On How The Tao Manifests Itself In The Universe

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 2, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu introduced us to the problem of desire. We have to be free of desire in order to realize the mystery which is the eternal Tao. As long as we are caught in desire, we can only see the manifestations of the Tao. For me, the Tao Te Ching was written to help us all to circumvent the problem of desire.

Today, Lao Tzu begins to show us the manifestations of the Tao. By looking at the manifestations, we can find the common thread that is evident in the manifestations, and trace them back to the Source, which is the eternal Tao. Today’s chapter is probably the most important chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. It is here that he introduces yin and yang, as a way of understanding the Way of the Universe. It is also here that we meet the Master, Lao Tzu’s ideal person; at one with, and in perfect harmony with, the way things are.

The yin yang symbol is the most familiar icon of philosophical Taoism. It shows the duality that exists in the Universe. When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad. This is the duality with which we struggle. The problem isn’t with duality, though. The problem is with desire. And that is what we are going to circumvent as we take our journey through the Tao Te Ching. Yin and yang are going to show us how to do this.

The yin and yang symbol shows how the duality coexists, not as opposites but as complements of each other. It shows the constant state of flux, the motion of the Tao. And, that there is always something of the other in each one. It isn’t a static symbol; there is a dynamic relationship between yin and yang. It is alive with possibilities, with change. And it always brings about balance. That is how yin and yang circumvent the problem of desire.

The relationship of yin and yang can best be explained as the relationship between being and non-being. Between what is, and what is not. They create each other. Like difficult and easy, they support each other. Like long and short, they define each other. Like high and low, they depend on each other. And, like before and after, they follow each other. This last point should not be taken too lightly. Because of the constant flow of change, there is a never ending wave of before and after. Instead of calling being and non-being, what is and what is not, it would probably be more accurate to say that they are what is now and what is yet to come. But, even these words limit our understanding of something that is eternally existent.

Yin and yang, female and male, dark and light, negative and positive, passive and active, closed and open, front and back. Don’t think of these things as opposites. Think of them as complements. Everything in the Universe has elements of both yin and yang in them, otherwise they wouldn’t be complete. I see it as a loving relationship, a dance. The dance of the Universe.

We will talk much more of yin and yang, but that is enough for today. Now we need to continue looking at chapter two. And that means introducing the Master. I said earlier that the Master is Lao Tzu’s ideal person. But I do want to be careful here to not give you the impression that the Master is some superhuman, an unattainable ideal. Without patting myself on the back, I can say with all honesty, that I am becoming more and more like the Master each day. If I can do it, any of us can. I don’t claim to have arrived at some level of perfection. But I am further along today than I was yesterday.

The purpose Lao Tzu has in mind in giving us the example of the Master, is to help to flesh out Lao Tzu’s teachings. The Master is our example. The Master is the Master, because of his or her relationship with the Tao. I say “his or her” here, because the Master can really be any of us. Anyone who is in perfect harmony with the Tao. It doesn’t depend on our gender, or our ethnicity, or our family. It doesn’t depend upon which side of an imaginary border you were born. It doesn’t matter what your economic status is. All the various ways we have of differentiating between humans, are non-existent in the Tao.

Now, given that the Master can be anyone, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Stephen Mitchell, whose translation I am using, chooses to alternate between gender specific pronouns when referring to the Master. Today, he is using “she and her.” Tomorrow, it will be “he and him.” Now, in the original Chinese, there is no gender specific pronoun being used. The English language is not so blessed. Mr. Mitchell wanted to include all genders, because he knew that was Lao Tzu’s intention. But back in 1986, when he published this translation, and it isn’t much improved today, it wasn’t easy to render a translation in English, gender neutral. Prior to Stephen Mitchell’s translation, he counted 103 different English translations already. And each of these had, to use his word, “ironically” chosen to refer to the Master exclusively as a man. That word “ironically” was chosen because of how inclusive Lao Tzu’s teachings are. To insist that the Master is a man is to go way overboard on the yang. Where is the yin to balance things out? It was, as if the translators were denying half the population the possibility of becoming masters themselves. To circumvent that problem he chose to alternate gender specific pronouns. You have his permission, and mine, to change the gender specific pronoun to yours as you read along.

