How Can We Be Content?

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time
inventing labor-saving devices.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing
and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We are winding things down on our latest journey through the Tao Te Ching. Tomorrow, we will have the last chapter. But don’t worry I will be starting the cycle all over again with chapter one on Monday. I point this out to new followers on tumblr because I always look forward to starting over again with fresh and new thoughts as we journey together through another cycle.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We have today’s chapter to talk about. It is another of my favorite chapters of the Tao Te Ching. Be forewarned. That usually means that I am going to have plenty to say. In today’s chapter, the topic is, how can we be content?

Lao Tzu begins the chapter by saying that if a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. That seems a simple enough prescription. Lao Tzu has had lots to say about how to govern wisely, throughout the Tao Te Ching. And, the point of philosophical Taoism is being content.

After I finished my tutoring today, I spent hours sitting outside in my backyard, enjoying the beautiful Autumn weather in the Ozarks. I certainly hope that wherever in the world all of you are living, you were able to enjoy your day as well.

I was sitting in the shade of a walnut tree, smoking my pipe, and thinking about today’s chapter. Thinking about what it means to be content. Wondering why we aren’t. Should we just blame the government for our lack of contentment. Or, is it possible, in fact, likely, that we would do much better learning how to be content in whatever state we are in. Regardless of whether your country is governed wisely.

Lao Tzu has had lots to say about contentment, throughout the Tao Te Ching. And every time he brings it up, he has insisted that it doesn’t have to depend on what our outward circumstances are. Contentment is an inward thing. That is why, as I was sitting out in my yard, I knew I was content.

There is a whole lot going on in our world with which we have every reason to be discontent. If there are any governments out there in the world which are governing wisely, I would sure like one of my followers to send me a message informing me of this magical place. I certainly don’t have any personal experience or knowledge of that. My own country hasn’t been governed wisely for as long as I have been living. And in looking back over history that predates me, this has been an ongoing thing for a very long time.

Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, doesn’t tell us how to be content when our country is not governed wisely. So, I am going to rely a lot on what he has said previously. Today, after his opening sentence, he paints an idyllic picture of what contentment looks like. But in looking at that picture, I can imagine that a lot of my readers are going to raise all sorts of objections to his idea of what contentment is.

Let’s take a brief look at this picture and see how we might overcome the objections. First off, Lao Tzu says that content inhabitants will enjoy the labor of their hands and won’t waste time inventing labor-saving devices. The immediate objection to this idea of contentment that comes to my mind is what is wrong with labor-saving devices? I for one, take full advantage of every labor-saving device that I can put to use. Anything that cuts down the labor of my hands, is okay by me. I happen to love leisure. Hence, I enjoyed being able to spend hours sitting out in the shade this afternoon. Quite frankly, I cannot even imagine being content without all the wonderful labor-saving inventions that have been devised by discontent people.

That is quite an objection. And I hope you noticed how I played with the words content and discontent in pointing out the objection. Discontentment can actually be a good thing. It can lead to innovation. And, innovation tends to be a good thing. But hold on there for just one moment. Yes, there is a positive side to discontentment. But there is a negative side as well. And what Lao Tzu is addressing is very different.

I think the problem we are having with this idyllic picture is that we are taking it far too literally. This might be Lao Tzu’s ideal. And maybe it isn’t yours. But what I really want you to consider is the possibility that your real problem with the picture is that you are not content. I wouldn’t be content with not having labor-saving devices. I wouldn’t be content to just sit at home all day and never travel. Of course you wouldn’t. You aren’t content. That is the point Lao Tzu is trying to make. If our country was governed wisely, we would be content. We might even be surprised to find out we were content to work with our hands. And not always be reaching for some labor-saving device. We might not be so restless that we couldn’t stand to be in our own home, our own back yards, for hours on end; for days, weeks, months, years, a life time.

Just think of being so discontent that you have an arsenal of weapons and can’t stand not to use them. Do you even enjoy food any longer? How about the time you spend with your families? Is that a nightmare, as well? I know, I didn’t have to ask.

