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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I admit it. I wish I was much more eloquent with both my writing and my speaking. Since I started putting into practice Lao Tzu’s teachings, I started writing about it; hence, this blog. And I talk about it with anyone that I think might be willing to listen. But I am not very eloquent. I never think I quite say what I am wanting to say.
The writing is easier. I can just stand at my keyboard and type, uninterrupted, letting the words flow. I devote a couple of hours to it each day. Taking a chapter each day affords me the luxury of something to write about. Each chapter is a springboard for me.
But, when I encounter people, and start talking, I just seem to get tongue-tied. The words don’t come so easily. People want me to explain what philosophical Taoism is, and I know what it is. At least I think I do. Until words start stumbling out of my mouth, and it begins to not make any sense. I finally end up admitting defeat. I can’t tell you. But I can show you. At least I think I can. But that is going to take more time. And few want to take the time to be shown. They want soundbites. If it is over the 140 character limit on Twitter, they are gone.
Lao Tzu didn’t have my problem. But he did have some of the same reactions from people that I get on a pretty regular basis. Your teaching is nonsense! How do I respond to this? Nonsense? Really? Why do you think that? Tell me your thought process that brought you to that conclusion. Maybe it is nonsense to you. But how is it that I can see things so very differently? I want to make this nonsense make perfect sense to you. Really I do. Give me a chance. But seldom do I get that chance. If only I was more eloquent. Of course, Lao Tzu would tell me that I already have everything I need. Just look inside yourself, you’ll see. This nonsense makes perfect sense. Is it really that simple? Are we just not daring to look inside ourselves to see?
And then there are the people who say that this teaching is lofty. That sounds somewhat better than nonsense. But wait for it. It is lofty, yes; but it is impractical. You can’t really expect people to behave like this in our world today. And what I want to say is, “Now hold on there, have you ever tried to put this teaching into practice? Because I have. And I have found this loftiness has roots that go deep.” I always feel like I come across as a pompous know-it-all. And that is so not me. Why can’t I be better at saying what I am trying to say? I think I am trying too hard.
I do understand why people think this way. I mean in the last three days, alone, we have been talking about doing not-doing, knowing not-knowing, and if you want to be a great leader, try being humble, like water. Nonsense? Lofty but impractical? I can take these chapters one at a time. But trying to say all I want to say in a way that makes sense and is practical – that eludes me. I am making this way too hard.
Lao Tzu condenses it down to three things. This is it, folks. I just need to remember these three things. And leave all the rest to another day. Simplicity, patience, and compassion. That is it. Those three greatest treasures. If you understand this, you understand it all. If you have these, you have everything.
Keep it simple! Both in your actions and in your thoughts. I don’t need to be more eloquent. I just need to keep it simple. It is simplicity that brings you back to the source of being. And it isn’t like I am not practicing simplicity in both my actions and my thoughts when I am all by myself. I just need to keep being simple once I have an audience. It is sure hard to be simple when you are trying to be eloquent.
Be patient. With both your friends and your enemies. Once again, this is the soundest of advice for me. It is easy to be patient when you are all by yourself. But it is other people that you are going to encounter with whom you need to be patient. Like when they are saying that what you are saying is nonsense. Or, lofty but impractical. Be patient. Maybe it is me that is in too great a rush. Why am I feeling this pressure to convert others in 140 characters or less? Patience, Chuck, patience. That is the only way to accord with the way things are.
And Lao Tzu saves the most important one for last. Compassionate toward yourself. I expected it would be compassionate toward others. But it isn’t. Because Lao Tzu understands that we are going to mess up sometimes when it comes to how simple in actions and thoughts we are going to be. And that patience thing? With both friends and enemies? We are bound to fail at that sometimes. This third greatest treasure lets us rely on the Tao as a refuge for when we screw up. We need to be compassionate toward ourselves. It is then, that we can reconcile all beings in the world. And wasn’t that what I was working so hard at accomplishing? But it isn’t supposed to be so hard. It isn’t supposed to require great effort. And it can be effortless. It begins with looking inside myself. Then I put these three teachings into practice. And when I fail, I find forgiveness.