It Is Only In Embracing Our Limits, We Can Tap Into The Unlimited

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

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

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

Yesterday, we addressed our need to know when to stop, to know our own limits. And, Lao Tzu continues this thought, into today’s chapter. We think, because we know others, and can master others, that gives us all the intelligence and strength we need in order to improve our world. The problem, remains, that our wisdom and power are only finite and temporal. We don’t have what it takes to improve our own selves, let alone the whole world. Names and forms and institutions remain, which have long since outlived their usefulness. Yet, we go on propping them up, willing them to continue; and we wonder why we have crossed into the realm of danger.

We don’t know ourselves. It is the first rule of wisdom. Know yourself. That is true wisdom. And, since we don’t know ourselves, we can’t begin to master ourselves either. Yet, that is where true power is to be found.

To truly know yourself is to realize you have everything you need. You lack nothing. We spend the majority of our lives always trying to get something more. We never seem to have enough. We are convinced there is always something lacking. And, we are never, and indeed, can never be, content. Just the simple realization that there is nothing lacking, that we truly have enough, is the most life-changing moment anyone can experience in their short lives. To realize the truth: you are truly rich.

To be content. I just have to say it one more time. To be content. That, my friends, is the key to everything. You want to improve the world, when you can’t even improve yourself. But, if you could be content, if you could realize you are already perfect, yes, and the world is perfect, as well; then, how much more perfect you would see the whole world become.

But, it won’t happen, if you aren’t content; if you aren’t content to stay in the center of the circle, if you insist on interfering and intervening, on trying to be in control, and with only the best of intentions, of course, trying to improve what is sacred; the world, and you in the world.

You have to be content to be who and what you are. You have to know yourself and master yourself. You have to know your limitations, knowing you are finite and temporal, and embrace that. Yes, Lao Tzu calls it, embracing death with your whole heart. Death, here, refers to our limitations as finite and temporal beings.

But, if we will embrace who and what we are, here is what happens: Then, we tap into the infinite and eternal Tao. It is by embracing our own ignorance, we are made wise. It is by embracing our own weakness, we are made powerful. It is by embracing our own limitations, we endure forever.

We fear death; but why? It is because we don’t want to be confronted with our own limitations. How foolish! For, it is only in embracing our limits, we can tap into the unlimited.

When It Is Time To Stop

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, I talked about how weary I have become; of war, and of all kinds of violence, particularly violence committed using guns as a tool. Our ego is so great that, always, when we perceive some problem, we think we can and should fix it. I said that I have good friends who think the answer is somehow restricting gun ownership. And, then I said, I would love to be able to offer some quick fix, some universal panacea which would solve the problem of violence, overnight. I, then, went on with an analogy I was talking about, of the effect made by a tiny stone being dropped in a pond. The ripples travel far. I said, we individuals can make a difference. I even went so far as to invite you all to come splash with me.

This was an epic fail on my part, if I led anyone to believe, we can do anything to directly improve our world. After all, it was only a few short chapters ago, where Lao Tzu said, we can’t improve the world. The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. So, what was the point of my analogy? What about those tiny stones splashing in the water? There truly are some things we can do. They work indirectly. We can receive the world in our arms. We can be a pattern for the world. And we can accept the world as it is. Those we can do. And, it was that being a pattern for the world that I really had in mind. Be a pattern for the world! If you don’t want the world to be a violent place to live, be a pattern of non-violence for the world. Then, rely on the Tao. It is a mixture of active and passive. Those ripples are how we cooperate with the Tao.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu brings us back to the effect on our world, if we will do what we can, but only what we can. We need to know, when it is time to stop. What are our own limits? The Tao is unlimited. It is infinite and eternal. We want to tap into that. The need is great to rely on the Tao. But we always must keep in mind that we live in a finite and temporal world. We are finite and temporal. There are limits to what we can do. If we know when to stop, when we have reached our limit, we can avoid danger.

So, what is it, again, that we can do? We can remain centered in the Tao.

