Where Not To Find Fulfillment And Happiness

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never be truly fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the value of effortless action. Not-doing doing. I even shared a little of how I practice it. I talked about my own decision to live life purposefully. To simplify and downsize. To see just how little it takes for me to live a happy and full life. Today, Lao Tzu begins with three rhetorical questions to get us thinking about the purpose of our own lives. Which is more important, fame or integrity? Which is more valuable, money or happiness? Which is more destructive, success or failure?

What Lao Tzu is doing here is asking us to take an honest assessment of our lives. Our purpose in living. What is important? What is more important? I don’t think you can’t have both fame and integrity. But that isn’t the question. The question is, which is more important? Because if you are looking to others for fulfillment, you will never be fulfilled.

Then there is the question of money and happiness. We tend to tie the two together some how. I will be happy if only I have enough money. But I never seem to have enough money, so I am not able, yet, to be happy. But, once I accumulate more money, once I have all the things I want that I need money to acquire, then I will be happy. Lao Tzu will have none of this. He states it pretty clearly. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself.

Who doesn’t want fulfillment? Who doesn’t want to be happy? I think we all do. We may all have different ways of going about our pursuit of it. And there is nothing at all wrong with that. We are individuals, after all. Vive la difference! But Lao Tzu wants us to understand that fulfillment and happiness are things to be found inside each of us, rather than outside of us.

We really get to the heart of the matter when we talk about success and failure. He has talked about that ladder before. You know the one. Where, instead of keeping our two feet standing on the solid ground of reality, we start going up and down rungs of the illusory ladder, encountering the phantoms of hope and fear. Now, the question isn’t about importance. Nor, is it about value. Now, it is all about destruction. Now, we ask the question that confronts the illusion with a huge dose of reality. The success we hope for and the failure we fear are both destructive. Which is more destructive? That is a pretty good question, and one that I am not going to attempt to answer.

They are both destructive. They don’t have to be equally destructive. One may be more destructive than the other. Or one may only seem to be more destructive than the other. For me, it is like choosing between the lesser of two evils in an election. You get evil either way. So why choose? You think that because one seems less evil or more evil than the other one, that it matters?

But let’s leave politics aside. I shouldn’t have even brought it up, since it isn’t what Lao Tzu is talking about. What he is talking about, is purposeful living. And, where not to look for fulfillment and happiness.
You won’t find it on that ladder.

Instead, you have to learn to be content with what you have. Be content. With what you already have.

Instead of fretting over the way things seem to be, rejoice in the way things are.

Once you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

That is what it all boils down to. The key to the art of living. Not nearly as hard as we make it out to be. Still, you have to make some choices. You need to choose to be content. You need to choose to rejoice. And you need to realize the truth. The truth is right there. It isn’t very far away. You carry it inside of you. Look inside yourself and you will see.

The Value Of Non-Action

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter we return to the concept of Wu Wei. That could be translated as not-doing doing, or inactive action. But I see how saying, “Let your doing be not-doing or your action inactive” could be quite the challenge to wrap our minds around. I know it was for me. To begin with we need to understand yin and yang. And, how they interact together. Not-doing doing is yin yang. That is helpful but I also understand why me saying, “I am going to practice not-do do” might elicit laughter. Lao Tzu talked, just a couple of chapters ago, about why the fool laughs out loud when hearing of the Tao. He certainly gives the fool plenty to laugh out loud about. Still, especially for some of my newer followers that find themselves smack dab in the middle of the Tao Te Ching and wondering what I am going on and on about, I would like to make this concept of Wu Wei a little easier to understand. It is, after all, a very central concept in philosophical Taoism.

In the translation that we have before us, Stephen Mitchell translates it as “non-action” and says there is value in that. And there is. Too often we want to do something when doing nothing would be the best course of action.

But, I don’t think most of us properly understand what is meant by this non-action. It is more than just not-doing, as we already said when we defined it as not-doing doing. It isn’t non-action. It is inactive action. It isn’t just yin without any yang. Of course if all we have been doing for a long while is yang, maybe it is time to balance things out with a good dose of yin. Hopefully, this is making the sense I am trying to make.

