It is Time to Stop

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

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

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

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

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

It is Time to Stop

In yesterday’s blog post, I argued that peace is the highest value, that it is impossible for us to be content if the peace has been shattered. It is the way things are, and can’t be avoided. There will be repercussions when we use force to get our way. When we use violence, we should expect that to rebound on us. It will. We talked about things to avoid, yesterday. But, what things should we affirm? That is the subject of today’s chapter.

I realize it is wise to tread lightly when it comes to the positive side of things. Libertarians, such as myself, tend to focus more on the negative. Things not to do. And, less on the positive. Things to do. And, with good reason. That reason is the same issue of force we have been talking about for days now. I can’t force this. You can’t force this. No matter how good our intentions. No matter how much we may think we know better.

The Tao, the way things are, is so infinitesimally small, and yet it contains countless galaxies. How can we even wrap our minds around that? How could we center ourselves in that, and then stay centered?

Stephen Mitchell’s translation brings up powerful men and women with good reason, also. It is because powerful men and women have the most power (duh!) to do either harm or good. And, sadly, it is when their intentions are the most good, they do the most harm. They can’t force this, either. All the power they have attained is never going to be enough to do anything but great harm.

This is why the positive side of things, the things to do, seem like doing nothing, to sit back and let things happen, without trying to control them.

But, I already said that it isn’t that nothing gets done. It is doing without doing we are talking about, here.

Oh, if only the powerful could master that. Then, 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.

This is being in harmony with the way things are. With peace being our highest value because peace is the highest value.

So, I said we had already covered the things to avoid, and today is going to be about the things to affirm.

And, here it is. Know that names and forms are only provisional. Know when the functions of institutions should end. Know when to stop. I know, I know, this affirming is still focusing on getting back to the yin side of things, when we are still wanting to go all yang all over the place. But, if we know when to stop, we can avoid any danger.

That is what we need to be affirming. That it is time to stop. Just like rivers stop, when they flow into the sea.

The Highest Value

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)

The Highest Value

We finished up last week with a physics lesson: For every force there is a counter force. Violence always rebounds upon the violent. Make up all the excuses for resorting to it you want. Insist that your intentions are good, that your violence is justified. It doesn’t change the laws of physics. The way things are cannot be avoided, and there will be repercussions. That brings us to today’s chapter.

Violence is something we should avoid. It is something we should detest. So, how should we feel about weapons, which are the tools of violence?

Being the tools of violence, we should, likewise, detest them. Stephen Mitchell’s translation makes it a litmus test of human decency. Not detesting them might not make us less than human, but it certainly makes us less than decent humans.

Weapons are the tools of fear. And, fear makes people do things, just like violence does. Things they wouldn’t otherwise do. It forces them. It backs them in a corner. That whole force and counter force thing comes into play again. The only way to avoid the repercussions, is to avoid the tools which produce the repercussions. That is why decent people avoid using weapons, except in the direst necessity. Direst necessity may compel them, but even then, they will only use them with the utmost restraint.

Is that too high a standard? I mean, we have been talking for thousands of years of people simply treating other people like they want to be treated. It has been referred to as the golden rule for ages. And, all of the time, I find myself asking myself, “Why is this so hard? Why can’t people just behave decently with each other?” And, there is always someone who comes along, and hears me muttering to myself. And, they tell me, “People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Don’t be so naive. If you want people to do the right thing, you are going to have to force them.”

But, isn’t that what has gotten the world into the mess it is in? Trying to force things? Trying to control?

So, whether it is naive, or not, I will continue to insist, peace should be our highest value. And, even if no one else agrees with me, all decent people should.

Look, I am not about to force you to agree with me. All I am saying is what I know in my heart to be true. Peace is the highest value! Take just a moment to reread that last sentence. What exactly does that mean?

I think it means this; It is the absence of peace, the shattering of the peace, which is the cause of the world’s discontent. How can we be content?

