A Light To All Nations

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we continue with Lao Tzu’s instructions to would-be leaders in the art of governing. If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao, and give up your need to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself. The problem when the will to power is in charge is that the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be. Leaders must be content to serve as an example, and not to impose their will. This takes self-restraint, the highest of virtues when it comes to governing. Yesterday, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish. The temptation is always great to poke, to meddle, to interfere, to intervene. This is especially true when it comes to the problem of evil. I said, yesterday, that there is a symbiotic relationship between evil and the will to power. They give each other something to oppose. Lao Tzu wants us to center our country in the Tao. Then evil will have no power.

Today, Lao Tzu explains what centering your country in the Tao looks like. It happens when great leaders practice self-restraint, that is, true humility in governing. He begins by returning to his favorite metaphor to talk about the practice of the Tao, water. The greater the power of a country, the greater its need for humility. It is like the sea, all streams run downward into it. What makes the sea powerful is its position beneath all streams. And, if a nation wants its greatness to endure, it needs to be humble, just like the sea. Lao Tzu even goes so far as to explain what he means by humility. Humility means trusting the Tao. Hearkening back to what he said, yesterday, about not giving evil something to oppose, he says trusting the Tao means never needing to be defensive.

Just like a great nation must learn to trust the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive, so to a great man. When a great man makes a mistake, he realizes it. But that isn’t the end of it. Having realized it, he admits it. But that isn’t the end of it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. A great man considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. This is powerful! Can you think of anyone in Washington that would humble themselves enough to put this into practice? Any of the presidential candidates? No, they are slow to realize a mistake, quick to blame others for it, and choose damage control over correcting their own mistakes. Asking their closest advisers, “How can I spin this?” They surround themselves with “yes” men, sycophants. A truly great man would think of his enemy as only the shadow that he himself casts. But I don’t see that kind of humility in our so-called leaders. They, instead, are ever looking outside of themselves for enemies, with the intent to destroy them.

How very different is a nation which is centered in the Tao. Because it nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others, it is a light to all nations in the world.

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