It Is About Our Beginning

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues what he was talking about, yesterday; the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. Yesterday, he said, in order to practice it, you must begin by changing the way you think about things. By thinking of the small as large, and the few as many, you will confront the difficult, while it is still easy. Today, Lao Tzu begins with four examples of easy things we can do without doing. Without trying, or effort, we can nourish what is rooted, correct what is recent, break what is brittle, and scatter what is small.

There are two ways to look at these examples. We might like the idea of the ease with which we can nourish something rooted, or correct our recent mistakes; but, we might not appreciate how easy it is to break what is brittle, or scatter what is small. Yet, that only helps us to see the yin and yang relationship of easy and difficult. We need to understand their complementary relationship to prevent trouble before it arises, and put things in order before they exist.

To further illustrate his point, Lao Tzu uses two familiar metaphors. First, we have the lesson of the giant pine tree, which grows from a tiny sprout. Second, we have the journey of a thousand miles, which begins with the first steps we take.

The lessons to be learned from these metaphors is to neither delay, nor rush doing what needs to be done, from the beginning. That tiny sprout will become a giant pine tree. Are you procrastinating, when you need to be doing something? That tiny sprout will become a giant pine tree. If you don’t want a giant pine tree, that is going to a problem for you. As for that long journey you have ahead of you, it begins, not at the end, just beyond the horizon, but at your feet. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to the end. Begin, by placing your focus on the beginning.

Slow, yet steady. That is the way of the Tao. When you rush into action, you will fail. If you try to grasp at things, you will lose them. Trying to force a project to completion is to ruin what was almost ripe.

The Master, as always, is our example. Take action by letting things take their course. Remain calm, from the beginning, and all the way through, to the end. You have everything; but, your attitude should be, that you have nothing. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Let go of all your desires. Unlearn all you think you know.

What the Master teaches is a simple reminder of who we have always been. This isn’t some new thing to learn. It is about our beginning. Back when all we cared about was the Tao. This, Lao Tzu has previously illustrated, by picturing a newborn with its mother. When we were newborns, all we cared about was Mother. Mother, who gave birth to us, nourished us, maintained us, cared for us, comforted us, and protected us. All we desired was for Mother to take us back into her arms, and hold us close to her.

To care about nothing but the Tao, the source of all things, is to be able to perfectly care for all things.

It Is All In How We Perceive Things

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

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

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

After talking for the last six days on the art of governing, today, we will give it a rest. Let’s not lose sight of the fundamental teachings, which we all, leaders and followers, alike, must be practicing, if we want to be content. This isn’t the art of governing; it is the art of living.

So, Lao Tzu comes back to the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. “Act without doing; work without effort.” If we are going to put this into practice in our lives, it begins with how we think.

Small and large. Few and many. Difficult and easy. These are yin and yang concepts. And, we always seem to be thinking about them all wrong. We do this, because the only reality our minds can perceive is the one we perceive with our senses. That is the finite and temporal reality. But, Lao Tzu’s message to all of us is that there is a whole other reality we can be experiencing, the infinite and eternal reality. This is the Tao.

If we are going to experience this reality, we will need to change how we perceive things. Somewhere along in here, knowing without knowing will come in. For now, don’t think of the small as small. Think of it as large. And, don’t think of the few as few. Think of them as many.

Say what? Why would I want to think of the small as large and the few as many? Why? Because, the way we think of things creates our reality. When I see small things as small, and few things as few, I limit myself to a finite and temporal reality. When I think of them as large and many, I open myself up to a whole new reality. One that is expansive. Infinite. Eternal.

I know this is a challenge to our way of thinking. That is the whole point. “But, but, they ARE small, and few.” Let me ask you a couple of questions about your life. Is your life full of difficulties, or is it one of ease? If your life is difficult, why do you think that is? Is it possible, the reason you think your life is difficult is because of your thinking about things? “Yes, but how is thinking of the small as large and the few as many, going to help with that. I often feel quite overwhelmed. Wouldn’t that just be making a mountain out of a molehill?”