Oh, but how can we possibly do that? The Tao can’t even be perceived. It is infinitesimally small; yet, it contains uncountable galaxies. How do we reckon with something like this? It does speak of our limits. The Tao is eternal and infinite; but we are temporal and finite.

However, there are those who think they, of all us mere mortals, can do what, practically speaking, is impossible. They can improve the world! They are the powerful men and women among us. But, Lao Tzu will have none of that. You can’t improve the world; but, if you could remain centered in the Tao, all things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.

But, that isn’t what the powerful want to hear. For, you see, it doesn’t give them anything to do. It doesn’t empower them. The world would transform itself, if only they wouldn’t interfere. But interfere is exactly what they will continue doing. It maintains their power.

That is why it is so important, when we are asked to participate in the illusion of power, to know what the limits of our power are. Understand, the reason we live in a violent world is not because anyone in power is centered in the Tao. Nothing about Lao Tzu’s description of what the world could be like is, in any way, violent. The reason our world is so violent, is because the powerful will it to be so, contrary to the Tao.

So, we need to know when to stop, when we have reached the limits of our own power. Remember, we remain finite and temporal. And, the world is finite and temporal, too. That means names and forms, which we have constructed, are only for a time. They are provisional. Institutions are temporal, too. We need to know when their time is at an end, when it is time for their functions to cease. Oh, they served for a time. And, in some ways, they served their purpose admirably. But, if we are going to avoid any danger, we need to know when to stop.

It all keeps coming back to that infinitesimal Tao, containing countless galaxies. That is where the eternal, the infinite, is to be found. If we don’t like our particular finite and temporal world, if we can imagine a better one from the infinite choices the Tao offers us, we have to return to the Tao, and center ourselves in it. The world will transform itself!

That is where all things inevitably end. Just like streams turning into great rivers, and great rivers turning into seas. That analogy is a lot more significant than my little stone causing a ripple, when it splashes in a small pond. Still, we can make our own splash, in our own little corner of the world.

Come Splash With Me

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

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

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

We have been talking, for the last, now, several days, about how we as individuals should interact with, and relate to, our world. Indeed, Lao Tzu really laid the groundwork for our discussion, all the way back in chapter thirteen, when he said, “See the world as your self.” We only have problems with the phantoms of fear and hope, when we see the self as self; in other words, when we see our selves as separate from the world in which we live.

In chapter twenty-five, Lao Tzu identified “man” as one of the four great powers, saying we become great by following the earth. Then, in chapter 26, he wondered why “the lord of the country” would ever flit about like a fool? He was talking about the complementary relationship between yin and yang, then. The heavy is the root of the light. Don’t lose touch with your root! In chapter 27, the emphasis was on making yourself available to all people, never having to reject anyone. After another chapter devoted to the balancing of yin and yang, in chapter 29 he told us, the world can’t be improved upon. We need to accept it as it is! Finally, yesterday, Lao Tzu shared with us an elementary physics lesson: “For every force there is a counter force.” Violence, however well-intentioned it might be, always rebounds upon the violent.

What Lao Tzu has been teaching, us, is our dependence on each other. The world, and everything contained within it. That is why we need to see the world as self. This, in no way negates our individuality. We are still, very much, individual selves. This isn’t about sacrificing the self to some collective. It is about realizing our genuine connection, to each other, through our common Source.

When Lao Tzu was talking about violence, yesterday, he kept talking about understanding the universe is forever out of control. When we resort to violence, it is because we are trying to control things, completely beyond our control. That always results in unintended consequences. I talked, yesterday, about how those consequences are manifest in the many wars we have waged in the world. We shouldn’t be surprised by these consequences. When you use force on others, you should expect others to use force on you.

Today, Lao Tzu continues this discussion, by answering the question, “What’s an individual to do, in the face of this reality?

Today, he talks about the use of weapons. Both, how they are used as tools of violence and fear; and, how those of us for whom “peace is our highest value” will use them.