I think it has been awhile since I have invoked the image of Tolkien’s Shire. But, for me, that is my idyllic picture of a life of contentment. Tolkien’s stories of hobbits are pure fiction. But that isn’t going to stop me from living my life of contentment in my own way. Good food. Good beer. The finest weed, north of the South-Farthing. Family, friends, and neighbors all enjoying each other’s company. And my own little garden that I get to work in with my own two hands. The roosters crowing. The dogs barking. That is the life. I can be content to die of old age having lived such a life of contentment.

And the nice thing about my own idyllic picture, is that it doesn’t really matter what the government is doing at all. Oh, I wish my country was being governed wisely. But it isn’t. And that isn’t likely to change in my lifetime. That could be depressing, if I choose to let it. But I don’t. I practice my own personal anarchism. I live my life as free from the State as I possibly can. I treat everyone I meet like I would like to be treated. I engage in voluntary and free trade with all; and have entangling alliances with no one. I obey laws that I would naturally be inclined to obey. And ignore laws that go against nature.

I am content. Oh, there are times when I am discontent; and that motivates me to change something. And, then I do. And, I am content again. I sat out in my yard for quite awhile today. Then, a friend came over and we visited for awhile. Once he left, I was content to sit down at my labor-saving device known as a computer and type up this blog post. Now that I am finshed, I am going to head back out into my back yard. There is still sunshine to enjoy. And after that a starry night.

When Adults Behave Like Children

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore, the Master
fulfills her obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

As I have mentioned before, I have been tutoring a little girl, who is now 5, for the last two years. Today’s chapter reminds me of conversations that I have had with her a lot. She is a strong-willed little girl. I like strong wills. She reminds me a lot of my own daughter who was also strong-willed. One thing this little girl does not like is failure. She doesn’t like to make mistakes. And doesn’t like it when I correct her. She is, of course, wanting to please her parents, who are very interested in making sure she gets a good education from an early age. That is where my services came in. But, I do know she is really feeling the pressure to succeed. And sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, I want to help to ease that pressure. There is no reason for a 5 year old to be getting stressed out about school. So, when she gets stressed, she gets upset. Mad. That is how she would put it. “I am so mad at you right now, Chuck.” Yes, I hear that quite frequently when I point out that she has made a mistake and I want her to get it right.

My mantra to her, that thankfully always puts a smile on her face, is to tell her that instead of getting upset or mad when she makes a mistake, she needs to put on a smile. Because making mistakes means you are getting ready to learn something. If she always knew the correct answers when I asked her something, if she always knew how to solve any problem I gave her, she would learn nothing. You can only learn by making mistakes. And learning from them. That is why I come to see her every day, five days a week. So she can make mistakes and I can help her to correct them.

I recount this little anecdote, not because I want to treat my readers as children, but because I don’t want you to behave like children. We are adults. And we still make mistakes. All the time. When we are adults we need to behave like adults when we fail. We need to recognize that failure is an opportunity. It is understandable when children throw temper tantrums. We don’t let them get away with throwing temper tantrums; but we understand why they do it. They are children. They are immature. They don’t understand. But adults? They’re different.

Throwing a temper tantrum is trying to find someone else to blame for your failure. You start down that road and there is no end to the blame. It is childish behavior. That little girl that I tutor gets mad at me. It is my fault that she failed. Perhaps, it is my fault. Perhaps, I need to correct how I went about explaining something to her. I, being an adult, am willing to admit my mistakes when they are pointed out; and correct them. But, some adults act like little five year olds when they fail. We have a lot of them in Washington D.C. You can recognize them when you see them pointing the finger of blame at someone else. “It was the previous guy’s fault. It isn’t my fault.” Yeah, grow up.

Failure is an opportunity. How very differently adults behave, when they fail. The Master is our example of how adults are supposed to behave. We are talking about contractual obligations here. You have made a commitment to do such and such in exchange for this or that. And something goes wrong on your end. Horribly wrong. Now is not the time to be pointing the finger of blame. Now is your opportunity to behave like an adult. Fulfill your obligations. Correct your own mistakes. Do whatever needs to be done. Fulfill your obligations. And don’t be making demands of others. Don’t act like a little child. Be an adult.

Yes, But Can You Put It Into Practice?

