Some Things We Can Live Without

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

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

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

Yesterday, we began talking about the key to living a life of ease. It is in mastering the withouts. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches us some things we must live without, if we want to live a life of ease.

It begins with realizing that all things change. This is one of those things that we think we already know. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are you still trying to hold on to things? If you realized, truly realized, that all things change, there would be nothing you would still try to hold on to. Holding on to things is something we need to live without, if we want to live a life of ease.

The next one is our fear of dying. Dying is a scary thing for the great majority of us. It isn’t just a fear of death. We have latched on to articles of faith to assure ourselves that things will be sweet in the by and by. But the process of dying is not something we want to talk about, let alone think about.

I remember, well, the last six months of my own dad’s life. We didn’t know the exact day and hour of his impending release from his suffering. But, his last six months, when he had one foot in, and one foot out, of the grave were horrendous. And, my mother suffered for years with Alzheimer’s disease before finally succumbing to its ravages.

We know it is destined for each one of us to die. But, that process of dying is something of which we are afraid. Can’t we just die peacefully in our sleep, having gone to bed perfectly healthy, just never waking up from our slumber? Or, at the very least, can’t it be quick and painless? Yet, if we could overcome our fear of dying, there would be nothing we couldn’t achieve. This fear we are holding on to, is holding us back. It, too, is something we need to live without, if we want to live a life of ease.

Finally, is our knack for trying to control the future. If we want to live a life of ease we must leave the past in the past, and not worry about the future. Live life fully in the present moment. All things change. Let things come and go as they will. Let events take their own course. Just shape things as they come.

Instead, we try to do something way above our pay grade. Lao Tzu calls it trying to take the master carpenter’s place. This metaphor really speaks to me, because I should know better. I am not a very handy fellow. In fact, I am a rather clumsy fellow, when it comes to using tools. Still, I find the need to pick them up from time to time, to use them. And, inevitably, I have the scars to show for it.

But, what I try to do with tools cannot really compare with trying to control the future.

All we have is this present moment. Why worry about the future? Why try to control what the next moment will bring? Is it because we want more moments just like this one? Or, are we hoping against all hope that the future will be better than this present moment? But, these aren’t something we can control. So, stop trying to control. Let it be. Be at ease.

The Key To Living A Life Of Ease: Mastering The Withouts

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

If you have been following along for very long, I am sure you have noticed it. Philosophical Taoism is filled with “withouts”. We have learned about the practice of doing without doing, knowing without knowing, competing without competing, and (just yesterday) teaching without teaching. The Tao, you see, is all about being without. Lao Tzu remarks on a few of them today. “It overcomes without competing, answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without a plan.” Truly, these “withouts” are what the Tao is all about. There is a lesson, here, my friends. Maybe there are a few things we can live “without”, so that we, like the Tao, can always be at ease.

Every chapter, we have had before, has been leading up to these next, and last, nine chapters. Lao Tzu has been teaching us how to live a life of ease. One, in which we are content with who and what we are. The Tao is always at ease; so, if we will center ourselves in the Tao, we can always be at ease, too.

It does without doing. It knows without knowing. It overcomes without needing to compete. It answers without ever having to speak a word. It arrives without ever needing to be summoned. It accomplishes everything without needing any plan. Take a step back. Better yet, take what I will call “the Taoist plunge”. You know what I mean. Just fall backwards into the Tao’s net. It is easy. Its net covers the whole universe.

Now, I know, some of you will point out how wide its meshes are. You are tempted to be fearful about whether you might just slip through. Can I really trust it? My friends, we are going to be covering this in the days ahead. Your fears are needless, it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

What Does “Brexit” Have To Do With It?

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking, over the last couple of days, about the practice of knowing without knowing. I said that there is both a negative, and a positive, aspect to this practice. The negative aspect is we need to know that we don’t know. That negative aspect goes a very long way toward healing us of all knowing. Thinking we know, presumption, is a disease. Knowing we don’t know is the cure.