Weapons are the tools of violence. Violence is a no-no. We talked about that yesterday. So, decent people detest them, when they are used in this way. Weapons are also the tools of fear. I won’t ever fail to remind you of what Lao Tzu has had to say, before about fear. Fear is only a phantom. It isn’t real. It only arises because we are thinking of the self as self. So, when we are afraid, self-preservation kicks in. Once again, Lao Tzu says that a decent person will avoid them, except in the direst of necessity. And, only then, because they are compelled to. And, as an extra added exigency, only with the utmost restraint.

Let’s be real clear, here. Self-preservation is a powerful motivator. And, I would say it is a legitimate one, borne from years of evolution. We want to survive. We have to multiply on the earth. But what a terrible shame it is, when fear is used to manipulate us. It is a denial of our shared humanity.

I said earlier that Lao Tzu was answering the question, “What’s an individual to do, in the face of this reality? Lao Tzu is talking about us, individuals, who understand violence is never the right answer. But sometimes, and against everything we know to be true in the core of our being, weapons must be used. We are compelled to this conclusion. Peace is our highest value. But, when the peace has been shattered, how can we be content?

What can one person do? It is like I was saying, yesterday. You can’t control others’ actions. But, you can control your own. Use weapons if you must. But, do it with the utmost restraint.

When you see the world as self, it makes all the difference in the world. Then, you don’t see your enemies as demons, but as human beings, your fellow brothers and sisters. You don’t wish them personal harm. How could you?

How we believe and act, as individuals, spreads out, like a ripple in a pond of water, in all directions. We sometimes despair that there is anything one individual can do. But you are dismissing what a difference a tiny stone, splashing down on the surface of the water, can make. You are important. You make a real difference. You contain the whole world, indeed, the whole universe, within you.

So, when we enter a battle, when we go to war, how should I, as one solitary individual act? I enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if I was attending a funeral. Why? Because my fellow brothers and sisters are going to die. Because I see the whole world as self, this is the antithesis to self-preservation. I won’t, indeed, I can’t rejoice in victory. How could I rejoice in victory, when it comes at such a great price? I can’t delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children.

I am just going to say it. I am weary of war. And, I am weary of all kinds of violence. I am sick and tired of hearing the latest brouhaha about the latest person who picked up a gun and started unloading on a bunch of innocent bystanders. What is wrong with these people? How could they have left their own shared humanity so far behind? Where is the love?

I have some good friends who think the answer is to somehow restrict the ownership of guns. I understand how upsetting it is when the peace has been shattered. I get it. But, guns don’t make people violent, they are only one tool in a virtually unlimited array of tools, which can be used by the violent. Take away one tool, and they will just find another tool. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that killing people is already illegal. Making guns illegal isn’t going to stop someone bent on being violent. And, guns are readily available. Even the already illegal ones.

I would love to be able to offer some quick fix. Some universal panacea that would solve the problem of violence, overnight. But you can’t control others. All you can do is control yourself. It took us a long time to get to the place we are, where we have become inured to violence. And, it will take a long time, a lot of little stones landing on the surface of the water, causing ripples spreading out over the whole world; but if humanity is going to continue on, we, as individuals better start splashing.

Instead Of Looking To Others For Acceptance, Learn To Accept Yourself

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

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

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

Since Lao Tzu listed human beings as one of the four great powers, he has been showing us how to follow the Tao, by following the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao, back to the Source. In the last two chapters, particularly, Lao Tzu emphasized how we, as individual selves, are to relate to our world. In order to follow it, we need to receive it in our arms, be a pattern for it, and accept it as it is. We can’t improve on it, for it is sacred. I really can’t stress it too much. We are dependent on the world around us. It is our dependent and subjective reality. We participate in this reality, both passively and actively. There is yin and yang involved. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu explains what necessarily must follow from the realization we cannot improve on our world. Indeed, we must understand, the whole universe is forever out of control. Since this is the eternal reality, we must concentrate, not on trying to control the uncontrollable, but on ourselves.

How often did I try to get this message across to my own children, as they were growing up? You can’t control what others do. But, you can control your own self. Today’s chapter is full of elementary lessons we should have learned as children. What a shame it is to see adults, who seem to have failed to learn these lessons!

