intentions. They aren’t all deliberately evil people. I want to be clear here. Even if you think your elected officials are trying to do the right thing and only have your best interests at heart, they still must be classified as rulers, rather than leaders, if they have the marks of rulers instead of the marks of leaders.

So today, I want to devote to delineating the clear differences between a leader and a ruler. My concern is with understanding that I have a very good reason for using the pejorative “ruler” when referring to anyone with the will to power. Many people simply have a hard time accepting the term ruler being used when referring to elected officials within a representative government. They want to reserve the term ruler for use only in the case of monarchies or dictatorships. That somehow democracies are exempt. I believe this is a grave misunderstanding of what a democracy actually is. Furthermore, I would say that is ignoring the very real possibility that a monarchy or even a dictatorship could have at its head a leader rather than a ruler.

I want to begin by saying what Lao Tzu said yesterday. The world is fully capable of governing itself. If you don’t believe that is true, then you need to be looking for a ruler. A leader will not do for you, because you are too stupid to follow the example of a leader. You will need to have the ruler’s will imposed on you. I feel sorry for you; and, I hope your chains are light, my stupid friend. But, just because you are stupid doesn’t mean the rest of the world is. The rest of the world can and will govern itself, left to its own devices. All we need are leaders. Actual leaders who are content to serve as an example.

Leaders govern a country with tolerance. And the people are comfortable and honest. That is it. It isn’t really hard at all. The world can govern itself. All we need are leaders who are tolerant. And that would be all I would ever need to say on the matter except for the problem of the will to power.

It is the will to power that produces rulers. And when rulers are in charge, the country is governed with repression. And, the people are depressed and crafty. Now, let’s talk a little bit about what James Madison said was the most vile form of government. That would be a democracy. It should be noted that James Madison was the father of the U.S. Constitution. And, contrary to popular myth, our founders did not give us a democracy. Our founders may have been all kinds of stupid, but they did understand that a democracy was not the way to govern a country.

What? You want mob rule? Do you really want a simple majority of the people, to determine how you can and cannot live your own life, when you are otherwise doing no one any harm? Our founders tried, unsuccessfully, I might add, to safeguard individual liberties from the tyranny of any majority. I hope you are beginning to understand why, even an elected official with the mandate of a simple majority of voters, can be classified as a ruler in my own mind.

Oh, but they have such good intentions. They really mean well. Or, if we just replace the current ones with other ones just like them, they will mean well. This is tyranny of the majority. I didn’t vote for the scoundrels that were elected. I didn’t vote for a single one of them. And yet, you are going to impose your will on me through them? Governments don’t give me rights. I was born with them. Governments can safeguard them, if they will. But they don’t give me rights. Though they certainly believe they can take them away, whenever they get the majority of the people to support them.

This is what I mean by repression. We don’t have to have a King George, or a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Mao Tse Tung, for the individual to be repressed. All it takes is a simple majority. Are the people depressed and crafty? They are being repressed.

And God help us all when someone with the will to power is in charge; and, they have a good heart, high ideals, and good intentions. The higher the ideals, the lower the results will be. People don’t want to believe this is true. But I am just telling you the way things are. Believe the illusion all you want. Just don’t expect me to fall for your illusion. If you try to make people happy, you lay the groundwork for misery. If you try to make people moral, you lay the groundwork for vice.

This is why rulers, especially the ones with the best of intentions, are doomed to failure. They just don’t understand how the Universe works. We don’t need rulers. In fact, it is only to our great detriment that we have tolerated them for this long. The world can govern itself. All we need is some great leaders. I am talking about people who will be content to serve as an example, and won’t impose their own will. They are pointed, but they don’t pierce. They are straightforward, yet supple. They are radiant, yet easy on the eyes.

Where are these great leaders? They are everywhere you look, outside of any capitols. They come from all walks of life, though their numbers in the legal profession are infinitesimally small. They are you and me, and our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, our friends. They are each one of us, governing ourselves, and being content to serve as an example to all others of how to do the same.

If You Want To Be A Great Leader…

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says
‘I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good become as common as grass.’

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Going through the eighty-one chapters of the Tao Te Ching, a chapter at a time each day, has been a very rewarding exercise for me. Over the course of the last couple of years I have added hundreds of followers on tumblr. Followers is the word that tumblr uses. I prefer to refer to you as friends. While I know only a small handful of you in real life, I have been able to communicate with many of you via messages, and my life has been enriched. Thank you to each and every one of you. I love scrolling down my dashboard, each and every day, and seeing what is on your mind.