Nothing in the world is
as soft and yielding as water.
Yet, for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore, the Master remains serene
in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I typed page after page after page. I tend to get carried away when I get a chance to explain how philosophical Taoism and libertarianism or anarchism fit together. Today, I may not be so lengthy. We are returning to something that Lao Tzu was talking about a couple chapters ago. Something I have noticed as I have been going through the Tao Te Ching, over and over again, is that Lao Tzu seems to write in such a way, that he begins a thought in one chapter, and then leaves it; only to return to it a couple chapters later.

If you will remember a couple chapters ago, Lao Tzu was talking about the living and the dead. He said a characteristic of the living is that they are soft and yielding. And a characteristic of the dead is that they are hard and inflexible. He was using nature to represent how the Tao manifests itself in our world. The life cycle is a natural cycle that begins with birth, followed by growth, to maturity, and finally to death. I say finally, but it isn’t really final. Death is followed by decay and then rebirth where the cycle of life begins again.

That is all very elementary, but it is important for us to keep in mind; for the Tao manifests itself in our world, naturally. Today he talks again about the soft and yielding and the hard and inflexible. And, he returns to one of his favorite metaphors, that of water. He says that nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Water here, is then a metaphor for life. He is wanting us to be alive. To be soft and yielding is to be alive.

Contrast that with the hard and inflexible. Which Lao Tzu has already told us, is characteristic of the dead. If you want to dissolve something that is hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass water, something that is is unsurpassed in being soft and yielding.

Now at this point, you may want to picture in your mind those qualities of water. Lao Tzu has talked at length about them before. That picture in your mind serves the purpose of confirming to you that the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the rigid.

Everyone knows this is true. So why are we talking about it? I am glad you asked. The reason we are talking about it is that while everyone knows it is true, few seem to be able to put it into practice. And putting these things into practice is the whole point of what Lao Tzu is teaching. Only having an intellectual understanding is not enough. We need to be able to put the lessons we can learn from nature to practice in our lives. We, after all, want to be among the living; rather than among the dead.

This is also important when you think of yesterday’s chapter, in which Lao Tzu was telling us how the Tao manifests itself in our world; and I said that dealing with the problem of interfering with the Tao was a matter of dealing with the problem of supposed power. We have to strike at the root of the problem; and that is that the powers that be don’t want the Tao achieving balance.

How do we strike at that root? I didn’t say. Because Lao Tzu tells us today. The powers that be are hard and inflexible when it comes to letting any change come. And sometimes we are inclined to fight the hard and inflexible by being hard and inflexible. But Lao Tzu is telling us, that is not the way to overcome them.

How can we overcome the hard and inflexible? By being soft and yielding. And this is where he once again points to the example of the Master. Remember, we are trying to put into practice this thing that everyone already knows. The Master gives us an example of overcoming the hard and inflexible by being soft and yielding.

Sorrow is a hard thing. Evil is a hard thing. Trying to help, even that is a hard thing. Anyone that has ever tried to help someone knows just how hard it is. Even trying to let someone help you is a hard thing. How does the Master overcome these hard things?

The Master overcomes sorrow by remaining serene. Stay with me, here. This is a very important lesson for us today. Even when you are in the midst of sorrow, you don’t have to be overcome by it. Whether we are talking about our own sorrow or we are talking about the sorrow of friends or family, we can overcome it. Not by being hard and inflexible, right back, but by being soft and yielding. Remaining serene is being soft and yielding. How does the Master do it? I don’t know. Perhaps he pictures in his mind, water. Like the Pacific Ocean. Pacific means peaceful.

By picturing in your mind a calm deep pool of water. Still waters do run deep. Imagine that pool of water unperturbed by the chaos that may be surrounding it. Breathing in and out slowly and deeply is also a good practice. We are talking about maintaining an inner attitude that isn’t affected by outward circumstances. I have likened it before to setting the thermostat to what ever temperature you want. Regardless of the outward temperature, your inner thermostat remains unchanged. That is serenity.

This is how to overcome sorrow. And, it is how to overcome evil. And here I am thinking of all the evil that is in the world. Lao Tzu has talked before about guarding our three treasures. We deal with evil by being soft and yielding. Stepping around it. Not confronting it. Confronting it is being just as hard and inflexible as the evil is being. When we respond to evil by being hard and inflexible, rather than serene, we invite the danger of allowing evil to enter our own hearts. And our three treasures are destroyed.