Good, I have you thinking. Now, understand this: The mountains of difficulty in your life ARE just molehills. But those molehills have become mountains to you, because you didn’t confront the difficult while it was still easy. If you had thought of the small as large and the few as many, you would have confronted the difficult while it was still easy. You would have accomplished the great task, now before you, by a series of small acts.

Do you remember, a few chapters back, when Lao Tzu asked, “Do you want to be a great leader?” Here is the Master’s secret: “The Master never reaches for the great;” That is how they achieve greatness. When they run into difficulty, they don’t run and hide. They stop, and give themselves to it. They don’t cling to their own comfort; thus, problems are no problem for them.

This isn’t just good advice for would-be leaders. This is good advice for all of us. Don’t try to be great. Don’t reach for greatness. Be content with the simple and ordinary. Master that, and you will become great. By thinking of the small as large, and the few as many, we aren’t limiting ourselves to the small and few. We are realizing the large and many.

Here is another question for you. Are you often bored? It is hard to be content, when you are bored. There has to be something more out there for me. But why isn’t there more? Once again, it is because you keep thinking of the small as small and the few as few.

Think of the small as large and the few as many, and you will always have more with which to be content.

Whether your life is filled with difficulties, or filled with boredom, Lao Tzu’s teaching is the same. Stop limiting your reality to the finite and temporal. There is a whole other, infinite and eternal, reality you could be experiencing, each and every day. And, you can begin to realize this reality, as you change the way you perceive things.

The Onus Is On Us

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

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

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

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

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

After teaching on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders, for the last five days, Lao Tzu brings the teaching home to all of us. Some of us, who don’t think of ourselves as leaders, might have thought the teaching of the last few days didn’t much apply to us. But, Lao Tzu reminds us, the onus is, well, on us, when it comes to choosing a new leader. Those words, to would-be leaders, are words we better be taking to heart.

It seems like it is always time to choose new leaders, somewhere in the world. So, what advice does Lao Tzu have for us, in this perpetual election season?

When a new leader is chosen, don’t offer to help them with your wealth or your expertise. How interesting! They always seem to be interested in one or both, from us. But, as we have already said, quite a few times, our leaders don’t always know what is best for themselves, let alone us. They crave honors and respect. I see the allure of both of those. It is always nice to be recognized for your achievements. And, who doesn’t want to be treated with respect?

Yes, honor and respect have value. But those can be be bought with fine words, or won with good deeds. The Tao, on the other hand, is beyond all value. No one can achieve this.

This is why Lao Tzu instructs those of us choosing a new leader to teach them about the Tao.

So, what should I teach the would-be leaders, I know of, about the Tao?

I could begin by teaching them, the Tao is the center of the Universe. Here, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about its location in the universe. Think of the center as the origin, or the source. The Tao isn’t a place to go, but a way to be. We need to center ourselves within it, because it is the center, or source, of everything that is. This is why it is so important to center your country in the Tao. You want it going with the flow of the Tao, rather than running counter to it.

But there is something else I want to teach would-be leaders about the Tao. That is, when you are good, it is a treasure; and when you are bad, it is a refuge. Why is that so important for would-be leaders to know?

Here, Lao Tzu goes way back in history to answer the question with why the ancient Masters so esteemed the Tao. It is because, when you are one with the Tao, when you seek you find. See, when you are good, the Tao is a treasure to be sought.

But, what happens when you make a mistake? Yes, even the best of leaders will make mistakes. Hopefully, they will be inclined to recognize it, admit it, and correct it, when they do. But, what might help to incline them in this way? The knowledge that when they make a mistake, they are forgiven. The Tao is a refuge for us, when we make a mistake. We are forgiven!

I can’t think of a better thing to know about the Tao than this good news. One of the reasons I haven’t always been so forthcoming in admitting my own mistakes, is because I feared I would never be forgiven. What a comfort it is to know, I am.

What Is True Of A Nation Is True Of Its Leaders; What It Means To Be Great

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

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

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

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

Today, is day five of our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. Because I know some of you take a break over the weekend, it was a holiday weekend for many, I want to take a little bit of time recapping what Lao Tzu has been teaching would-be leaders.

