Nothing to See, Nothing to Hear, So Much to Use

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Nothing to See, Nothing to Hear, So Much to Use

Sometimes I wish there was something to show you, or for you to listen to, to make the Tao stand out for you. But, the Tao offers us nothing of the sort. It isn’t like music, or the smell of good cooking, to make people stop and enjoy it. Words that point to the Tao seem monotonous, and without flavor. The Tao, itself, can’t be perceived. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

And, that right there is a problem many will never manage to overcome. They will walk away laughing out loud at our foolishness. But it is their own foolishness, their own pride, their own will to power, which keeps them from centering themselves in, and using the Tao.

If only they would, if only they could, they would find such peace in their hearts. It is inexhaustible. This is the way to avoid all danger. To go wherever you wish, perceiving the universal harmony. That, can be perceived, even in the midst of great pain, if you will humble yourself and stay centered in it.

This Would Make Us Truly Great

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This Would Make Us Truly Great

Where I think we make our mistake is that we talk about greatness, without talking about humility. Because Lao Tzu has told us to be like the Tao, today’s chapter, stressing how the Tao’s humility is what makes it truly great, is a lesson for each of us.

From the center of the circle, the great Tao flows everywhere, and in all directions. All things are born from it; but notice this distinction, it doesn’t create them. There is a very different relationship between a creator and its creatures. Creators rightly assume ownership over what they create. But, the Tao is not like that. As it flows, it pours itself (its very essence) into its work; yet, it makes no claim of ownership. Having given birth to infinite worlds, it continues its work by nourishing them. Yet, it doesn’t hold on to them. Every being remains free, sovereign. The Tao is merged with all things and hidden in our hearts. Thus, the Tao is humble. It is its humility which makes it great. All things vanish into the Tao, until it alone endures. The Tao has no conscious awareness of its greatness. It simply is what it is. That is what makes it truly great.

Can we, too, simply be what we are? Not seeking glory. Not seeking power. Not seeking anything. Because if we can, then we, too, can be truly great.

I Will Endure

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)

I Will Endure

Today, we are going to take a step back from what we have been talking about the last few days. It is far too easy for me to get on my bandwagon about politics, and proceed to rush on ahead. Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love to go on and on about people in power. I love to call out our leaders and would-be leaders on their horrible schemes. But, quite frankly, it is all too easy to know others, though it does require intelligence. What requires wisdom is knowing yourself. And, while I delight in showing my mastery over others, because it demonstrates strength, I know that to master myself is wherein lies true power.

That has been my occupation for the last, I’d say, four or so years. Knowing and mastering myself. I can’t yet say I have arrived, though. There is still more of me to know, more of me to master.

I will say I did, and still do, realize I have enough. Oh, how huge this was, and is! It has made me truly rich. And, it doesn’t have a thing to do with my bank account. It isn’t based on anything outside of myself. I have enough! I have everything I need. I remind myself of this every single day. I have to. And, I have decided to stay in the center of the circle, come what may. I will admit I am not so keen on the idea of embracing death with my whole heart. But, I will say, the longer I stay in the center of the circle, the less death concerns me. Will I endure forever? I don’t know about that. Forever is an awfully long time. But, what if we didn’t think of forever in terms of time? What if I just contented myself with embracing being in the present moment? Now, I can say that whatever “forever” may mean, I will endure.

The Onus is On Us

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)

The Onus is On Us

If only 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. That, my friends, is a welcome change, from my tone in the previous two chapters. I took Hillary to task, in a big way. But she is just an easy target. All powerful men and women are just like her. It is the will to power which corrupts them. Should I cut them some slack? The Tao, after all, can’t be perceived. It is smaller than an electron.

No, I don’t think I should cut them any slack. While the Tao can’t be perceived, it doesn’t need to be perceived. It contains uncountable galaxies; its manifestations are readily perceivable. All one has to do to be centered in the Tao, and to remain centered in it, is to will one’s self to be humble, instead of seeking ever more power.

I am not holding my breath waiting on the powerful to do that, however. They don’t get it. But, we should.

And so, the onus is on us. If we want all things to be in harmony, if we want the world to become a paradise, if we want all people to be at peace, if we want the law written in their hearts, all things, inevitably, have their end in the Tao, just like rivers flow into the sea.

But, we need to know when to stop to avoid danger. They don’t. That is obvious. And, elections aren’t going to change anything. That, too, should be obvious. But, we still need to know what needs to stop, and when to stop, because we are headed toward great danger.

Where there are names and forms, know that they are provisional. And, as for our many institutions? We need to know when it is time for their functions to end.

I know what a tall order this is. Those of us who seem to understand these things, also are quite aware of how small a minority we are in the world. I take encouragement from those who have gone before us, Lao Tzu might call them ancient masters, and describe their appearance. I have taken to quoting their words.

Samuel Adams is one. He encourages us with these words: “It does not take a majority to prevail… but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen on setting brush fires of freedom in the minds of men.” The purpose of my blog is to be one of those “brush fires of freedom”. And, if I may be allowed to paraphrase Winston Churchill, “I will never, never, never, never give up.”