Do you want to be of the greatest help? Stop trying so hard. Like I said, trying is hard. You can be the greatest help when you are soft and yielding, rather than hard and inflexible. Give up trying to help. I know this sounds paradoxical. Lao Tzu ends this chapter by saying that true words seems paradoxical. But appearances can be deceiving. Often, what is real and true is hard to see; because it is masked by this seeming paradox.

Nevertheless, it is true. And everyone knows it is true. But can you put it into practice? That is the question.

Not An Archery Lesson

As it acts in the world,
the Tao is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she
is better than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today we have another one of my favorite chapters from the Tao Te Ching. I could write pages on it; but hopefully, I won’t. Here are some things I want you to keep in mind as you think on today’s chapter.

First off, the Tao is the name Lao Tzu gives to the eternal reality behind all the workings of the Universe. Lao Tzu spends 81 chapters telling about it. Six days from now I will be back to chapter one, and we will read, once again, Lao Tzu’s warnings about naming and telling. I will go into more detail then, about those warnings. Today, I think it will suffice for us to keep in mind that the eternal reality is always a mystery. We can see its manifestations. And those manifestations help us to understand it better. But what we are speaking of, is always shrouded in darkness. Lao Tzu calls it darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.

The purpose of my blog posts each day is to peer into that darkness and invite you to peer into it, as well. What do we see? Not with our eyes. They aren’t going to be very helpful to us. We are talking about darkness here. That is the mystery. What I really accomplish with my blog posts, at least I hope I am accomplishing it, is to show how the Tao manifests itself in our world. Its manifestations are plain to see. If only we will look.

And, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu shows us how the Tao acts in the world. Well, not quite. He is limited to talking about what it is like. Lao Tzu likes using everyday things for us to picture in our minds. That is how he explains things. Today, we picture the bending of a bow. Lao Tzu says that is like how the Tao operates in our world. Hopefully, you have that mental image of a bending bow in your mind. Its top is bent down and its bottom is bent up.

This is like how the Tao adjusts excess and deficiency, so that there is perfect balance. The Tao manifests itself this way in the world. Always working to achieve balance. When things are out of balance, Lao Tzu identifies a twin problem, and the Tao addresses them both at once. When things are out of balance there is both a problem of excess and a problem of deficiency. The Tao could not address the one, without addressing the other. Otherwise, there couldn’t be balance. Excess is too much. Deficiency is not enough. The Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough.

This may seem so simple a concept you wonder why we are going on and on about it. But I would counter, if this is such a simple concept, why are things so out of balance? Oh, and one more thing, I am going to spend time today talking about those who have too much and those who have not enough. I want to go ahead and deal with the first objection that I can imagine is going to be raised, before I progress further. That objection is, who gets to decide what is too much and what is not enough. That is a fair objection. And one that I share. So, I want to say right now that this isn’t up for a vote. I loathe democracies. Majority rule is tyranny of minorities, with the individual being the smallest minority of them all. No one gets to decide that any person has too much. Not by getting a majority to go along with you. And not by establishing yourself as a dictator. What we are talking about today, in dealing with the problem of excess and deficiency, is not something that any human is supposed to be dealing with. That is really Lao Tzu’s point. The Tao deals with it. When humans put themselves in the place of the Tao, chaos ensues. More on that as we proceed.

The Tao is the eternal reality behind all the workings of the Universe. Yes, I am repeating myself, but this is important. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this reality. The Tao is the natural Law, the natural order which emerges out of chaos. Left to its own devices, the Tao will achieve order and balance, naturally. I, personally, identify this natural law, or order and balance emerging out of chaos, as free market anarchism. That is my label. Lao Tzu doesn’t use it. But I will; because I want to be clear that when I talk about free market anarchism, I am thinking of that bending of the bow, that Lao Tzu has us picture. I am not going to force you to accept my label. I only apply it so that you can better understand where I am coming from. I am a free market anarchist because I believe being at one with the Tao, instead of being at odds with it, is the way to maintain a certain equilibrium in my life that I call happiness. Leaving it to the Tao, simply makes me happy.

