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)
Just Three Things
Nonsense? Lofty, but impractical? Those of us who are libertarians certainly hear that about our political philosophy all the time. Take heart, fellow libertarians, Lao Tzu heard it, too, in his day; concerning his libertarianism, philosophical Taoism. And, his words today strike a chord with me. “If they would just look inside themselves, this nonsense would make perfect sense. And, if they would put this into practice in their own lives, they would find its loftiness is supported by deep roots.”
Three things, just three things to teach. And, when you see them, you will understand exactly why they are so easily dismissed. But, if you look inside yourself, and put them into practice, they will be your three greatest treasures.
Be simple in your actions and your thoughts. Yes, simplicity. We all think we know the value of simplicity, but most think it is just too hard to put it into practice in their lives. “The world is just too complicated. My life is just too complicated. Sure, I would like to live more simply, but I just can’t. I would have to sacrifice too much.” Hey, I hear you, I happen to like my internet, and my computer, and my smart phone. I like all the modern conveniences. I don’t want to give them up. But, is being simple in action and thought really about giving up these things we have come to so dearly love? It honestly doesn’t have to be. All simplicity really is, is returning to the source of being. And, you can do that, without giving up any of your modern conveniences. I know, because I have. It really was simply a matter of looking inside myself, and putting it into practice. Don’t let what you think you know, talk yourself out of the blessings of simplicity.
Be patient with both friends and enemies. “Well, this is obviously nonsense. I mean, I don’t have too much trouble with being patient with my friends, usually. Of course, even the most patient person has to have their limits. And, well, some of my friends I can only tolerate in small doses. But, be patient with enemies, too? That is asking way too much. Pretty lofty goal, there, Lao Tzu, I just don’t think it can be done.” Yet, Lao Tzu insists it is the only way to accord with the way things are. Patience, the mother of all virtues. And, all the more virtuous, when practiced with your enemies, as well as your friends. Once again, once I stopped looking outside of myself, at others, and judging them as either friend or foe; once I started looking inside myself, and saw my connection to every being in the Universe through the Tao; then I realized how very fortunate I truly am. Those who I thought were enemies, were merely human, just like me. They have the same hopes and fears. They want the same things. And, we all need to be more patient with each other. Once I started down that line of thought, I found being patient with others a whole lot simpler than I had ever imagined it could be.
Be compassionate toward yourself. When I first read this, I breathed a sigh of relief, Whew! Being compassionate with myself should be a piece of cake. But, then I got this sneaking suspicion that I was being tricked, somehow. Shouldn’t I be compassionate toward others? Shouldn’t I be putting others ahead of me? And I started to feel a little guilty. Because I know I put me, myself, and I, in that order, ahead of everyone else, all of the time. “We” are like my first priority.
And, then I started taking inventory of all the things I think and say out loud to myself. And, I started beating myself up. Until, I suddenly realized, “Wait, what was it, again, Lao Tzu was saying about being compassionate toward myself?” I realized, if I wanted to reconcile all beings in the world, it has to begin with “us”. Me, myself, and I is where I have to start with the compassion. Because “we” can only give what “we” have first been given.
Lao Tzu is right that these three teachings – simplicity, patience, and compassion – are our greatest treasures. So, guard them well.