For me, the best way to express Wu Wei is to call it effortless action. Acting effortlessly in everything that we do. That is the Master’s way. We see that manifested all the time. Especially in nature. Actually, nature shows us the way perfectly, if we only have eyes to see. But humans can and do demonstrate effortless action as well. You can see it demonstrated in the martial arts. The ease with which martial artists perform their every movement.

So, becoming an ardent observer of nature and taking up one or more of the martial arts would both be excellent ways of learning how to act effortlessly. But I know some of you are going to say that you simply don’t have the time for that.

So, I am going to tell you what I did. I determined that I needed to live purposefully. And, for me, that meant simplifying my life. Letting go of all the extra baggage I was carrying around. And, finding out how very little I actually need in order to live a happy and full life. I am not finished yet. So, don’t think I am speaking from some mountain top trying to convey wisdom here. I certainly don’t consider myself a master yet. I am still only an apprentice, with plenty more to learn. But, I can say, that I have managed to reduce the number of hours in any given week that I need to work in order to accumulate more and more and more. And never finding satisfaction in all that stuff. Nor, ever having enough hours to get everything done that I needed to get done.

Because I am now working a third of the hours I used to have to work, I have many more hours for not-doing doing. What does that mean? For me, it means that now, I don’t ever look back on my day at a long list of things I didn’t get done. I didn’t write the list in the first place. That helps. But it really doesn’t convey what I am trying to convey. When I lay my head down on my pillow at night, I do so, utterly amazed at all the things I got accomplished that day. It didn’t used to be that way. I used to look back on all the things that I was going to have to get done tomorrow. That never made for a good night’s sleep.

If I am actually conveying what I am trying to convey, it would be effortless action, or Wu Wei. I just go through the flow of each day. Doing things as the need arises. I have plenty of time for that. No pressures. No stress. I just effortlessly act throughout my day. Much in the same way that I am typing this up. Just letting it flow. Not forcing, just letting. And, just like that, it is finished.

The Mystery Of One, Two, And Three

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness,
realizing he is one with the whole Universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago we were talking about being and non-being. I promised, then, that with today’s chapter we would look more into origins for a better understanding of the relationship between being and non-being. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins with the mystical One, Two and Three. So, let’s take a look at this and see if we can decipher what it is that he means.

I am looking first at where Lao Tzu says: “The Tao gives birth to One.” My initial gut take on this “One” is that he is speaking of the Tao. So, the Tao gives birth to the Tao. And, I immediately see why that is going to sound less than satisfactory. The Tao gives birth to itself? Can that be right? So, I delved deeper into Taoist philosophy. What Lao Tzu first put down in writing, Chuang Tzu, who came along a little later, expounded on. Here is a little snippet of what he has to say: “At the beginning, there is Nothing. No existence. No names. Where One rises up, there is One, but it doesn’t have a form yet.”

That is Chuang Tzu expounding on what Lao Tzu identified as the One. What is at the beginning? Nothing. The One rises up, but it doesn’t have any form yet. It is still nothing. That is more helpful than you may think at first. Because we have already been talking about being and non-being. And, we have already said that non-being is nothing.

So, the One is Nothing, or Non-Being. What Lao Tzu is saying, I think, is that non-being is one aspect of the Tao. The Tao gives birth to One. One aspect of the Tao is Non-Being. This is the way it was at the beginning. There was no existence, no being. No names. Just Nothing. But Nothing, Non-Being, rises up. That is the initial One. Formless and nameless. Still, it is the Tao.

Something Lao Tzu has already told us is that non-being gives birth to being. Non-being and being, in Chinese philosophy that is wu and yu. Now, we have two. One gives birth to Two. Non-being and being. Yin and yang. Still, this Two is One in unity. We are talking about two distinct aspects of the Tao. The Tao that gives and the Tao that receives. It has both of those aspects working together simultaneously. There isn’t one without the other. What I mean by that is that as non-being rises up, it spontaneously creates being. I asked, a couple days ago, “What could precede existence, if not nothing, or non-existence?” But that word “precede” is a shadowy term. Words are very limiting. Before and after. These are words that only have meaning to us if we look down on them or back at them. They are still yin and yang. Simultaneous and spontaneous.

