Making the Easy, Difficult

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your own heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Three chapters ago, Lao Tzu boiled down his teachings to what he called our three greatest treasures: simplicity, patience, and compassion. Today, he says these teachings are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. But, they aren’t something to be grasped with our intellect; and, if we try to practice them, we will surely fail. In other words, in order to be simple in our actions and thoughts, patient with both friends and enemies, and compassionate toward ourselves, we must practice knowing without knowing, and doing without doing.

I am constantly getting new followers who message me with fundamental questions about philosophical Taoism; so, I think it is important to make sure we all understand what Lao Tzu means by these fundamental tenets.

Knowing without knowing means not relying on what we think we know. It is to realize we don’t know. This, for Taoists is the beginning of wisdom; for, we can’t begin to know, until we know we don’t know. “My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning?” This is a rhetorical question. You can’t possibly know. That needs to be settled, once and for all. As long as we think we know, and think we can know, we will simply spin our wheels. You won’t get any traction. They can’t be grasped. So, stop trying to grasp them with your mind. If you want to know them, look inside your heart.

Doing without doing has to do with our actions. Trying to practice these teachings won’t work. Don’t try, do. Don’t do, be. Let these practices flow from the core of your being. Look in your own heart; there, you will know these teachings. Then, let them flow out of you, without offering any assistance or resistance. Don’t try to be simple. Be simple. Don’t try to be patient. Be patient. Don’t try to be compassionate. Be compassionate.

It really is that easy. Stop making it so difficult.

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