How Difficult We Make What Should Be Easy

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)

For the last three days, now, we have been talking about what Lao Tzu calls our three greatest treasures. These are what he teaches. Simplicity: Be simple in your actions and in your thoughts, and you return to the source of being. Patience: Be patient with both your friends and your enemies, and you accord with the way things are. Compassion: Be compassionate toward yourself, and you reconcile all beings in the world.

And, Lao Tzu told us how to guard these treasures, warning us of the dangers involved in not putting these teachings into practice.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us his teachings are both easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. Yet… There had to be that, yet. Our problem is how difficult we make what should be easy.

We try to grasp them with our intellect. And, we try to practice them. This is why we fail.

I spend a lot of my time thinking about the practice of doing without doing and knowing without knowing. It has become a constant meditation since I started taking a chapter from the Tao Te Ching, each day, offering my own commentary on each one.

One thing I have discovered is that there is both a negative, and a positive, aspect to this practice. And, today’s chapter affords me the opportunity to explain both of these aspects.

First, we will get the negative aspect out of the way, since today’s chapter really highlights the negative.

The negative aspect of knowing without knowing is that we really think we do know, when we don’t. We know without knowing. The negative aspect of doing without doing is that we try so hard to do things, and when all is said and done, we leave plenty more left to be done. This is doing without doing.

There is some good news, here. Because Lao Tzu has just the antidote for us. It is the other side, or aspect, the positive one.

We need to settle (I would like to say “once and for all”, but I don’t think settling it once and for all is really possible), that we don’t know what we think we know. Indeed, we can’t. Lao Tzu tells us that his teachings are older than the world. And then he offers us a rhetorical question, “How can you grasp their meaning?” This is what we need to settle. If not, once and for all, then, every time this trust and reliance, on what we think we know, rears its ugly head.

You simply aren’t that clever. No one is. Why? For the simple reason that Lao Tzu’s teachings aren’t intended to be grasped with our intellect. He says, “If you want to know me,” in other words, understand my easily understood teachings, “look inside your own heart.”

They are matters of the heart. But this doesn’t mean it is time to get all mushy. What Lao Tzu means is the Tao resides in the core of our being. And, it is there his teachings make perfect sense. It is there their loftiness has roots that go deep. With our minds, we are only capable of processing what our senses tell us of the world around us. And, we are often deceived by what we see, and hear, and taste, and smell, and touch. This is the reason Lao Tzu has been so insistent on us emptying our minds of all thoughts, and learning to trust in, and rely on, our inner vision. Emptied minds, filled cores. Weakened ambitions, strengthened resolve. This is how we go from a reliance on our outer nature, to one on our inner nature.

As I said, before, there is a positive aspect to this practice of doing without doing and knowing without knowing.

The positive aspect of knowing without knowing is that through no longer relying on our intellect,, we now can truly know, without knowing, with our intuition. I have said it before, and I will say it again, this is a yin thing. There is a reason that intuition is so often referred to as a woman’s thing. It is feminine. But, it isn’t just limited to women. Guys, there really is a reason to get in touch with our feminine side.

The positive aspect of doing without doing is just as important. For, we don’t want to end up leaving things undone. Especially, the practice of Lao Tzu’s teachings, our three greatest treasures. It, too, flows out of the core of our being. But unlike intuition, which I think of as yin, this one is all yang. I am referring to how our bodies can spontaneously act without any effort. Spontaneity is often referred to as a masculine thing. But, don’t be silly, it doesn’t have to be limited to just men. This spontaneous, effortless action is when doing, without doing, means nothing is left undone. It is very much yang, but it is fueled by our reliance on our intuition (yin). So, all things balance out.

I hope that helped. I know I spent a whole lot of my own time and effort, spinning my wheels, trying to understand these teachings intellectually, and trying to put them into practice. But, once I looked in my own heart, I found out just how easy it is not to fail.

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