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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Keeping Things Easy and Simple
For the last three days, now, Lao Tzu has been talking about what he refers to as our three greatest treasures. They are simplicity, patience, and compassion. Be simple in actions and thoughts. Be patient with both friends and enemies. Be compassionate toward yourself. These are treasures because, through them, you return to the source of being, you accord with the way things are, and you reconcile all beings in the world. Lao Tzu warned us to guard these treasures; and, he told us how to guard them. He also told us how we can destroy them. We have been warned. The only question which remains, will we heed him?
In today’s chapter, he begins by saying, “My teachings are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. That is the way things are. So, why is it that the way things seem to be is people do not understand them, and we don’t put them into practice? If they are so “easy”, what is our problem?
Our problem, as Lao Tzu explains, is that we try to grasp their meaning with our intellect, and we try, through our own efforts, to put them into practice. To Lao Tzu, this is a prescription for failure. As he says, these are ancient teachings. And, we are ruled by the affairs of the day.
The practice of the Tao is not-knowing and not-doing. No wonder our intellect and our efforts are to no avail!
Let’s make sure we do understand this. It is easy, not difficult. It is simple, not complicated. But our efforts make it difficult and complicated. Hence, Lao Tzu’s oft-repeated admonition: Do your work; then stop, and take a step back. Stop making it difficult. Stop making it complicated. Don’t try to understand these teachings. Don’t try to be simple, patient, and compassionate.
You can know without knowing. It is relying on your intuition to direct you. And, you can do without doing. It is the spontaneous effortless action that flows from the core of your being, just like your intuition does. And, it all happens quite naturally – if we will let it. Hence the easy and simple aspects of putting it into practice.
If you want to go the easy and simple way, you must look within, and trust, your heart.