The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus, he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus, he never has enough.
The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.
The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves meany things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds,
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.
When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When good is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.
Therefore, the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about freeing ourselves of desire; and, being content with our simple everyday lives. That may seem like a tall order. I know that has been my own daily challenge for the last couple of years. I think I am making headway; but I still have not rid myself entirely of desire. I encourage myself every day with the idea that it isn’t about the destination, so much as it is about the journey. A journey that we take one day at a time. Some days we have setbacks. But I try not to let myself get discouraged by that. What is the hurry? I have the rest of my life to do this.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu reminded us that it isn’t about striving to do anything. The Tao doesn’t try to do anything. Yet, through it all things do get done. What we are wanting is to be more and more like the Tao with each passing day.
Today, Lao Tzu tells us what separates the Master from the ordinary person. And this is important for each of us to understand. He has been talking about centering ourselves in the Tao. That is certainly what the Master does. So, how does the Master accomplish this? By not trying. What is true power? The Master is truly powerful. So, the Master knows what true power is. He is true power in the flesh. And how did he get there? By not trying to be powerful. This is the antithesis to what the ordinary person does. The ordinary person is always trying to attain more and more power. He never has enough. Always he is reaching for more and more and more.
This is key to understanding the way things are in our Universe. Anything that you are reaching for is an illusion. True power isn’t something to be taken. It is given. And, it is only given to those who aren’t reaching for it. Trying to be powerful is never the way to attain true power. And I want to be clear here that I am talking about true power here. Not the illusory kind that so called powerful men and women exercise over others. Know that their power is all an illusion. It isn’t real. Regardless how very real the illusion may seem to be. How do I know their power isn’t real? Because they never have enough. They always need more. True power doesn’t leave you needing more. It is, in and of itself, inexhaustible. You will never need more.
Another way that the Master is head and shoulders above the ordinary person is that the Master doesn’t have to do anything. That doesn’t mean that the Master is leaving things undone. But the Master’s actions are effortless. There is no striving. That is what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. The ordinary person can’t wrap his head around this concept. He is always finding things to do. He must always be busy, busy, busy. Striving. Exhausting himself with effort. But look at what that gets him. Look at all the things that are left to be done. That is why the ordinary person is always complaining that there are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Time is a constant concern because he never has enough.
Perhaps this ordinary person is kind. And because they are kind they do what they do. Kind things. But these random acts of kindness are never enough. Something always remains undone. Perhaps this ordinary person is just. And so, they work to accomplish justice. But no matter how many acts of justice are done, many more are left to be done. Is Lao Tzu telling us that we are wasting our time when we are kind and just? Since we can’t possibly get everything done through kindness or justice, we would be better off not being kind and just?
I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is saying, at all. What I think he is saying is there is a better way. One that actually works. What are your motives really? That is a valid question, I think. Are you doing something kind, or something just, because you want kindness and justice in the world, or because you want to be thought of as kind or just. If it is the latter, you probably aren’t going to pay much attention to what Lao Tzu has to say. But if it is the former, if you really are wanting the world to be a better place for everyone, then Lao Tzu’s words ring true.
We have already talked about improving the world. Lao Tzu says it is sacred, and we need to be careful that we aren’t interfering with the Tao. That is how the world got messed up in the first place. But Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that the world is in a hopeless situation. We can and should be a pattern for how we want everyone in the world to be. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being a pattern. Notice, it isn’t doing. Just like the Master doesn’t do anything. But the Master is a pattern. And all things do get done.
But look at the moral person over there. They see all that is wrong in the world and they know just how to fix things. They start applying their fixes and when no one responds, in other words, things don’t happen just like they wanted them to, that is when their true nature reveals itself. They roll up their sleeves and use force to accomplish their objectives. This is yet another example of the illusory power we were talking about earlier. True power never applies force. It never has to. Because unlike the illusory kind of power it doesn’t have to prove itself. When the facade starts to crumble, more and more force is brought to bear.
The Tao is everything. That is why it does nothing. And when the Tao is lost, which means that our connectedness to everything is lost, we can’t get away with doing nothing. That is why we substitute doing something for doing nothing. That is why we substitute other things for the Tao. Like goodness. But goodness can be lost too. And so we substitute morality. Because if people can’t naturally be good then they must be forced to do good. But morality can be lost too. And then there is just ritual. We aren’t good naturally. We aren’t even doing good anymore. But we can put up a good show. That is what ritual is. A good show. Well, it is a show. An act. It is the husk of the real thing, true faith. And that, my friends, is the chaos that we are living in today.
People amaze me sometimes. I know so many people that fear anarchy because, well, that would be chaos. So they fear an imagined chaos, while all the time living a very real chaos. I tell them that things could be so much better. But their imaginations are filled with fear. And so their lives are filled with fear. All because they won’t look beyond the surface, to the depths. They get distracted by flowers when they need to concern themselves with the fruit.
But how does the Master do it? We talked yesterday about letting go of desire. Today, Lao Tzu calls it having no will of your own. It is dwelling in reality and letting go of all the illusions. You can be imagining better things.