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)
We have been talking, over the last couple of days, about the practice of knowing without knowing. I said that there is both a negative, and a positive, aspect to this practice. The negative aspect is we need to know that we don’t know. That negative aspect goes a very long way toward healing us of all knowing. Thinking we know, presumption, is a disease. Knowing we don’t know is the cure.
However, when all our focus is on the negative aspect, and we don’t ponder and act on the positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing, we can get very confused. That is Lao Tzu’s focus in today’s chapter.
What happens when we lose our sense of awe, and no longer trust ourselves? Just focusing on the negative aspect, and realizing that we don’t know, may leave us lost, and confused. When we lose our sense of awe, when we no longer trust ourselves, people tend to turn to some outside authority, and put our trust in them.
I have been watching in muted amusement as the corporate establishment and all the powers that be have become apoplectic since “Brexit” occurred. I have had family and friends who have asked me what I think, and what they should think, about this. There has been a lot of fear mongering going on. And, as is usually the case, fear mongering generates a certain level of fear.
Now, I want to say that I didn’t really have much of an opinion about Brexit in the months leading up to the vote. I don’t live in the UK, I don’t even live in Europe; so, I thought I had much better things with which to concern myself. Meanwhile, the debate (we need to understand this) framed those who were wanting to exit the EU as both fascist, and racist, extremist elements. Who would want to have themselves numbered among them? Honestly, leading up to the vote, I didn’t believe it was likely for the vote to go the way it did. “Maintaining the status quo” always seems to win the day.
Of course, I kept telling myself that Donald Trump was never going to end up securing the Republican nomination, so maybe my opinion on things isn’t that useful. That Donald Trump analogy isn’t far off though. One thing I have known, is that all over the world, people are beginning to rise up against the ruling elite. And, I keep hoping that peaceful revolution will be allowed, for just as John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
Brexit, to me, is about giving peaceful revolution a chance. That isn’t to say I believe voting is a revolutionary act. Really, I believe if voting actually changed anything, it wouldn’t be allowed. And, that is what makes this vote so interesting to me. Because, I don’t think the powers that be ever saw it coming. Otherwise, the people would never have been allowed to vote. Understand, they will champion Democracy as long as their ideas win. When the outcome goes against their wishes, Democracy is no longer such a good thing.
I say all of that to say this, I am not too distressed about the apoplexy of the ruling class. In fact, you might just call me giddy. When someone expresses fear and worry about the horrible things that may happen as a result, I say, “So?”
How detached and disinterested I am! Well, like I said before, I don’t live in the UK, or even Europe, there isn’t a whole lot of reason for me to get distressed. What exactly can I do about it? But, beyond that, I tend to think anything, which strikes a blow to the status quo, can’t be too bad a thing. So, unless you have something better for me to do besides be fearful, or worry, I am just going to remain amused.
Now, you may be wondering what “Brexit” has to do with today’s chapter. Maybe I just wanted to talk about it, and today’s chapter afforded me the first opportunity to do that. Besides that, it does talk about what I would call a hopeful sign that maybe people are losing their trust and dependence on outside authorities. That, my friends, is a welcome trend. And, as I look around the world, I see more and more reason for muted optimism.
Yeah, I know, I know, it seems we are doomed to have either a Trump or a Hillary presidency. But Gary Johnson seems to have a remote chance, if the powers that be will allow it. And, I am counting on this election to be decided by the House of Representatives. All that is necessary is for Johnson to get enough electoral votes to deny one of the others the 270 necessary to out and out win. That would change everything! Talk about a disruption to the status quo! I don’t believe that has happened since John Quincy Adams was elected by the House, after an election where there was no clear winner.
But, getting back to today’s chapter, it is important that we not be confused, and look to some outside authority, instead of trusting ourselves. This is where the positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing comes in.
Here, the Master steps back, and teaches without teaching, so that people will have nothing to learn.
Wait! What does that even mean? The positive aspect of the practice of knowing without knowing is that when we know we don’t know, we can know without knowing. It is a matter of not just turning away from our trusting in, and relying on, our own cleverness and intelligence, but taking that further step back to letting our inner core fill up with intuition, trusting our inner vision. That isn’t something which can be taught by teaching. It has to be taught without teaching. It isn’t something to learn, it is something to realize as we experience it.
Anticipating that I will have someone ask me, “How do I do this?”, I will preemptively tell you, it isn’t about doing anything. It is about letting it happen. Just step back. And, let it happen.