The Tao is the center of the Universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.
Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.
Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
to teach him about the Tao.
Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
For the last five days, Lao Tzu has instructed would-be leaders in the art of governing. His instructions? Learn to follow the Tao. Trust the Tao. Center your whole country in it. Let go of your desire to control. Practice self-restraint in governing. Don’t try to force things. Don’t interfere in the affairs of others. Nourish your own people. Today, Lao Tzu directs his words to the rest of us. We aren’t all of us would-be leaders; most of us would be content to follow the example of a great leader.
I think what stands out to me in this chapter is how necessary it is that leaders are surrounded by those willing to offer the right kind of help. That would be you and me. Leaders need people around them that will point out their faults. They would be the leader’s most benevolent teachers. That is why, Lao Tzu says, when new leaders are chosen, don’t offer to help them with your wealth or expertise; instead, offer to teach them about the Tao.
If you thought, for even a moment, that you could leave it up to others to learn of the Tao; to just let them follow it and be an example of it, for you; and you were off the hook – well, you haven’t been paying attention. Lao Tzu doesn’t trust powerful men and women to do the right thing. And neither can we. If we want great leaders, we have our work cut out for us. It is up to us to teach them about the Tao. And that means we need to learn to follow the Tao, to be an example of it, for them, as well. You could say that it ends up we are all would-be leaders. If you took the last five days off from my blog, because you figured all those instructions were for those wanting to govern, you may just need to go back and read up on what Lao Tzu has been saying. After all, do you really think any of our would-be leaders have been paying attention? I don’t have that kind of audience. No, it is up to you, my readers, my friends, to teach would-be leaders what they need to know.
So, what does Lao Tzu want us to know about the Tao, today? What might it be helpful for would-be leaders to learn from us. Lao Tzu begins by saying that the Tao is the center of the Universe. Now, when he says the Tao is the center of the Universe, he isn’t talking about a physical location. Just like when he told us to center ourselves in it, and to center our country in it, he wasn’t talking about a physical location. He is talking about the Tao being the great Equalizer; the One that brings balance and harmony in the Universe. When we center ourselves, our country, in the Tao, we are letting the Tao bring balance and harmony in our lives. And then he goes on to say that the Tao is the good man’s treasure and the bad man’s refuge.
This is the most important thing you can learn about the Tao, today. It is why the ancient Masters esteemed the Tao, so much. When Lao Tzu is talking about good and bad people here, he isn’t talking about good and evil. What he insists, here, is that we are all one with the Tao. All beings in the Universe are one with the Tao. That may come as a shock to some of you. People sometimes want to elevate some over others. They want to believe that only a privileged few will ever achieve oneness with the Tao; the rest of us, well, we will just flounder.
But Lao Tzu says differently. We are all one with the Tao. Some of us may be better at it than others. You could say they are really good at being one with the Tao. While others aren’t nearly so good at it. You could say they are bad at it. But the Tao remains the same, and for all. Because you are one with the Tao, whether you are good or bad at it, when you seek, you find. And when you make a mistake, you are forgiven. The Tao is a treasure for those who seek it, and a refuge for those that make mistakes.
This is what we need to be teaching would-be leaders. They don’t need our wealth or our expertise. They don’t need honors or respect. They need to realize their oneness with the Tao. That is something that is beyond all value. They need to know that when they seek the Tao, they will find it. And, when they make mistakes, they will be forgiven. Honors can be bought with fine words, and respect with good deeds; but what the Tao offers us, is something that no one can achieve. Is it any wonder that those who realize their oneness with the Tao, love it so?