Let It Be

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 become 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, Lao Tzu told us to be aware when things are out of balance. The result is always robbery and chaos, and not in keeping with the Tao. Lao Tzu offered us three warning signs to be aware of; they were happening in his own day, and they are still just as prevalent in our own. And, while he insisted the great way is easy, he told us people prefer the side paths. This, too, is just as widespread, today, as it was in Lao Tzu’s day. We may wonder how can we more effectively persuade people to stay off those side paths. After all, the problems we perceive in our world are tied to people preferring the side paths. We can’t force people to do the right thing. So, what can we do? Be a better example, maybe?

It is tough to have to face the way things seem to be, especially for those of us that do perceive the eternal reality, before and beyond it. Why won’t people wake up? What has caused them to become so inured to the way things seem to be? They don’t seem to want to behave according to what we have come to know is innate in all of us. Why do they prefer the side paths?

We know the answer, don’t we? There is a powerful elite who benefit tremendously from the system they have set up in opposition to the Tao. From early in our childhood, we have been indoctrinated to prefer the side paths. Most people will go all their lives, unaware they are pawns in a game being played at their own expense. This is all the more reason for us to be aware when things are out of balance; and center ourselves, and stay centered in the Tao.

One of the things which has always endeared me to Lao Tzu’s teaching is he never expected great things from so-called powerful men and women. Oh, things would certainly be great if they could center themselves in the Tao, and stay centered; but our own personal happiness, true contentment, doesn’t have to, and indeed can’t, depend on them. Lao Tzu always uses “ifs” with them. But with the rest of us he uses “whens”. We shouldn’t be waiting on them to amend their ways. They won’t willingly give up their own need to control. But, ultimately, each one of us has everything we need to be content with our simple, ordinary lives. The great way, indeed, is easy. We just need to stay off those side paths.

We can do this! We can be planted in the Tao; and know we will never be rooted up. We can embrace the Tao; and know we will never slip away. We are the ones with direct access to the true power. A power which those who reach for it, will never have enough. When all is said and done, it will be our names which will be held in honor from generation to generation. So-called powerful men and women may be notorious; but they will only be remembered as those who tried to get in the way, and failed.

I know what you are thinking, right now. You are thinking that I keep talking about how easy this all is, yet you are wondering, exactly how do we get planted in the Tao, how do we really embrace it? So, once again, I will say, it is so easy, the so-called powerful will scoff at us. That is okay, let them scoff; it wouldn’t be the Tao if they didn’t.

Now, I will admit, this took me far too long to figure out for myself. Hey, I was just as indoctrinated, just as inured in the system, as everybody else. I was slow to begin looking inside myself, when everything and everyone around me was telling me to look outward at them. But, once I started looking inside myself, peering into the darkness, I found clarity. I found the Tao present in me, it was there, all along. Once I discovered the Tao is present, all that remained was for me to let it be present in my life.

The Tao is present. But I wasn’t letting it be present in my life. And because I wasn’t letting it be present in my life, I wasn’t being the real, genuine, me. Oh, I put on a good show, fooling myself and others, for a long time. I couldn’t really see just how out of balance things were. You see, Lao Tzu keeps insisting this is innate in all of us. Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. But if we don’t realize that, if we don’t let the Tao be present in our lives, we are settling for less than the real “us”. Those side paths got well worn by me. But that was never the real me. Now, I am real. Now, I have become genuine.

I said that was all that remained; but I, then, discovered something more, as I continued to look deep inside of me. The Tao isn’t just present in me. It is present in my family, too. And I needed to let it be. Then, my family would flourish. When I continued looking, I saw the Tao is present in my country, as well. And I need to let it be. Then, my country will be an example to all countries in the world. When I continued looking, I saw the Tao is present in the whole universe. And I need to let it be. For it is then, the whole universe will sing.

The Tao is present, in you, in me, in our families, in our countries, in our universe. We just need to let it be. People may prefer the side paths, right now; but, there isn’t one of them who wouldn’t be open to finding a better way. What can one person do? Let the Tao be present in your life, first. Then, let it spread outward from there. Let it be present. Your genuineness is the best example you can be for everyone you encounter. Before long, you will start to hear it too. The whole universe singing in perfect harmony.