I keep returning to this one particular theme: The way things are cannot be avoided. The world and our selves have this symbiotic relationship. Whether we see it or not, our selves and the world are one. All us beings are one. We all have a common source.

So, when the peace has been shattered, and forces are pushing and pulling us this way and that, trying to get us to see our fellow human beings as enemies, as demons… well, who could be content with that? No decent human being.

Our enemies are not demons! They are fellow human beings, just like ourselves. They have the same hopes and fears. They are just as easy to manipulate into hating us, as we are into hating them. So, stop with the force, which always results in counter force. Put an end to the use of violence.

Don’t wish anyone personal harm. And, never, never rejoice in victory. What is victory, anyway, but the slaughter of our brothers and sisters? Who delights in that?

Some time we will be compelled to take up arms. We will be forced to use the tools of violence and fear. When that time comes, enter the battle gravely. Like you were attending a cherished family member’s funeral. Because you are. It is a time of great sorrow. And, the only way to endure it is with great compassion.

There Will Be Repercussions

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)

There Will Be Repercussions

There were laws at work, governing our universe, long before Sir Isaac discovered them. And, while the physics textbooks give credit to Newton for discovering them, and I don’t mean to take anything away from Sir Isaac’s discovery, but long before Newton had his “Eureka!” moment (while watching an apple fall from a tree), Lao Tzu perceived the laws governing our universe, and penned his own theory. The way things are, the Tao; for every force there is a counter force.

If you are relying on the Tao in governing, you won’t try to force issues, or defeat enemies by force of arms. Violence, even if it is done with the best of intentions, always rebounds upon the one perpetrating the violence.

I appreciate Stephen Mitchell’s translation, I really do. But, it almost seems like it could have come right out of a physics textbook. Red Pine’s translation just has a more poetic feel to me.

“Use the Tao to assist your lord

don’t use weapons to rule the land

such things have repercussions

where armies camp

brambles grow

best to win then stop

don’t make use of force

win but don’t be proud

win but don’t be vain

win but don’t be cruel

win when you have no choice

this is to win without force

virility leads to old age

this isn’t the Tao

what isn’t the Tao ends early”

That sure is a lesson I wish our rulers took to heart.

President Trump wasted no time taking up the use of force where his predecessor left off. Any hopes that he was going to scale back the violence have been nipped in the bud. Will we ever learn?

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “A kingdom’s ruler is like a person’s heart: when the ruler acts properly, the kingdom is at peace. When the heart works properly, the body is healthy. What enables them to work and act properly is the Tao. Hence, use nothing but the Tao to assist the ruler.”

LI HSI-CHAI, quoting MENCIUS (7B.7) says, “‘If you kill someone’s father, someone will kill your father. If you kill someone’s brother, someone will kill your brother.’ This is how things have repercussions.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The external use of soldiers and arms returns in the form of vengeful enemies. The internal use of poisonous thoughts come back in the form of evil rebirths.”

WANG CHEN, paraphrasing SUNTZU PINGFA (2.1), says, “To raise an army of a hundred thousand requires the daily expenditure of a thousand ounces of gold. And an army of a hundred thousand means a million refugees on the road. Also, nothing results in greater droughts, plagues, or famines than the scourge of warfare. A good general wins only when he has no choice, then stops. He dares not take anything by force.”

MENCIUS says, ‘Those who say they are great tacticians or great warriors are, in fact, great criminals.” (MENCIUS: 7B.2-3)

I really like that Mencius, dude.

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “To win means to defeat one’s enemies. To win without being arrogant about one’s power, to win without being boastful about one’s ability, to win without being cruel about one’s achievement, this sort of victory only comes from being forced and not from the exercise of force.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who possess the Tao prosper and yet seem poor. They become full and yet seem empty. What is not virile does not become old and does not die. The virile die. This is the way things are. Using an army to control the world represents the height of strength. But it only hastens old age and death.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “Once plants reach their height of development, they wither. Once people reach their peak, they grow old. Force does not prevail for long. It isn’t the Tao. What is withered and old cannot follow the Tao. And what cannot follow the Tao soon dies.”

