“The Tao makes no effort at all
yet there is nothing it doesn’t do
if a ruler could uphold it
the people by themselves would change
and changing if their desires stirred
he could make them still
with simplicity that has no name
and stilled by nameless simplicity
they would not desire
and not desiring be at peace
the world would fix itself”
(Taoteching: verse 37, translation by Red Pine)
CHUANG-TZU says, “The ancients ruled the world by doing nothing. This is the Virtue of Heaven. Heaven moves without moving.” (Chuangtzu:12.1).
WU CH’ENG says, “The Tao’s lack of effort is ancient and eternal and not simply temporary. Although it makes no effort, it does everything it should do. If rulers could uphold this Tao of effortlessness, without consciously thinking about changing others, others would change by themselves.”
LAO-TZU says, “I make no effort / and the people transform themselves” (Taoteching: 57).
TE-CH’ING says, “If nobles and kings could only uphold the Tao, all creatures would change by themselves without thinking about changing. This is the effect of upholding the Tao. When creatures first change, their desires disappear. But before long, their trust fades and feelings well up and begin to flow until desires reappear. When this occurs, those who are adept at saving others must block the source of desire with nameless simplicity.”
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘Nameless simplicity’ refers to the Tao, which all creatures use to transform themselves and which nobles and kings use to pacify those who engage in cleverness and deceit.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “When people first change and begin to cultivate the Tao, they think about reaching a goal. Once this desire arises, it must be stilled with the Tao’s nameless simplicity.”
SU CH’E says, “Sages have no thought of embracing simplicity, nor do they show any sign of doing so. If the thought of becoming simple existed in their hearts, they would miss the mark completely.”
HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Once rulers use nameless simplicity to still the desires of the people, they must then give it up so that the people don’t follow its tracks and once again enter the realm of action. Once our illness is cured, we put away the medicine. Once we are across the river, we leave the boat behind. And once we are free of desire, we must also forget the desire to be free of desire. Serene and at peace, the ruler does nothing, while the world takes care of itself.”
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Other creatures follow their natures without creating chaos or disaster. They change by themselves without seeking change. People, meanwhile, race through the realm of existence and never know a quiet moment. They abandon their original innocence and don’t practice the true Tao of doing nothing. They don’t care about their lives, until one day they offend and retribution arrives.”
And RED PINE adds, “Name takes sides. Complexity limits options. Hence, those who uphold nameless simplicity don’t take sides and keep their options open.”
Today’s verse is another of my favorites. And, I hope you go back and reread what the various commentators had to say about it. So much wisdom!
Lao-tzu once again holds up the Tao: “Without exerting any effort, there is nothing it doesn’t do.” Yet, our rulers don’t hold this up as Virtue. They want to control things.
Oh, this isn’t just a rant about our rulers. We elected them, ourselves. They came out from us. They are really just like us. We want to be in control, too. In fact, if there is one common thread which will emerge when just about anyone is complaining about their rulers, it will be how much they can’t wait until their “guys” gets elected next go around. All that is wrong with the world can be summed up as the wrong people are in power. And the solution is to get the right people in power.
The world has a problem, and we need to fix it. Lao-tzu may have felt pretty much alone in his day, I know I sometimes feel very much alone, in believing the world can and would fix itself, if it was just left alone.
Instead, we expend so much effort. Trying. Trying. We must intervene. We must interfere. We must exert force. We must be in control.
The notion that people by themselves would change, seems a silly notion. Naive. And, even if it were true, much too slow a process. We need rulers!
Who needs rulers? Lao-tzu had strict guidelines for rulers. He wanted them to be content just being an example of Virtue. Hold up the Tao. Trust the people. Leave them alone. It was a hands-off approach: Let the people change themselves. Let the world fix itself. When desires stir, still those by demonstrating the stilling of your own desires.
Don’t take sides. Don’t limit your options. Keep it simple. Then, they would not desire, and they would know peace, and the world would fix itself.
What? Without any help from me? Without my efforts? Without me making a name for myself? But, what if I don’t much care for this natural order? What if I want to put my own twist on things? Nature could use some help. And I know just how to help it.
Enough. You are exactly the wrong person for the job of ruler. And, who needs a ruler, anyway? Let the world fix itself!