Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.
If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, I was comparing the shape my country is in, and I suppose the whole world falls into the same category, to facing the devastation of a tsunami. No one ever accused me of a lack of hyperbole in my writing. But I do think it is a serious matter that we have forgotten the great Tao. And, I think the consequences we are facing, and will continue to face, are much like the kind of desolation that a tsunami brings. We’ve ignored repeated warnings. I don’t think we can do much more than deal with the aftermath.
That means a whole lot of cleaning up. And as we are surveying the devastated landscape, there is going to be lots of things we will need to throw away. Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter addresses the problems of cleanup when we have been substituting so many things for the great Tao. Remember from yesterday, that we said that the Tao is natural and spontaneous. Because we have forgotten the Tao, we have substituted the unnatural and contrived. Things like goodness and piety. Cleverness and knowledge. Filial piety, and patriotism.
Those things are not just poor substitutes. What they really are, are symptoms of just how bad things have gotten. Today, Lao Tzu uses different words. Words like holiness and wisdom. Morality and justice. Industry and profit. We really hold these words as precious and dear to our hearts. They aren’t just words. They are ideas. Must we really throw them away?
Well, yes. Remember, we are cleaning up after our day of reckoning. No matter how dear, how cherished, these ideas may seem to us, they have outlived their usefulness. We may not like the idea of having to throw them all away. The cure may seem more terrible than the disease. But Lao Tzu has words of encouragement for us all.
We, as leaders, have a responsibility to the people. If we throw away holiness and wisdom, people will be a hundred times happier. That would be a start. Give people a jump start on picking up the pieces and beginning again their own pursuit of happiness.
It is time to begin trusting the people again. It was because our leaders didn’t trust the people that we got into the mess that we are in. It is time that we trust them to do the right thing. Not command that they do. That is why our tired and worn out ideas of morality and justice must go. They never really achieved their stated purpose of making the people moral and just, anyway. Throw out those ideas. And trust the people. They will do the right thing.
We all have our sacred cows. Those things we don’t want to sacrifice. Lao Tzu is certainly not pulling any punches as he lists them one by one: Holiness, wisdom, morality, justice. I may be in the minority when I admit that I have less of a problem giving those up than some of you might. But then we get to industry and profit. And the struggle is real. Oh, it is easy to get on a bandwagon when you like what you are hearing. But what happens when they start talking about your own sacred cows?
That is my dilemma. I face it every time I cycle back through to today’s chapter. But, I don’t want to allow my own misgivings to get in the way of the plain context of what Lao Tzu is telling us. Does it help that I admit I don’t know how to throw these away? The answer is it is a whole lot easier than I am making it out to be. I know they need to go. But how that plays out is something I haven’t got completely worked out in my mind. Which is intriguing to me, since I don’t feel the same necessity to explain myself with the other throwaways.
I am going to take a few steps back and then re-approach this from a different angle. The problem we have been dealing with is that we haven’t been properly understanding how the Universe works. We have been at odds with the Tao instead of in harmony with it. Because of our failure to be in harmony with the Tao, we clever humans have come up with a variety of systems to try to make sense of it all. And make it work for us through interference and manipulation. This has been a disaster. That is what Lao Tzu has been describing. The point he is making is that we need to get back to where we came from. The clever substitutes are not going to help us to do that. All they are is a hindrance. That is why they need to go. We need to throw them away.
Okay, that was better. But it still may not be enough. That is why Lao Tzu has one more thing for us to do. And this is the most important of them all. Can we do it? Can we stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their course? Or will we continue to insist on interfering and manipulating? It isn’t enough just to exchange one set of interference and manipulation for another. We need to let go of our need to control. That is both the hardest and the easiest of tasks. It is hard because we so love to be in control. It is easy because the very idea that we can be in control is all an illusion. Think about that one for today.