As if this look at the One and the Two wasn’t mysterious enough, now we have the Two giving birth to Three. This Three gave me a lot of trouble for quite awhile. I really had to delve into Chinese philosophy to understand what it is that Lao Tzu is referring to. The conclusion that I came to is that Lao Tzu is referring to a third aspect of the Tao. We have the first, which is wu. We have the second, that is yu. And, we understand, that is yin and yang. The third is chi. I have seen chi defined as energy. Or, the life force. And sometimes, breath, or spirit. I think all of those are helpful. The important thing to understand is that yin and yang combine, and like the splitting of an atom, produce chi. I still think of this as a simultaneous and spontaneous thing. And all three are merely aspects of the one Tao.

Now, we see how it is that the Tao gives birth to all things. The three, wu, yu and chi, do it. I hope you have found this both interesting and helpful. When I first decided to start posting these chapters daily, and adding my commentary to them, I didn’t really know whether I was ever going to be up to the task of deciphering some of these more mysterious chapters. But I have enjoyed the challenge and I always enjoy hearing from my followers how much they are enjoying my take on these things.

But we have only gotten through the first third of the chapter. What does Lao Tzu mean by the next lines? And what, if anything, does it have to do with what he has been saying so far? “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. When male and female combine all things achieve harmony.” Once again, we are having a reference to yin and yang. How is it that the life cycle continues? We can’t turn our backs on the feminine. And only deal with the masculine. We need to allow female and male to combine yin and yang, to achieve harmony.

And then we have these last lines: “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole Universe.” Yesterday, we were talking about extraordinary and ordinary individuals. Actually, the translation used the words superior and average. But it means the same thing. What makes the Master extraordinary is his willingness to embrace his solitude, his aloneness. Let’s not forget how everything came into being. It starts with one. By embracing your oneness, you make real that you are one with the whole Universe. We are all one with the Tao. The Tao is nothing and everything. And in the Tao, we are nothing and everything. Ordinary people can’t tolerate being alone. They hate solitude. But, it is only in solitude that we come to realize that we are not alone. We are not separate beings. We only appear to be separate beings. We are all one with the Tao.

Why The Fool Laughs Out Loud

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus, it is said:
The path into the light seems dark.
The path forward seems to go back.
The direct path seems long.
True power seems long.
True purity seems tarnished.
True steadfastness seems changeable.
True clarity seems obscure.
The greatest art seems unsophisticated.
The greatest love seems indifferent.
The greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet, it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Look all around and you will see it. The way things seem to be. The path into the light? It seems dark. The path forward? It seems to go back. The direct path? It seems long. That is what confronts us as we trust our senses to show us the way forward in our journey. The way things seem to be confound us and keep us from following the right path. The one that is the eternal reality.

Our senses enamor us with the illusion. What seems powerful? What seems pure? What seems steadfast? I understand how our thinking gets all muddled. The way things seem to be seem so very clear. Why can’t what we see? What we hear and smell and taste and feel? They seem so real. True power? It seems weak by comparison. True purity? It seems tarnished. True steadfastness? It seems changeable.

The illusion has really messed with us. The greatest art seems unsophisticated. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish.

This is why Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by saying it takes a superior person to immediately begin to embody the Tao. It takes an extraordinary person to see beyond the illusion. Beyond the way things seem to be.

I wish I could say that I was one of those truly extraordinary persons. It has been years since I first heard of the Tao. I was reading C.S. Lewis, of all people to be getting information on the Tao. Of course, I wasn’t looking for the Tao then. But he talked about the Tao. And what he said intrigued me. It sparked an interest in me that lay dormant for many years. So, I can’t say that I immediately began to embody it.

Perhaps, I just wasn’t ready yet. Maybe, I just had too many things to unlearn. It was years before I again thought of the Tao and began to actually try to find out more about it. I found various copies of translations of the Tao Te Ching. As I began reading through them, I found myself half believing and half doubting. Yes, I was merely average.

I am thankful, I suppose, that I didn’t respond like the foolish person. I didn’t laugh out loud. Not about the Tao. No, I just had that wrestling thing going on in my mind. The wrestling between belief and doubt. Perfectly normal reaction, actually. I am even thankful for the years of wrestling. It was necessary for my journey. And, I came out on top. That is when I laughed out loud. Because it was all so very simple. That is why I missed it for so very long. I was making it a whole lot more complicated than it ever had to be.

