The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.
She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.
She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.
The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I said there is an end to this practice of the Tao that Lao Tzu is talking about. Of course, I didn’t mean that there will be a time we won’t want to practice it any longer. Instead, Lao Tzu was talking about dropping a little something of your need to control, each day, until you arrive at non-action. What he was talking about was one aspect of gaining true mastery over ourselves, letting things go their own way, or doing not-doing. Today, Lao Tzu explains another “end” as he returns to talking about knowing not-knowing, having no mind of your own.
The Master has no mind of her own. She works with the mind of the people. One end of gaining mastery over ourselves is that we are no longer enslaved by our own mind, or will. The Master certainly has mastered herself. And that, enables her to work with the will of the people, however wayward that might be. But what does Lao Tzu mean by this power to work with the mind of the people?
Now, Lao Tzu gives us a lesson in true goodness and true trust. Once again, the Master is our example.
When you think about it, being good to people who are good, and trusting people who are trustworthy doesn’t require any virtue on our part. We wouldn’t think very much of someone who wasn’t good to people who are good, and trusting of people who are trustworthy. That is like a minimum basic requirement of human decency. But having mastered herself, the Master is able to embody true virtue. She is also good to those who aren’t good, and trusting of those who can’t be trusted. That is far-exceeding the minimum basic requirements. That is true goodness and true trust.
But, let’s just be honest, here. While it is easy to say this is virtuous, it is also easy to recognize it as foolhardiness. It is readily apparent that we should be good, even to those who aren’t. But, trusting people who aren’t trustworthy? That sounds like a prescription for disaster. Won’t she reap the whirlwind by putting her trust in the untrustworthy?
This “having no mind of your own” all of a sudden starts to look a bit risky. At least, that is, until you realize she has her trust placed in the Tao. That is, after all, what it means to have no mind of your own. Instead of being so full of your own desire to be in control, you have let go of that desire, and, now, fully trust the Tao to “settle the ledgers”. Will people she trusts let her down? I guess that depends on what you mean by let her down.
Just look at her. That is what the people do. Her mind is like space to them. They don’t understand her. Oh, but she understands them. This is why she can work with their minds, no matter how wayward they might be. So, the people look to her and wait. Some are no doubt expecting her to get burned for her misplaced trust. But she knows exactly what is needed in this present moment. She treats them all like her own children. Notice he didn’t say “like children”, but “like her own children”. There is a profound difference. My own children are adults now. And, I treat them as such. Though, I still treat them as my children. It is a pretty special status. The Master treats all the people as if they are her own children.
There are lessons to be learned here for all of us, both those of us who are good, and those who aren’t so good; those who can be trusted, and those who we wouldn’t dare to trust. Maybe we are still expecting for things to go badly for the Master, since she still insisted on trusting the untrustworthy. And maybe it will even look like our expectations were justified. Things may seemingly work out against her. But there is an eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. And the Tao always brings about balance and harmony, if we will wait on it.