I am sorry this is going on so long; but this chapter deserves this kind of treatment. We are going to learn so much from the example of the Master. Just today we will end with the relationship of the Master with the Tao. This is what perfect oneness and harmony looks like. I won’t say much more today. Each of these we will cover in much greater detail in the days and weeks ahead. We will see how the Master acts without doing anything. Wu-Wei, doing not-doing, is central to the art of living. She teaches without saying anything. This involves knowing not-knowing, another important aspect of the art of living. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. That word “lets” is the perfect balance of yin and yang, passive and active, which goes with the flow of the Tao in our Universe. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect. Having nothing, desiring nothing. She has completely circumvented the problem of desire. Now, she realizes the mystery. When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever. And with that, my commentary on chapter two is complete.

The Problem With Desire

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things.

Free from desire,
you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire,
you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 1, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we ended the journey. Today, we begin it again. The Tao Te Ching is divided into 81 short chapters. I will take a chapter each day, offering my own commentary on each chapter. I have been making this 81 day journey for a couple of years now. And some of you have been around for all that time. Wow! Thank you! Others have come along at various points along the way. Welcome to all of you! All along, I have been using Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Of the bazillion different translations out there, his is my favorite, by far. Still, I do refer back to the original and consult other translations for inspiration. Looking at the same thing from a different perspective is always a good thing. That is also a good reason for me to keep starting this journey over. I am not just rehashing my old commentary on these chapters. I am actually sitting down fresh with it each day. It keeps me renewed. Now, before I go on to the commentary, I just wanted to say, here on a new Day One, how much the Tao has transformed my life. And, how much I want it to transform your life too. That is why I do this each day. And, just so you all know, I love to get messages from you guys. To hear what you think. To answer your questions. I consider you all to be friends. Keep it coming. Now, on to chapter one…

What can be told about the eternal Tao? Just giving it a name presumes more than I can possibly know. How can I, a finite man, possibly expect to fully tell of something that is infinite, eternal? All that the eternal Tao is, is a mystery, shrouded within darkness. I peer into the darkness. I desire to realize the mystery; and to tell of it. But it is just that, my desire, which hinders me. I know, somehow, I know, that within that darkness is the gateway to all understanding. If only I could see through this darkness. How do I circumvent this problem, and tell you about the Tao?

I must be free from desire. That is the only way to realize the mystery. While I am still caught in desire, I can only see the manifestations. This was Lao Tzu’s problem. It is a universal problem. So, how did Lao Tzu circumvent this problem?

Okay, okay, I know that the Tao, being the eternal reality, is unnameable. But I know a way I can get around that. I can’t really tell of the mystery of the eternal Tao; but I can tell of its particular manifestations. Those particular manifestations can be named. They can be described. They can be explained. And maybe, just maybe, if we look enough at the manifestations, we will see a common thread. A thread that will take us back to the Source. The same source for both the manifestations and the mystery.

That is it for today. Just an introduction. We will begin following that thread, back to the Source of both the mystery and the manifestations, tomorrow.

What He Lacks In Eloquence, He Makes Up For With Truth

True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 81, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Well, we have done it! We have completed another cycle through the Tao Te Ching. Tomorrow, our journey will begin again. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Today is what we will talk about. Lao Tzu has a few parting words of wisdom for us. He reminds us that while his words haven’t always been eloquent, they have, nevertheless, been true. He wasn’t setting out to prove some point. He merely wanted to point at the Tao. And let it speak for itself. So, what have we gleaned from this journey through the Tao Te Ching? I don’t know about you; but I think I gained a better appreciation for how to be content in my own life.

It isn’t about my outward circumstances, how many possessions I have, how much money is in my bank account. Oh, those things are certainly nice. I think I could be content if I had a lot of those things. But my contentment doesn’t depend on them.

The Master has learned the secret to true contentment. And he has no possessions. He has found that the more he does for others, the happier he is. I don’t think this means some self-sacrificing altruism. So all you Ayn Rand fans, don’t be distressed.

