When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.
There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.
Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking a lot about the way things are (the eternal reality) versus the way things seem to be (call that the illusion, or delusion). In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu provides us with the stark difference between a country which is in harmony with the Tao (the way things are) and a country that is going counter to the Tao (one that has succumbed to delusion).
The greatest illusion of them all is the phantom of fear. The greatest wrong of them all is preparing to defend yourself, because you have been deluded by the illusion of fear. The greatest misfortune of them all is to consider any of your fellow human beings, your brothers and sisters, your enemies. Fear is a powerful illusion. It causes great delusion.
I want my own country to be in harmony with the Tao. A country like that would be one that values peace so highly, that it wouldn’t be waging wars all over the planet. A country like that would have a thriving economy, benefiting everyone.
Alas, my country is not in harmony with the Tao. Looking back on the history of my country, I find it difficult to find a time when it wasn’t waging war or preparing for war. Our economy is built on lies and deception. It benefits the few at the expense of the many. But what can one lone individual do?
What can one individual do, in the face of a whole country that is going counter to the Tao? Lao Tzu has some sage counsel. Because the Tao Te Ching is written to individuals like you and like me. And, this is what Lao Tzu tells us: “Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe.”
Perhaps that doesn’t seem like much. But it is really a lot. See through the fear. It is an illusion. Don’t be deluded by it. Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe. Our rulers tell us there is safety in numbers. They want us afraid. Very, very afraid. And they want us to pin our hopes on them. They want us to join with them, en masse, united against a common enemy that they have fabricated to delude us.
But, that is what has gotten us in all the trouble we are in today. Individuals can and must dissent. Individuals can and must see through the fear. The safety our rulers promise us is all an illusion. The safety that Lao Tzu offers us is real. In truth, it is the only reality. But, we have to see through the fear.