However, when all our focus is on the negative aspect, and we don’t ponder and act on the positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing, we can get very confused. That is Lao Tzu’s focus in today’s chapter.

What happens when we lose our sense of awe, and no longer trust ourselves? Just focusing on the negative aspect, and realizing that we don’t know, may leave us lost, and confused. When we lose our sense of awe, when we no longer trust ourselves, people tend to turn to some outside authority, and put our trust in them.

I have been watching in muted amusement as the corporate establishment and all the powers that be have become apoplectic since “Brexit” occurred. I have had family and friends who have asked me what I think, and what they should think, about this. There has been a lot of fear mongering going on. And, as is usually the case, fear mongering generates a certain level of fear.

Now, I want to say that I didn’t really have much of an opinion about Brexit in the months leading up to the vote. I don’t live in the UK, I don’t even live in Europe; so, I thought I had much better things with which to concern myself. Meanwhile, the debate (we need to understand this) framed those who were wanting to exit the EU as both fascist, and racist, extremist elements. Who would want to have themselves numbered among them? Honestly, leading up to the vote, I didn’t believe it was likely for the vote to go the way it did. “Maintaining the status quo” always seems to win the day.

Of course, I kept telling myself that Donald Trump was never going to end up securing the Republican nomination, so maybe my opinion on things isn’t that useful. That Donald Trump analogy isn’t far off though. One thing I have known, is that all over the world, people are beginning to rise up against the ruling elite. And, I keep hoping that peaceful revolution will be allowed, for just as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”

Brexit, to me, is about giving peaceful revolution a chance. That isn’t to say I believe voting is a revolutionary act. Really, I believe if voting actually changed anything, it wouldn’t be allowed. And, that is what makes this vote so interesting to me. Because, I don’t think the powers that be ever saw it coming. Otherwise, the people would never have been allowed to vote. Understand, they will champion Democracy as long as their ideas win. When the outcome goes against their wishes, Democracy is no longer such a good thing.

I say all of that to say this, I am not too distressed about the apoplexy of the ruling class. In fact, you might just call me giddy. When someone expresses fear and worry about the horrible things that may happen as a result, I say, “So?”

How detached and disinterested I am! Well, like I said before, I don’t live in the UK, or even Europe, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for me to get distressed. What exactly can I do about it? But, beyond that, I tend to think anything, which strikes a blow to the status quo, can’t be too bad a thing. So, unless you have something better for me to do besides be fearful, or worry, I am just going to remain amused.

Now, you may be wondering what “Brexit” has to do with today’s chapter. Maybe I just wanted to talk about it, and today’s chapter afforded me the first opportunity to do that. Besides that, it does talk about what I would call a hopeful sign that maybe people are losing their trust and dependence on outside authorities. That, my friends, is a welcome trend. And, as I look around the world, I see more and more reason for muted optimism.

Yeah, I know, I know, it seems we are doomed to have either a Trump or a Hillary presidency. But Gary Johnson seems to have a remote chance, if the powers that be will allow it. And, I am counting on this election to be decided by the House of Representatives. All that is necessary is for Johnson to get enough electoral votes to deny one of the others the 270 necessary to out and out win. That would change everything! Talk about a disruption to the status quo! I don’t believe that has happened since John Quincy Adams was elected by the House, after an election where there was no clear winner.

But, getting back to today’s chapter, it is important that we not be confused, and look to some outside authority, instead of trusting ourselves. This is where the positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing comes in.

Here, the Master steps back, and teaches without teaching, so that people will have nothing to learn.

Wait! What does that even mean? The positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing is that when we know we don’t know, we can know without knowing. It is a matter of not just turning away from our trusting in, and relying on, our own cleverness and intelligence, but taking that further step back to letting our inner core fill up with intuition, trusting our inner vision. That isn’t something which can be taught by teaching. It has to be taught without teaching. It isn’t something to learn, it is something to realize as we experience it.

