When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.
Therefore the Master steps back,
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about this sickness of the heart we have been talking about the last couple of days. I know that most of my friends don’t know that they don’t know; and, it was an important realization on my own part to come to that realization. As long as you think you know, you have a problem that you aren’t even aware that you have. It is a condition of the heart. And, the whole world seems to be afflicted with it.
People, Lao Tzu says, have lost their sense of awe. That is why they turn to religion. I know that is going to be offensive to some of my religious friends. But, am I really attacking religion here? I don’t think so. All I am really trying to point out is that perhaps, just perhaps, you are treating a symptom rather than the actual problem. You are looking for answers. Good for you. But, why is it that you have lost your sense of awe? Have you actually addressed that problem? Here is what Lao Tzu has already told us: Look inside yourself for the answer; look inside your own heart; that is where you will find the answers. When we are looking outside ourselves we are only putting band aids on large gaping wounds.
But, people no longer trust themselves. That is the other insight that Lao Tzu is giving us today. We don’t trust ourselves. That is why we no longer are looking within for answers. That is why we don’t address the condition of our heart. We don’t trust ourselves. Is it because we don’t think we can do what it takes to fix things? Or, is it that we don’t want to do what it takes to fix things? Maybe, it is some combination of those two things. I just know that we no longer trust ourselves. And, that is how we began to trust in authority.
Now, anyone that knows me, knows that I am skeptical of all authority. Skeptical, I think, is a very good attitude to have toward authority of every kind. I think we, as humans, if we are healthy, will have a healthy skepticism of authority. The fact that so many have abandoned that skepticism is a sure sign that we are dealing with a heart problem.
So, what do I do? Lao Tzu provides me with the example of the Master. He always brings him or her into the discussion, whenever he is wanting to flesh out what must be done in these circumstances. And the Master, when he finds the people in our present situation, begins by taking a step back. Let’s avoid confusion. That is the point.
There is no teaching to teach. There is nothing which needs to be learned. All we can do is take that step back, and look inside ourselves, and deal with the condition of our own hearts. “But what about everybody else? What about them? What can I do for them?” It isn’t about what everybody else is doing. It isn’t about the condition of their hearts. Oh, you can be sure, their hearts are just as sick as yours. But, you aren’t their physician. And, they aren’t yours. Just take care of your own. Then, serve as an example of how to be your own physician. The people will find their own way.