When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Why All the Turmoil?
It is because the great Tao has been forgotten.
Now, I understand why you might have a hard time seeing the appearance of goodness and piety as a sign of turmoil. “Aren’t those good things?” However, if you recall what Lao Tzu said back in chapter two, about what happens “when people see some things as good” (“other things become bad”), and in chapter five, “The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil,” I think there is no better description for the appearance of goodness and piety, when the great Tao has been forgotten.
But, if you are still skeptical, consider this: What does Lao Tzu actually mean by the appearance of goodness and piety?
Before the great Tao was forgotten (yes, there was a time, before) people (all beings, really) were in accord with the Tao. They acted naturally. There were no distinctions, calling this good, and that bad. All beings simply behaved according to their natures, according to the way things are. And, it was good. Not a subjective good, involving some sense of moral judgment, but an objective good.
Now, that might sound like something dating way back in history, even into prehistory, some mythological primitive state of things. And, I certainly don’t wish to suggest we would all be much better off, if we were to go back to dwelling in caves. Because, that isn’t Lao Tzu’s point at all.
Let’s not forget the infinity, the eternity, to be found in this present moment. Not something in the past. But, something in the right here, the right now. We simply must realize the Source; not where we came from, but where we come from.
And, where we come from is being present. Acting naturally, and in accord with nature’s laws. It is only because the great Tao has been forgotten that we have contrived goodness and piety to fill the void created by our forgetfulness.
Lao Tzu describes for us how having forgotten the great Tao looks in individuals, in families, and in whole countries.
In individuals, Lao Tzu refers to it as the body’s intelligence in decline. What he means by body’s intelligence is the spontaneous, intuitive, natural, and effortless way we go about living our lives. Things that were once easy for us, or could be easy for us, are made difficult. They require effort. Work. We aren’t doing what comes naturally to us. We are relying on cleverness and knowledge now. And, it is a life based on pretense. No wonder we aren’t content!
In families, because the turmoil of individuals immediately results in turmoil in families, there is no peace.
Filial piety (there is that word piety, again) is goodness done out of a sense of duty. It doesn’t have to be this way. And, it is only because the great Tao has been forgotten that it is this way. The relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, siblings to each other, and yes, it includes our relationships with those who are not our kin. We have left behind, or forsaken, what could come naturally to us. We shouldn’t have to talk about such things as goodness and kindness, obedience and duties. These things could and should flow naturally, and unseen.
I think the best way to explain what I think Lao Tzu is saying is that we wouldn’t need to be relying on outward things, if we were simply following what we know inwardly. We have countless laws, moral codes, duties, which we have contrived, because we have forgotten the Law written in our own hearts. When an anarchist is accused of being opposed to rules, and we insist we are simply opposed to rulers, I, for one, am referring to being opposed to outward constraints.
Why? Because, we don’t need them. And, they don’t work. They may give the appearance of working. And, no doubt, some will insist that we do indeed need them. “The people won’t restrain themselves. They must be restrained!” Now, don’t think I am suggesting there shouldn’t be any rules. I am no libertine! Of course, there are going to be rules. But, outward rules aren’t what is going to restrain us. And, the more laws there are, the more lawbreakers there will be.
But, the Tao hasn’t gone anywhere. It has merely been forgotten. The Law is still written in our hearts. We have simply forgotten it. We need to remember. We need to realize where we come from. But, that can’t be imposed on us from the outside.
Remember what we were talking about yesterday. “When the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that ‘he’ exists….When ‘his’ work is done, the people say, ‘Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!’” Indeed. And, that is just my point.
It is only because our leaders don’t trust us, they make us untrustworthy. So, as those who insist they know what is right and best for us, seek to impose their will on us, at first they may be loved, but soon they are feared, and then despised. If you aren’t constrained by your own heart, you won’t be constrained by outward means.
Whole countries have fallen into chaos. That is what gave birth to patriotism. And, believe me, this isn’t a patriotism born in the heart. But, we simply don’t dare to appear anything other than patriotic.
I can’t but laugh at the self-righteous, who insist we need to be constrained by outward means. I guess they just feel the need to keep up appearances. But, I am done with pretense.