Anticipating that I will have someone ask me, “How do I do this?”, I will preemptively tell you, it isn’t about doing anything. It is about letting it happen. Just step back. And, let it happen.

Laughter Is My Best Medicine

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu asserted that his teachings are both easy to understand and easy to put into practice. But, when we try to grasp them with our intellect, and try to practice them, we will surely fail. I said this addresses a twin problem we have. We both think we know without truly knowing, and try to do leaving many things undone. Lao Tzu said the antidote was to look inside your own heart.

Today, we will explain what this introspection entails.

Lao Tzu begins by making sure we understand the diagnosis. Presuming that we know is a disease. It is knowing that we don’t know which is true knowledge. And, if we want to move toward health, we must know that we don’t know, we must realize we are sick. Otherwise, we wouldn’t seek out a physician, and we couldn’t move toward health.

Here is where a wise and virtuous leader is our best example. Lao Tzu has already said of the ancient Masters that they didn’t try to educate the people; instead, they kindly taught them to not-know. That was back in chapter 65, where Lao Tzu said, “People are difficult to guide when they think they know the answers. But, people can find their own way when they know that they don’t know.”

The Master is an example for us, in today’s chapter, by being their own physician. What they have done is heal themselves of all knowing.

Every time my mind butts in with “I know, I know”, I pause, and take a step back. What I am doing, here, is acknowledging that I am sick. This presumption is a disease. My constant practice is laughing at my presumptive mind. I have erred, in the past, by taking my mind far too seriously. Now, I do a whole lot of laughing. By not taking the thoughts in my head so seriously, I find my mind empties, and the core of my being fills.

That works for me. Perhaps it will work for you. We really do take ourselves too seriously. Dwelling on our thoughts, making them our reality, when they are only phantoms, an illusion. I let them come, and I let them go; and, my only interaction with them is a bit of laughter. My friends probably think I am a bit strange. I know I grin a lot. And, I chuckle to myself. No, I am not laughing at you, I am laughing at myself. Or, maybe I am laughing at you, and I wish you would join in with laughing at your own self. Heal yourself of all knowing, until you are truly whole.

How Difficult We Make What Should Be Easy

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your own heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last three days, now, we have been talking about what Lao Tzu calls our three greatest treasures. These are what he teaches. Simplicity: Be simple in your actions and in your thoughts, and you return to the source of being. Patience: Be patient with both your friends and your enemies, and you accord with the way things are. Compassion: Be compassionate toward yourself, and you reconcile all beings in the world.

And, Lao Tzu told us how to guard these treasures, warning us of the dangers involved in not putting these teachings into practice.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us his teachings are both easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. Yet… There had to be that, yet. Our problem is how difficult we make what should be easy.

We try to grasp them with our intellect. And, we try to practice them. This is why we fail.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the practice of doing without doing and knowing without knowing. It has become a constant meditation since I started taking a chapter from the Tao Te Ching, each day, offering my own commentary on each one.

One thing I have discovered is that there is both a negative, and a positive, aspect to this practice. And, today’s chapter affords me the opportunity to explain both of these aspects.

First, we will get the negative aspect out of the way, since today’s chapter really highlights the negative.

The negative aspect of knowing without knowing is that we really think we do know, when we don’t. We know without knowing. The negative aspect of doing without doing is that we try so hard to do things, and when all is said and done, we leave plenty more left to be done. This is doing without doing.

There is some good news, here. Because Lao Tzu has just the antidote for us. It is the other side, or aspect, the positive one.

We need to settle (I would like to say “once and for all”, but I don’t think settling it once and for all is really possible), that we don’t know what we think we know. Indeed, we can’t. Lao Tzu tells us that his teachings are older than the world. And then he offers us a rhetorical question, “How can you grasp their meaning?” This is what we need to settle. If not, once and for all, then, every time this trust and reliance, on what we think we know, rears its ugly head.