Back in chapter 57, Lao Tzu said, “If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.” The world will govern itself, so let go of fixed plans and concepts, and stop trying to control. In chapter 58, Lao Tzu talked about the virtue of tolerance, and contrasted governing a country with tolerance, and governing a country with repression. The problem all leaders must ever be on guard against is the will to power. “When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results.” We must be content to serve as an example, and not to impose our will. In chapter 59, Lao Tzu used another word for tolerance, moderation; saying, “For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.” Lao Tzu stated, “The mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas.” Nothing is impossible for those who let go of their own will, their own desire. He also identified certain defining traits of this moderate person. One of those is “all-pervading like sunlight”, which is of particular importance to us, in today’s chapter. Yesterday, in chapter 60, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish. “You spoil it with too much poking.” He went on to teach would-be leaders how to deal with the problem of evil in our world. Hint: It isn’t the way the powers that be always deal with it.

That is enough of a recap, let’s move on to today’s chapter. Here, Lao Tzu says, what is true of a nation is also true of its leaders. For a nation to be great, it must be humble. It must be like the sea, and take the lowest place. Let streams run downward to it. The last time I posted commentary on this chapter, my thoughts were very much on immigration. Imagine the sea erecting barriers or walls, trying to keep the streams from flowing into it. That makes no sense at all. And, for a nation to not understand that immigration is what has made you great, and will make you great again, also, makes no sense.

A nation is only so great as its leaders. If we want our nation to be great, again, whatever that is supposed to mean, we need to be mindful of who we choose as our leaders. They might say they want to make us great again. And, it is for sure, whether or not they are actually saying it, they all think they have the right stuff to accomplish this. Still, this is the antithesis of how Lao Tzu describes a great leader. A great leader, like a great nation must be humble. He goes on to explain what humility looks like. Now, ask yourself, does this sound like any of our major party’s presidential candidates? “When they make a mistake, they realize it. Having realized it, they admit it. Having admitted it, they correct it.” Yeah, I can’t think of any example of this, either. Try to imagine one of our would-be leaders considering those who point out their faults, as their most benevolent teachers. Yeah, I laughed out loud trying to imagine it, as well. But, laughing sure beats crying.

Remember, two days ago, when Lao Tzu said, someone who is free from their own ideas is all-pervading like sunlight? That sunlight plays a powerful role in today’s chapter. If the moderate person is like sunlight, the great leader, in today’s chapter, is most concerned with the shadow they, themselves, cast. How long is your shadow? That depends on how high your place is. If you occupy the lowest places, your shadow, your enemy, will also be small. Be ever mindful of what kind of shadow you are casting. Are you covering the whole world in darkness, America, hmmmmmm? Humility really is the key to being a great nation, and a great leader.

And, what does humility mean? It means trusting the Tao. Thus, never needing to be defensive. Center your nation in the Tao. Nourish your own people; and, don’t meddle in the affairs of others. Then, your nation will be a light to (rather than a shadow on) all nations in the world. That is certainly my definition of what it means to be great.

Small Fish And Hornets, Stop Poking Them!

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

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

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

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

My, how the time does fly by. We are, already, to day four of our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses a simple metaphor we can all understand. “Governing a large country is like frying a small fish.” I doubt I am the only one out there who has ever spoiled the little fish I was frying, with too much poking. And, when it comes to governing, the temptation is even more great. The will to power is a very corrupting influence. You see all the things that are “wrong” in the world, and you just have to poke, poke, poke at it. Why not intervene, interfere, “meddle” in things you really have no business meddling in? What could possibly go wrong, when you are using force (violence) for good? Good intentions are the worst kind of intentions. Even worse than bad intentions? You bet! Because those with bad intentions are easily dealt with. But, those with good intentions never do go away. When things don’t go their way, they’ll just roll up their sleeves and redouble their efforts.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us how to deal with those with bad intentions. And, if we truly have good intentions, we best heed his advice. So, how do we deal with the problem of evil? A problem, you probably don’t need reminding, which has been around for all of recorded history. If we learned the lessons of history, we wouldn’t have to keep repeating the same lessons over and over again. Will we ever learn?

Here is the one method, which has hardly ever been used, though it is guaranteed to work, if you really want evil to have no power. “Center your country in the Tao” and let the world govern itself. Wait just a minute! How does that deal with evil? Oh, evil is still there, but you will be able to step out of its way.