Having no possessions, just like not-doing, not-knowing, and not-competing doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. Lao Tzu is talking about the condition of the Master’s heart. His happiness isn’t based on accumulating to excess. It is based on giving all he has; which is limitless. The more he gives, the wealthier he is. And, because all his actions are effortless, the more he does, the more he can do.

Refer back to when Lao Tzu told us that true words seem paradoxical. How does the Tao nourish all things? By not forcing. That is the way of the Tao. It leads; it doesn’t drag you kicking and screaming. The Master leads, by not dominating.

There is so much more I would like to say. But I am not eloquent. Words fail me. I just know that my life has been transformed by the Tao. Why? Because I let it.

Where Contentment?

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We are down to the last two chapters of the Tao Te Ching. We will devote today and tomorrow to how to be content. Then, we will begin again with chapter one, starting anew the journey.

Today, Lao Tzu offers us one way that we can be content. If our country is governed wisely, we will be content. The reverse is also true. If we are not content, it just may be that our country is not being governed wisely. But, having said that, I want to say this: If whether or not we are content is dependent on something outside ourselves, we are not likely to be content. True contentment is not to be found outside of ourselves. It has to be found inside of ourselves. It is a matter of the heart. Keep that in mind as we take a look, the next two days, at what true contentment might look like.

I say might, because Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, offers an idyllic picture (looking at the outside) of a country’s inhabitants expressing true contentment. To those of you who might say, “that may be your idyllic picture, it isn’t mine,” I say, “fine, but at least, take a moment to glean the inner attitude that is producing this outward picture.” Then, you can come up with your own idyllic picture.

Every time I read through today’s chapter, I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Shire. It reads like a Hobbit’s life to me. And I would be very content with a Hobbit’s life.

Give me a hole in the ground. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: give me a hobbit-hole, that means comfort. Simple hobbit folk content with their very ordinary lives. Hobbits certainly enjoy the labor of their hands; and, they wouldn’t be wasting their time inventing labor-saving devices. They dearly love their homes; so they aren’t interested in travel. At least that is the case with almost all of them. There was that one odd fellow that disappeared one day. He went on a rather preposterous adventure with a band of dwarves and a wizard to a lonely mountain far away; where he claims to have helped to slay a dragon. That one disappeared a lot after that. But he was always a little queer. Most of us hobbits are content to stay at home. Travel? Adventures? No, thank you. In the Shire, there are wagons and boats. But hobbits don’t use them to go anywhere. There is an arsenal of weapons. But we hope never to have to use them. Us, hobbits, well, we enjoy our food and take pleasure in being with our families. We spend weekends in our gardens and delight in the doings of the neighborhood. In the Shire, though the next country is so close we can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking, we’d be content to die of old age without ever going to see it.

Yes, that would be my idyllic picture of true contentment. And I suppose that both Lao Tzu and J.R.R. Tolkien would be content with just that. Smoking my pipe while sitting outside in my garden… Wait, I am already doing just that. Not your idea of contentment? Don’t worry, I wasn’t foolish enough to think everyone wanted to be a hobbit, just like me. And I have no intentions of trying to force my Utopia off on you. It might be a Dystopia for you. I can respect that. Even if I don’t quite understand it.

And I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is attempting to do with today’s chapter. Maybe you are wondering, what is so wrong with labor-saving devices? And, what is Lao Tzu’s problem with loving to travel? But, I fear that maybe we are missing Lao Tzu’s point. For, there is nothing wrong with labor-saving devices. Nor, is there any problem with loving to travel. The real question is, why aren’t you content? And, what is it going to take for you to be content?

Are your days and nights filled with restlessness, anxiety, depression, and dissatisfaction with your present circumstances? Perhaps you don’t even know what you really want. You just know you want something else, something better. I am a libertarian, an anarchist. It is easy to blame discontent on how unwisely my country is being governed. And there is a correlation there. Lao Tzu said, if a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants would be content.