WU CH’ENG says, “Those who possess the Way are like children. They come of age without growing old.”

And finally, the old Master himself, LAO-TZU says, “Tyrants never choose their death.” (Taoteching: 42)

Now back to the physics textbook, hehe. Stephen Mitchell tells us the Master understands the universe is forever out of control, that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.

We need to believe in ourselves; because, if we believed in ourselves we wouldn’t try to convince others.

We need to be content with ourselves; because, if we were content with ourselves we wouldn’t need others’ approval.

For the last couple of days we talked about accepting the world. But, Lao Tzu also told us to see the world as ourselves. So, it isn’t exactly surprising to see Stephen Mitchell ending this chapter with the need to accept ourselves. Why? The whole world will accept us.

The Way Things Are Cannot Be Avoided

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)

The Way Things Are Cannot Be Avoided

Why do millions of people, worldwide, take to the streets? I talked, yesterday, about the protest over this last weekend, and I guess I am still on that kick. The reason people take to the streets in protest, I would presume, is these millions of people want to do something about the mess in which they perceive the world to be. And, I even agreed the world is kind of messed up right now. Looking back at that statement, that might rank as one of the more understated things I have said in a long time… Of course, humankind are problem solvers. When we perceive a problem, we want to try to fix it. If there is something wrong, a flaw of any sort, we can fix it, right? We can improve the world?

Not so fast! Hold on there! “Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done.”

And, before anyone begins to get all defensive, and suggest I am just saying we ought to do nothing, give me just a moment to once again, explain what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing.

It doesn’t mean nothing gets done. It is actually doing without doing. And, all things do get done. It all just happens in the most natural of ways. Effortlessly. And, without force.

I think Red Pine’s translation is very helpful, right about here.

“Trying to govern the world with force

I see this not succeeding

the world is a spiritual thing

it can’t be forced

to force it is to harm it

to control it is to lose it

sometimes things lead

sometimes they follow

sometimes they blow hot

sometimes they blow cold

sometimes they expand

sometimes they collapse

sages therefore avoid extremes

avoid extravagance

avoid excess”

The world is a spiritual thing. Stephen Mitchell calls it sacred. It can’t be forced. That is what Stephen Mitchell means when he says it can’t be improved. Don’t force it, don’t tamper with it. Don’t try to control it, don’t treat it like an object. You will harm it, you will ruin it. You will lose it.

We need to remember where humankind fits in the grand scheme of things. What should our relationship to the world be? We are one of the four great powers, yes! But, we are not greater than the world. Our greatness is subject to our following, or imitating, the world. We need to see the world as ourselves; we should love it, and have faith in the way things are. We can receive the world in our arms, we can be a pattern for it; but, we need to accept the world as we accept the way things are.

This, doing without doing, Stephen Mitchell calls a time for being. And, that relates to yin and yang (of course!).

SU CH’E says, “The interchange of yin and yang, of high and low, of great and small is the way things are and cannot be avoided. Fools are selfish. They insist on having their own way and meet with disaster. Sages know they cannot oppose things. They agree with whatever they meet. Thy eliminate extremes and thereby keep the world from harm.”

WU CH’ENG says, “How do those who gain control of the world keep the world from harm? Sages understand that things necessarily move between opposites but that there is a way to adjust this movement. Things that prosper too much must wither and die. By keeping things from prospering too much, they keep them from withering and dying.”

I implore you to reread those last two quotes again and again. Look where our interfering gets us. See things as they are, without trying to control them. Let them go their own way. There is both a positive and a negative side to these things. Things we don’t want to wither and die, that we try to force to prosper more, end up withering and dieing. And those things we want to wither and die, that we try to keep from prospering, never do wither and die. That is why Red Pine’s translation says to avoid extremes, avoid extravagance, avoid excess. And, Stephen Mitchell’s says, reside at the center of the circle.