But often, there are those who aren’t quite satisfied with leaving it to the Tao. Objections to leaving it to the Tao come from two diametrically opposed groups of people. Both those who have not enough and those who have too much. Lao Tzu is going to strike at the root of the objection, but first I want to identify the two branches. That will help us to understand why it is that free market anarchism can be such a hard sale to the masses of people.

For those that have not enough, the objection to leaving it to the Tao is that the pace of nature is just too damn slow. And that is how the Tao manifests itself in the world, through nature. I can understand this objection, on both an intellectual and an emotional level. When I don’t have enough for something I want right now, it is hard to accept that the thing that I want will have to wait; or that, perhaps, I will just have to do without. Postponing fulfilling desires is not pleasant. It requires discipline. And who likes discipline?

Even the most disciplined can be moved to welcome any promise that we can have what we desire sooner, rather than later. This attitude will play right into the hands of the other group that objects to leaving it to the Tao; so I am going to leave the motives of those who don’t have enough right here for now, as we consider the motives (the objection) of those who have too much.

For those who have too much, that would be those at the top of the bow, they don’t like this taking from them, and giving it to someone else; not one little bit. Their motivation, like those on the bottom of the bow, is purely selfish. I am not knocking selfishness here. It is human nature to be selfish. You might as well accept right now that humans are going to act according to their nature. They always do. They always act in a way that they believe will benefit themselves. Yes, I understand that we don’t always have perfect knowledge of what will best benefit us, and sometimes what we do causes ourselves great harm. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is in our nature to act in such a way that we believe we are going to receive benefit. This is, by the way how I interpret Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness. I understand why denying (or sacrificing) our humanity to serve others (altruism) is despicable… But that is a whole other topic better saved for another day.

Still, selfishness is a very natural trait for us humans. And, it is a powerful motivator; both for those who have too much and not enough. But that isn’t the root of the problem. So, Lao Tzu isn’t going to strike down selfishness. Yay! If he did that we would have to deny our humanity, and I am not about to advocate that. No, Lao Tzu understands human nature very well. And the Tao knows how to work with our human nature. Selfishness is what motivates us. But once again, that isn’t the root of the problem.

The root is power.

We are all selfish. That is a given. It is like saying water is wet. But it doesn’t matter that we are selfish, if we don’t have power.

The problem that Lao Tzu is addressing today is when those who try to control, who use force to protect their power, go against the direction of the Tao. Remember, the Tao is always working to achieve balance and cause order to emerge from chaos. In order to achieve balance the Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. But the powers that be, we have already established, don’t want that. They will take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

Power is the problem. That is the root that we must strike. Here are some thoughts on that. First, that power is all an illusion. That doesn’t stop it from being effective, if enough people fall for the illusion. But it is something to keep in mind. It is all an illusion. The eternal reality is something far greater. But, in order for that illusory power to even exist it needs people to believe it exists.

When we are talking about those that have too much vs. those who don’t have enough, the latter group far outnumbers the former. If the latter group understands the motivation of the former group is protecting their supposed power, then they won’t knowingly go along with the ruse. That is why those with too much, feign altruism. They can’t have all those people actually believing that their intentions are anything but altruistic. They will make grandiose promises about taking from those that have too much and giving it to those who don’t have enough. But they always take away from those who don’t have enough and give to those who already have plenty. We have been playing this game for a very long time now. And sadly, a whole lot of people continue to fall for the ruse. The powers that be are very good at masking their true intentions. They even have most of the world convinced that a free market, unregulated by the powers that be, would do the very opposite of what Lao Tzu has told us the Tao does, left to its own devices.

Some people think they understand this, but they don’t understand the real root of the problem. They just think that the wrong people are in power. If the people who don’t have enough were only in power, then things would change. This is what motivates people to go to the polls and vote every new election. If we can just get the right people in power, things will finally change. You guys did register to vote yesterday?

No, Lao Tzu says that supposed power is the root of the problem; and that is what we have to strike. The Tao, left alone and not interfered with, will achieve balance and order. It is our incessant desire to interfere that is causing the imbalance. We never feel we have enough.