Rely on the Tao! If you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t try to force issues in your relationships with others. Where you find enemies, you wouldn’t try to defeat them by force of arms. You would understand the simple elementary physics lesson, we all should have learned as children: For every force there is a counter force. This is so elementary! Why is there so much surprise! When you use force on others, others will use force on you. This should be expected. No wonder Lao Tzu is always telling us to go back to being little children. We somehow failed to learn the lesson the first time. When you are violent, even if your violence has the best of intentions, it always rebounds upon you.

Today’s chapter is one of the most libertarian chapters in all the Tao Te Ching. It is the non-aggression principle. It is why I am so anti-war. “But, but, they started it!” Yeah, right. “They attacked us!” How easy it is to ignore the history leading up to what we think is a “defining moment”, which somehow justifies our acts of violence. Ron Paul kept talking about the reality of blow back, and he wasn’t taken seriously, and worse, booed. But, I challenge anyone to give me an instance where we were attacked unprovoked. Every excuse we have ever used to begin a war, had a back story. A history of lies and deception. Of deliberate acts of provocation. How very unpatriotic of me! If patriotism is swallowing the State’s propaganda, hook, line, and sinker, I want none of it.

Instead of trying to control others. We need to start learning how to control ourselves. When you are in accord with the Tao, you will do your own job, and then stop. Leave others alone. Don’t try to dominate events, or people. Just let things take their own course. Don’t go against the current of the Tao. Instead, go with the flow of it. Believe in yourself! For if you did, you wouldn’t have to try to convince others. Be content with yourself! For if you were, you wouldn’t need others’ approval. Accept yourself! We have been talking, for the last two days, about accepting the world as it is. Today’s chapter is about the world accepting us. Here is the little secret: It will; if only, we will.

What We Cannot Do; Why We Need To Be Cautious About Improving Things

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, we talked about what we can do, as we relate to our world. Lao Tzu said that there are, specifically, three things we can do to relate to our world. We can receive the world in our arms. We can be a pattern, or example, for our world. And, most importantly, we can accept the world as it is. So, yesterday, was about what we can do. Today, we will talk about something we cannot do. We cannot improve on our world.

It is the reality that the world is sacred, and cannot be improved, which makes accepting it as it is, so very important. If we could improve on it, if somehow we could tamper with it, you know, tweak a little bit here, and a little bit over there, then what would be the need to just accept things as they are?

But there is a reason why Lao Tzu warns us to not tamper with the way things are. However, maybe, it would be best to make sure we all understand, what Lao Tzu means by his prohibition on trying to improve the world.

When he says the world is sacred, what exactly is he saying? There are all sorts of things that are very much wrong in our world. Is Lao Tzu asking us to simply ignore these things? Where we see injustice, do we turn a blind eye? Do we not respond to the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves?

If that is what Lao Tzu meant, he would be going against everything he has said, in the preceding chapters, about how to truly care for all things.

What Lao Tzu means, by referring to the world as sacred, is the natural order. Don’t try to tamper with it. You’ll ruin it! But also, be careful, when perceiving the way things seem to be, that you don’t resort to force to try and control things. Even our good intentions can result in evil. We need to accept the way things are; that is, the natural laws that govern our world. If we treat the world like an object, we will lose it. The world isn’t an object. It is a subject. It is subject to the natural laws which govern our universe. So, yes, we need to be a light in a dark world. Where there is injustice, we need to work toward justice. Where people are hungry or homeless, sick and maltreated, we need to be caring. We only need to accept there are certain natural laws which govern us, and not try to go out of bounds. We need to understand, and rely on, the way yin and yang complement each other to bring about balance and harmony, an emergent order, from the chaos.

When all we perceive around us is chaos, it is hard not to want to intervene, to interfere. But that temptation must be resisted. We need to discern the right time for any action. Remember what Lao Tzu has said before about having the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear; about remaining unmoving until the right action arises by itself.

There is a time for everything. But, there is a wrong time, too. You could avoid danger, if you would heed Lao Tzu’s advice, here.