Things Not In Keeping With The Tao

The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For several days, now, Lao Tzu has been making the case that following the Tao is something innate in all of us. Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. Every being spontaneously honors the Tao. The love of the Tao is in the very nature of things. Since this is true, that means the great way is easy. That certainly is Lao Tzu’s conclusion, today. It is easy. It is the most natural way for us to be. It is built into our nature, intrinsic to us. But… Wait, you mean there is a but? Of course, there is. All we have to do is observe the world around us, and see our fellow human beings in turmoil, to see there is something at odds with how easy the great way is. People prefer the side paths.

I was listening to a podcast, yesterday, an interview with Stephan Kinsella, where this was sort of the topic. I say, sort of, because they weren’t talking about philosophical Taoism specifically, they were talking about what can we libertarians do to win over more people to the cause of liberty. And, Kinsella said he thinks libertarianism is something innate in all of us. My ears perked up. Because that sounded all too familiar. He said it isn’t something we need to try and force. Oh? I won’t go through everything my ears picked up. I really need to go back, and find it, and reblog it. I think it was moralanarchism that originally posted it. I only mention it because it corresponds to what Lao Tzu is talking about today.

Why is it that we prefer the side paths? The great way is easy. It really is. I know this is true. I have found it true for myself. And yet, I still find myself, sometimes, on the side paths, as well. What makes them so tempting?

There are probably a variety of reasons.

The first one that comes to mind is we simply forget the Tao. We get so used to what our senses are telling us; and, pretty soon we just find ourselves being led by our senses, instead of our inner vision. That intuitive, spontaneous connection is easily lost if we aren’t being aware when things are out of balance.

Another, more sinister, reason is there are those who benefit, and dare I say, profit, when people are on the side paths. A system has been set up in direct opposition with the way things are. It is designed to keep things out of balance. For the few that benefit from the imbalance, they couldn’t be more delighted than when they convince us to prefer the side paths. That is all the more reason to be aware when things are out of balance. We need to re-center ourselves in the Tao.

Knowing we can easily find ourselves on the side paths, Lao Tzu offers us three warning signs for which to be on the look out. Be aware when things are out of balance. These are all robbery and chaos; and not in keeping with the Tao.

The first warning sign is when rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land.

Now, keep in mind, if things were in balance, everyone would be prospering. We have talked about this so many times before. If powerful men and women were centered in the Tao, and stayed centered, the whole world would be a paradise. When things are out of balance, a certain few still prosper, while many others suffer. The problem isn’t so much that rich speculators are prospering, so much as it is that farmers are losing their land. One doesn’t have to prosper at the expense of another. If you are one of those who think there isn’t enough pie for everyone to have plenty, that if one has a slice, someone else will have to go without, you don’t understand how supply and demand work. The reason some are without is because someone is interfering with the laws of supply and demand. That is what has created the imbalance. Stop interfering. Stay centered in the Tao and all will return to balance again.

The second warning sign is when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures.

It is important to understand what Lao Tzu means by contrasting weapons and cures, here. Cures, here, isn’t referring to health care. He isn’t talking about the government funding a cure for cancer, or AIDS, or any other very worthy cause. Cures, here, refers to the very reason we find it necessary to be spending money on weapons, instead. How do we respond to conflicts? Do we interfere, intervene, where it should be none of our business? Do we initiate violence and force to get our way? Or, do we react to violence with further violence, just letting it keep rebounding back and forth? There are better cures than spending money on weapons. Conflict resolution doesn’t have to involve escalation of the conflict. Making enemies and treating them like demons, rather than fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, only takes us that much further away from the cure. Things are very clearly out of balance. Do you see it? Be aware and re-center yourself in the Tao.

The third warning sign is when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn.

Let’s be clear, here, the problem isn’t that the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible. I personally don’t care how anyone chooses to live their own lives or spend their own money. Lao Tzu isn’t judging them, per se. The problem is that the poor have nowhere to turn. So, what is the solution? This is where some well-meaning people will offer their good intentions. Let’s take some of that extra money the rich have. It is obvious they have more than enough, look at how extravagant and irresponsible they are; we should redistribute this to the poor, then they will have some place to turn. But, if you were paying any attention to what Lao Tzu was saying, you would see that is not his intention. We have already seen the government is more interested in weapons than cures; so those redistribution schemes you have formulated are doomed right from the start. But even if the government had the best of intentions, that still isn’t the solution.

So, what is? Because things are seriously out of balance here.