I understand why the average person only half believes it. Why they also have their fair share of doubt. Because I understand my own journey. I understand, too, why the fool laughs. Perhaps most importantly, I understand why it is that the superior person can immediately embody it.

The fool laughs because the Tao is nowhere to be found. I get that. Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. With the way things seem to be, why wouldn’t the fool laugh out loud. It’s okay. Go ahead and laugh. If you didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The superior person is able to immediately embody it because they can see what the fool will never see. They see beyond the way things seem to be, the illusion. They see what it is that nourishes and completes all things. They perceive the eternal reality behind it all.

But me? I just get glimpses of it. Maybe out of the corner of my mind’s eye. When and where I wasn’t looking for it. But that is okay, too. Because that doesn’t change the eternal reality. And, I am still being nourished and completed.

 

Of Cycles And Being And Non-Being

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have talked a lot, before, about how the Tao is like water. It is both fluid and ubiquitous. It is content with the low places. Thus, humble. It is soft; yet, it overcomes the hardest thing. Today, Lao Tzu describes the movement and the way of the Tao as cyclical. Always on the move, forward, never looking back; yet, always returning to the beginning again. Just like Spring yields to Summer. Summer yields to Autumn. Autumn yields to Winter. And Winter will yield to Spring again. Night and Day follow each other, each yielding to each other in their time. We see it as we observe the cycle of the Moon from New to Full. We observe it as we see how life renews itself through birth, growth, maturity, death, decay, new birth, and so on… This is an easy way to explain the operation of the Tao.

But how do we explain being and non-being? Yu and Wu in ancient Chinese philosophy. To say that all things are born of being, this would seem to go without saying. Who disputes that? But where does being come from? Lao Tzu says being is born of non-being. This notion that anything can come from nothing has confounded philosophers and scientists for ages. But Lao Tzu doesn’t set out to prove that it is true. He merely states it as fact. Being has to come from nothing. How else could it come to exist? What precedes existence, if it isn’t non-existence?

A couple chapters from now we will look deeper into origins. Maybe then, we will better understand the relationship of non-being with being. Until then, think of yin and yang. How they complement each other. How they interact together to create balance and order and harmony in our Universe.

My Gardening Story

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way things are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel,
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that the Tao is everything. When the Tao is lost, it is our connectedness with everything that is lost. That is when things start to go horribly wrong in our lives and by extension in our world.

Things are just so much better when we are in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu describes it in this chapter as pristine. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full earth. All creatures flourishing together. And everyone content with the way things are, endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed. That is what being connected with the Tao and thus, everything, means.

But when we lose our connectedness to everything we start to interfere with the Tao. Why? Because we are lost and confused. And soon that pristine picture of a beautiful world is replaced with a dystopian vision. The sky is becoming filthy. The earth is becoming depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct.

Many of us look around at the world we live in and see the dystopian vision being played out. We don’t like it, but we wonder what can one individual do.

The answer is that one individual, who hasn’t lost his connection with everything, can make all the difference in the world. It takes compassion and understanding. And it takes humility.

That one individual, that Lao Tzu calls the Master, views the parts with compassion. He views the parts with compassion because he understands the whole. He understands his connection to the whole. He sees how the parts have been severed from the whole. How they have lost their connectedness to the whole. And he chooses to act as a pattern for the world. To show each separate part how to get reconnected to the whole. And, this takes making humility our constant practice. You can’t be interested in glittering like a jewel. Glittering jewels attract attention to themselves. And that takes attention away from the whole. Being a pattern is letting the Tao shape you into whatever you need to be, rugged and common as stone. Just like any other stone. Not very attractive. Not drawing attention to itself. Only drawing attention to the Tao. That is everything.

Get this settled, once and for all. Nature wins in the end. Oh, we can interfere with the Tao. And, we often do. And mess things up quite badly. But nature does win in the end.

Back years ago, when I was a child, my family had a large garden in our backyard. I remember vividly how we took a plot of ground that was covered in grass and turned it into a garden. Getting rid of all the grass, battling with weeds for years, and harvesting what had to be tons of rocks as we plowed and then tilled year after year. I never liked working in that garden because I hated having to constantly deal with the weeds and the rocks. We got lots of yummy (and some, not so yummy) vegetables out of that garden as a reward for that hard work, but I still didn’t like it. Which is why I am very happily now gardening the lazy way with a raised garden bed. No more rocks and weeds! But getting back to my story, we only had that garden until all us kids had grown up and moved away. Then my parents gave that garden back to nature. And in a few short years you would never know that a thriving garden had once been there.