There is a time for yang. But, we often miss the time for yin. It is tempting to think there is no better place to be, than ahead. What we fail to understand is the Tao will always bring about balance. Sure, you may be ahead now. It is the time for it. There will come a time to be behind. How will you respond, then? Will you try to force your way to the front, again? There is a time to be in motion. But there is also a time to be at rest. A lot of the time, we really get these two mixed up. Rest is good, when it is time to rest. Take full advantage of it. Soon it will be time to be in motion, once again. When we try to rest, when we should be in motion, or when we try to be in motion, when we should be at rest, we will find ourselves in ever widening spirals from the center of the circle. Perhaps, because we were resting, when we should have been in motion, it will then be time to be vigorous. Or, if we didn’t take advantage of the time of rest, and instead, tried to stay in motion, we then find ourselves in a time of exhaustion. See how it begins to spiral out of control? Pretty soon it is a question of a time of being in danger, rather than a time of being safe.

This is why it is so important to see things as they are, like the Master does. Don’t try to control them. Don’t use force, or interfere, or intervene. Understand, and accept, the times, the rules, which govern our world. Let things go their own way. Don’t allow yourself to spiral out of control. Stay in the center of the circle. Order will emerge.

What We Can Do; A Return To Our Primal Selves

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

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

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

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

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

Two days ago, Lao Tzu talked about the need to let the unmoved be the source of all our movement. The “heavy” is the root of the “light.” The “heavy” refers to the Source we have in common with all beings. Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about “embodying the light”. This has to do with being connected with each other. The “takeaway” from these two chapters is that we need both yin and yang, heavy and light, in all our travels; if we want our lives to have meaning and purpose.

Today, Lao Tzu continues to show how we need both yin and yang in order to relate to our world. Three times he says, in essence, “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Yang is represented by male, white, and personal. Yin is represented by female, black, and impersonal.

How do we know the one, while keeping to the other? It is all about balance, and going with the flow of nature. Night follows day. To just have yang follow yang is completely unnatural. There is always an element of yin in yang. Yin anticipates, and follows, yang.

In order to receive the whole world in your arms, you must know the male. But, it takes keeping to the female, to nurture the world in your arms. Remember what Lao Tzu said a few chapters back about our being one of the four great powers. It is through following the Earth we become great. This is how we embody the light, while never losing touch with our root. The Tao is always there for us, as if we were little children.

In order to be a pattern, or example, for the world (this is nurturing), we must know the white, while keeping to the black. We can’t just be one without the other. Imbalance makes us weak, when we could be strong. When you let yourself be a pattern for the world, you let the Tao be strong inside of you; and, there is nothing, which will be impossible for you.

Of these three, the last one is, perhaps, the most important. How often is it, we take things way too personally? This is taking things to an extreme, and brings us way out of balance. We must accept the world as it is. This is so important. We see the way things seem to be, and we want to change things. Yang, yang, yang. You can receive the world in your arms. You can be a pattern for the world. But, you can’t change the way things are.

Lao Tzu will talk more about this desire to improve the world, tomorrow. And, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Today, let it suffice for me to say, we must be willing to accept the world as it is. That means maintaining a balance between the personal and the impersonal. When we insist on making things personal, never allowing that the Tao works impersonally, we are destined to always remain in the dark. But, the Tao would be luminous inside of us.

This is talking about returning to our primal selves, a return to our beginning, a return to our common Source. That is why Lao Tzu talks about that uncarved block of wood. This is a metaphor like the empty bowl he talked of in an earlier chapter.

What will become of that uncarved block of wood? The possibilities are infinite. Just like the world was formed from the void, the utensils we use, are formed from that uncarved block of wood; and, what we become, is formed from our primal selves. This is why we must keep returning to the Source. There is where we tap into infinity. We know what we are, like we know those utensils. But, we keep to what we always have been, that uncarved block. That is what makes us capable of using all things.

What Gives Any Life Meaning And Purpose?