But we can’t depend on our government. Even the Shire needed scouring. And Lao Tzu doesn’t want us waiting around for our government to act wisely. He said “if” not “when”; so knowing the statistical improbability, I think we had better start depending on ourselves. Where is true contentment to be found, if we can’t expect to find it in our outward circumstances? We need to look deep within ourselves. That is where it is to be found. There is where we have everything we need. It is inherent in us. I didn’t always understand this. I thought I would need to build me a hobbit-hole. Wouldn’t be content without one. But, I can be content in my little house sitting on the ground. I have my little garden in my little back yard. I smoke my little pipe and enjoy my simple, ordinary life. And you can find your own contentment inside your own self, too.

An Opportunity For You

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she need to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu closed yesterday’s chapter with the line, “True words seem paradoxical.” And we easily spotted the truth in the paradox, yesterday. The soft overcomes the hard. The gentle overcomes the rigid. If you want to be the people’s greatest help, give up trying to help them.

But, there is something of which it is good to be aware. Lao Tzu didn’t divide his teachings into chapters. The chapters were a later addition; much like the addition of chapters and verses to the Bible. Editors thought it would be helpful to divide even this short work into chapters. While I find it helpful to take a “chapter” a day, I also am mindful that there is a continuity that flows through the Tao Te Ching, from beginning to end. Just because one chapter closes, the thoughts being conveyed don’t end. The truth to be found in paradox is also here, in today’s “chapter.”

So it is that you will most often find me referring to yesterday’s chapter when I begin talking about the present one. Context is obviously important. These aren’t separate islands not connected to the whole. And that leads me to the other thing about today’s chapter, which is very much a continuation of what Lao Tzu has been talking about in the last few chapters. You aren’t going to find the words soft and gentle, or hard and rigid in today’s chapter; but that is still what Lao Tzu is talking about when he says, “Failure is an opportunity.”

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about the Master being like water, serene, even in the midst of sorrow. Today, he is talking about contractual obligations. From ancient times, humans have relied on contracts to conduct business with each other. There were two sides to every contract between two parties. The side dealing with the obligations of one party, and the side dealing with the obligations of the other party.

When Lao Tzu tells us to see failure as an opportunity, he is talking about how we should act with regard to both sides of the contract. We’ll take these sides, one at a time.

First, there is your side of the contract. What are you obligated to do? If you have entered into a contractual obligation, you are bound to fulfill your own obligations. No excuses. What if you fail? See it as an opportunity. Not an opportunity to start pointing the finger of blame at others. Don’t start doing that; once that starts, there is no end to the blame. But your failure doesn’t have to be the final word. And it shouldn’t be. Now you have the opportunity to correct your own mistakes. To do whatever needs to be done; so that your obligations can be fulfilled. That seems straightforward and reasonable enough. It would have been quite shocking to see Lao Tzu recommending we try to weasel out of our obligations.

But then there is the other side of the contract. The other party’s. What about their obligations? What happens when they fail? Are we going to be hard and rigid, now? Or, are we going to be soft and gentle? Obviously, if the other party was you, you would be setting out to correct your own mistakes, and doing whatever needs to be done to fulfill your side of the contract. But you aren’t the other party. And their failure is an opportunity for you of a whole different sort.

What are you going to do? How are you going to act? If you respond to the hard and rigid, the contract, by being hard and inflexible, you just missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Instead, Lao Tzu teaches: Be soft and yielding. Demand nothing of the other party.

Demand nothing of the other party? But, but they owe me! How dare they! You mean to tell me that I can’t weasel out of my own obligations; but, I am just supposed to roll over and let them weasel out of theirs?

I know we are almost all the way through the Tao Te Ching (only two chapters left, until I start it back up again with chapter one in three days), but let’s not forget what Lao Tzu has been teaching us all along. We need to give up our need to control. We need to let go of all desires. We need to be simple in our thoughts and actions, patient toward friends and enemies, and compassionate toward ourselves. We need to be like water. And, we need to trust the Tao. As it acts in the world, the Tao is like the bending of a bow. Excess and deficiency always get leveled out. Will you let the Tao balance the ledger? The Master is good to both those who are good and those who are not. That is true goodness. The Master trusts both those who are trustworthy and those who are not. That is true trust.

