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)
Today, let’s take a step back. Yesterday, you will remember, we talked about the importance of healing ourselves of all knowing. Presuming we know is a disease. True knowledge is knowing not-knowing. That is what it means to be whole. But, today, we need to take a step back. Why? Because it is easy to get confused, right here.
After going on and on about how we shouldn’t rely on our own cleverness, it is easy to assume that we really can’t trust ourselves. And once we start down that road, we may start to seek out some outside authority, someone we hope we can depend on.
Because that is not what Lao Tzu is about, he decides it is time to take a step back, with today’s chapter. Knowing not-knowing should place us in a state of awe. Just like little children, who are so full of questions, because they know that they don’t know; and so, have an endless series of questions in their pursuit of knowledge. They are in a constant state of awe. Always seeing things like it was the first time.
Awe is a good thing. Being “lost” in the wonders of the Tao, is exactly the place you want to be. It is being in harmony with the Tao. And being in harmony with the Tao means that all your actions are effortless, intuitively flowing from the core of your being. There is no need to think about them. Your body doesn’t offer any resistances. You just go with the flow.
But what happens when we lose that sense of connection with the Tao? Confusion happens. Not immediately, because for awhile we are able to continue out of habit. But little by little, our minds start butting in, our bodies start to resist. Things that once flowed so easily, just don’t anymore. And, we start seeking out substitutes for our missing connection with the Tao.
That is what Lao Tzu is talking about when he talks about people losing their sense of awe and turning to religion. We are not bashing religion, here. Just pointing out that religion is one thing that people turn to, when they are looking for answers. We start looking outside ourselves for the answers, because we no longer believe we can trust ourselves. We start to depend on some outside authority. Maybe it is religion. Maybe it is the State.
The Master knows it is time to take a step back. Because this state of confusion is not going to end well. As you rely more and more on something outside of yourself, you will rely less on yourself. That only takes you further away from the Source, the Tao inside of you.
The Master serves as our example. He teaches without teaching, so people won’t have anything new to learn. Just by taking a step back, he is teaching us. Following that example we will see what we have always been. Remember, he says, remember. Go back to that.