It is the very thing we are loath to practice, though it is the most natural of things, innate in all of us. Center yourself in the Tao. Love all beings unconditionally, just like the Tao does. Don’t interfere with the natural order, leave the balancing to the Tao. “But, but, you just don’t get it, the poor have nowhere to turn? Something has to be done!” Oh, I get it. You want to do something? Help out who you can; encourage others to voluntarily do so, as well. But never, never resort to force, to trying to bully people into doing the right thing. Because the right thing is no longer the right thing, once you have had to force it. All things will return to balance and harmony, if we will only stop interfering; and, wait for it, be patient.

Practicing Eternity

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I talked about how love of our fellow beings is something innate in all of us. I concluded by saying, let’s all start doing what is really already natural for us, the love of the Tao, loving unconditionally. Resisting the Tao, and by that I mean, resisting loving our fellow beings unconditionally, is not natural. Today, Lao Tzu goes into this further.

He opens today’s chapter by reminding us that we can trace our way back, all the way to the beginning, to find the Tao. All things issue from it, and all things return to it. How do we trace our way back to the Tao? By tracing back the manifestations. Lao Tzu identified what the manifestations, or expressions, of the Tao are, yesterday. We are. All of us, all beings in the universe. We are all the children of the Tao. If we want to find our way home to mother, we only need to recognize the children. That is how to be free of sorrow.

The reason we are experiencing sorrow, instead of contentment with our mother, is because, instead of recognizing that we are all children, we close our minds in judgment, and we traffic with desires. This is important for us all to understand. Our hearts are troubled because we are resisting that something which is innate in all of us. Our minds are closed. We are not the masters of our own minds. Our minds are our masters. And they judge our fellow creatures as being separate from us. How can we love unconditionally, when our minds keep insisting that our love can only be offered conditionally? And, we still insist on being led by our senses. That is what Lao Tzu means by trafficking in desires. The problem is, our senses can only tell us the way things seem to be, only what is apparent to our senses. Our senses cannot show us the eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. That is not their function. Observe the world, yes; but, trust your inner vision. That is what Lao Tzu has insisted on, all along. It is the only path to serenity, the only way our heart will find peace.

Okay, I get it! Now, how do I put this practice of the Tao, you know, into practice?

Understanding that I can no longer allow myself to be led by my senses, I begin trusting my inner vision; this is like a leap of faith, my friends. When you are looking inside yourself, all you will see, to begin with, is darkness. How can I trust this? Wait for it. Let your eyes get adjusted to the dark, so to speak. Clarity will come, if you will wait for it. If you get antsy, impatient, your heart will remain troubled. The practice of the Tao takes patience. It takes knowing how to yield. But if you will wait it out, you will find the source of your strength, your own light. It was there all along. We just let our minds be closed and our hearts be overwhelmed by desires. That is why there was so much darkness. But, now that you have found your own light, you can use it to return to the source of light.

Congratulations, you are now practicing eternity. It is a whole other realm of existence. Now, you are seeing what is before and beyond the way things seem to be. You see your fellow beings as yourself. You aren’t resisting anymore. All things are issuing from the Tao. All things are returning to it. You are at one with that flow, as it goes through you, inside and outside. You don’t just feel the love, you are the love.

What Is In The Very Nature Of Things

Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about how knowing we are going to die, and being ready for death, free us to hold nothing back from life. Today, Lao Tzu weighs in on the universal question, “What is the meaning of life?”

Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. I understand that for some, life seems to be without meaning. But, let me assure you, things are not what they seem to be. My life has meaning, your life has meaning. From the least to the greatest, all beings are connected to each other through the Tao. We are all manifestations of the Tao; and that is what gives our life meaning and purpose. We may all start out unconscious of this meaning and purpose. But we are all perfectly ourselves, from the moment we sprang into existence. And, we are free to discover, for ourselves, what gives our existence meaning and purpose. We, all, do this by taking on a physical body, and letting circumstances complete us.

If there is any question of what volition we have in all this, the second stanza explains a little more of what “letting circumstances complete us” means. Don’t be surprised at how spontaneously it all happens.