I am writing this thinking of the recent “terrorist” bombings in Belgium; yet another excuse being offered by the war party to poke, poke, poke at the hornet’s nest. Yes, I do think of evil as a hornet’s nest. Why on Earth would we want to poke at that nest? Much better, for everyone concerned, if we step out of its way. What makes hornets mad? Giving them something to oppose. What makes evil strong? Giving it something to oppose. “Give evil nothing to oppose, and it will disappear, all by itself.”

Oh, I know how my detractors will respond. “That is hopelessly naive. Utter foolishness. We must do something! We can’t just leave it alone. Evil must be confronted. It must be opposed.” You mean, like we have been doing with evil throughout recorded history? How has that been working out for us?

And the beat goes on. The steady drumbeat of war. Endless war, endless shedding of the blood of innocents. All in the name of opposing evil. Violence always rebounds on the violent. We would like to think we are just doing the rebounding, on those who are violent. And, we are shocked, shocked when it rebounds on us. So, what exactly have we accomplished over the course of the so-called war on terror? We have claimed to kill untold leaders, again and again and again. Literally. Some of those killed, we have claimed to have killed multiple times. Yet, evil keeps coming. The number of terrorists remains unchanged. This is what poking gets you.

But I suspect Lao Tzu’s teaching, and my commentary, will fall on deaf ears, once again. The codependent relationship between the State and evil will continue as always. They need each other to thrive. And, both are happy to oblige the other.

Freedom From Your Own Ideas

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

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

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

Today’s chapter is the third in a series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. Lao Tzu led things off, two chapters ago, by stating the fundamental lesson all would-be leaders must learn on how to govern by following the Tao, “Leave it alone, and the world will govern itself.”

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu touted the virtue of toleration in governing a country, while contrasting it with governing through repression. I understand what Lao Tzu means by toleration. He is talking about letting the world govern itself. But, I also understand that toleration, in this day and age, has come to be something often forced. And, that kind of toleration runs counter to the Tao, which doesn’t force anything.

Today, Lao Tzu touts the virtue of moderation in governing. Once again, I find myself cringing at the word. I was reading a Jacob Sullum article in Reason Magazine, just yesterday, which perfectly illustrates my own aversion to what counts for moderation in politics, today. He said, “The most worrisome thing about Merrick Garland…is that reporters routinely describe him as “moderate”. Although that label is supposed to be reassuring, in politics it usually refers to people who combine the worst aspects of the left and right, united by an expansive view of government authority and a narrow view of individual rights.” I won’t get into the debate on whether or not Senate Republicans should hold hearings on Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court; but, I will gladly say, Lao Tzu’s moderation is nothing like the moderation we have come to expect in politics.

Moderation and tolerance are very much the same thing; so, it shouldn’t be any surprise, when we find Lao Tzu saying that one of the marks of a moderate person is they are tolerant.

But, I am getting just a little ahead of myself. Let’s back up, so we can better understand why Lao Tzu believes, “For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.” If Lao Tzu doesn’t mean, by moderation, the things we have come to expect of moderates in Washington (or wherever seats of government reside), what does he mean?

He describes it for us, quite thoroughly. “The mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas.” Those of us who call ourselves libertarians place a pretty high value on freedom; so, what does freedom from your own ideas, entail?

First of all, it means tolerance. Tolerance being, not what we would consider a “moderate” position, but an extreme one. Remember what we learned about tolerance in yesterday’s chapter. It was contrasted with repression. The tolerant person would let the world, or the country, govern itself. They wouldn’t try to impose their own will. They are content to serve as an example. Repression is the other extreme. Where the will to power is in charge, the people, of any country, are repressed. And, just to make sure we understand how extreme this position of tolerance is, Lao Tzu says the moderate person is tolerant like the sky. The sky is the limit to the freedom you have, from your own ideas.

To understand that tolerance means freedom from your own ideas is to understand that those who would repress us are in bondage to their own ideas. They aren’t free! The will to power is in charge, not them. They, as well as everybody under them, are in bondage.