I hope you, my friends, will, likewise, persevere.

My Litmus Test for Decency

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)

My Litmus Test for Decency

Yesterday, we talked about violence – and fear. I even let myself get carried away by my own fears about those who thrive on perpetrating violence around our world. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu identifies weapons as the tools of both violence and fear. That is why my own litmus test for decency is that our would-be leaders detest them, and avoid them, except in direst necessity; and then, only to use them with the utmost restraint once compelled.

Peace should be our highest value; and if the peace has been shattered, we should not be content. The image of our soon to be elected president clapping her hands excitedly while expressing her giddiness over the brutal killing of Muammar Ghaddafi is something so etched in my mind, I don’t think I will ever be able to get over it. Our enemies are not demons. They are human beings just like us. What? Am I supposed to exempt Hillary from that basic requirement for being a decent human being. Why wish fellow human beings personal harm? Why rejoice in victory? How could she, how could we, delight in the slaughter of men (and women, and children). Or, is it okie dokey if we, or our surrogates, do it?

A decent person would enter a battle gravely. Yes, sometimes there are battles we have to enter. Direst necessity has compelled us to enter. Not imperialistic dreams. Not profit. Sorrow and great compassion accompany us as we enter these places of death and dismemberment. Decent people know how to behave at a funeral; and especially so, when it is they who have participated in bringing about the death and destruction.

When I Let Fear Move Me

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)

When I Let Fear Move Me

Back in chapter thirteen of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu told us hope is as hollow as fear. Hope and fear are both phantoms that arise from thinking of the self. And, when we don’t see the self as self, then what do we have to fear?

I get it. Really, I do. It is something that has sustained me throughout this US presidential election campaign, as Hillary has used fear of Trump to try to get those of us who respond to fear to support her campaign. But, what of those who fear Hillary? What if my fear isn’t due to my thinking of the self, but thinking of the world, as Lao Tzu told us to do in chapter thirteen.

If those who wished to govern us relied on the Tao in governing us, then we would truly have nothing to fear. My fears, for our world, stem from the reality that they don’t. For if they did, they wouldn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Try all you want to convince me Hillary isn’t a warmonger. I am neither blind, nor deaf. Her record and her rhetoric make it quite clear.

For every force there is a counter force. This is elementary physics. It is something we all should have learned as children out on the playground. But Hillary loves bombs. And, just in case anyone thinks this is an endorsement of Trump, I don’t want his fingers anywhere near our weapons of mass destruction, either. Violence, whether well intentioned or not, always rebounds upon one’s self.

Some how, some way, we are going to have to come to the conclusion that violence cannot be an option to which we ever resort. “Oh, but they aggressed against us first!” Sure. And, American foreign policy, every foreign intervention, every war, has also been played out as though we were the victims. Even though the reality has always been that we provoked whatever attacks were made against us, and we responded back multiplied-fold.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Cold War was supposed to be over. Any real threat of complete and utter annihilation of our whole planet by a full-scale nuclear war should have been relegated to the past. But, warmongers could never be happy with that. Our foreign policy, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, has seen the expansion of NATO. Why? When disbanding it was the obvious sane response to our winning the Cold War.

But now, it is like the Cold War never ended; and the potential for World War III, seems all but guaranteed to be started soon after the inauguration of the newly crowned ruler of the “free” world.

Oh, how my fears have moved me! I want to believe they are mere phantoms. I really do.

Good God, man, get a hold of yourself!

Observe the turmoil of beings, yes. But, don’t allow yourself to be caught up in the turmoil. Contemplate how all beings return to the Source. That is serenity.

Do your job and then stop. Understand that the universe is forever out of control. Trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep breathing. Stay in the center of the circle. Let all things, including this thing, take their own course.

If you believed in yourself, you wouldn’t try to convince others. If you were content with yourself, you wouldn’t need others’ approval. If you accepted yourself, the whole world would accept you.

Okay.

I am at peace, again, in the center of the circle.

But, that doesn’t change the laws which govern our universe. Violence always rebounds on those who are violent. For every force there is a counter force. If you were to rely on the Tao in governing, both yourself and others, you wouldn’t try to force issues.

Avoiding Extremes, Residing at the Center

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)

Avoiding Extremes, Residing at the Center

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu explained how yin and yang need to be worked with to form a proper relationship for individuals with our world. Why is this so important? Because, there are those who, if given power, will try to improve the world. The balancing of yin and yang nips that notion in the bud. The world is sacred! And, it cannot be improved. Tampering with it, only causes ruin. Treating it like an object, only results in its loss. That is my worry when I hear those who chart out their plans for trying to control things, rather than letting them go their own way. It is so much better to let yin and yang balance things out.

There is a time for being ahead, but there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion, but there is also a time for being at rest. There is a time for being vigorous, but over exertion brings on exhaustion. There is a time for being safe; but, if we aren’t careful, and try to force things, we will bring grave danger upon ourselves.

