Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.
If these three aren’t enough,
just stay in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we talked about the chaos that results when the great Tao is forgotten. It was a rather depressing chapter. I concluded my commentary by saying, “We need to start remembering. And the sooner we do, the better it will be.” Today, Lao Tzu offers us the way to go about remembering.
Keep in mind, just because the Tao has been forgotten, and people are stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, that doesn’t mean the Tao is not still, very much here. The Tao is not lost; only our connection to the Tao has been lost. The reason we best be remembering, is because the sooner we restore that sense of “connectedness”, the sooner we return to our natural state. Let there be no regrets for lost years. Some people, dare I say, most people, suffer from a lifetime of regrets. But we need to leave the past in the past, where it belongs. The Tao is always present. To realize where you come from is to be always present.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about the ways we contrive to go on with our living, having forgotten the Tao. They are poor substitutes, sure. Such things as goodness and piety, cleverness and knowledge, filial piety, patriotism – these are all signs of the turmoil that our lives are suffering. Today, we are on the road to recovery, a recovery of our connection, our harmony, with the Tao.
Today, Lao Tzu tells us (it seems, somewhat cavalierly), there are certain things we will simply need to throw away – if we want to restore that lost connection. The problem, Lao Tzu is addressing, is getting rid of our dependence on contrived and forced methods for living our lives. Holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. Some of these may be near and dear to a lot of my readers. The temptation to want to hold onto these things, rather than throwing them away, might be very strong. What is wrong with holiness and wisdom, with morality and justice, with industry and profit? I hear you asking. And, I sympathize. And the answer is, there wouldn’t be a thing wrong with any of them, if they flow voluntarily and naturally from the core of our being. The problem is, we have a blockage. You could think of it as some major constipation, if you wanted to think of it in those terms. That is certainly one metaphor you could use. Another, is less crude. Think of it like a blockage in your heart. These things don’t flow voluntarily and naturally from the core of our being. We are stopped up.
And some of you may think, “Of course, I understand that; but can’t we wait to throw them away until after they are no longer useful? Can’t we wait until after the blockage has been cured? Can’t we rely on these “crutches”, as we have been, for quite some time – until we regain our connection with the Tao?” But, even as you are asking these questions, you must already know the answer. Whether, or not, you realize it. Throwing them away, is the cure.
We can’t just wait for people to be a hundred times happier, before we throw away holiness and wisdom. We can’t just wait for people to do the right thing, before we throw away morality and justice. We can’t just wait until there are no more thieves, before we throw away industry and profit.
The question isn’t, “Can we get by with anything less than throwing them all away?” The question is, “Will even that, be enough?”
I want to reiterate that the Tao has gone nowhere. It is still where it has always been, deep within the core of your being. And as long as we insist on using these “crutches”, we will never “get well”. The only way to remember what we have lost, is to rid ourselves of all the poor substitutes we have contrived, for that which is lost.
I really need to add this about Lao Tzu’s list of throwaways. I used to have a love/hate relationship with these things; holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. When I came to this chapter in the Tao Te Ching, I would have this battle inside me, as I both loved and hated these things Lao Tzu said, must be thrown away. I wrestled, and I struggled. But, I have come to a new conclusion. You could say I had an epiphany, a revelatory moment. We have put all these things on a kind of pedestal. That is why we don’t want to give them up. And some of us just can’t see what could possibly be wrong with them. “Industry and profit” took me an especially long time to be willing to throw away. My epiphany came, when I realized (yes, there is that word, again) that these things, we have on the pedestal, are but ideas. They are intangibles. They aren’t real. What are any of these things? What is holiness and wisdom? What is morality and justice? What is industry and profit? What is it, apart from what you have been programmed to believe it is?
Because I had an especially hard time letting go of industry and profit, let me just talk about it. Let me assure you, you can do this exercise with all of them. I had become a sort of anti-capitalist capitalist. I want “freed markets”. So, I ask myself, “How do I work within our present system, a system of industry and profit, to get where I want to be?” Because, let’s be clear, our current system of industry and profit, is anything but, a free market economy. It may, or may not, be fair to call it capitalism. But I don’t have the energy or the time for that kind of debate. It simply doesn’t interest me. My only question is, “Can I can work within this system, to bring about a very different reality?” Once you start asking those kinds of questions honestly, I don’t think they are very hard to answer. Must industry and profit be thrown away, for there to be no more thieves? Duh! That is a no-brainer. The same is true, trust me, for all of Lao Tzu’s throwaways. We aren’t throwing away these ideas, we are throwing away the systems we have artificially put into place to promote these ideas. I hope that helps to clear up any confusion. If you are still confused, message me.
Now, to answer the question of whether, or not, throwing away our “crutches” will suffice, Lao Tzu only adds this: “Just stay in the center of the circle. Let all things take their course.” It sounds both, entirely too simple, and entirely too complicated. I have asked the question, “But, how?” so many times, I am rather ashamed. It is very simple. It is only difficult because we are approaching it from a completely different mindset. We refuse to throw away the refuse, the systems we have contrived. Staying in the center of the circle and letting all things take their course, is simply practicing knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. What makes it so difficult are the things we think we know; and, our addiction to being in control; the will to power, to force, to interfering. Stay in the center of the circle; that is, stop thinking, and stop doing. Let your mind empty and your core fill, to overflowing. Just realize where you come from, and you won’t stumble about in confusion and sorrow any longer.