True words seem paradoxical. But are they, really? Failure is an opportunity. An opportunity for you to prove the Tao is alive and well in you.

Nothing Can Surpass It

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu always comes back to water. It is his favorite metaphor. And we have heard this so many times. We know this. Why does he keep going on and on about it? The reason he goes on and on about it is because, while we all think we know it, few can put it into practice.

The last time I wrote my commentary on this chapter, early in March of this year, I spent a great deal of time talking about water. But we already know this. So, I am not going to rehash the qualities of water that are readily apparent to all. We know what water is. We know how it acts in the world. What we need to graduate to, is putting this teaching into practice in our lives. We need to be like water. How difficult can this be, since we are mostly made of water?

It isn’t enough to know what water is like. That would be like observing the flower, without partaking of the fruit. We need to be soft and yielding, like water. We need to, like the Master, remain serene, even in the midst of sorrow.

I think you know the kind of sorrow I am talking about. The hard and inflexible kind of sorrow. It is the kind of sorrow that demands that we do something. And being the good people we always strive to be, we allow evil to enter our hearts right here. Our serenity is lost. We must help. We want to help. With our good intentions. Those good intentions that my Dad always insisted paved the streets of Hell. Have you ever paused and considered how hard and inflexible, good intentions always are? We see before us a problem and we are right there with our solution. And you better do things my way… We are attempting to deal with the hard and inflexible with the hard and inflexible.

How do we remain serene? Even in the midst of this kind of sorrow. How do we keep evil from entering our heart? How can we be soft and yielding? This is where true words seem paradoxical.

Sorrow is making demands on him. But the Master remains serene. He seems indifferent. His heart, unmoved. Sorrow screams out its agonizing despair. The Master remains serene. He is as indifferent as water. Is he not going to help? He is present, yet still serene. He doesn’t try to help. He doesn’t intrude on the sorrow. He doesn’t put forth any effort to make it go away. He has given up helping. Still, he is present. Still, serene. The sorrow passes. Still, he is present. Still, serene. Few can put it into practice. But this is how to be the greatest help. Nothing can surpass it.

Like The Bending Of A Bow

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about going with the flow of the Tao as a matter of life and death. If only we will realize this; that is the kind of difference it makes in our lives. Are we going to be a disciple of life or a disciple of death? Are we going to be soft and yielding or stiff and inflexible?

Today, Lao Tzu uses something flexible as a picture of how the Tao acts in our world. Like the bending of a bow. Notice that he doesn’t picture someone bending a bow. Notice, also, how he describes this bending of a bow. The top is bent downward and the bottom is bent up. This is how a bow is designed to operate. As it is bending, the top goes down and the bottom comes up. We are all familiar with how a bow naturally operates. Even if we have never handled one before, we have seen it before, or had it described for us, countless times. We know about the bending of a bow. He uses this illustration to describe how the Tao adjusts excess and deficiency, to achieve perfect balance.

The Tao acts in the world to adjust excess and deficiency; it takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. This is how the Tao operates in the Universe. It is always bringing about perfect balance. Yin and yang, always in a state of flux, always returning to balance. It is all very impersonal, this universal law. Nowhere does it ask for our help or our opinion. It merely asks us to let it happen, without interfering. Where the Tao sees excess and deficiency, it will adjust it. It always adjusts it. My favorite way of explaining the Tao is to simply say, it is the way things are. This is the way things are. This is how it flows. This is why we need to be soft and yielding, rather than stiff and inflexible, in order to be content in our lives.

If only we would be content with the way things are. Because I gain new followers every day, I want to make clear what I mean when I say, the way things are is the way things are, don’t fight it, don’t resist it, just go with the flow. I certainly don’t mean that I am all for the status quo. The status quo being a system set up by the ruling elite, which works against the flow of the Tao. The status quo is maintained by people who are trying to be in control. Lao Tzu tells us, throughout the Tao Te Ching, that the Universe is forever out of our control. We can’t control it. We can go with the flow of it, and all will go well. Or, we can try to be in control, to use force to protect our power.

