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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking about not-knowing. Of curing ourselves of all knowing. That is where our sense of awe is tested. When we know that we don’t know, we will experience awe on a pretty consistent basis. It isn’t that we fear the unknown, because fear is nothing but a phantom. It is that we know that we don’t know; and because we don’t know, everything we experience produces awe in us.
When we lose our sense of awe we are going to turn to some poor substitute for it. I am not bashing religion here. I am just saying that when we are no longer satisfied with not-knowing, we are going to be trying to find answers to life’s mysteries. In Lao Tzu’s day, the place to turn was religion. Today, we may be a bit more sophisticated; we turn to science. But I think Lao Tzu would have the same issue. You aren’t looking inside yourself; you are looking outside yourself, to some authority. You need to be trusting yourself, rather than depending on some outside authority.
Even the Master could be taken as someone outside ourselves, an authority we could trust. This is the danger when we no longer trust what we find inside ourselves. That is why the Master takes a step back. He doesn’t want there to be any confusion. This isn’t some new teaching you have to learn. Just look inside yourself and be what you find in yourself to be.