Some of these chapters speak of the great mystery which is the Tao. Chapters like that, I take a deep breath and think to myself, how do I make sense of this? Those chapters are always challenging for me to write about. I never feel that I can put it into words. And, Lao Tzu has basically told us that everything that we say about the Tao isn’t the Tao anyway. So, it wasn’t like I wasn’t warned.

Then there are chapters like this one today. Where instead of taking a deep breath, I breathe a sigh of relief. These chapters write themselves. This is what being libertariantaoist is all about for me. If I had an audience with any would be leader, and I only had five minutes to talk to them, today’s chapter would be what I would offer up.

I have said it before, but I’ll say it again. I wasn’t the original libertariantaoist. That honor is Lao Tzu’s. And in today’s chapter he lays it out about as plainly as it can be. No mystery, no metaphors.

If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. Would be leaders who won’t first learn how to follow, will never be great leaders. Oh, you might become a despotic ruler, if you work real hard at it. But rulers are not leaders. And when you get right down to it, they never really wanted to be anything but what they are.

They want to be in control. That is their driving ambition. Leaders are important. We need leaders. And aspiring to be a leader, especially a great one, is a very good and noble thing. But you are going to have to stop trying to control. Rulers have the need to control because without that ability to control, they have no power. Their authority doesn’t come naturally. It has been usurped.

And while we need great leaders. We do not have any need for rulers. If you let go of fixed plans and concepts, you will find that the world will govern itself. It doesn’t need you to govern it. All fixed plans and concepts do is muck up the process. Central authorities breed the need for themselves. So, they aren’t just unnecessary; they are detrimental to the livelihood of every being on the planet.

For me, this is just common sense. Or, self-evident truths. It shouldn’t have to be explained. Or defended. It is the way things are. This is the eternal reality of which Lao Tzu has been talking all along. The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be. I think the majority of us, when we read these lines, agree with Lao Tzu; and, we scratch our heads in bewilderment that our rulers don’t understand this.

But I never do feel like I fall in with majority opinion. Oh, I do agree with Lao Tzu. Wholeheartedly. But I am not at all bewildered that our rulers don’t understand this. I believe they understand, all too well. But, they can’t leave the world to govern itself. They can’t stop trying to control. And, they aren’t about to learn to follow the Tao.

Rulers need to be adding more and more prohibitions each and every day. Do they care that the results won’t be more virtuous people? Not at all. That just gives them an excuse to add more prohibitions. Rulers need more and more weapons. They have the need to maintain their fragile control over the masses of people that far outnumber them. No, the people don’t feel more secure. But that is all the better. They want the people to feel less secure. They want them to be very afraid. Finally, rulers don’t want self-reliant people. Self-reliant people are a great danger to rulers. The rulers know this is true. That is why rulers breed dependence on subsidies. And don’t think that that word subsidies only refer to assistance for the very poor. Corporate subsidies breed the same dependence. And for the same reasons. It is always about the need to control.
The Master is not such a control freak. Which is why the Master is our ideal. The Master understands that to be a great leader you need to first be a great follower. Not having a mind of his own. And instead, working with the mind of the people. Leading by serving. Taking the lowest place. Serving as an example.

When you learn to follow the Tao, none of this appears counter-intuitive any longer. If you let go of the law, people become honest. If you let go of economics, people become prosperous. If you let go of religion, people become serene.

When we aren’t following the Tao, we think that there have to be laws, rules, of some sort. Anything short of that would be anarchy, chaos. Rulers love to scare us with the imagined threat of a world without the need for their laws, their rules, a world without rulers. But when you learn to follow the Tao, you find your virtue inside yourself, the only place it ever was.

When we aren’t following the Tao, we think we have to have some system of economics. We get into huge fights over each one of the various “isms” and everyone is so damned confident that theirs, and only theirs, is the right one. Lao Tzu says, let it go. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will find yourself prosperous.