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

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

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

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

Today’s chapter is one I would characterize as one of the more important chapters in the Tao Te Ching. Why do I think that? It is because it deals with what gives our lives purpose. I know there are plenty of you out there who are wondering, what the meaning of life is, and what gives your own life purpose. And, I am sure, there are plenty that have decided, life is basically meaningless (so, just eat, drink, and be merry; you are going to die tomorrow, anyway). Lao Tzu is no nihilist. So, let’s see what he has to say about life’s meaning, or purpose.

After talking, yesterday, about the complementary relationship of heavy and light; and, let’s be honest, his focus was on the heavy side; today, he balances it all out with talking about the importance of embodying the light. He even talked about the Master traveling, yesterday; so, today’s chapter begins with what it means to be a good traveler.

But he doesn’t just talk about good travelers. He talks about good artists and good scientists, too. All to explain how to embody the light. What is it with these three seemingly random occupations?

Well, it turns out, they aren’t so random, after all. I believe, instead, they represent the sum total of the human experience. What we are as human beings; and, by looking at what we are, we just might discover what gives our lives meaning, or purpose.

The first one is a traveler. We have heard it often enough before. We are all fellow travelers. Travelers is one thing we humans are. Always on the move. And, these travels are purposeful travels. We always have places to go and people to see. We can be good at traveling, or bad. What makes for a good traveler? For Lao Tzu’s purposes, a good traveler has no fixed plans; and, they aren’t intent upon arriving. That would mean, if we have fixed plans, and are intent on arriving at our destination, we are being a bad traveler. But, we’ll get more into what it really means to be good or bad at traveling, and what can be done about that, in a bit. Right now, I am more concerned with what it means to embody the light. But, before I can do that, we need to look at what it means to be a good artist and a good scientist.

A good artist lets their intuition lead them, wherever it wants. I remember the first time I read through this chapter. I pictured an artist, standing before a palette, with brush in hand, painting away. That isn’t such a bad representation of the metaphor. But, I knew, I wasn’t anything like that. Alas, my artistic abilities are nil. Thankfully, I didn’t let myself get bogged down in the metaphor, realizing what Lao Tzu was actually saying. I have often described the Tao Te Ching as a manual on the art of living. Living is an art. And that means we, humans, are all artists. Some of us are good at it. We have mastered the art of living. And, others of us, aren’t so good. We aren’t led by our intuition, wherever it may lead us. We’ll get back to this good versus bad artist metaphor in a bit, when we are talking about embodying the light; For now, we have one more metaphor to describe.

It is the good scientist. Lao Tzu lived in a pre-scientific age; so, it shouldn’t be too surprising, he isn’t referring to being proficient in one of the fields of science. He is talking about what it means to be a human being. And, one thing we humans all do, is observe the world around us. We are all observers. Good scientists, or observers, have freed themselves of concepts, and keep their minds open to what is. Observers draw conclusions from what they observe. Admit it, we all do. But, if we have preconceived notions, ideas, or concepts on how we think the world should operate, our minds won’t be open to what really is. We want to be good scientists. But, we can be bad.

Okay, now, what do any of these have to do with embodying the light? Why is it so important to be a good traveler, a good artist, and a good scientist? It is because, by being good, we can embody the light. By having no fixed plans and not being intent upon arriving, by letting our intuition lead us wherever it wants, by freeing ourselves of concepts and keeping our minds open to what is, we make ourselves available to all people. So, we won’t reject anyone. We make ourselves ready to use all situations; and don’t waste anything. That is what he means by embodying the light.

And, now, you can see how being bad at traveling, or the art of living, or being an observer of the world, keeps us from embodying the light. The heavy, Lao Tzu referred to yesterday, was all about staying connected to our common Source. But, lightness, today, is about being connected with each other. Being available to all. Never having to reject anyone. Ready for anything, and everything. Never wasting a moment of eternity.

So, we want to be good. That much is obvious. But, what if we are bad? This is where both good and bad, not really surprisingly, complement each other. Funny how yin and yang always work this way. Now, we see how embodying the light gives life meaning and purpose.