See things as they are. And, accept that the way things are is the way things are. This is sacred. Don’t touch it. Don’t tamper with it. Don’t try to control. Let it be, when you are behind; and you will soon enough be ahead. Rest when you need to rest; and you can be in motion when it is time for motion. When you are exhausted, it is because you were overly vigorous. Rest. Rest. Beware of extremes. Reside at the center of the circle.

How We Relate to Our World

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)

How We Relate to Our World

Speaking as one individual, who seeks to be a master in my relationship with the world around me, I will say that the importance of the message of the last few days can not be over-emphasized. How we relate to our own world, the people in our own world, is second only to how we relate to the Tao, and to our true selves. It is the natural response to our discovering the Tao inside our true selves.

In today’s chapter Lao Tzu explains how the marriage of yin and yang always brings us back, returning us to our origin. Know the male, yet keep to the female; know the bright, yet keep to the dark; know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal; these are simply different ways of saying know the yang, yet keep to what is yin.

We do need to be well acquainted with what is yang. because it is a vital principle in the nature of things, and in our own nature. Yang, our masculine or positive side, is active, hot. But where would we be without the balancing vital principle of yin? Yin, our feminine or negative side, is passive, cold. The Master understands how they interact, how dependent on each other they truly are. The Master is both yang, spontaneous, and yin, intuitive, in how they relate to our world.

They receive the world, as if, in their arms. And, the Tao never leaves them, as though they were a little child. They are a pattern, an example for the whole world. See how strong the Tao is in them? There is nothing they can’t do. And, it is because they accept the world, as it is, that the Tao is luminous inside them, as they return to their primal self.

Returning to our primal self, reminds us that the world is formed out of a great void, a great emptiness. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Those utensils are what we can make of that block of wood. But, they are only one thing we can make from that block of wood. That is why the Master keeps coming back to that uncarved block. What will it become? What will I become? I am ready to be used by the Tao. All things are possible. All things can be used.

The Great Secret

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)

The Great Secret

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how the Master travels. No matter how splendid the views may be, master travelers stay serene in the core of their being. Are you a good traveler, like the Master? Having no fixed plans, and not intent upon arriving? How about a good artist? Master artists let their intuition lead them wherever it wants. And, are you a good scientist? Have you freed yourself of concepts; do you keep your mind open to what is?

To be good, virtuous, is to be available to all people, and never have to reject anyone. To be ready to use all situations, without ever wasting a thing. To be good, virtuous, is to embody the light. That is another thing Lao Tzu talked about in yesterday’s chapter. Letting the heavy be the root of the light. Letting the unmoved be the source of all your movement.

But, what if I am bad at this? That is a good question. We aren’t all good travelers. Good artists. Good scientists. What if you are bad? Then, you are an apprentice in need of a master. Seek out a master, someone who is good, who can be your teacher. You, are their job. It is why it is so important for the good to be available to all people, and never reject anyone. To be ready to use all situations, and never waste a thing. It isn’t a question of intelligence. It doesn’t matter how intelligent you are. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, you will stay lost. It is the great secret.

Just Going Along for the Ride

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)

Just Going Along for the Ride

In yesterday’s chapter Lao Tzu described how the Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things – itself. This is a great mystery, but it makes the Tao the greatest of the four great powers. The universe follows it, making it the second of the four great powers. And, the earth follows it, making it the third of the four great powers. And then, Lao Tzu says that humans, following the earth, are the last of the four great powers. Today, he refers to us as lords, wondering why the lord of the country would flit about like a fool.

Why, indeed?

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

The heavy, Lao Tzu tells us, is the root of the light. And, the unmoved is the source of all movement. Stand with both your feet on the ground. Go ahead, do it. Are you moving? It doesn’t seem like it. Gravity is holding you to the ground. You are unmoved; and yet, and yet, the earth is spinning on its axis at such a rate, that depending where you are standing you may be moving as fast as 1040 miles per hour. And, then there is the fact that the earth is hurtling through space (carrying us with it) at a speed of 66,600 miles per hour as it travels around the Sun. Or, consider that our Sun, with its solar system (that means us included), is traveling around the Milky Way galaxy at the mind-numbing speed of 558,000 miles per hour. But we aren’t finished yet. The Milky Way Galaxy, of which we are a very small part, is moving at an even faster clip through the Universe, 660,000 miles per hour. Talk about flowing! And, that isn’t to mention, because I have no idea how fast the whole universe is moving as it follows the Tao.

That which makes us heavy is the root of what makes us light. Be unmoved, and you will find it is the source of all movement. This is why the Master (a wise person in harmony with the Tao) is able to travel all day without ever leaving home. No matter how splendid the views may be (and it is Autumn, here, in the northern hemisphere; so the views are splendid), if we are wise, we will stay serene in the core of our being.

Be still. Don’t flit. Be unmoved. Let the earth take you along for the ride. We are just following the Tao. Just going with the flow.