When we aren’t following the Tao, we cling to religion. We are looking for answers, maybe in all the wrong places. This is the hardest one of them all for me to write about. For I have family and friends who I simply don’t want to offend right here. I guess the greatest problem that I have with your religion is that it causes you to take offense; when Lao Tzu says, let it go. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will find yourself serene. Isn’t that what you were looking for all along? Is what you are clinging to helping? If not, let it go.

This last one is probably the greatest one of them all. The desire for the common good. We do so want to promote the common good, don’t we? Our rulers certainly insist that is all they want for all of us. And Lao Tzu tells us to let go of all desire for the common good. Let it go. The desire for it certainly has never resulted in it becoming common. Never before in the history of humanity will you find it. Let it go. Then, and only then, will the good become as common as grass. But you will only find that is the way things are, when you learn to follow the Tao.

Be Like The Tao

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached
or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu provided us with the example of the newborn to represent the vital power inherent in being in perfect harmony with the Tao. None of us can, nor likely want to, return to being a newborn baby. And this sounds strangely like the story in the Bible of Nicodemus coming to visit Jesus, and asking him what he must do to be saved. Jesus, as you will likely recall, replied that he must be born again. Nicodemus didn’t get it. “How can a man return to his mother’s womb?”

This would seem to be our dilemma. Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to our primal identity. But, the path before us seems impossible. Those who know the answer don’t speak of it. Those that speak of it, don’t know. Oh, come on, now. You have to give us more than that.

Oh, but, he has already said so very much. Stop talking! Let your silence reveal to you what you already know. We gain nothing from blathering on and on. That only serves to further our ignorance. But in our silence, we know as we are known.

No, you aren’t going to physically be born again. That is impossible. Still, you can return to your primal identity. And, return you will. It all begins as you close your mouth. Did Lao Tzu just tell me to sit down and shut up? Yes, I think he did.

But, don’t stop with just your mouth. Block off all your senses. Now that, perhaps, sounds counter-intuitive at first. How am I supposed to learn anything if I am not able to observe with my senses? But this isn’t about acquiring more information. We already know. That is why we are silent. The point of blocking off all our senses is to prevent our inner spirit from being bombarded by all the stimuli around us. Stop the distractions.

You need to blunt your sharpness. What does Lao Tzu mean by that? Have I really been too sharp? Too keen? I was just blathering on, just a little bit ago. Perhaps, this returning to the primal identity will require a certain dullness.

Untie your knots. Okay, yes, knots I understand. We tie knots as markers, placeholders. Just like the proverbial question of what do you do when you are at the end of your rope? You tie a knot, and hold on. But Lao Tzu is turning that advice on its head. He isn’t wanting us to hold on. He is wanting us to let go. Untie those knots. And let go.

Soften your glare. This, I believe, is referring to your countenance. Is it rigid? Hard? You haven’t really let go, until you have let go of all the rigidity and hardness in your body. Soften it. Let it go.

And….plop…. You are grounded, but you aren’t quite there yet. Now, wait for the dust to settle. Wait for it. Wait for it.

This is your primal identity.

What was the point of this little exercise? What are we trying to achieve? What we want is to be like the Tao. And you accomplish that, not by becoming, but by simply being.

It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. Look inside yourself, you’ll see it for yourself.

But, it isn’t about becoming anything. It is about being everything. And, nothing. Giving itself up continually. And, always enduring.

A Spirit That Never Grows Old

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft,
its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about
the union of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I have been going through the Tao Te Ching, a chapter at a time, for long enough now, that I am starting to anticipate when particular chapters are coming up. And so it is that we have arrived at the chapter about the erect penis, my affectionate title for today’s chapter. Just think, if you had just kept scrolling down your dashboard, you wouldn’t have even seen it. I wonder whether I should tag this nsfw?

For someone who is 51 years old, I sure do find the most juvenile of things humorous. But, of course, Lao Tzu does have something serious to say in today’s chapter. And, that erect penis merely serves to illustrate the vital power inherent in being in harmony with the Tao.

I mean, come on, you understand that a newborn’s erect penis is not about anything sexual. Newborns don’t know anything about the union of male and female. So, it isn’t anything sexual. But, it does point to what brings about harmony in all things. And, that is the union of male and female, yin and yang.

Can I just say that I understand why it is that Lao Tzu is so enamored with little babies? I understand that there are plenty of libertarians out there that confess themselves to be very anti-baby. I see posts from time to time on my dashboard quoting Murray Rothbard saying all sorts of horrible, if not humorous, things about babies. And I always give them a good chuckle. But Lao Tzu had a much greater appreciation for newborns. And I get that.