Our Selves and the 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)

Our Selves and the World

Just last Friday, in chapter 25, Lao Tzu told us, humankind is one of the four great powers; because, we follow (or imitate) the Earth as it follows the universe as it follows the Tao. But, that wasn’t the first time Lao Tzu talked about the importance of the relationship between ourselves and the world. Back in chapter 13, he enjoined us to see the world as ourselves, and love the world as ourselves, having faith in the way things are.

Quite frankly, the world seems kind of messed up right now. What, with millions of people worldwide taking to the streets over the last weekend. And, I am going to be honest here (why not, I always am on my blog), I am feeling rather bittersweet about this particular protest. Look, I get protesting the despicable things Trump has said. I am not about to dismiss it as “just locker room talk”, and say it doesn’t really matter. It matters, it does. But, I don’t get why these same people didn’t have it in them to protest the despicable things our leaders, and wanna be leaders, have done. I always was taught actions speak louder than words. And, it just isn’t cool, to me, that certain people seem to get a free pass when it comes to the actual killing of innocents (men, women, and children; and the poorest, the most vulnerable, at that). That kind of despicable action isn’t worthy of protest?… Just being honest, here. I don’t get it. And, I just think the world could really use some loving right now. Our selves and the world need some reconciliation.

That is where today’s chapter comes in. How can we receive the world in our arms and be like a little child again? How can we be a pattern for the world? Can we accept the world, just as it is, having faith in the way things are?

Know the male, yet keep to the female; know the light, yet keep to the dark; know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. What Lao Tzu is doing, here, is treading that fine line of balance between yang and yin. And, right now, things in the world are way out of balance. Way too much yang, and not enough yin. We need to know yang. Definitely! We need to be knowledgeable of how destructive all yang, without any yin to balance things out, can be. More yang only takes us that much further away from the Tao. Yin brings us closer. So, keep to yin. The Tao will never leave you. It will be strong, even luminous, inside of you. And, there will be nothing you can’t do, as you return to your primal self.

Remember how the world was formed. It came from the void, out of emptiness. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, but keeps to the block.

Yes, I read through Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter. That has become part of my routine, of late. In the commentary, SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says of that block of wood, “Before a block of wood is split, it can take any shape. But once split, it cannot be round if it is square or straight if it is curved. Lao Tzu tells us to avoid being split. Once we are split, we can never return to our original state.”

We want to be like the Master, able to use all things.

On Embodying the Light

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)

On Embodying the Light

In today’s chapter, let us remember, when Lao Tzu talks about good, he is not talking about a subjective good; one involving some kind of judgment, where some people see some things as good, and other things become bad. It is an objective good he is referring to, here. And, the bad we will get to in the last stanza is an objective bad.

He isn’t telling travelers, artists, or scientists, how to be good travelers, artists, or scientists. He is telling you and me how to be good. How to be available to all people, without rejecting anyone. How to be ready to use all situations, without wasting anything. In a sense, he is saying we are all fellow travelers, artists, and scientists.

Remember what Lao Tzu said yesterday. “The heavy is the root of the light.” We need to get back to the root to embody the light.

I read through Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter, and two things stood out to me. It was in the commentary by two different Chinese Taoists.

LU TUNG-PIN says, “‘Good’ refers to our original nature before our parents were born. Before anything develops within us, we possess this goodness. ‘Good’ means natural.”

And, WANG PI says, “These…tell us to refrain from acting and to govern things by relying on their nature rather than on their form.

It is only by practicing this goodness, naturally, that we will “return to the root from which we all began”.

But, what if we are bad at it?

Here is where the importance of being good comes into play. Why it is so vital to be available to all people and reject no one. Why we need to be ready to use all situations, and not waste a one.

What is a good person, a Master, but a bad person’s teacher? What is a bad person, but a good person’s job?