You simply aren’t that clever. No one is. Why? For the simple reason that Lao Tzu’s teachings aren’t intended to be grasped with our intellect. He says, “If you want to know me,” in other words, understand my easily understood teachings, “look inside your own heart.”

They are matters of the heart. But this doesn’t mean it is time to get all mushy. What Lao Tzu means is the Tao resides in the core of our being. And, it is there his teachings make perfect sense. It is there their loftiness has roots that go deep. With our minds, we are only capable of processing what our senses tell us of the world around us. And, we are often deceived by what we see, and hear, and taste, and smell, and touch. This is the reason Lao Tzu has been so insistent on us emptying our minds of all thoughts, and learning to trust in, and rely on, our inner vision. Emptied minds, filled cores. Weakened ambitions, strengthened resolve. This is how we go from a reliance on our outer nature, to one on our inner nature.

As I said, before, there is a positive aspect to this practice of doing without doing and knowing without knowing.

The positive aspect of knowing without knowing is that through no longer relying on our intellect,, we now can truly know, without knowing, with our intuition. I have said it before, and I will say it again, this is a yin thing. There is a reason that intuition is so often referred to as a woman’s thing. It is feminine. But, it isn’t just limited to women. Guys, there really is a reason to get in touch with our feminine side.

The positive aspect of doing without doing is just as important. For, we don’t want to end up leaving things undone. Especially, the practice of Lao Tzu’s teachings, our three greatest treasures. It, too, flows out of the core of our being. But unlike intuition, which I think of as yin, this one is all yang. I am referring to how our bodies can spontaneously act without any effort. Spontaneity is often referred to as a masculine thing. But, don’t be silly, it doesn’t have to be limited to just men. This spontaneous, effortless action is when doing, without doing, means nothing is left undone. It is very much yang, but it is fueled by our reliance on our intuition (yin). So, all things balance out.

I hope that helped. I know I spent a whole lot of my own time and effort, spinning my wheels, trying to understand these teachings intellectually, and trying to put them into practice. But, once I looked in my own heart, I found out just how easy it is not to fail.

Calling Out Regressives

The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu boiled down his teachings to just three things: simplicity, patience, and compassion. These, he said, should be our three greatest treasures. And, because I do consider these my three greatest treasures, I said, I guard them as carefully as I would a room full of rubies.

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu began talking about how to guard these treasures. He told us, if we are to be our best, we need to be like children, to compete without competing, in a spirit of play.

Yesterday’s chapter was all about play. But, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu gets down to the serious business of what we are guarding against.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the best general enters the mind of his enemy. Today, he tells us the generals have a saying. Generals are the experts when it comes to being on guard against any threat; so, I will defer to them.

They say, “Rather than making the first move, it is better to wait and see. Rather than advancing an inch, it is better to retreat a yard.” With this saying, the generals are practicing Lao Tzu’s three teachings, simplicity, patience, and compassion. The point of their saying is to go forward without advancing, and to push back without using weapons.

What we must be on our guard against is underestimating our enemy. Lao Tzu identifies it as the greatest misfortune. And, just in case we don’t know what he means by underestimating our enemy, he tells us. It means thinking they are evil. By thinking they are evil, we are making them out to be less than what they are. When we underestimate them, we are devaluing them. Unworthy of our love, and unworthy of our respect. They aren’t worthy of life. They aren’t worthy of liberty. And, they certainly aren’t worthy of pursuing their own happiness, even when their own pursuit of happiness doesn’t infringe, at all, on others’. Let’s strip them of rights we afford the rest of us. And, we won’t let a silly notion, like due process, slow us down.

You can probably see where I am going with this. I am, of course, thinking of the so-called Progressives in Washington D.C., who, if they were truly Progressives would be standing up against the tide eroding our civil liberties. Instead, they are revealing themselves to be Regressives, by calling for further erosion of civil liberties. “We can’t have our enemies getting their hands on guns!”