How very different is the Master. She is one with the Tao. And being in perfect harmony with it, is our example of how balance and order is achieved. She can keep giving and giving and giving. There is no end to her wealth. She acts without expectation. Succeeds without taking credit. And perhaps most amazing of them all, she doesn’t think she is better than anyone else.

Looks like my initial warning about being able to write page after page has proven true. Sorry.

The Difference Between The Living And The Dead

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today Lao Tzu talks about life and death. The living are soft and supple, tender, and pliant. While the dead are stiff and hard, brittle and dry. This is a metaphor, not for the dead, but for the living. At least we should be living. But are we?

We, the living, may in fact be disciples of death. Are we stiff and inflexible? When the winds of change are upon us, do we try to stand fast against the wind, and hold on to the past. Things that always were only transient things; but we got comfortable with them. We have grown accustomed to them. We aren’t ready to let go.

Lao Tzu is hearkening back to a couple chapters ago when he was talking about the nothing that we try to hold on to. All things change; but disciples of death, will fight it to the bitter end. But what is it they are holding on to? A wisp. A phantom. Nothing. They may be living; but they are already among the dead and decaying.

How very different are disciples of life. They are soft and yielding. They are ready for the inevitable changing winds. They are ready. And, there is nothing they can’t achieve.

First, there was a little l. Then, along came a little t. They belong together.

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Just the other day, I had someone anonymously message me on tumblr. I am always delighted to get messages on tumblr. I don’t actually get very many of them. I guess I don’t encourage it enough. While I allow people to anonymously message me, I never quite have figured out what is the point. If you don’t want anyone to know that it was you that asked me a question, you can ask and I will reply privately. But if you are actually wanting to carry on a conversation, I need to know who you are so we can talk.

“Anonymous” messages can be really out there, though. I don’t think I have gotten any “hate”, but sometimes the messages just leave me scratching my head. I am kind of dense. You send me a short message with no way of asking what you mean. I am just clueless that way. Anyway, the anonymous message was: “wait, are you a taoist??” Yep, that was the question. How do I respond? I have been on tumblr for over two years now. My url on tumblr has been libertariantaoist for all this time. I have been cycling through Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, with quotes and commentary, for ever so long. Of course I am a taoist!

But I do have to give props to Anonymous. Whoever you are, you did use taoist with a lowercase t, and I appreciate that. Taoists and I have an unwritten agreement. I don’t claim to be a Taoist with a capital T and they don’t hate on me for not being a proper Taoist.

Anonymous, if you are still out there, it might interest you to know that I am also a libertarian with a lower case l. Not to be confused with a Libertarian with a capital L. Unlike the Taoists, who pretty much keep to themselves and don’t try to recruit me to their cause, the big L Libertarians are all the time sending me enlistment info. They really want me to be a big L Libertarian. I am not hating on you big L Libertarians, I just want to remain unaffiliated.

I call myself libertariantaoist because that is who I am. I find Lao Tzu’s writings are both taoist and libertarian. I even used the lower case t for taoist there, because I don’t know that Lao Tzu would have called himself either one.

I was a libertarian before I started reading Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, so I put the libertarian first. And, what first attracted me to the Tao Te Ching was how very libertarian his writing was. I mean, just look again at today’s chapter.

When taxes are too high, people go hungry.When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit. Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.

If I was going to write four sentences to describe what a libertarian believes, that would be my four sentences. Statists are going to wail. But this is just common sense. You know the kind. The kind that, sadly, isn’t at all common.

I am really delighted with what Lao Tzu said today. He was like the Ron Paul of his generation.

 

Ouch! Maybe I Will Let The Future Be

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future is like trying
to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

As I am sitting here typing this, the calendar informs me that the most wonderful time of the year has begun. I am meaning the beginning of Autumn. Apologies to my readers down under in the Southern Hemisphere. I know Spring has sprung for you. But Fall kind of snuck up on me this year. In my part of the world, south central Missouri, and regardless of the calendar, we have been having Fall like weather for a couple weeks now. I had actually kind of forgotten that Autumn hadn’t officially arrived. And, while I call it the most wonderful time of the year, I really must admit that I enjoy all four seasons of the year, pretty equally. They all have a little something to offer. So, whatever season of the year it happens to be at the moment just happens to be my favorite.