If you are good, you have a responsibility to others to be available; to not have your plans be rigid, to not be intent upon arriving, you need to let your intuition lead you wherever it wants, you need to be free of concepts, and keep your mind open to what is.

And, if you are bad, you have a responsibility to yourself; to learn from those who are available to you.

Understand, this is an objective responsibility, not a subjective one. This is a matter of returning to your root. Relying on nature. No one should, or even could, force this. Not even yourself.

But, this is the reason we get lost. We don’t understand. It isn’t a matter of intelligence, for it was our root “before our parents were born”. And, our intelligence was developed long after. Our intelligence often gets in the way of rediscovering our root. It is a great secret. But, if we are to embody the light, it starts with knowing we don’t know.

Getting Back to the Root

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)

Getting Back to the Root

Last week began and ended with us talking about the ungraspable, dark and unfathomable, Tao; before time and space were, beyond is and is not. And, in between, we talked about being content with being less; for it is only then, we can become more. In my commentary on Friday, I quoted a few of the Chinese Taoists. One of them, Sung Ch’ang-Hsing, said of the Tao, “We would do better returning to the root from which we all began.” Getting back to the root is our segue into today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu, again, talks about what is beyond is and is not.

“The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement.” This statement has “beyond is and is not” written all over it. And, I know how daunting that makes “returning to the root from which we all began”. But, you don’t have to make it so. It is so much better, so much simpler, to just let it happen. That was what Lao Tzu was talking about in those “in between” chapters last week.

How do they do it? That sounds vaguely familiar. But, Lao Tzu points at the Master for a reason: To be our example.

“Thus the Master travels all day without leaving home.” Yes, more is and is not. No matter where you are, however near or far you roam, “however splendid the views”, stay serenely in yourself. That old adage, “Home is where the heart is” is apt, here.

In the last chapter, Lao Tzu called humankind one of the four great powers. That makes us lords. So, today, Lao Tzu asks the question, “Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?”

Why, indeed? We have that which is heavy, as our root. The unmoved is, as it should be, the source of all movement. So, why would we let ourselves be blown to and fro? We would lose touch with our root. Why let restlessness move us? We would lose touch with who we are.

Why? Why? Well, if we are struggling with this very thing, if we have lost touch with our root, if we have lost touch with who we really are, it is time to get back in touch, to remember, and return to our common source. We don’t have to be blown to and fro.

Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will talk some more about what it means to be a good traveler; and along with that, what it means to be a good artist and a good scientist. We will talk about what to do if we are bad at these things, too. So, come back tomorrow.

A Departure for Me, But I Won’t Wander Far

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

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

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

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

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

A Departure for Me, But I Won’t Wander Far

In my commentary, today, I am going to be doing things a bit differently than I normally do. I mentioned, previously, I had recently purchased a “new to me” translation of the Tao Te Ching, by Red Pine. Thank you #westdesertsage for recommending it to me. The revised edition I purchased is copyright 2009. I am going to be quoting extensively from this translation, today. In it, Red Pine includes selected commentaries from the past 2,000 years by various Chinese Taoists. I will be referencing those as well. It is going to be a lot less of me, and a lot more of them. I just figured if I was going to expect anyone to take me seriously, when I say to accept being less to become more, that I best put that into practice.

Red Pine’s translation of chapter 25:

“Imagine a nebulous thing

here before Heaven and Earth

subtle and elusive

dwelling apart and unconstrained

it could be the mother of us all

not knowing its name

I call it the Tao

forced to describe it

I describe it as great

great means ever-flowing

ever-flowing means far-reaching

far-reaching means returning

the Tao is great

Heaven is great

Earth is great

the ruler is also great

the realm contains Four Greats

of which the ruler is but one

Humankind imitates Earth

Earth imitates Heaven

Heaven imitates the Tao

and the Tao imitates itself”

WU CH’ENG says, “”’Nebulous’ means complete and indivisible.”