Moderation, properly understood, is the best way to govern a country well. It doesn’t follow the dictates of the will to power. It follows the Tao. All you would-be leaders, ask yourself just a few questions, to see whether you are free, or in bondage. How willing are you to not be in control? Will you let the world govern itself? Or, do you just have to intervene, interfere, and use force to try to control?

But, there is more to freedom from your own ideas than just tolerance. It is also all-pervading, like sunlight. What does Lao Tzu mean by this? I, along with the majority of the population in the world, live in the northern hemisphere. Here, we have just passed the vernal equinox, and the days are getting longer and longer as we press on to the summer solstice. Every morning I get up before dawn, and go out for my morning power walk. This is how I welcome each new day. As I am walking, I get to see the beginnings of the sunlight as it shines over the eastern horizon; but, while I am out walking, the sunlight slowly creeps across the land. By the time my walk is through, the sunlight pervades all over the land. This is a wonderful illustration of how, when you have freedom from your own ideas, your ideas spread everywhere. Those who want to repress you, think without the use of force, their ideas won’t spread. But, when you follow the Tao, your ideas spread naturally, pervading everywhere. Please understand this, having freedom from your own ideas, doesn’t mean you don’t have any ideas. Of course, you have ideas! But, by following the Tao, your ideas can now flourish.

Being a moderate person doesn’t mean being wishy-washy. It means being firm, like a mountain. Yet, supple like a tree in the wind. Your ideas have roots which run deep. They are firmly planted in the Tao. But, though the wind may blow every which way, the tree won’t be rooted up. It will still stand firm.

This next one is the one which is most often misunderstood. The moderate person has no destination in view. What? No destination in view? But, how will you know, when you get where you are going? Hey, let’s not fail to understand what Lao Tzu means by freedom from your own ideas. You aren’t so bound to a particular direction, or a particular course of action. You aren’t bound by expectations; so, you can never be disappointed. You, my friends, are free. And, that means you can make use of anything, which life happens to bring your way.

There really is nothing quite like freedom. And, you are free! What freedom really means is, “Nothing is impossible for you!” So, there you have it. Why it is so important to let go of every desire to try to control, every desire to make people happy or moral, every desire for the common good. Now, you can care for the people’s welfare, as a mother cares for her child.

What Kind Of Example Would You Be?

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

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

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

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

Today’s chapter is the second in a series of chapters on the art of governing. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu told would-be leaders, “If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.” For those who are unfamiliar with philosophical Taoism, “the Tao” is what Lao Tzu calls the way things are. He calls it an infinite and eternal reality, which governs our entire universe. To follow it, is to go with the flow of yin and yang. Yin and yang are complements of each other; seeming opposites, they always balance things out in our universe. That is the way things are. Not following the Tao means not accepting how our universe operates. You will find yourself always swimming against the current. The universe is forever out of control; so, following the Tao means not trying to control. If you want to be a great leader, you must stop trying to control. Finally, following the Tao means letting go of any desire to intervene or interfere with the natural order of things. Yin and yang will balance things out, naturally. Would-be leaders, with their fixed plans and concepts, try to set limits; but, yin and yang are limitless. So, if you want to be a great leader, you must let go of fixed plans and concepts. If I could tell would-be leaders only one thing it would be, the world can govern itself, let it. That is what the Tao is all about. It does its thing wholly independently of any scheme we can ever conceive, or put into practice. It doesn’t need our good intentions. It doesn’t need our assistance. All we really need to do is go with the flow, or get out of the way.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu goes from talking to would-be leaders, to contrasting countries, based on whether they are following the Tao. A country whose leaders are following the Tao is a country which is governed with tolerance. When Lao Tzu talks about tolerance, he is talking about letting, as in letting the world govern itself; or, in the case of a country, letting the country govern itself. The people of that country are comfortable and honest, in a word, content. Would-be leaders, when you let your country govern itself, the people will be content. That is the result, which flows naturally.

Lao Tzu contrasts the country which is governed with tolerance, with one that is governed with repression. This is a country whose leaders interfere with the Tao, instead of going with its flow. Because its leaders interfere with the natural order, the people are depressed and crafty. They aren’t content. And the more they are repressed, the more depressed and crafty they become. This is also a natural consequence. Yin and yang always work that way.