My Dad didn’t have to do anything to let nature return things to equilibrium. We had been battling with nature for years to have that garden. And nature put up quite the fight. Winning in the end. That is just one story. And I am sure you have your own personal ones. The fact is that every man-made thing is going to last only so long as nature allows it to last.

So, don’t be discouraged by the dystopian vision you see. Nature will win in the end. Don’t worry about nature. Of course, you could worry about us humans. We may not survive our habitual interfering. That is why it takes individuals, like you, like me, who will act with compassion and understanding. Yes, and with humility too. Don’t forget humility. And be the pattern of the way you want the world to be. The Tao will take care of shaping you. Just let yourself be shaped.

You Can Be Imagining Better Things

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus, he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus, he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves meany things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds,
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When good is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore, the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about freeing ourselves of desire; and, being content with our simple everyday lives. That may seem like a tall order. I know that has been my own daily challenge for the last couple of years. I think I am making headway; but I still have not rid myself entirely of desire. I encourage myself every day with the idea that it isn’t about the destination, so much as it is about the journey. A journey that we take one day at a time. Some days we have setbacks. But I try not to let myself get discouraged by that. What is the hurry? I have the rest of my life to do this.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu reminded us that it isn’t about striving to do anything. The Tao doesn’t try to do anything. Yet, through it all things do get done. What we are wanting is to be more and more like the Tao with each passing day.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us what separates the Master from the ordinary person. And this is important for each of us to understand. He has been talking about centering ourselves in the Tao. That is certainly what the Master does. So, how does the Master accomplish this? By not trying. What is true power? The Master is truly powerful. So, the Master knows what true power is. He is true power in the flesh. And how did he get there? By not trying to be powerful. This is the antithesis to what the ordinary person does. The ordinary person is always trying to attain more and more power. He never has enough. Always he is reaching for more and more and more.

This is key to understanding the way things are in our Universe. Anything that you are reaching for is an illusion. True power isn’t something to be taken. It is given. And, it is only given to those who aren’t reaching for it. Trying to be powerful is never the way to attain true power. And I want to be clear here that I am talking about true power here. Not the illusory kind that so called powerful men and women exercise over others. Know that their power is all an illusion. It isn’t real. Regardless how very real the illusion may seem to be. How do I know their power isn’t real? Because they never have enough. They always need more. True power doesn’t leave you needing more. It is, in and of itself, inexhaustible. You will never need more.

Another way that the Master is head and shoulders above the ordinary person is that the Master doesn’t have to do anything. That doesn’t mean that the Master is leaving things undone. But the Master’s actions are effortless. There is no striving. That is what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. The ordinary person can’t wrap his head around this concept. He is always finding things to do. He must always be busy, busy, busy. Striving. Exhausting himself with effort. But look at what that gets him. Look at all the things that are left to be done. That is why the ordinary person is always complaining that there are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Time is a constant concern because he never has enough.

Perhaps this ordinary person is kind. And because they are kind they do what they do. Kind things. But these random acts of kindness are never enough. Something always remains undone. Perhaps this ordinary person is just. And so, they work to accomplish justice. But no matter how many acts of justice are done, many more are left to be done. Is Lao Tzu telling us that we are wasting our time when we are kind and just? Since we can’t possibly get everything done through kindness or justice, we would be better off not being kind and just?

I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is saying, at all. What I think he is saying is there is a better way. One that actually works. What are your motives really? That is a valid question, I think. Are you doing something kind, or something just, because you want kindness and justice in the world, or because you want to be thought of as kind or just. If it is the latter, you probably aren’t going to pay much attention to what Lao Tzu has to say. But if it is the former, if you really are wanting the world to be a better place for everyone, then Lao Tzu’s words ring true.