I mean, sure, they are pretty much useless things. Totally dependent on someone to take care of them. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean up after themselves. And they are constantly soiling themselves, which means they need constant maintenance. Babies suck. I get that too. But, there is so much more to them than just that. Sure, their bones are soft and their muscles are weak. But, just feel how powerful their grip is. And, no, we don’t like it when they scream their head off all day. But consider this, not only can they do it, they can do it and never get hoarse. There is so much to marvel at when considering newborn babies, the fact that their penis can stand erect really only deserved a passing nod.

The reason Lao Tzu finds them so fascinating is because, for him, they perfectly illustrate harmony. Harmony? Yes, harmony. And, I get that too. It is all about being in harmony with the Tao. Which a newborn is. It is all about the primal state. It is our beginning. And, it is our end.

The Master understands this. It is the Source of his power. The power to let things come and go effortlessly, and without desire. Just take a few moments to think about that. It is what the art of living is all about. The power to let things come and go. It requires no effort. In fact, all your efforts only muck up the process. Don’t interfere. Just let them come. Then let them go. And, of course desires need to be let go, as well. It is our desires that keep us blinded to the eternal reality.

I just keep thinking about those newborns. Do newborns have the capacity to have expectations? I think not. All their wailing and crying? Do you think they are expecting someone to come take care of them? I really don’t think so. I witnessed my own newborns crying when they had every possible need and desire met. And yet, they still cried. What do they want? They can’t tell you. They don’t expect any particular result when they cry. They just cry because that is what babies do. Of course, the upside to all of this is that they are also never disappointed.

That is the primal state. A spirit that is never disappointed is a spirit that never grows old.

When The Universe Sings

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will be genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the Universe
and the Universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about why people prefer the difficult side paths to the great Way. Lao Tzu was concerned that we be aware when things are out of balance and to stay centered in the Tao. Today, Lao Tzu is talking about staying on the easy path, centered in the great Way. It isn’t nearly as difficult as what we make it out to be. It all begins with taking a really good look inside your own self. What are you going to find there? If you peer into the darkness long enough, I will tell you exactly what you will find. I know, because I have found it too. So, what is it?

That this is true.

Lao Tzu tells us that if we don’t want to be rooted up, we need to be planted in the Tao. That if we don’t want to slip away, we need to embrace the Tao. We need to be find our center inside ourselves. And stay there. Rooted right there. Holding onto the truth that we will find, if only we will peer through the darkness.

And this isn’t something that we can put off until tomorrow. Or beat ourselves up over not doing yesterday. It is a present thing. The Tao is only concerned with this present moment. And that is what you need to make a reality in your own life. Let the Tao be present in your life. You have to do just that much. You have to let it. That is what will make you real.

And you need to let it be present in your family. I know plenty of you have relationship problems in your family. I have seen you post about them. Your focus has been misplaced. No worries. Today is a new day. Let the Tao be present in your family. Once again, that is what you have to do. You have to let it. And, then you will be amazed to find your family flourishing.

This next one is of great concern to us libertarians/anarchists. And I have been just as guilty as everyone else with this one. I can find lots to gripe about when it comes to my own country. But what should I be doing? The cure for what ails us doesn’t change, whether we are talking about individuals, family, or country. It is always the same. Let the Tao be present in your country. Your country can be an example to all countries in the world. That sure beats what I think my country currently is to every other country in the world.

Finally, we can make the whole Universe sing. We do it by letting the Tao be present in the Universe. Now, I know exactly what you are thinking about now. “Look, I think I understand how to let the Tao be present in my own life, but how exactly do I go about letting the Tao be present in my family, my country, the whole Universe?”

I am so glad you asked. We are so insistent that something has to be done. “Surely, there is something that I must do. My family life is crap. My country sucks. And the Universe? Well, if it ever did sing, I doubt I’d ever hear it.”

And so, I am going to remind you what that verb “let” means. It means you aren’t going to interfere. What should you do? Let the Tao be present. Let it. Don’t interfere with it. Don’t try to help it out. Just let it do its thing. In your life first, then your family, then your country, then the whole Universe. And I promise you, when the Universe sings, you’ll hear it. You’ll be singing along.