SU CH’E says, “The Tao is neither pure nor muddy, high nor low, past nor future, good nor bad. Its body is a nebulous whole. In Humankind it becomes our nature. It doesn’t know it exists, and yet it endures forever. And within it are created Heaven and Earth.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “It dwells apart but does not dwell apart. It goes everywhere but does not go anywhere. It’s the mother of the world, but it’s not the mother of the world.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “The Tao does not have a name of its own. We force names upon it. But we cannot find anything real in them. We would do better returning to the root from which we all began.”

Standing beside a stream, CONFUCIUS sighed, “To be ever-flowing like this, not stopping day or night!” (Lunyu: 9.16).

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Although we say it’s far-reaching, it never gets far from itself. Hence, we say it’s returning.”

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao is great because there is nothing it does not encompass. Heaven is great because there is nothing it does not cover. Earth is great because there is nothing it does not support. And the king is great because there is nothing he does not govern. Humankind should imitate Earth and be peaceful and pliant, plant and harvest its grains, dig and discover its springs, work without exhaustion and succeed without a fuss. As for Earth imitating Heaven, Heaven is still and immutable. It gives without seeking a reward. It nourishes all creatures and takes nothing for itself. As for Heaven imitating the Tao, the Tao is silent and does not speak. It directs breath and essence unseen, and thus all things come to be. As for the Tao imitating itself, the nature of the Tao is to be itself. It does not imitate anything else.”

“WANG PI says, “If Humankind does not turn its back on Earth, it brings peace to all. Hence it imitates Earth. If Earth does not turn its back on Heaven, it supports all. Hence it imitates Heaven. If Heaven does not turn its back on the Tao, it covers all. Hence, it imitates the Tao. And, if the Tao does not turn its back on itself, it realizes its nature. Hence, it imitates itself.”

Okay, now I am back. I think that was very helpful. It was just a few short chapters ago (chapter 21) where Lao Tzu called the Tao ungraspable, dark and unfathomable; before time and space were, beyond is and is not. And the various commentators today certainly “grasped” that concept of the Tao. The only way for us to “imitate” the Tao is to be content to imitate the Earth.

I do want to add one final note, however.

Red Pine goes on to say, “The Chinese character for “ruler” (wang) shows three horizontal lines (Heaven, Humankind, Earth) connected by a single vertical line. Lao-Tzu’s point is that the ruler, being only one of the four great powers of the world, should not be so presumptuous of his greatness, for he depends on the other three.”

Now, wouldn’t it be nice if our rulers would take that lesson to heart, and not be so presumptuous?

Well, even if they won’t, we can.

How You Don’t Do It

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

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

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

How You Don’t Do It

Yesterday, we talked about how you do it. How do you open yourself to the Tao. How do you let yourself be lived by the Tao: accepting loss, accepting being less, being partial, being incomplete. Because it is only by being lived by the Tao that you can become your true self: more, full, complete. And, Lao Tzu said that when we open ourselves to the Tao, we can trust our natural responses, and everything will fall into place.

Being what comes naturally to us. It seems easy. Well, maybe it seems easier said than done.

But, it really is easy. And, it is far easier than trying to force it.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses a series of examples of people who try to force what should happen naturally. What should just fall into place. I like how I have seen it summed up in other translations, like Robert Brookes’, “These things are like having too much to eat, and are avoided by those who follow the Tao.” Maybe, because obesity seems to be such a problem in the West, we don’t avoid overeating like we should. But, the point is, we need to stop forcing, to let nature do its thing.

I have been guilty of doing all of these things. Like I said, yesterday, I don’t hold myself up as some paragon of virtue, here. I remember well, back in my childhood, when I wasn’t satisfied with my stature. My little brother wasn’t littler than me. And, that just wasn’t acceptable to me. Whenever we had family portraits taken, and that happened quite a lot, being as my dad was a photographer, I would find someway to stand on tiptoe for the pictures. Anyway that I could try to appear to be taller, but it sure wasn’t natural. And, looking back at old family portraits you can see how forced it was. I tried so hard. Go ahead and laugh. Hey, I was a late bloomer. I was only 4’ 6” when I got my drivers’ license at age 16. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it to 5 feet tall. Nature wasn’t in near the hurry that I was. But, you know what? It did happen, naturally. It just took longer than I wanted to wait for it to happen. I am now full grown. And, while maybe 5’ 8” isn’t tall enough for some, it suits me just fine.

