When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to talking about the difference it makes when your country is in harmony with the Tao. It has been a recurring theme. Earlier, he said if powerful men and women could only center themselves in the Tao and stay centered, the world would transform itself into a paradise. The contrast was pictured as a planet rendered incapable of sustaining life. Why? Because humans interfere with the Tao.
Today, he contrasts it in economic terms. Some twenty-five hundred years ago, in Lao Tzu’s day, they knew nothing of factories, trucks, and tractors, nor of stockpiles of warheads. In the original, Lao Tzu spoke of horses plowing fields versus being bred for war. Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation may take certain liberties, but Lao Tzu’s point remains the same. There is a world of difference between a country in harmony with the Tao, and a country which goes counter to the Tao.
Three guesses in which kind of country I find myself living; and the first two guesses don’t count. And Lao Tzu once again shows just how timeless his teaching is. There is so much fear-mongering. I got told by someone just the other day, after I posted an article by Sheldon Richman on fear-mongering, that they weren’t even going to read the article. The word “fear-mongering” turned them off immediately. Apparently, that is some kind of code word being used by a vast left-wing conspiracy to complain about anything conservatives were doing. I thought, “Really? Because it has been my experience that fear-mongering has been the modus operandi of both those on the right and the left for quite some time.
Fear is a powerful illusion. That is why those in power, and those who long to be, use it to manipulate the easily manipulated. Every policy coming out of Washington is reactionary. We respond to violence with more violence. We always have. The cycle doesn’t seem even close to ending. We use fear to manipulate people into giving up whatever vestige of freedom that remains. We manufacture enemies wherever there is profit to be made for the ruling elite. They never pay the costs. We do.
We pay the costs when we don’t see that we are being manipulated, that fear is only an illusion. It may be the greatest one of them all, but it still isn’t based in reality. It is a figment of our imaginations brought on through repeated doses of lies, distortions, and propaganda. We aren’t seeing the world as self. Instead, we see anyone that is in any way different from us as our enemy. No wonder we are beset by phantoms!
But Lao Tzu calls the manipulators out on this. If only people would listen and take heed. Why are we preparing to defend ourselves? Can’t we see that the enemy is imaginary? How can we believe that our fellow human beings are demons? How did it come to this? It is all so very wrong. It is the greatest of wrongs to prepare to defend yourself because you have succumbed to the illusion of fear. It is the greatest of misfortunes to manufacture enemies, like we have been doing for generations now.
These are perilous times. The danger is not an illusion. I guess by treating the illusion as real for so long, our worst fears are now upon us. We have brought this on ourselves. What is it going to take to be safe from danger? Somehow, we are going to have to be able to see the illusion for what it is, to see through all fear. If we can do this, we will always be safe. I know of no other way.