The Tao gives birth to all things. It nourishes us, maintains us, cares for us, comforts us, protects us, and takes us back to itself. That, is a whole lot of loving. But don’t think, even for a moment, you have nothing to say about any of this. The Tao creates without possessing. It acts without expecting. It guides without interfering. We aren’t coerced. We aren’t forced. We aren’t manipulated. We are loved. Perhaps, we don’t always understand what love means. But the Tao perfectly embodies it for us. Love leaves us free. It makes no demands. It offers itself freely. That love is something innate in each of us. It is in the very nature of things. It enables us to both love the Tao and all our fellow beings, too.

So, now that Christmas has come and gone, with its songs of peace on Earth and good will to all, not to mention, another calendar year nearing its end, why don’t we all start doing what is really already natural for us; let’s start loving all our fellow beings, as unconditionally as the Tao loves us.

It Is About Being Free

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is timely, because we are coming to the end of another calendar year. We recently experienced another Solstice, which pagans marked as a death and rebirth of our Sun. And, because we have been talking about the “end” of the practice of the Tao. If today’s chapter seems morbid to you, with its talk about death and dieing, I would suggest we need a better understanding of the way things are in our Universe. To that end, Lao Tzu offers us today’s chapter.

It is really just a continuation of what we have been talking about for the last few days. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said, “The Master has no mind of her own.” He has been talking about letting go of a little something, each day, of our desire to be in control, of the need to force things. Today, he says, “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.” That is our focus in today’s chapter. Giving ourselves up, living life in the present moment, not holding anything back from living our lives to the fullest in each present moment. It is about being free. Remember, the Master didn’t become the Master in one giant leap. To arrive at this present moment, involved a series of smaller acts. You let go, one thing a time, one day at a time, until you arrive at this present moment.

We are all the same in this regard. Whether, or not, we are conscious of all the choices we have made to arrive at this present moment, we are here. All that is left is to make the most of it. That is the point of today’s chapter; so, when he says, “He knows that he is going to die”, he isn’t being morbid. He is merely stating what should be obvious to us, but usually isn’t. Death and dieing are very much a part of that “whatever” the moment may bring for us. Knowing that we are going to die is important. You could say, it is vital; if, we are going to be freed to live. And this knowledge can’t be a mere mental assent, like we all know we are going to die. It has to go much deeper than that. It is a realizing, that is life-changing. We have probably all heard stories of people who survived a close brush with death, and then began to experience life on a whole new level. This is what Lao Tzu wants us to appreciate. And, thankfully, it doesn’t take a close brush with death to come to this realization.

Still, we must come to this realization. That we are going to die. That we are ready for death. For only then, can we really live life to its fullest in this present moment. What are you still holding on to? That might be hard for us to immediately realize; but you can be sure it involves illusions in our mind and resistances in our body. Yes, we still are talking about the practice of knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing.

The Master has no illusions in his mind. What are these illusions? They are anything that competes with the eternal reality, the way things actually are. Here, Lao Tzu is talking about not thinking about our actions. It is the “no mind” Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday.

The Master has no resistances in his body. What are these resistances? They are anything that makes us hesitate, when we should act; or, do something, when we should do nothing. The picture in my own mind is when my body involuntarily jerks because it thinks I am falling. See, my body is still offering up resistance.

No resistances means all of your actions flow from the core of your being, without impediment. You don’t have to “think” about it. Your body just acts, effortlessly, intuitively, spontaneously. Nothing is held back from life, therefore you are ready for death.

Lao Tzu talks again and again about death because we don’t really understand death. We don’t realize it is just part of the life cycle. Death, to us, is final. That is a complete misunderstanding of how nature works, the way things are. Life is a series of recurring cycles, which include death and new birth. It happens all around us on a daily basis. And, we like to think we understand nature’s cycles; but somehow we don’t realize this applies to us, humans, as well. For us, death is it. Oh, we may hope to be reunited with our loved ones in some sweet by and by. But that is only an article of faith; it makes little difference how we go about living our lives in the here and now. But Lao Tzu wants us to view death as it is in reality, the eternal reality. He wants us ready for death like we are ready for sleep after a good day of work. Your work is done. It is time to sleep. But that isn’t the end.

Look To Her, And Wait

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said there is an end to this practice of the Tao that Lao Tzu is talking about. Of course, I didn’t mean that there will be a time we won’t want to practice it any longer. Instead, Lao Tzu was talking about dropping a little something of your need to control, each day, until you arrive at non-action. What he was talking about was one aspect of gaining true mastery over ourselves, letting things go their own way, or doing not-doing. Today, Lao Tzu explains another “end” as he returns to talking about knowing not-knowing, having no mind of your own.

