In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.
The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Is Lao Tzu beginning to sound like a broken record? This is at least the third time (really, I have lost count) he has talked about what harmony with the Tao looks like in our world. It is beautiful. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world like this? A clear and spacious sky, a solid and full earth, all creatures flourishing together, everyone content with the way things are, as they endlessly repeat themselves and are endlessly renewed. But we have very different ideas for how to achieve this kind of world, now don’t we?
And when we look around at our world, and the sky appears filthy, the earth depleted, the equilibrium crumbled, and creatures becoming extinct, it is oh so tempting to want to do something about it. To not want to do something is tantamount to not caring, to being a denier that there is anything at all wrong; when it is oh, so very clear, that things are really quite wrong.
We want to do something, because to do nothing is scorned and ridiculed. Perhaps, my friends should go back to the previous chapter, and see what Lao Tzu had to say about the virtue of doing nothing. For let’s be real clear on this point. The problem isn’t that we have done nothing. The problem is that we have been interfering with the Tao, for a very long time. And we just keep interfering and interfering and interfering. Ask any “so-called” expert, and they will tell you their solution is to interfere more. We haven’t interfered enough. People haven’t responded like we know they should. It is time to roll up our sleeves and apply some force.
Friends, that isn’t going to work out so well for us. For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even (especially) well intentioned violence, always rebounds upon oneself.
If we want a return to harmony, we best stop trying to make changes on the outside, and start looking deep within ourselves. The problem isn’t external to us. The problem is internal. It is a matter of the heart. We have lost our connection with the Tao. And no amount of force is going change that. That will only continue to run counter to the Tao.
Lao Tzu has a different way of saying this same thing today. He says, if we really want to view the parts with compassion, like we say we do, we need to understand the whole. That means understanding how to go with the flow of the Tao in all this. Nature, left to itself, endlessly repeats itself and is endlessly renewed. That is not an invitation to impose your will so that nature will be left alone. All your efforts to impose your will, fall into the category of using force to achieve your agenda. Understand that isn’t how to go with the flow of the Tao. The Tao does nothing, yet through it all things are done. The Master does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. To tap into the true power, you are going to have to stop trying to be powerful. Instead, let your constant practice be humility. Seriously, you need to think less of yourself. We have a huge ego problem. We are so busy trying to glitter like a jewel, how can we ever be shaped by the Tao into something as rugged and common as stone?
And yet, that is exactly what it is going to take. I recently posted an article by Sheldon Richman on the conspiracy of fear-mongering, where he posed the question, “What will it take to change this perverse system that thrives on power, war, and fear?” Excellent question, Sheldon. And pretty relevant to my chapter today. Sheldon isn’t looking to our leaders to wake up, I am sure. No, it is going to take each of us, individuals, looking deep within ourselves, and being humble enough to center ourselves in the Tao, once again.