We have already talked about improving the world. Lao Tzu says it is sacred, and we need to be careful that we aren’t interfering with the Tao. That is how the world got messed up in the first place. But Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that the world is in a hopeless situation. We can and should be a pattern for how we want everyone in the world to be. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being a pattern. Notice, it isn’t doing. Just like the Master doesn’t do anything. But the Master is a pattern. And all things do get done.

But look at the moral person over there. They see all that is wrong in the world and they know just how to fix things. They start applying their fixes and when no one responds, in other words, things don’t happen just like they wanted them to, that is when their true nature reveals itself. They roll up their sleeves and use force to accomplish their objectives. This is yet another example of the illusory power we were talking about earlier. True power never applies force. It never has to. Because unlike the illusory kind of power it doesn’t have to prove itself. When the facade starts to crumble, more and more force is brought to bear.

The Tao is everything. That is why it does nothing. And when the Tao is lost, which means that our connectedness to everything is lost, we can’t get away with doing nothing. That is why we substitute doing something for doing nothing. That is why we substitute other things for the Tao. Like goodness. But goodness can be lost too. And so we substitute morality. Because if people can’t naturally be good then they must be forced to do good. But morality can be lost too. And then there is just ritual. We aren’t good naturally. We aren’t even doing good anymore. But we can put up a good show. That is what ritual is. A good show. Well, it is a show. An act. It is the husk of the real thing, true faith. And that, my friends, is the chaos that we are living in today.

People amaze me sometimes. I know so many people that fear anarchy because, well, that would be chaos. So they fear an imagined chaos, while all the time living a very real chaos. I tell them that things could be so much better. But their imaginations are filled with fear. And so their lives are filled with fear. All because they won’t look beyond the surface, to the depths. They get distracted by flowers when they need to concern themselves with the fruit.

But how does the Master do it? We talked yesterday about letting go of desire. Today, Lao Tzu calls it having no will of your own. It is dwelling in reality and letting go of all the illusions. You can be imagining better things.

Letting Go Of All Desire

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be
transformed by itself,
in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the subtle perception of the way things are. Its workings are a mystery to us. The Tao never does anything. Yet, we can perceive the results. Through it all things are done.

Yes, it is the subtlety of it that confounds powerful men and women. The whole world can be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. That is the way of the Tao, the way things are. Centering yourself in the Tao is letting go of your need to control, and no longer interfering with the natural rhythms of the world.

Can powerful men and women do this? I don’t think so. They have their own agenda. They are consumed by their will to power. But don’t get the wrong idea of the role powerful men and women play in the grand scheme of things. Too often, I hear people say things like, “If only we can get the right people in power, then everything will be fine.” And, these same people keep striving toward that goal without ever stopping to consider there is a better way. The corrupting tendencies of power are all too often overlooked. It has a will of its own. Relying on power to achieve what you want to achieve means you aren’t relying on the Tao.

And, it doesn’t take power to center yourself in the Tao. What it takes is letting go of desire. Don’t wait on others to do it. You have the Tao complete within yourself. And, you can center yourself in that reality. Let go of all desires, until you are free of all desire. This is the path to true contentment. A contentment with your own simple, everyday life. In harmony with the way things are.

We think it is harder than what it actually is. We think we must do something. But Lao Tzu is pointing us in a completely different direction. Instead of moving into action, we need to move toward inaction. But if we never do anything, how will anything get done? How does the Tao do it? That is a mystery. All I can show you is the results. All things do get done. It just isn’t the result of your striving, your efforts. Inactive action is effortless action. Stop striving. Let go of all your desires. Then, there is peace.

Like Breathing In And Breathing Out, So Very Subtle

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.

This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about perceiving the universal harmony and finding peace in our hearts. And I said then, what that means is perceiving the way things are. Today, Lao Tzu calls it a subtle perception. That word subtle is important. It means that it is so slight as to be difficult to detect or describe. Yes, that is precisely the difficulty we were talking about yesterday. Your senses are of no use to you in this quest. Words pointing to it seem monotonous and without flavor. It is elusive.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about the subtle perception of the way things are? It involves seeming paradoxes. Like yin and yang. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks about shrinking and expanding, getting rid of something and allowing it to flourish, taking and giving, soft and hard, slow and fast. And, we almost can’t help but think of these as opposites. But they aren’t opposites. They are complements. And I finally came up with a way to perfectly illustrate the relationship of yin and yang.

