When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.
Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Avoid the extremes. Stay in the center. After talking for a few days, now, about our need to know we don’t know, people might begin to take this teaching to an extreme. “Since, I don’t know what I think I know, how can I trust myself?” That is the problem Lao Tzu addresses in today’s chapter.
As we have been saying, the whole point of knowing without knowing is to stop relying our own accumulation of knowledge, and to start relying on the spontaneous and intuitive knowledge which comes from the core of our being. The point isn’t that we should trust ourselves less; the point is that we need to start trusting who and what we are, in the core of our being, more. No, our own minds can’t be trusted. And, that is exactly why we shouldn’t be relying on what we think we know. But, we can trust what we are in the core of our being. That is where the Tao resides within us. This is our connection with the whole universe. Lao Tzu calls it our sense of awe.
You have, contained within you, everything you need to be content. That, once realized, produces a sense of awe. But, what happens, when people have lost their sense of awe?
When people lose their sense of awe, when they no longer sense their connection with the whole universe, when they no longer realize that who and what they are, in the core of their being, is sufficient, indeed, more than sufficient, for whatever life will bring their way, then people will turn to some, outside of themselves, authority. Historically, religion has been one such outside authority. But, where religion may be in decline in our world, the State has risen to fill the vacuum. Because they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend upon that outside authority. They no longer are self-reliant.
This would be a great cause of concern for good leaders, though I think most of our leaders are absolutely delighted with the chain of events, which enabled them to obtain more and greater power.
The Master is an example of how to be a great leader. Not wanting the people to be so confused, a great and wise leader would take a step back, right here. The people must unlearn this dependence on outside authority, and relearn self-reliance.
But, how does the Master accomplish this? If you aren’t careful, the people, in their confusion, will only turn to, and begin to depend on, you, as their authority. This is why taking a step back is always such good advice. Don’t be in a hurry. The people need to be taught, but without teaching. Teaching without teaching, so that the people will have nothing to learn. Teaching without words, but by example. Show the people how they can rely on themselves, once again.