If you over-esteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal.
The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.
He helps people lose everything
they know, everything they desire,
and creates confusion in those
who think that they know.
and everything will fall into place.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 3, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Taking a Step Back, Before We Can Move Forward
We have been talking about how our desire is what gets us into trouble. What we want drives us to do to excess. And, the way things are in our Universe being the way things are, excess always results in deficiency. It is really quite simple: Where there is no excess, there is no deficiency. So, we really need to be free from desire.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu illustrates it by talking about what happens when we over-esteem great men. People become powerless. And, what happens when we overvalue possessions? People begin to steal.
This sounds like a problem where we might want to install a government over us, making laws and enforcing them. Just don’t be surprised when these “great people” we esteem over us only make us more powerless. And, their attempts to keep us from stealing don’t reduce the spread of stealing.
What we need are the kind of leaders Lao Tzu was talking about, yesterday. Those who act without doing anything, and teach without saying anything. People actually think that describes our leaders today. They complain about gridlock in Washington, and a do-nothing Congress. But, let me assure you, this isn’t the doing nothing Lao Tzu is talking about. It may be that little is getting done in Washington, but it isn’t for lack of effort on the part of those who rule us. They are always doing something. And, we are much the worse for the wear.
No, Lao Tzu’s ideal for the perfect leader is one who leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their cores, weakening their ambition and toughening their resolve. What this kind of leader is about is helping people lose everything they know, everything they desire, and creating confusion in those who think they know.
Instead of relying on what we know in our minds, we need to be relying on what we know in our hearts. That intuitive and spontaneous realization that has the power to set us free. Ambition, in the sense Lao Tzu is discussing it, is to be kept at bay. Its focus is always on what is outside of ourselves. What we need is to have our inner resolve strengthened. That, and that alone, will enable us to be content with a simple and ordinary life.
The key to being in harmony with the way things are is to practice not-doing. And, remember, not-doing doesn’t mean that nothing gets done. The Chinese call it Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. It takes realizing; something which doesn’t happen until our minds are quite emptied and our cores are quite filled. Our ambition has to be weakened and our resolve strengthened. Then, and only then, will we get it. We don’t need to force things. We don’t need to intervene, interfere, try to dominate, or try to control. When we work with nature rather than against it, our actions become effortless. They just flow out of the core of our being.
So, take a step back. Observe the natural flow of the Universe. See how everything falls into place? As things come and go, let them. Let events take their own course. Of course, you can shape them as they come, as you become better acquainted with how things work in our universe. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.