The seasons come and the seasons go. If there is one constant we can really count on, it seems that change is it. Sometimes we really like the idea of change. And other times, we really can’t stand the thought. But change is inevitable. That is one aspect of the eternal reality. When we are wanting change, it seems slow to come. And when we don’t want things to change, it has a way of acting swiftly.

I’d like to promise those of you that are trying to hang in there until your needed change arrives, to keep hanging in there, your change is going to happen. But today’s chapter isn’t really written for those who are holding out for a change. Today’s chapter is written to those who are holding onto things that you don’t want to change. Lao Tzu is wanting us to learn to let go.

No matter how firmly we hold on, change is going to happen. And it would be best if we let go of all those things that are going to change. We need to realize this, and hold onto nothing. Funny phrase, hold onto nothing. I typed that and then I stopped and looked back at it. That isn’t what Lao Tzu said. Hold onto nothing. He said, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. That is what all these transient things are. Nothings. They come, they go. They are nothing. Let them go.

And that was just the first line of today’s verse. Lao Tzu follows it by saying the same thing, a different way. We have covered before that Lao Tzu likes to write these couplets. What are you afraid of? Most of us are afraid of dying. At least a little. Perhaps we fear it more, the closer it seems to approach. But there is something exhilarating about experiencing the fear of death. We like to watch daredevils, even if we wouldn’t be daring enough to do those death-defying stunts, ourselves. I don’t think it is death-defying stunts that Lao Tzu has in mind when he talks about the nothing you can’t achieve if you aren’t afraid of dying. What jumps out at me is there is that word “nothing” again. There is nothing you can’t achieve. If there is nothing you will try to hold on to, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Now, that is poetry. I am sure I could spend a great deal of time talking about that.

But not today. Today is fleeting. And I am going to leave it to my readers to imagine the endless possibilities.

No, I want to get back to the concern that Lao Tzu is addressing in today’s chapter. And that is our need to be in control. That is what makes us resistant to change. That is why we hold on to things that are transient. That is why we are afraid of dying. Not content with the present, which, alas, is transient, we want to try and control the future. And Lao Tzu offers a painful illustration of just what we are trying to achieve.

At least it seems like a painful illustration to me. I am not a carpenter by trade. Far from it. And I look like a fool when I try to handle a master carpenter’s tools. So, generally, I have no problem leaving it to someone who is better suited for the task. And that is exactly why Lao Tzu’s warning makes such good sense to me. Trying to control the future? That is like taking the master carpenter’s place. When you handle those tools, you are likely to cut your hand.

Preexisting Conditions? No Worries. You’re Covered.

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about losing our sense of awe. That sense of awe, I identified as the eternal reality, the Tao. The Master’s solution when the people lose touch with the Tao was to take a step back. That might not seem like much of a solution. Our mindset is for us to do something. And taking a step back seems like a pretty passive approach.

So today, Lao Tzu explains why it is that passive approach is just what the doctor ordered. He talks about the Tao. Talk about passive. It is always at ease. It overcomes without competing. It answers without saying a word. It arrives without being summoned, and accomplishes without a plan. That is passive.

It is almost as if Lao Tzu is telling each of us, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or, “Chill, dude!” The Tao is certainly always chilling. The Tao is always at ease. We need to be more like the leisurely Tao.

These are supposed to be comforting words to those who have lost their way. So why do we get in a panic when we have lost our way? Turning to some external authority that doesn’t know its way either.

We need to relax. We need to chill out. The Tao has the whole universe covered with its net. No matter how lost you are feeling right about now. No matter how dark it has been. The Tao has got you covered. And nothing, not you, not anybody, not anything, is ever going to slip through those meshes.

Time To Take A Step Back

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.

Therefore the Master steps back,
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago I entitled my blog post, No More Obfuscating. I was referring to my own tendency to want to change the obvious meaning of words to something more palatable to my readers. As Lao Tzu said yesterday, you have to realize you are sick before you can move toward health. I recognized I wasn’t serving my readers by obfuscating. Lao Tzu may use mysterious language a lot, at least to our Western mindset, but he always makes very clear what he is saying. And he is blunt, sometimes more blunt than my delicate sensitivities would like. So, I tend to want to soften the blow. But I need to stop doing that.