I probably don’t have to point out that Lao Tzu’s good and bad, here, aren’t referring to good and evil. Lao Tzu isn’t making some moral judgment about people. Having fixed plans when you are traveling, and being intent on arriving, doesn’t make you evil; it just means you aren’t available. If you aren’t letting your intuition lead you, if your mind is closed to what is, you will encounter situations, time and time again, where people will have to be rejected, situations will be wasted. That doesn’t make you evil. But, it isn’t good. It is bad. You, my friends, are in need of a teacher. An apprentice needs a master. And, a master is in need of an apprentice.

You wanted to know what Lao Tzu thinks gives life meaning and purpose, didn’t you? Well, that is it. Why are there both good and bad, travelers, artists, and scientists out there? You understand what I am saying, here. We can be good or bad at excelling as human beings. But what Lao Tzu considers excelling, is a whole lot different from what some think it is. If you are bad, seek out a Master, someone who is good at it. If you are good, be on the lookout for someone to mentor. Be available!

It isn’t a matter of intelligence. If you are good, your life has a purpose. And, if you are bad, your life has a purpose. But, if you don’t understand this, you will be lost. It will be like your life is meaningless, and has no purpose. Few seem to understand this, which is why he calls it the great secret.

What Moves You?

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

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

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

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

Today’s chapter is another one where yin and yang are at the forefront. First, Lao Tzu explains how heavy and light complement each other. Then, we need to understand what he has said, before, about being and non-being creating each other. The unmoved is non-being, here.

It was back in chapter fifteen, that Lao Tzu talked about the need to be still, to remain unmoving. He said, “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

Today, for me, has been a test. It is a very personal issue that I don’t wish to, and won’t, go into here. But, suffice it to say, the mud has been all stirred up. And the temptation to act, to move, to do something, has been great. Do I have the patience to wait? Can I remain unmoving?

I look to the Master as my example. Such a one can travel all day without leaving home. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about a physical home, here. He is talking about staying serenely in yourself. Always returning to the Source. That is home. That is your anchor. Your root. It is heavy. And, as long as you hold on to that anchor, you can be light. If I can remain unmoving, the right action, the right time to move, will arise all by itself.

I don’t want to be swayed by all that is going on around me. The views may be splendid! But I want to remain serenely in myself.

This is the challenge. My test, today.

Lao Tzu was certainly no misanthrope. He had a high opinion of us humans. Calling us one of the four great powers, in yesterday’s chapter; when we follow the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao, back to the Source. Today, he calls us all lords. And, then, he wonders why lords flit about like fools.

Why do we allow ourselves to be blown to and fro? When we allow this, we lose touch with our root. When we let restlessness move us, we lose touch with who we are.

I can’t allow myself to lose touch with who I am. Not today. Not ever.

Here Is What Will Truly Make Us Great

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

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

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

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

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

“Trust me. I’m going to make America great, again.” I don’t have to tell any of you, who it is that keeps repeating this mantra, over and over again. Even those, of my followers, in other parts of the world can’t have been spared “The Donald”, with his bombastic persona. He seems to thrive on being a caricature of himself. If I haven’t already made it perfectly clear before, I don’t trust him. And, I don’t think his version of “America being great, again” is anything you or I should support. Of course, I don’t believe in the concept of American exceptionalism, either; and, I think that must be a prerequisite for supporting “The Donald”.

Our rulers, and would-be rulers, will say anything to whip up enthusiasm for their version of making the nation great. I have little doubt that this is true, wherever in the world you may be living.

Today’s chapter has Lao Tzu offering a different take on what it means to be great; and, how to be great. Here is a clue, it isn’t something you can make happen; but, you can let it happen.

But, I am getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the chapter. This is a chapter which hearkens back to earlier chapters (most recently, chapter 21); but it goes even further back than that, all the way to chapter one. Lao Tzu refers, once again, to the Source, or origin of all things; and the dark and unnameable Tao.

