Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have devoted the last several chapters to the art of governing. It was these chapters which especially resonated with me, when I first encountered philosophical Taoism. I thought, “Here is some ancient wisdom. What a shame it defies what passes as conventional wisdom, these days.”
Truly, some have told me, “Your teaching is nonsense.” Gee! Why don’t you tell me what you really think? Others have said, “Your teaching is lofty; so lofty, no one could put it into practice.” Oh my! What are we to make of these criticisms?
I must confess, I don’t get where these critics are coming from. Nonsense? But, it would make perfect sense, if only you would spend some time looking inside yourself. And, as for this teaching being too lofty to be practical, have you even tried to put it into practice? I have found it to be the most down-to-earth teaching I have ever heard of. Its roots go deep.
Lao Tzu only has three things to teach. They are simple, really. Perhaps, too simple. We do have a tendency to be a bit too clever for our own good. Maybe that is why we have such a problem with putting his teachings into practice.
So, don’t dismiss it as nonsense, or too lofty to be practical; spend some time looking inside yourself; and, as realization dawns, put them into practice in your own life. That is what I did.
I have truly found them to be my three greatest treasures; treasures I guard as carefully as if they were a room full of rubies.
The first treasure is the teaching of simplicity. Be simple in your actions, and in your thoughts. As you practice this teaching you return to the source of being. The source of being is non-being. Or, to put it another way, the source of everything is nothing. By practicing simplicity, in your thoughts, and in your actions, you return to nothing. Remember what Lao Tzu has said before, if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Nothingness, emptiness, is the key to unlocking unlimiting power. Yes, I just made up that word, unlimiting. I intend it, rather than unlimited, because while this power is unlimited, it is also free to you without any limitations being placed on you. It sure beats hearing. “Some restrictions apply. Offer not valid in….”
But what does being simple in actions and in thoughts, mean? It is the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. That is what Lao Tzu has been teaching all along. Don’t try to get it all figured out in your mind, first. We rely far too much on our own cleverness. Be spontaneous. Rely on your intuition. Go with the flow. In other words, observe the world around you, yet trust your inner vision.
I had a person message me, earlier, referring, I guess, to a post from a previous chapter. “Thoughts are plentiful and so are inner visions. Why limit the outer space?”
My answer is I don’t intend there to be any limits. That is the whole point. We limit ourselves. Our own thoughts put limits on us. And, our bodies have their own limitations. But, what Lao Tzu is all about is freedom. Simplicity is about unlimiting. Don’t try to do. Just be.
The second treasure is the teaching of patience. Be patient with both friends and enemies. As you practice this teaching you accord with the way things are. Being in accord with the way things are is being in harmony with the Tao. It is staying in the center of the circle, no matter what. Don’t intervene, don’t interfere, don’t try to control, don’t use force. Let things take their own course. And, that requires patience. You have to be patient with your friends. You have to be patient with your enemies. You have to be patient with everybody. We absolutely exhaust ourselves, because we are simply not patient. We won’t stay in the center of the circle. We aren’t in harmony with the Tao. So, we don’t accord with the way things are. It is mighty tiresome always swimming against the current.
The third treasure is the teaching of compassion. But it isn’t compassion toward others. Does that surprise you? No, it is being compassionate toward yourself. Why is it I need to be compassionate toward myself? Ah, this is because I am going to make lots and lots of mistakes. I am not always going to practice simplicity, like I should. And, I am not always going to be as patient toward others, like I should. But, what is it Lao Tzu has said before about the Tao? It is both a treasure to those who are good, and a refuge for those who are bad. When I am bad, as I often am, the Tao is a refuge for me. And it is there, in that refuge, I practice being compassionate toward myself.
Now, don’t think for even a moment, that this is some selfish act, narcissism. Lao Tzu has a much higher motive for this treasure of compassion toward yourself. He has taught on this before, when he said we need to stop thinking of our selves as separate from the world. Once we see the world as self, the phantoms of hope and fear disappear. The reason we need to practice being compassionate toward ourselves is to reconcile all beings in the world. Compassion, in the end, is always about reconciliation.
These are my three greatest treasures. And, they can be your three greatest treasures, as well. So, guard them well. Return to the source of being, through the practice of simplicity; be in accord with the way things are, through the practice of patience; and, reconcile all beings in the world, through the practice of compassion.
It isn’t nonsense. And it isn’t so lofty it could never be put into practice. Look inside yourself, and you will see. Put them into practice, and you will be.