The problem is the will to power. This is entirely counter to the Tao. The first country is governed by leaders who have let go of the will to power. In the second one, the will to power is in charge. These leaders may have the best of intentions; but, the higher their ideals, the lower the results will be. Try to make people happy, and you lay the groundwork for misery. Try to make people moral, and you lay the groundwork for vice.

This is so important to understand. If you want happy and moral people, then don’t try to make them so. In the first country, the people are happy and moral, as a result of being left alone. The second country tries too hard. And, as things get worse, they roll up their sleeves and try harder. But that isn’t how things roll in our universe, which is why would-be leaders must learn to follow the Tao.

Would-be leaders, if you want people to be content, you must be content, to serve as an example, and not to impose your will.

So, I would ask would-be leaders, what kind of example would you be? Could you be pointed, without piercing? Could you be straightforward, yet supple? Could you be radiant, but easy on the eyes? That would mean you are a master at following the Tao.

Listen Up, All You Would-Be Leaders!

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

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

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

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

Today, we begin a series of chapters on the art of governing. In other words, we have reached the point in the Tao Te Ching, which first captured my interest. I was a libertarian before I became a philosophical Taoist. And, Lao Tzu’s instructions to would-be leaders resonated with me, right from the start.

You may not be aware of this, but we are in the midst of a presidential election season. This series of chapters will also give me an opportunity to do one of my favorite things, talk about politics. I hear some of you, already, “Isn’t he always talking politics, anyway? Does he really need another excuse? But, I really can’t help myself. It is something I am passionate about. You don’t really intend to deny me this opportunity?

With that said, I recently posted a Reason “Hit and Run” piece where Gary Johnson, one of the candidates for the Libertarian Party nomination, was being offered as someone that those Republicans who are disenchanted with Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, might vote for. I voted for Gary Johnson in 2012. Yes, I was part of the 1% that voted for him. And, I like Gary. But, he does tend to go off on tangents a lot of the time, when he is being interviewed. You may well remember the Reason interview, on the day he announced his candidacy, and his infamous “I will ban burqas” comment. After a huge online uproar, he admitted that wanting to ban burqas wasn’t very libertarian of him, and he assured us, he wouldn’t put any restrictions on the personal clothing choices of anyone. In the most recent article, Gary once again went off on a tangent. Saying, if he wasn’t running for president, and the choice was between Hillary and Trump, he would probably support Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Most of my followers are well aware, Bloomberg is no friend of personal liberty. He instituted a ban, in New York City, on soft drinks he deemed too large for anyone’s consumption. While I do suspect that Gary was saying that Bloomberg’s anti-libertarian views pale in comparison with Hillary or Trump, I don’t necessarily agree, and it does raise further questions. Gary went on to say that while he wouldn’t want to pass legislation limiting the size of sodas, doing it on the municipal level isn’t such a bad thing. And, he loves Michelle Obama and her advocacy of calories and what it is we eat. He would take that to a higher level.

Really? What exactly do you mean, there, Gary? What higher level? And, is municipal legislation, limiting the size of sodas, really not so bad? I know we can “vote with our feet” by moving. But for some of us, moving from one town to another, or one state to another, isn’t as viable an option as you may think it is. As one of my mutuals on Tumblr “wageronliberty” messaged to me on the subject, “I don’t care if the SWAT team coming for my stash of double-stuffed Oreos is serving a municipal, state, or federal warrant when the SWAT team is kicking down my door at 4 in the morning.”

I had a good time on Reason’s Facebook page giving Johnson grief about his being a food nazi. And, I got some favorable responses. But, I also had those who thought I was nitpicking. Nitpicking? Me?

Gary Johnson has yet to respond to my comments.

I said all of that, to say this. Gary Johnson, and all you would-be leaders, here is what you really should do, if you want to be a great leader.

Learn how to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself. That is more than a libertarian prescription for how to govern. It is a libertariantaoist prescription for how to govern. Let the world govern itself. You might be surprised just how well it could get along without all your interference.

The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. Wageronliberty, and I, will only try to find ways to better hide our stash of contraband junk food from your SWAT teams.