The Master has no mind of her own. She works with the mind of the people. One end of gaining mastery over ourselves is that we are no longer enslaved by our own mind, or will. The Master certainly has mastered herself. And that, enables her to work with the will of the people, however wayward that might be. But what does Lao Tzu mean by this power to work with the mind of the people?

Now, Lao Tzu gives us a lesson in true goodness and true trust. Once again, the Master is our example.

When you think about it, being good to people who are good, and trusting people who are trustworthy doesn’t require any virtue on our part. We wouldn’t think very much of someone who wasn’t good to people who are good, and trusting of people who are trustworthy. That is like a minimum basic requirement of human decency. But having mastered herself, the Master is able to embody true virtue. She is also good to those who aren’t good, and trusting of those who can’t be trusted. That is far-exceeding the minimum basic requirements. That is true goodness and true trust.

But, let’s just be honest, here. While it is easy to say this is virtuous, it is also easy to recognize it as foolhardiness. It is readily apparent that we should be good, even to those who aren’t. But, trusting people who aren’t trustworthy? That sounds like a prescription for disaster. Won’t she reap the whirlwind by putting her trust in the untrustworthy?

This “having no mind of your own” all of a sudden starts to look a bit risky. At least, that is, until you realize she has her trust placed in the Tao. That is, after all, what it means to have no mind of your own. Instead of being so full of your own desire to be in control, you have let go of that desire, and, now, fully trust the Tao to “settle the ledgers”. Will people she trusts let her down? I guess that depends on what you mean by let her down.

Just look at her. That is what the people do. Her mind is like space to them. They don’t understand her. Oh, but she understands them. This is why she can work with their minds, no matter how wayward they might be. So, the people look to her and wait. Some are no doubt expecting her to get burned for her misplaced trust. But she knows exactly what is needed in this present moment. She treats them all like her own children. Notice he didn’t say “like children”, but “like her own children”. There is a profound difference. My own children are adults now. And, I treat them as such. Though, I still treat them as my children. It is a pretty special status. The Master treats all the people as if they are her own children.

There are lessons to be learned here for all of us, both those of us who are good, and those who aren’t so good; those who can be trusted, and those who we wouldn’t dare to trust. Maybe we are still expecting for things to go badly for the Master, since she still insisted on trusting the untrustworthy. And maybe it will even look like our expectations were justified. Things may seemingly work out against her. But there is an eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. And the Tao always brings about balance and harmony, if we will wait on it.

How True Mastery Can Be Gained

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I promised that today’s chapter would also be devoted to the practice of knowing not-knowing. Yesterday, I said it boils down to “the more you know you don’t know, the more you don’t know you know.” Our problem isn’t that we lack knowledge. And, our problem isn’t that we have knowledge. Our problem is, the more we presume we know, the less we understand.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu used the example of the Master to begin explaining how the practice of knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing are intertwined. And, today, he continues where he left off, by contrasting the pursuit of knowledge with the practice of the Tao.

In our pursuit of knowledge, every day something has to be added to that storehouse of knowledge. Notice that word, pursuit, for it is telling. Pursuit involves chasing after. Also, notice that it is on-going. It never ends. You can never let up; every day, there is always something more to be added. To my friends pursuing degrees in higher education, consider this a heads up. Even after you get that degree, the pursuit of knowledge can never end. I have been out of college for thirty years now, and I still add to my knowledge, each and every day. And, don’t misunderstand Lao Tzu, here. There isn’t anything wrong with the pursuit of knowledge. You just need to understand the way things are.

The pursuit of knowledge is one thing. The practice of the Tao is entirely different. Where pursuing knowledge involves adding something every day, the practice of the Tao is a matter of dropping something every day. But what you add and what you drop are two very different things. And, there is an end. What you are letting go of, little by little, is your need to force things, to interfere, to intervene, to control. Lao Tzu doesn’t ask that you let go of all your desire in one fell swoop. That probably isn’t even possible. But, if we drop a little something of it each and every day, we will, finally, arrive at non-action. Unlike knowledge, which can’t be exhausted, there is only so much desire to control, any one individual can have to let go of.