That is what the ruling elite have been trying to do for as far back as history records. They are going against the direction of the Tao. Lao Tzu saw it in his own day. And by then it was already an ancient practice. Since Lao Tzu’s day, nothing has changed as far as the motives of the ruling elite are concerned. Chapter after chapter, Lao Tzu devoted to admonishing leaders on how to be great. Follow the Tao. Be like water, humble and yielding. Trust the people, leave them alone. But do they listen? Do they ever listen?

And the consequences of not yielding to the way things are, are devastating. They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much. Notice how we went from the impersonal Tao, that adjusts excess and deficiency by taking from what is too much and giving to what isn’t enough, to powerful people trying to be in control, and making it personal. What becomes who. And the excess and deficiency only grows greater. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t how the universe operates. This isn’t how the Tao acts in the world. And, this folly can’t be maintained forever. When you are stiff and inflexible, you will be broken. I would go so far as to say that it has already broken.

I said this is a matter of life and death. I didn’t intend that as hyperbole. I really believe it. We, humans, are either going to evolve, or we will become extinct. That is the choice before us. Life or death.

This is where we need to take our cue from the Master. Remember, the Master isn’t some superhuman, an impossible ideal that we couldn’t possibly ever hope to live up to. The Master can be and should be any of us. Any of us willing to evolve. To let the Tao do its thing. Without interfering. Without trying to control. Being flexible and yielding is how we evolve.

The Master can keep on giving because there is no end to her wealth. Don’t limit what Lao Tzu calls wealth to something financial. Wealth, here, is a lot more broad than that. There is no end to what the Master can give. That is why she can keep on giving. When you are going with the flow of the Tao, when you are flexible and yielding, excess and deficiency are always being adjusted. Everything is brought into balance. She acts without expectation. Expectation has to do with desiring a certain outcome. But going with the flow means letting go of all desires. She succeeds without taking credit. Of course she doesn’t take any credit. It had nothing to do with her. It is all about the Tao. That is why she doesn’t think she is better than anyone else. She isn’t. No one is better than anyone else. We are all treated equally by the Tao.

That is the kind of equality that the Tao brings about. But that kind of equality isn’t something that gives anyone power over another. Which is why those who want to have power over others are never in keeping with the Tao.

It Is Good To Be Alive

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, once again, Lao Tzu reminds us of what we think we already know. Remember where you came from. When you were born, you were soft and supple. Alive. So it is with all things. Even plants start out this way, tender and pliant. We know these physical attributes. We know how soft a newborn is. We know how tender the shoots of a plant are.

But, if we only know the physical attributes, it is like only paying attention to the flower, without concerning ourselves with the fruit. We need to get past the surface and start plumbing the depths. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about tangible properties. He is talking about the intangible qualities that make us alive. We need to realize what we think we already know. Then, is when it makes a difference in our lives. Then, we can know true contentment.

How sad it is that so many of us are no longer soft and supple, yielding to the flow of the Tao. It is the only way to truly be alive. When we are stiff and hard, inflexible, then we are as good as dead. A tree that is become brittle and dry is fit for the ax.

The Tao is always flowing, alive. Let it. Go with that flow. Bend and yield. Be alive. If you resist, if you are hard and stiff, you will be broken. Only those who remain soft and supple will prevail.

I Couldn’t Just Let This Stand Alone

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is one where it is tempting to just post Lao Tzu’s words, and let it stand alone. What more needs to be added? We know this, already. Right? But yesterday, we talked about the profound difference between knowing something and realizing it. And the problem is, we may know it; but, few realize it.

In Lao Tzu’s day, everybody also knew it. Taxes were collected by those in power to enrich themselves at the expense of the taxpayers, those not in power. And people went hungry; the tax burden was so high. But that was Lao Tzu’s day. Today, we don’t realize that the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. Most delude themselves with the notion that taxes are not a burden any more. We don’t tax the poor. We tax the rich, those that can afford to pay their fair share (whatever that is supposed to mean), and the poor benefit from the goodwill of our rulers; because that money, collected from the wealthy, is passed along to the poor. We declared war on poverty, damn it, and no one is going hungry because of how high taxes are, any longer.

