The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.
The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.
The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.
When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.
Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday’s chapter ended with the line, “When there is no desire, all things are at peace.” That led me to do a little word play: Know desire, no peace. No desire, Know peace. Lao Tzu has made it quite clear that it is our desire that gets in the way of us realizing the mystery of the way things are. One desire that stands out as, perhaps, the most troublesome one of them all is the will to power. It is why Lao Tzu returns time and again to reprimanding powerful men and women for their need to control, to interfere, to use force to accomplish the things they want to accomplish. The use of force runs counter to the Tao, because for every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself. That is the way nature works. If you want to be truly powerful, don’t try to be powerful. If you keep reaching for power, you will never have enough. If powerful men and women would (or could) humble themselves to the point of letting go of their desire to be in control, their will to power, and let things simply run their course, the whole world would be transformed all by itself, in its natural rhythms. There is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind, a time for being above and a time for being beneath. How little we seem to pay attention to what time it is!
I recently got a series of anonymous messages trying to convince me to “wake up” and realize I have plenty to fear. My anonymous messenger agreed with me that the Tao does nothing; but then parted ways with me by insisting, we must do something. Today’s chapter arrives right on schedule for me.
Must we really do something? The Master doesn’t. He does nothing, at all. Yet, he leaves nothing undone. This, of course, corresponds with yesterday’s chapter, in which Lao Tzu said, “The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.” I said, then, by centering ourselves in the Tao, we can simply ride the wave as all things are done. That is the Master’s secret. It is because he doesn’t try to be powerful, he doesn’t try to be in control, he doesn’t interfere with the Tao, he doesn’t try and force a particular outcome, he does nothing, that nothing is left undone. That is tapping into true power.
I want to be like the Master. So, when someone tells me that I must do something, I think, “Why would I want to be ordinary?” Ordinary men, you see them everywhere, but especially in seats of power, are always doing things. Busy, busy, busy. Yet, look at all the things that are left to be done. Perhaps, they will get to them tomorrow. No, tomorrow, they are busy doing things again, and still leaving many more to be done. Being ordinary just doesn’t have the same appeal to me as being like the Master. I would rather get to the end of my day, and find that nothing is left undone; than get to the end of my day, having many more things left to be done.
This desire to do something, afflicts people with the best of intentions. See that kind person over there? They are doing something. How good, how kind. Yet, something remains undone. And, look over there at that just person. They are doing something too. Oh, but they leave many things to be done. Don’t misunderstand what Lao Tzu is saying here. He isn’t saying there is anything wrong with practicing acts of kindness and justice. He is talking about the will to power, the desire to control, to interfere, to use force. This becomes clear, when the moral person does something.
Observe what happens when no one responds. Now, we get to see what is really motivating these doers of something. And, sadly, our world is full of examples of this. When no one responds, they roll up their sleeves and use more force. You see, I don’t really think that every one in seats of power have evil intentions. I just know that their good intentions don’t mean squat. Not when they won’t trust people and leave them alone. Not when they readily resort to force. Not when they are always reaching for more power, because they never have enough.
Our problem is simple. The Tao has been lost. For a time, there was goodness. But, then that was lost. So, for a time, there was morality. But, then that was lost. Now, there is only ritual, the husk of true faith. And, now, there is chaos.
Understanding our problem is our lost connection with the Tao, there is really only one thing to be done. We need to look deeper within ourselves. Scratching at the surface won’t suffice. Pay no attention to the flower, and attend to the fruit. Give up our will to power, and let all illusions go; dwell in the eternal reality.