The end goal is non-action. That is, doing not-doing. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. That is the way of the Tao and that is the practice of the Tao.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was all about encouraging understanding. Today, Lao Tzu calls it mastery, how true mastery can be gained. We want to get to a place where we simply let things go their own way, without interfering, without trying to control. We will never gain true mastery by interfering.

Now, obviously, this is easy to give mental assent to, and much more difficult to put into practice. But, why is that? For me, it was because I tried to bite off more than I could chew, at one time. Lao Tzu tells us to just let go of a little something each day. Don’t try so hard! Don’t try, at all! Don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes. You will fail, and fail miserably, at times. So? Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back at it. Just take it a little slower this time. Nature’s way is a good example for us. It is never in a hurry. Yet everything gets done. Anytime you are feeling rushed, is a good clue you are forcing things. That right there is a good thing to let go of, your desire to get it done, and fast. This isn’t something that can be rushed. That is the antithesis to the practice of the Tao. Relax. Breathe. Enjoy. Let go.

Why More Means Less And Less Means More

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today and tomorrow, our chapters from the Tao Te Ching will have Lao Tzu talking about the practice of knowing not-knowing. Along with the practice of doing not-doing, it is a fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism; so, Lao Tzu returns to talking about it again and again. And, along with the practice of doing not-doing, it is something that most people seem to have a very difficult time wrapping their heads around. In our world, knowing is supreme. We place a premium on knowledge. It is highly valued. Those who think they know run our world. But Lao Tzu understood something about these so-called smart people. They weren’t necessarily wise. True wisdom is knowing you don’t know. The practice of knowing not-knowing boils down to “the more you know you don’t know, the more you don’t know you know.” If that sounds like gibberish to you, at first, I recommend you reread it slowly, and let it sink in. It takes a certain humility which those who think they know will simply never know. But, it is the path to wisdom.

Dare I say it? Presumed knowledge is an illusion. Your problem isn’t that you don’t know enough, your problem is the more you think you know, the less you understand. There is an almost inverse relationship between acquiring knowledge and acquiring understanding.

So it is that Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by talking about people who want to open their door or look out their window. In Lao Tzu’s day, it would have seemed impossible to be knowledgeable about the happenings in the world, if you didn’t, first, look out your window to determine what kind of traveling clothes you should be wearing, and, then, opening your door to venture outside to gain knowledge. Today, we have the world at our fingertips. We have advanced so far from Lao Tzu’s day. Besides the advent of newspapers delivered to our doors, and radios and televisions inside our homes, we now have smart phones we can pull out and “google” anything we want to know. The only question that remains is whether we will be humble enough to admit that with all this knowledge, we still lack understanding. I see it all the time, people spouting off statistics and displaying vast knowledge; but following that with very little understanding of what it all means.

You don’t need to open your door, to open your heart to the world. You don’t need to look out your window, to see the essence of the Tao. You don’t need more knowledge. You need more understanding.

To increase our understanding we are going to rely on the Master’s example as we see how to put into practice knowing not-knowing and doing-not doing. The Master arrives without leaving, sees the light without looking, and achieves without doing a thing. This ending leaves us wanting more, I know. But that will have to wait for tomorrow’s chapter. So, I will leave you with what I said earlier about the practice of knowing not-knowing: The more you know you don’t know, the more you don’t know you know.

See Through All Fear

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to talking about the difference it makes when your country is in harmony with the Tao. It has been a recurring theme. Earlier, he said if powerful men and women could only center themselves in the Tao and stay centered, the world would transform itself into a paradise. The contrast was pictured as a planet rendered incapable of sustaining life. Why? Because humans interfere with the Tao.

Today, he contrasts it in economic terms. Some twenty-five hundred years ago, in Lao Tzu’s day, they knew nothing of factories, trucks, and tractors, nor of stockpiles of warheads. In the original, Lao Tzu spoke of horses plowing fields versus being bred for war. Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation may take certain liberties, but Lao Tzu’s point remains the same. There is a world of difference between a country in harmony with the Tao, and a country which goes counter to the Tao.

Three guesses in which kind of country I find myself living; and the first two guesses don’t count. And Lao Tzu once again shows just how timeless his teaching is. There is so much fear-mongering. I got told by someone just the other day, after I posted an article by Sheldon Richman on fear-mongering, that they weren’t even going to read the article. The word “fear-mongering” turned them off immediately. Apparently, that is some kind of code word being used by a vast left-wing conspiracy to complain about anything conservatives were doing. I thought, “Really? Because it has been my experience that fear-mongering has been the modus operandi of both those on the right and the left for quite some time.