That is a delusion. The reality is that the more things have changed, the more they have remained the same. In spite of the rhetoric (lies) of those in power, taxes collected are still being used to enrich those in power at the expense of everybody else. And, because taxes are too high, people are, indeed, going hungry.

I can already sense the cognitive dissonance welling in up in people’s minds. That just can’t be. We have more people than ever on food stamps in my country; people can’t possibly go hungry. There are all sorts of government housing assistance; so, no one could possibly be homeless. And, I can’t seem to go more than a day without hearing some clueless, yet privileged, person who has never known what it is to choose which essential you are going to have to do without this month, because there wasn’t enough money left over from your paycheck after taxes, complain about “the poor” and their “smart phones”.

The reality is that the government with its largesse promising to “help” the poor out of their poverty has managed to ensure there are always going to be more and more in need of their handouts. When taxes are too high, people go hungry. Don’t just know it. Realize it. It is true because that is the way things are. It is the way things always have been. Taxes are not intended to enrich anyone but those collecting the taxes. The rest of us go hungry.

See how I am? I wrote five paragraphs on the opening line, alone. Then there is the second line: A government that is too intrusive causes people to lose their spirit. I was thinking of this while listening to our politicians babbling about what to do with the collection of our phone records. I posted an article by Sheldon Richman earlier about this. Some of our politicians can almost talk a good game. Like they know that the government can’t be too intrusive, or people will lose their spirit. But if you pay attention to them for long enough, you will soon see their true colors. They may “know” it, but they don’t realize it. Not really. And they don’t have any real intention of actually doing anything about it.

We have to get beyond knowing to realizing. If they really wanted to act for the people’s benefit, not just say they are, but actually wanting to do it, they would trust us, and leave us alone. But they don’t trust us. And they won’t leave us alone. So, they’ll keep paying lip service to those who raise civil liberty concerns, all while finding new clever ways to keep doing exactly what they have always done.

And people still go hungry, while getting more and more depressed.

Those Aren’t Your Tools

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools.
Chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I took comfort in trusting that the Tao’s net covers the whole Universe and won’t let a thing slip through. This comfort enables me to live a life of ease, right here and now; instead of postponing it until some future unknown. Today, Lao Tzu continues with instructions on how to live at ease in the present. If we want to be at ease in our own lives, we must realize that all things do change; and, hold onto nothing. We don’t know what the future is going to bring, besides change. Of that we can be certain. But what will change? Perhaps everything. I expect nothing will remain the same. Everything will change. I can’t control the future. Try as I might, I can’t do it.

Trying to hold on to things is trying to prevent change. You can say that you know that all things change, but until that “knowledge” is actually making a difference in how you are living your life right here, right now, your knowledge means nothing. That is why, I think, we must do more than know. We must realize. Realizing makes it real. Knowledge alone, doesn’t improve us. Realizing is the key to actually understanding. Knowledge alone doesn’t prevent us from struggling against change. Even knowing that all things change, we still are nagged by the twin phantoms of hope and fear. They challenge us to think about our future. Then we try to control the future.

But realizing, reveals hope and fear to be the phantoms they are. By realizing, we see that they aren’t what is real. What is real is the here and the now. Change is always upon us. Hoping that things are always going to be just so, or fearing dying – these rob us of a present life of ease. There is nothing we can’t achieve if we aren’t sidetracked by these phantoms.

And it simply isn’t our place to try and control the future. The Tao has us all covered in its net. We want to think we are the ones in control. But there are so many things that are completely out of our control. Think about that, right now. So many things are completely out of your control. Why should that produce fear and anxiety? The Tao’s net has you covered. It has always had you covered. In spite of all the things you can’t control, you have made it thus far. And you will continue to make it; because the Tao has you covered. It has your back. So stop worrying about things beyond your control; and, start living your life like you believe it. Don’t try to handle the master carpenter’s tools. Allow things to change. Allow things to both come and go. Enjoy this present moment.