Yes, this is regressive. It isn’t going forward. It isn’t advancing. It is using weapons to try to push back; and it is destroying our three greatest treasures. They have become the enemy, themselves.

Here is a lesson I wish a few people would learn. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go, not to the aggressor, but to the one who knows how to yield. Filibusters and sit-ins have a purpose. Just not the one they are being used for. They have a much higher purpose. To protect civil liberties, and our three greatest treasures.

When We Are Our Best, We Are Like Children

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Those three greatest treasures we were talking about yesterday: simplicity, patience, and compassion, are what today’s chapter is all about. They are the embodiment of the virtue of competing without competing. Two days ago, Lao Tzu introduced this virtue when he said of a wise and virtuous person, they compete with no one, and no one can compete with them.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu offers us four examples of persons who embody this virtue of non-competition. But, keep in mind, it isn’t that they don’t love to compete. They just do it in the spirit of play. It is, as if they were children. And, therefore, in harmony with the Tao.

These are people at their very best. The best athlete. The best general. The best businessperson. The best leader.

The best athlete wants their opponent at their very best. It wouldn’t be much of a competition, otherwise. Understand, it isn’t just about winning. It is about being your very best. The best opponent will challenge you to be your very best.

The best general enters the mind of their enemy. Here, remember our second greatest treasure, from yesterday. The best general is patient with their enemy. They want to be in accord with the way things are. The best generals are always anti-war. Is there some way we can be reconciled with our enemy, and avoid unnecessary bloodshed? They are compassionate with themselves; and so, always about reconciling all beings in the world.

The best businessperson serves the communal good. Just as with the best athlete not wanting the competition to be just about winning, for the best businessperson it isn’t just about profits. It was never just about profits. Oh, don’t misunderstand me here. Profits are important. Just like winning is important. But there is something more to the virtue of competing without competing. Their reason for being is a much higher thing. They want what is best for the entire community. And serving the communal good, yes, he said serving, is what makes the best businessperson, the very best.

Finally, we have the example of the best leader. The best leaders follow the will of the people. That means they have to trust us. That the people can’t be trusted is the greatest lie that has been told of us. And, I know many people who believe the lie. But, why are we so untrustworthy? Because they have made us so, by their lack of trust. The best leaders would trust us, and leave us alone. That was one of Lao Tzu’s first instructions to leaders.

But, instead of going off on a rant, I would like to bring this back to the virtue of competing without competing. Of being like children. Of the spirit of play. This is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Can we become like innocent children, again? Children (and not just the girls, the boys, too) just want to have fun. We, adults, are the ones which make competition a truly ugly thing. Children embody the virtue of competing without competing. We need to be like children. Let’s play for the sake of play.

These Are My Three Greatest Treasures

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have devoted the last several chapters to the art of governing. It was these chapters which especially resonated with me, when I first encountered philosophical Taoism. I thought, “Here is some ancient wisdom. What a shame it defies what passes as conventional wisdom, these days.”

Truly, some have told me, “Your teaching is nonsense.” Gee! Why don’t you tell me what you really think? Others have said, “Your teaching is lofty; so lofty, no one could put it into practice.” Oh my! What are we to make of these criticisms?

I must confess, I don’t get where these critics are coming from. Nonsense? But, it would make perfect sense, if only you would spend some time looking inside yourself. And, as for this teaching being too lofty to be practical, have you even tried to put it into practice? I have found it to be the most down-to-earth teaching I have ever heard of. Its roots go deep.

Lao Tzu only has three things to teach. They are simple, really. Perhaps, too simple. We do have a tendency to be a bit too clever for our own good. Maybe that is why we have such a problem with putting his teachings into practice.

So, don’t dismiss it as nonsense, or too lofty to be practical; spend some time looking inside yourself; and, as realization dawns, put them into practice in your own life. That is what I did.

I have truly found them to be my three greatest treasures; treasures I guard as carefully as if they were a room full of rubies.