None of these descriptions are necessarily new to any of us who have been reading along; but, they are a good way of introducing a further way to understand how we can be in accord with the Tao. It was in chapter twenty-one Lao Tzu said, “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not.” Calling the Tao “before and beyond” has always been my favorite way of describing the Tao.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is going way back, and way beyond. Before our universe was born. Beyond anything mere words can define. How can you tell of something which is both formless and perfect? This was the dilemma Lao Tzu addressed in chapter one. We want to realize this mystery; and, if we were free from desire, we could. All our efforts at attaining true contentment are always frustrated; because, as he said in chapter fourteen, it has a form which includes all forms. You can’t know it. You can, only, be it.

So Lao Tzu rehearses other words he has used to describe the original Oneness, which exists before and beyond. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. Mother of the universe. We could go on and on. Finally, he settles with calling it the Tao.

What were we talking about, again? Oh yes, greatness. What is it that makes the Tao great? It flows through all things, both inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. It flows through us, and always leads us back to the beginning, back to the Source. That is why the Tao is great.

That is what greatness means. Returning to the Source is the serenity we have been seeking.

So, the Tao is great; but, it is, only, the greatest of four great powers. The universe is also great. But why? Because it follows the Tao. Where is the Tao leading, once again? Back to the Source. And, the earth is great. Why is it great? Because it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao, back to the Source. And, we humans can be great, too.

But, what is it which will make us great? Can we make ourselves great? Can we be made great by following another person, just as finite and temporal, just as prone to failure as ourselves? Nope! What will make us great is following the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao, back to the Source.

Greatness follows greatness follows greatness follows greatness, back to the Source of greatness.

Sorry, Donald, and all you would-be rulers; but, greatness can’t be had by following any of you. But, if you want to be truly great, you will learn how to follow, too. Learn how to follow something much greater than yourself. Don’t try to force or control others. But, placing yourself beneath and behind, be an example of how to follow; and, we’ll certainly follow your example.

The Folly In Being Unnatural

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

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

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

Yesterday was all about doing what comes naturally to you. How many times has he told us these things, before? Be content to be who and what you are. Even if you see yourself as partial, crooked, and empty. Be content to be what you are, and be lived by the Tao, to become your true, whole self. And, Lao Tzu went further with that concept, yesterday; saying, express yourself completely. Don’t do it in a partial way. You have to open yourself completely, to the Tao, to insight, and, yes, even to loss.

In my commentary, yesterday, I devoted my time to knowing when to stop; admitting, I talk too much. But, of course, talking is only one way to express yourself. And, I kind of missed Lao Tzu’s point about making sure you do it completely. Only, then, is it time to keep quiet. Lao Tzu’s real point was for us to be like the forces of nature; and, having opened ourselves to the Tao, to trust our natural responses. That is when everything will fall into place.

Having covered doing things naturally, yesterday; today, Lao Tzu turns to contrasting being unnatural in our responses.

These are areas where we can laugh out loud at our own folly. I remember growing up as a child. I was the oldest, and I had a brother, just two years younger than me. He ended up out-growing me. I remember so many family portraits, where I would be standing on tiptoe in order to appear taller in those photos. I know just the ones where I was doing it. My own face betrays how unnaturally I was responding to having our portrait taken.

Go ahead and laugh with me. It’s alright. I wouldn’t have shared that story, if I didn’t see my own folly. I suppose I could also share stories of the times I rushed ahead of everyone else, only to have to wait; because, in spite of my hurry, you just can’t get ahead in that way. I used to like to have the spotlight on me, trying to outshine everyone around me. But, that always seemed to produce the opposite effect, when all my efforts to define myself were thwarted by own inability to know and understand myself. I have learned some things along the way. Just because you have power over others, doesn’t mean you have any real power over yourself. And, if you want your work to endure, don’t cling to it so much.

I wish, in yesterday’s commentary, I had spent my time talking about how far we need to go to express ourselves completely, rather than worrying about excessively doing what should have come naturally to me. For it is in today’s chapter, where we need to know when to stop. Stop being unnatural, now, and once you have done your job; because, that is the time to let it go. This is the only way to accord with the Tao.