Look, I get it, you have good intentions. You only want to help us to be better people. More healthy people. But, when you use force, when you try to control, you are running counter to the Tao. You end up achieving the opposite of your stated good intentions.

The more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. This one isn’t directed at Gary Johnson who, I believe, wants to downsize our military. It is more directed at all the unfortunately more viable candidates. According to Trump, Obama has decimated our military capacity. But, Trump is going to make America’s military great again. And Hillary? She is such a neocon, she makes Trump seem like a pacifist, in comparison. But, even with all the weapons we have, and in spite of Trump’s rhetoric to the contrary, we already have the greatest military in the world. Are we anymore secure? On the contrary, the establishment has managed to convince a large segment of the U.S. population to be afraid, very afraid, of a terrorist attack, here, in the United States. What they will never admit is that each of us is a whole lot more likely to be killed by our own police, than we are terrorists.

The more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be. This one I will direct more to Bernie Sanders. You keep making promises of all kinds of free shit. But there is no such thing as a free “anything” coming from government, Bernie. Those free college educations, and free health care, and every other free thing, comes at a great price. The government doesn’t produce money, it has to take it, or borrow it, or print it. All of these are high prices to pay. But, there is something even more insidious than any of that. You make people dependent, reliant, on your handouts. Less and less do they need to do for themselves. Soon, they can no longer do anything for themselves.

What we need from a would-be leader is someone who will be like the Master. Here are the kind of campaign slogans I want to hear, “I will let go of the law, and people will become honest.” I will let go of economics, and people will become prosperous.” I will let go of religion, and people will become serene.” I know that this might sound kind of scary at first, particularly if you don’t understand what Lao Tzu means, here.

What is he really saying? He is talking about no longer using force. That is what he means by letting go of. I want leaders who won’t interfere by making new, even more egregious, laws. I want leaders who won’t interfere with the economy. I want leaders who won’t tell people what religion they may and may not practice. I want leaders who will leave us alone.

I get that our would-be leaders claim to have a strong desire for the common good. But, if they will only let go of all that desire for the common good, the good would become common as grass.

How? Without anyone forcing it? Without anyone intervening and interfering? Because the world can govern itself. Learn how to follow the Tao, stop trying to control, and let go of all your fixed plans and concepts; you’ll see it is true.

Why We Will Endure

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

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

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

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

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu pointed at a newborn child, as a metaphor for someone in harmony with the Tao. I said, “Lao Tzu certainly doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb, and be born again” in order to be in harmony with the Tao. But, Lao Tzu isn’t quite finished with thinking of newborns, with today’s chapter; and, he IS expecting us to return to our primal identity.

Our primal identity is the way we have always been. It is like being a newborn again, because it is a return to the way we were, right from the beginning. But, how do we return to this state? We already said it is physically impossible.

As Lao Tzu opens the chapter, he does seem to be thinking of newborns, when he says those who know don’t talk. I remember, very well, when my own children, now 25 and 23 years old, were newborns. I remember looking into their eyes. There seemed to be some hidden knowledge there. But, they weren’t talking. By the time they were old enough to talk, all that knowledge seems to have been lost. Those who talk don’t know.

That is mysterious talk, pure conjecture on my own part. But it is, still, one more lesson we can learn from newborns. If we want to return to our primal identity we can begin by closing our mouths. And, while we are at it, block off all of our senses. In newborns, the senses aren’t completely developed yet. Over the course of time, those are refined. Soon, we are relying more and more on our senses.

I think we get further and further away from relying on the Tao as we rely more and more on our senses. Remember, our senses can only tell us the way things seem to be. They tell us about the finite and temporal reality. But, returning to the primal identity gets us tapping into the infinite and eternal reality. That is the reality I think newborns are actually in touch with. But, they aren’t talking.

Newborns know and understand something intuitively. They know, and understand, they can rely on Mother. They know who gave birth to them, who nourishes them, who maintains and cares for them, who comforts and protects them. They know, if they scream loud enough, and long enough, Mother will take them back to herself. That is what the Tao does for all of us; but no screaming is ever required.