But, like I said, I have been guilty of all of these things. I have tried to rush ahead, to outshine, to define myself, to have power over others, and I have clung to my work. It should go without saying what I reaped for what I sowed: I didn’t go far, I dimmed my own light, I didn’t know who I really was, I couldn’t empower myself, and I created nothing that endured.

I could waste time wallowing in self-pity because of my past foolishness. Instead, I choose to see those poor life choices as lessons learned. I know better, now. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, then let go.

How Do You Do It?

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it blows, there is only wind.
When it rains, there is only rain.
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao,
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao.
Then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How Do You Do It?

As I was reading through today’s chapter, it seemed to be the culmination of what we have been talking about for the last few days. We have been building, building, to this climax. It is as if my friend, who I talked with yesterday, had said to me, “So, how do you do it?”

And, I would simply shake my head. How do you do it? How do you put into practice doing without doing? It would help to begin with forgetting everything you think you know. Knowing you don’t know.

Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter with “Express yourself completely. Then keep quiet.” And, returning to my analogy from yesterday, about stepping into a stream of water, stirring up all the mud, and then waiting until the mud settles and the water is clear, expressing yourself completely doesn’t mean stomping around in the water until you get your need to express yourself, your need to do something, completely out of your system.

Oh, it might be tempting to think that would be helpful. But, Lao Tzu goes on to to tell us exactly what he means by expressing ourselves completely. And, the emphasis is on knowing when to keep quiet.

Our problem isn’t that we haven’t yet expressed ourselves completely. We expressed ourselves completely enough with that first step into the stream of water. Now, it is time to keep quiet. Our problem is we don’t stop there. We keep trudging on. Stomping through the water. Making our way less clear with each haphazard step.

That is why Lao Tzu tells us to be like the forces of nature. We have left behind doing things nature’s way. Nature is content. And, we aren’t.

“Be like the forces of nature: When it blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain. When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.” What does this mean? It means, nature knows when enough is enough. How to express itself completely, and then keep quiet. Yes, the wind blows, but it knows when to cease. Yes, the rain falls, but it knows when to stop. The clouds, however present they are, will pass; and the sun, which was there all along, will shine through.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the only way to become your true self is to be lived by the Tao.

To be at one with the Tao, you have to open yourself to the Tao. Then, you can embody it completely. To be at one with insight, you have to open yourself to insight. Then, you can use it completely.

“How do you do it?” Can you just keep quiet? Seriously, you have expressed yourself completely, already. Stop stomping around in the already stirred up water. Stop, look, listen, wait for it.

Being in the present moment means being ready for whatever life will bring you. And, that includes loss. You need to be able to accept that. Standing still, and waiting, opens yourself to loss. Like we were saying yesterday, be incomplete, be less. You need to accept and be at one with loss completely, to become more, whole, your true self.

I am not suggesting I am some paragon of virtue when it comes to these things. I don’t claim the title of Master for myself. But, I do know what it means to open myself to loss. I have experienced loss many times before. In fact, I am experiencing loss right at this present moment. I am not going to share my own personal business on here, because it is just that, personal. But, I can say, the only way to get through it is to accept it completely; to be so at one with it, that it can do its complete work in you. And, when the clouds do finally pass, the sun will shine through.

When you open yourself to the Tao, in this way, you can then trust your natural responses. Being like nature, doing what will come naturally to you, because you kept quiet, you were still, you waited for it. The right action to take will arise all by itself. It will happen spontaneously and intuitively. Everything will fall into place. Order will emerge, if we will only let it.