Fear is a powerful illusion. That is why those in power, and those who long to be, use it to manipulate the easily manipulated. Every policy coming out of Washington is reactionary. We respond to violence with more violence. We always have. The cycle doesn’t seem even close to ending. We use fear to manipulate people into giving up whatever vestige of freedom that remains. We manufacture enemies wherever there is profit to be made for the ruling elite. They never pay the costs. We do.

We pay the costs when we don’t see that we are being manipulated, that fear is only an illusion. It may be the greatest one of them all, but it still isn’t based in reality. It is a figment of our imaginations brought on through repeated doses of lies, distortions, and propaganda. We aren’t seeing the world as self. Instead, we see anyone that is in any way different from us as our enemy. No wonder we are beset by phantoms!

But Lao Tzu calls the manipulators out on this. If only people would listen and take heed. Why are we preparing to defend ourselves? Can’t we see that the enemy is imaginary? How can we believe that our fellow human beings are demons? How did it come to this? It is all so very wrong. It is the greatest of wrongs to prepare to defend yourself because you have succumbed to the illusion of fear. It is the greatest of misfortunes to manufacture enemies, like we have been doing for generations now.

These are perilous times. The danger is not an illusion. I guess by treating the illusion as real for so long, our worst fears are now upon us. We have brought this on ourselves. What is it going to take to be safe from danger? Somehow, we are going to have to be able to see the illusion for what it is, to see through all fear. If we can do this, we will always be safe. I know of no other way.

Let It Speak For Itself

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about realizing the eternal reality, the way things are, which is before and beyond the way things seem to be, what is only an illusion. In my commentary on chapter forty-one, I said the tell-tale sign which sets apart the way things are from the way things seem to be, the eternal reality from the illusion, is that the illusion tries too hard. Because we focus on outward appearances, we miss out on true contentment. Lao Tzu said it quite well, yesterday. True fulfillment and true happiness will never come from something outside of ourselves. We can’t depend on something so fleeting. If you want to be truly content, you must choose to be content with what you have, and rejoice in the way things are. That is looking deep within ourselves to the core of our being. There, we will find there is nothing lacking. Once we realize that, the whole world is ours for the enjoying.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is once again pointing out how the way things seem to be is far from the eternal reality.

True perfection seems imperfect. And as long as we focus on that seeming imperfection, we will never see the truth. We need to see before and beyond what appears to be imperfect, to not fall for the illusion. True fullness seems empty. How ridiculous, we would think, the person that keeps pouring more and more into an already filled cup. But to them, it still appears empty. So, they just keep filling and filling and filling.

The seeming imperfection is true perfection. Why? Because it is perfectly itself. Let’s be real clear, here. Warts and all, if you are perfectly yourself, you are perfect. “Oh, but all I can see is my imperfections, my flaws. I need to work on those.” No! Actually, you need to leave what you will become to the Tao, and just be who and what you are right now. There is nothing lacking. Say it again with me. There is nothing lacking. The seeming emptiness is true fullness. Why? Because it is fully present. Once again, there is nothing lacking. Yesterday’s regrets and tomorrow’s worries require unnecessary effort. Be completely present. Be fully present. Just be.

True straightness seems crooked. True wisdom seems foolish. True art seems artless. Just look at the way the illusion demands ceaseless effort from you. But, you will never be more perfect than when you are perfectly yourself. You will never experience more fullness than when you are fully present.

Be yourself, be present, be like the Master. Allow things to happen. Those four words are powerful. There is so much power in letting. “I don’t know, that seems weak.” But we already covered that in an earlier chapter. Weakness is the way of the Tao. That is what makes it so powerful. Let whatever happens, happen. Don’t fight it. Don’t resist it. Don’t try to interfere with it. Don’t try to control it. Allow things to happen. Now, remember, you are being perfectly yourself. You are being fully present. And now, in the present, you can shape events as they come. Not beforehand. Not after. You merely go with the flow of the Tao, and act effortlessly. Then, there is one more thing.

Know, when it is time to step out of the way. You have shaped events. You did your work. Don’t cling to it; let it go. Step out of the way. Take that step back. It is time to let the Tao speak for itself. Let it.