The first treasure is the teaching of simplicity. Be simple in your actions, and in your thoughts. As you practice this teaching you return to the source of being. The source of being is non-being. Or, to put it another way, the source of everything is nothing. By practicing simplicity, in your thoughts, and in your actions, you return to nothing. Remember what Lao Tzu has said before, if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Nothingness, emptiness, is the key to unlocking unlimiting power. Yes, I just made up that word, unlimiting. I intend it, rather than unlimited, because while this power is unlimited, it is also free to you without any limitations being placed on you. It sure beats hearing. “Some restrictions apply. Offer not valid in….”

But what does being simple in actions and in thoughts, mean? It is the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. That is what Lao Tzu has been teaching all along. Don’t try to get it all figured out in your mind, first. We rely far too much on our own cleverness. Be spontaneous. Rely on your intuition. Go with the flow. In other words, observe the world around you, yet trust your inner vision.

I had a person message me, earlier, referring, I guess, to a post from a previous chapter. “Thoughts are plentiful and so are inner visions. Why limit the outer space?”

My answer is I don’t intend there to be any limits. That is the whole point. We limit ourselves. Our own thoughts put limits on us. And, our bodies have their own limitations. But, what Lao Tzu is all about is freedom. Simplicity is about unlimiting. Don’t try to do. Just be.

The second treasure is the teaching of patience. Be patient with both friends and enemies. As you practice this teaching you accord with the way things are. Being in accord with the way things are is being in harmony with the Tao. It is staying in the center of the circle, no matter what. Don’t intervene, don’t interfere, don’t try to control, don’t use force. Let things take their own course. And, that requires patience. You have to be patient with your friends. You have to be patient with your enemies. You have to be patient with everybody. We absolutely exhaust ourselves, because we are simply not patient. We won’t stay in the center of the circle. We aren’t in harmony with the Tao. So, we don’t accord with the way things are. It is mighty tiresome always swimming against the current.

The third treasure is the teaching of compassion. But it isn’t compassion toward others. Does that surprise you? No, it is being compassionate toward yourself. Why is it I need to be compassionate toward myself? Ah, this is because I am going to make lots and lots of mistakes. I am not always going to practice simplicity, like I should. And, I am not always going to be as patient toward others, like I should. But, what is it Lao Tzu has said before about the Tao? It is both a treasure to those who are good, and a refuge for those who are bad. When I am bad, as I often am, the Tao is a refuge for me. And it is there, in that refuge, I practice being compassionate toward myself.

Now, don’t think for even a moment, that this is some selfish act, narcissism. Lao Tzu has a much higher motive for this treasure of compassion toward yourself. He has taught on this before, when he said we need to stop thinking of our selves as separate from the world. Once we see the world as self, the phantoms of hope and fear disappear. The reason we need to practice being compassionate toward ourselves is to reconcile all beings in the world. Compassion, in the end, is always about reconciliation.

These are my three greatest treasures. And, they can be your three greatest treasures, as well. So, guard them well. Return to the source of being, through the practice of simplicity; be in accord with the way things are, through the practice of patience; and, reconcile all beings in the world, through the practice of compassion.

It isn’t nonsense. And it isn’t so lofty it could never be put into practice. Look inside yourself, and you will see. Put them into practice, and you will be.

Aren’t We All Sick And Tired Of Feeling Oppressed And Manipulated?

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu keeps returning to his favorite metaphor for being in harmony with the Tao. Be like water! Be like the sea. If you want to be a great leader, understand the lessons which water teaches us. All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility is what gives it its power.

This is certainly a lesson I would like all of our would-be leaders to take to heart. If you want to govern the people, you MUST place yourself below them. If you want to be a leader of the people, you MUST learn how to follow them.

And, as always, Lao Tzu offers us a wise and virtuous example in the art of governing. The Master is able to be above the people without anyone feeling oppressed. They are able to go ahead of the people, to lead them, without anyone feeling manipulated.

This is the kind of leader for whom the whole world would be grateful. They have mastered the virtue of competing without competing.