Think of it as breathing. There is breathing in and breathing out. Inhalation and Exhalation. There is no half way point. You are either inhaling breath or exhaling breath. To stop inhaling and exhaling is to stop breathing. And then you die. But we aren’t talking about death. We are among the living. And that means breathing in, followed by breathing out, followed by breathing in, and so on, endlessly repeating the process.

That is how it is with yin and yang. Night and day follow each other. And so, when we talk about wanting to shrink something, we need to first allow it to expand. When we talk about wanting to get rid of something, we must first allow it to flourish. If we are talking about wanting to take something, we must first allow it to be given.

Expansion first, then it can shrink. Flourishing first, then you can get rid of it. This give and take is the subtle perception of the way things are. And, sometimes we won’t necessarily like that. Waiting on nature to take its course tries our patience. But, you know what’s worse than waiting on nature? Trying to resist nature. The way things are is the way things are. The sooner we get on board with that, the better for us.

Sure, it is so very subtle. So very subtle that we can hardly believe it sometimes. But we still know it is true. The soft does overcome the hard. And the slow does overcome the fast. We know it is true, even though it is largely a mystery, why it is true. Why is it true? It is just the way things are. Like that is an explanation. But Lao Tzu tells us not to be concerned with the mystery of the workings. Just look at the results.

Nothing To See And Nothing To Hear

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking a lot about the Tao. Usually, with words that may seem monotonous and without flavor. The reason that words pointing to it are like that is because we are talking about something that Lao Tzu has already warned us is imperceptible to our human senses. You can look for it and there isn’t anything to see. You can listen for it and there won’t be anything to hear. That does present us with a difficulty, since our goal is to center ourselves in it. And why wouldn’t that be the goal? Lao Tzu has promised such wonderful things if powerful men and women can only center themselves, and stay centered, in the Tao.

And today’s chapter is a continuation of those wonderful promises. Center yourself in the Tao and you can where wherever you wish, without danger. But if the Tao is imperceptible to our senses, how exactly are we to center ourselves in it? Have we been on a wild goose chase? A fool’s errand, all along?

I’d certainly like to think not. The key, I think, is to understand that we can’t employ our senses in order to accomplish what it is we are trying to accomplish. Music or the smell of good cooking, those are things that our senses can enjoy to great benefit. But the Tao isn’t like that. And the words that we use, including the ones that Lao Tzu uses, are not meant to lead us along by our senses. They have just the opposite effect. Dulling our senses would seem to be the goal.

No, if we are going to center ourselves in the Tao, and I certainly believe we can, since I believe I do, we need to understand that while the Tao is imperceptible, there are things that we can perceive. What we are differentiating is the mystery from the manifestations. The mystery is imperceptible. Lao Tzu told us our problem in the very first chapter. We are caught in desires. Our desires, which have us pursuing things that our senses make perceptible, prevent us from realizing the mystery of the Tao.

I like music and the smell of good cooking as much as anyone else. But there isn’t any mystery in that. I also enjoy the palette of colors that my eyes get to enjoy, while surveying our beautiful world and universe. Is there any help here? What Lao Tzu says of the person who is centered in the Tao is that they perceive the universal harmony. Perceiving the universal harmony is not really something that we use our physical senses to achieve. With our senses we may perceive pain. That is certainly something we can sense. But perceiving the universal harmony goes deeper than even great pain that we might feel. It is a “seeing” which is beyond anything that our eyes can see. It is beyond anything that our physical senses can perceive.

But it can be perceived. I know this. Because I perceive it. And, I am convinced that you perceive it too. You just know that the way things are is the way things are. This isn’t acquiescence to something horrible, like pain. This is accepting, embracing, something that is a whole lot greater than the greatest pain that we can experience. And, what it produces in us, is something that is beyond all value. We are talking about finding peace in our hearts.

This is huge! Because it isn’t something external to us. That would require that we use our physical senses to acquire knowledge of it. No, it is internal. And, it was always there, that peace. It was there all along. In my heart. In your heart. Just waiting to be found. Once you find that, what danger are you going to encounter that is going to take that away from you? You fear that there is? But Lao Tzu has good news for all of us. Why it is that we can go where we wish without danger? Because we are talking about being centered in the Tao; and, when you use it, it is inexhaustible.