We now think we have come such a long way from when we were newborns. Who can remember so far back? We, now, fully rely on our senses, and have forgotten how to rely on the Tao. We have sharpened our skills, becoming quite acute in our presumed knowledge. We are independent now. No longer do we need mother to care for us. So many milestones have been logged in our lives. We tie a knot for each one. Here, is where I first sat up, when I rolled over for the first time, when I started crawling, when I stood up, when I took my first step. Then, I began talking. And, I have never shut up, since. Gee, is that when I stopped knowing? But, I still wasn’t finished logging milestones, tying knots. First day in school. Graduated from school. Got a job. Got married. Had a couple of super duper children. So many knots. And, with age, my glare hardened. I kept rushing ahead, faster and faster. Never letting the dust settle beneath my feet.

If I am going to return to my primal identity, to the way I have always been, the way I was from the beginning, I have a lot of unlearning and undoing to do.

It is time to close my mouth, to block off all my senses, to blunt my sharpness, to untie those knots, to soften my glare, and to be still. Take a step back, and let the dust settle. That is what I have been doing for the last, going on, four years now.

Oh, the things I have unlearned! And, the things I have undone!

I have been asked, before, to try and explain it all. Ah, but those who know don’t talk. And, those who talk don’t know. I am not just being coy; you really do have to experience it for yourself. My journey is my own. There are infinite ways your own journey may be. Don’t limit yourself to my way. Yours will be infinitely better.

Just, be like the Tao. That is what I came to understand. It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. What does that mean? Is the Tao standoffish? No. It means the Tao is present. You can’t approach it, for it is already within you. You can’t withdraw from it, because it remains within you. And, it can’t be benefited or harmed. What can you do for it? What can you do against it? I laugh out loud at a lot more things, than I used to. For I understand just how impervious I am, to both benefit and harm. Things are the way they are. I just go with the flow. Just let things come and go, without effort, without desire. This was only hard, before, because I made it hard. The Tao can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. And, neither can I. I don’t expect results, so I am never disappointed. The Tao gives itself up continually; that is why it endures. And, I just keep on giving myself up continually, too. I simply go with the flow of the Tao, having no will of my own. Mother takes care of me. Mother will always take care of me. I will endure.

Will We Tap Into This Power?

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

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

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

The singing we were talking of yesterday is the perfect segue into today’s chapter on harmony with the Tao. You plant, you wait, you sing. First, it is only one voice. Perhaps, it is just you, singing melody. But as your genuineness shines through, your family picks up on it, and join with you, in singing. Then, it takes off from there, until the whole country, the whole universe, is singing. The melody is still strong, but what is most evident is the harmony.

Now, I don’t think I need to say that all of this singing is nothing more than a metaphor. It only serves to point at the harmony. When I am out in nature, I, both, see and hear the harmony in nature. All that remains is for me to be in harmony with it. But, in today’s chapter Lao Tzu doesn’t picture nature to represent a person in harmony with the Tao. He pictures a newborn child.

That newborn child is our metaphor for being in perfect harmony. Picture that newborn child. Its bones are soft, and its muscles are weak. But, just look at how powerful its grip is! Also, notice, even though this newborn child can’t possibly know anything about the union of male and female, its penis, still, can stand erect. Then, there is the sound. It can scream its head off all day, without ever becoming hoarse.

This is an illustration of the intensity of vital power available to all of us, when we are in complete harmony with the Tao.

So, how exactly do we translate this, power of a newborn child, to us? Lao Tzu certainly doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb, and be born again.

Lao Tzu explains it like this. It is the power to let all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. It is the power to never expect results; and, thus, never to be disappointed. It is the power of a spirit that never grows old.

Are you disappointed? Were you expecting something else? We have been talking, now, for several days, on the limits of our finite and temporal reality. The limits are such, we may find ourselves experiencing a premature death. But, it doesn’t have to be that way.

A spirit that never grows old is tapping into the infinite and eternal reality. There are no limits, here! I recently saw a video from an experiment done, I believe back in the 1930’s, on infants. In the video the infants were holding on to a bar, with that powerful grip they are notorious for, suspended off the ground. It isn’t that those infants had anything to prove. They are only being what they are, powerful. Effortlessly. Without desire. Not expecting anything. This is the spirit we all have innate within us. Will we tap into this power?