My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.
My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?
If you want to know me, look inside your heart.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Back a few chapters, Lao Tzu told us that it took looking inside ourselves for his teaching to make sense. And, that when we put his teachings into practice, we would find their roots go deep. It was in that chapter that he said he had only three things to teach: simplicity, patience and compassion. These, he said, were our three greatest treasures.
Yesterday, he warned us about the danger of destroying those treasures. Today, he explains how easy it is understand and put into practice these teachings. But he offers us a few caveats.
They are easy to understand. But you aren’t going to grasp them with your intellect.
They are easy to put into practice. But if you try to practice them, you are going to fail.
Wait, Lao Tzu. This isn’t sounding so easy.
All that education I have filled my mind with isn’t going to help me with this? Maybe the ancient Masters were onto something when they didn’t try to educate the people, but kindly taught them to not-know. And Lao Tzu further warns us that his teachings are older than the world. How could we expect to grasp their meaning?
If I am going to understand the art of simplicity, patience, and compassion, I have to practice not-knowing knowing. Which means, instead of relying on my knowledge, I need to know that I don’t know. That is the launching point.
As for my efforts at putting these teachings into practice, he has the perfect solution when all my efforts are only going to fail. That is, practice not-doing doing. This is the effortless action that he has talked about so much. It isn’t doing at all. It is simply, being. Don’t do. Just be.
Easy, right? Well, as easy as we let it be. Our problem, excuse me, my problem, is that my intellect gets in the way. That, and my own stubborn will to try. Those are the only reasons it is so hard. Because I make it so hard. I can know the essence of Lao Tzu’s teachings. But I am going to have to look inside my own heart to find it.