The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.
She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.
She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.
The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Until You Can Treat All People Equally
Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about the practice of the Tao as the antithesis of the pursuit of knowledge. But, he spent the majority of his time talking about one aspect of this practice, the doing without doing; without really covering the other aspect, the knowing without knowing. I could have just chalked this up to Lao Tzu simply teaching without words. But, I was eager to explain both aspects. So, I added, “When nothing is known, nothing is left unknown.” Indeed, Lao Tzu was getting there. These chapter divisions are not always the best of devices. In today’s chapter, he explains the “goal” of the not-knowing aspect of the practice of the Tao, to arrive at no mind of your own.
Having no mind of your own, which is the same as having no will of your own, is going to be extremely helpful when it comes to not interfering, the doing without doing. They work, hand in hand, together. Why are we tempted to “do something”, when doing nothing is really what is called for? Because, we still have a mind of our own. Our own will, our own desires.
Hence, the practice of the Tao is vital for us. And, if we are wise and virtuous, we will continue to practice it, daily dropping things, until we arrive.
Lao Tzu says it enables us to work with the mind of the people. What does he mean? Is it just doing whatever the people want? Absolutely not! The people have the same problems with being enslaved by desire. They, too, need to be shown how to arrive at “no mind” for themselves. However, it is never the correct course of action to force anything. Because we have “no mind” we are enabled to let them have their own minds. And, work with them, rather than against them.
Lao Tzu explains it in this way: You can be good to both people who are good, and those who aren’t. You can trust both people who are trustworthy, and those who aren’t. Until you can treat all people equally, you aren’t demonstrating true goodness or true trust.
This is so beyond ordinary practice, the conventional wisdom. We seem to think we deserve some kind of medal for only being good to those who are good, and only trusting those who are trustworthy. And, we think anyone who is good to, and trusting of, those who aren’t is quite foolish, indeed. But, just because this is an uncommon practice doesn’t make it not the best practice.
And people sense this. They may not understand it. They may not have the foggiest of ideas on how to put it into practice in their own lives. But, they know true goodness and true trust when they see it.
So, even though our mind may seem like space to them, and they don’t understand us, they will look to us, and wait. And we, for our own part, will treat them like our own children. That is what having no mind of our own means. He didn’t say we should treat other people like children. He said, like our own children. That is all the difference in the world. I have a couple of adult children, myself. And, I treat them as the adults they are. But, they are still my children, my very own children. What a difference that makes!