Getting Smacked In The Head With A Stick

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible,
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A few days ago, I was lamenting that what Lao Tzu was expecting of us wasn’t easy, it was hard. Lao Tzu fires back, today, by telling us that the great Way is easy. It is only hard, because we prefer the side paths. I just got smacked in the head with a stick. The great Way is easy. I just prefer side paths; thinking, I’d like to believe, that those paths are short cuts.

Volumes could be written, and they have, on why we prefer the side paths. But I am not going to start listing the reasons. What I want to do is stick with this idea that the great Way is easy. And, not to get distracted by all those side paths. Lao Tzu tells us to beware when things are out of balance. You can be sure when things are out of balance, it is because we have wandered off onto the side paths. We need to stay centered in the Tao.

So, what are the signs that things are out of balance? One thing that I have found always nice, as I read through the Tao Te Ching, is that when I have a question, Lao Tzu always provides me with an answer. Specifically, in this chapter, Lao Tzu offers us three signs that things are out of balance.

When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land. When government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures. When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible, while the poor have nowhere to turn. Does any of this sound familiar? These very things were happening in Lao Tzu’s day. And, they are very apparent in our day.

People might like to argue that there isn’t anything wrong with rich speculators prospering. That we need to be spending money on weapons. And, who exactly decides what is extravagant and irresponsible? Whether or not, we are talking about the upper class. I, because I am an anarchist, don’t want a government spending money on cures, either. But all these arguments are taking us down side paths.

The point that Lao Tzu is making, is that things are out of balance. Farmers are losing their land. Money that could be spent on many more beneficial things, are being spent on other less beneficial things. The poor have nowhere to turn. That is a problem. And those side paths keep us from being centered in the Tao. And, that means that we are only getting further away from solving the problems. Things are out of balance.

Lao Tzu is, as always, blunt and to the point. All of this is robbery and chaos. It is not in keeping with the Tao. The Tao always brings about balance. Those side paths that we prefer – they result in imbalance. Stay off the side paths. Instead, stay centered in the Tao.

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