So today, when Lao Tzu comes on strong. I am not going to pull his punches. The whole emphasis of the Tao Te Ching is that there is an eternal reality; which Lao Tzu, for lack of a better word, refers to as the Tao. Often, perhaps because we find them more palatable, we prefer side paths to that eternal reality. Or maybe, we simply lose our way.

When people lose their sense of awe, and that sense of awe is our connection with the eternal reality, people turn to religion. This is where my delicate sensitivities kick in. For I don’t want to offend my family and friends who are religious. But, I also realize that I am not serving them by obfuscating. So, instead of obfuscating, I ask that those of you whose delicate sensitivities are injured by what Lao Tzu has to say, take a step back and wonder why exactly that is.

It might help to understand that Lao Tzu tends to write the same thing in two different ways together to make his point. First he says, “When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion.” Then he says, “When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority.” Okay, no obfuscating here, but I find I can work with the second sentence better. Yet, they mean the same thing.

When we have lost our way, when our connection to the Tao, the eternal reality, is lost, we start doubting ourselves. As well we might. It really makes perfect sense. When we no longer believe that we can trust ourselves, we begin to depend on some authority. That authority could be religion. Or it could be the government. It could be any variety of authority. But the root cause of our state of dependence is that we have lost touch with the eternal reality. The Tao is inside each of us. We need to be trusting ourselves. Our inward intuition. But having lost that connection, we start putting our trust in something external to ourselves.

That is the problem that Lao Tzu is addressing in today’s chapter. Lao Tzu understands human nature. He understands our tendency to “panic” when we lose our way. That is why he brings in the Master to show how best to deal with the situation.

And how does the Master deal with it? By taking a step back. This is such simple advice that I think we often fail to consider how very helpful it would be. If, instead of stopping and taking a step back, thus getting our bearings, we forge on ahead, we only get more desperate. People are easily confused. No one likes admitting it. But it is, nevertheless, true. We get confused, easily. Taking a step back is the first and right move, if we are going to ward off confusion.

Next, let us remember what Lao Tzu said a couple chapters ago, his teachings are easy to understand and to put into practice; but our intellect can’t grasp them, and trying to put them into practice is a sure way to fail. The Master teaches without a teaching, thus there is nothing you have to learn.

Like Lao Tzu said yesterday, we don’t need some external authority, we can be our own physician. Physician, heal yourself.

It Is Time To Be Your Own Physician

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First, realize that you are sick;
Then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus, she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

One of the things that Lao Tzu keeps coming back to is our need to not-know. Today, Lao Tzu calls not-knowing the only true knowledge. But what exactly is not-knowing? Is Lao Tzu wanting us all to be ignorant? Is ignorance really bliss? If not-knowing is true knowledge, then ignorance can’t be what Lao Tzu is really promoting.

Not-knowing isn’t actually remaining in a state of ignorance. It is coming out of a state of ignorance. Lao Tzu illustrates this using a metaphor that kind of sounds like the beginning of a 12-step plan. Not-knowing isn’t the opposite of knowing, at all. It is presuming to know which Lao Tzu is concerned with. That is the disease. And not-knowing, or coming to realize that we don’t really know what we presume to know, is the cure.

But, as long as we continue to remain in our state of ignorance. As long as we presume that we know, we are sorely afflicted. Lao Tzu tells us that first you have to realize that you are sick. That is not-knowing. We will remain in this state of ignorance until we realize that we are sick. But then, and only then, we can move toward health.

Once someone realizes that they are sick, that is when they start looking for the services of a physician. The majority of us don’t have money to spend on physicians when we think there is nothing wrong with us. But we do now realize that we are sick. Now what? Lao Tzu says that the Master is her own physician. This is good news for those of us that also don’t have money to spend on physicians when we know we aren’t well. And what is that the good physician does? Heal yourself of all knowing. That is the path to wholeness.

By ridding yourself of all presumption, through the practice of not-knowing, you make yourself whole.