We will go into more depth on this aspect of being in harmony with the Tao in just a couple more days. For now, we get our introduction to it, when Lao Tzu says no one can compete with someone who competes with no one.

It is much like the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. How transforming it would be for us all, if we had leaders who would place themselves below us, and learn how to follow us. It has gotten kind of old to always feel oppressed and manipulated by our rulers. And, presently, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight to their oppression and manipulation.

So, what can we do? Whether or not our leaders will ever follow us, we can still put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice in our own lives. We, too, can practice competing without competing. We can live our lives in such a way that what our rulers do or don’t do, matters less and less, until THEY become obsolete. (Hint: They already are. We just haven’t realized it, yet.)

Tomorrow’s chapter Lao Tzu will devote to us doing, just this. He has just three things to teach us, and if we will look inside ourselves, and put them into practice in our lives, we will find they are our three greatest treasures.

After Father’s Day: Lessons Dad Taught Me

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we continue our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. The last two chapters, Lao Tzu devoted to teaching Wei Wu Wei, the practice of doing without doing. And, whenever Lao Tzu talks about this fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, it is never long before he teaches on the practice of knowing without knowing. This practice is just as important, if we are going to practice doing without doing.

Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by referring to the ancient Masters. These were the leaders of the people in ancient times. Lao Tzu refers to them as wise and virtuous men and women, who led the people by being content to serve as an example for them. Being content to serve as an example is contrasted with trying to educate the people. They didn’t try to educate. Instead, they kindly taught people to not-know.

Anyone who has ever tried to educate people knows how difficult it is to guide them, when they think they already know all the answers. I frustrated my own father countless times. Yesterday, was Father’s Day, as I am writing this, so I am still thinking a lot of my father. And, whenever he was trying to teach me something, I was always ready with, “I know, I know.” I can’t begin to tell you the number of times he threw up his hands in frustration; because, if there was one thing he did know, it was that I didn’t know. I just thought I did. So, he would let me go on, in my willful ignorance, until I would come running back to him, frustrated with my own self, as I came to realize I didn’t really know.

When you are a willful child, like I was, those lessons are learned the hard way. But wise and virtuous leaders know, if they can teach people to know that they don’t know, they really will be able to find their own way. That was what my own father was always about with me. He wasn’t trying to keep me from going my own way. He was trying to show me, so I could go my own way. But, I was stubborn, and woefully ignorant of my own ignorance. And, I was convinced he was trying to control me. Stupid, stupid me.

Interestingly, this is one thing libertarians get accused of, all the time. We are just willful brats who don’t want to be controlled, so we reject authority. When we grow up, if we ever grow up, we will understand that our paternal government loves us, and has our best interests at heart. That sounds to me like Winston Smith’s realization at the end of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”. But, I would more easily come to “love big brother”, if our paternal government was actually following Lao Tzu’s teachings.

Still, besides the libertarian aspects of philosophical Taoism, one of the things that drew me into Lao Tzu’s teachings is how it resonated with my own father’s teachings. It just took me a few years to realize this. I am thankful my own father lived long enough to hear me say, “You know, Dad, you get wiser, the older I get.” Because, for the longest of times, I thought I, alone, had all the answers, and Dad was hopelessly ignorant. Dad got the last laugh, however. I had my own pair of children who took to instruction from me in their own willful way. However, they both wised up, much sooner.

But, I don’t want to get side-tracked, here. These are instructions for would-be leaders. If you want to learn how to govern, avoid being clever or rich. The being clever is thinking you know, and relying on that knowledge. I learned why that needs to be avoided. And, the reason we should avoid being rich is because, by relying on those riches, we lose touch with who we are. The simplest pattern is the clearest. Keep it simple, stupid. (Sorry, just talking to myself, there). Leaders need to be content with an ordinary life, because if they can’t be content, how are they going to show people the way to true contentment.

And, the way to true contentment is to get back to our own true nature. Being who, and what, we are. There is no other way.