When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence decline,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I saw a poll recently. I don’t usually care too much for polls. They are so easy to manipulate. And, the results don’t usually mean what we may be hoping they mean. But I did see a poll recently. And, in that poll, which I don’t have in front of me, so I am typing this from memory, bear with me; something like 60 percent of the people polled said that the number one problem in America is the government. After my blog post on yesterday’s chapter, you would think that would give me some reason to cheer. I mean, how can I doubt that at least 60 percent of the people think our government is our number one problem. I might be just a little bit frustrated that it isn’t much closer to 100 percent. And, then I have to think realistically and accept what must be true; and that is that a good number of those 60 percent are just frustrated that we just don’t have the right people in charge. I figure there are a whole lot of people that are upset over the recent takeover of the Senate by the Republicans. And, I am sure there are plenty of people that are upset because they don’t think the particular Republicans that are elected are going to do what they expect them to do. I wasn’t asked to take part in the poll. But just for the record, I think the number one problem with America is that we have a federal government. And, the number one problem with the world is that the U.S. has an imperialistic federal government.
But enough about the poll. Most people look at the situation in the world and think we are in a really bad way. Not everyone is going to agree on what exactly the problem is. But most people, at least I hope it is most people, would agree that things are not the way they should be. Much of the time I hear people complaining with words something along the lines of, “How did things get this bad? When did things get so bad? How did we go so wrong?”
I am so glad you asked. I think Lao Tzu has a lot to say about that in today’s chapter. In today’s chapter Lao Tzu identifies both the symptoms that something is wrong and why we developed the symptoms in the first place. He identifies problems within the individual, the family, and the country. And, he identifies the root of the problem.
The root of the problem is that the great Tao has been forgotten. You were wondering what our problem is? That is our problem. Lao Tzu has been devoting chapter after chapter to trying to explain what he means by the Tao. I am not going to try to explain it in one blog post. It is so much more than a few mere words can convey. For my newer followers, I would recommend looking back through my previous posts.
When the great Tao is forgotten, it is like the tip of an iceberg breaking off and falling into the ocean. Seems innocuous enough. Big splash, but not too bad. But the repercussions will be cataclysmic far, far away. Goodness and piety appear. What could be wrong with goodness and piety? Yes, seems innocuous enough. But, if there is one thing I have learned while going through the Tao Te Ching day after day, and learning about the Tao, it is that there is nothing innocuous about the way things seem or appear.
The great Tao has been forgotten! And, that has triggered a tsunami. That goodness and piety have appeared and that they seem innocuous enough, should raise all kinds of red flags for us. We need to sound the alarm. A tsunami is approaching fast. But we didn’t see the need to sound the alarm. We thought goodness and piety would suffice.
That is when the body’s intelligence declines. What does Lao Tzu mean by body’s intelligence? Does he mean we aren’t as smart as we once were? Close, but not quite. Body intelligence is our innate ability to intuitively connect with the Tao. But we have forgotten the great Tao. And soon, our body’s innate ability to intuitively know, declines.
But, just like how goodness and piety appear with the absence of the Tao, cleverness and knowledge step forth to fill in the gap created by our weakened intuition. These are more red flags. Is anyone paying any attention?
Oh, I understand. You are wondering what is really wrong with goodness and piety, cleverness and knowledge. Is it enough for you that they are poor substitutes for the real thing? The Tao is natural and spontaneous. These counterfeits are unnatural and contrived. Their appearance is a sign of real trouble ahead. But we still aren’t paying attention.
It starts with individuals. But it extends outward from there. Like that tsunami I was warning you about. Now, there is no peace in the family. Even if this tsunami stopped right here, it already has done plenty of damage. No peace in the family. Before the great Tao was forgotten, there was peace. Families looked after each other, loving and caring and nurturing. It was all natural and spontaneous. But, now that that Tao has been forgotten, there is no peace. That is why filial piety has begun. That word, piety, has already raised red flags; but now he has added the word, filial, to it. And that really spells disaster. What does filial mean? It means something done out of duty. What was once natural and spontaneous, is now unnatural and contrived. We will have the duties of parents to their children.. And, the duties of children to their parents. The duties of husbands to their wives. And don’t forget the duties of wives to their husbands. In the absence of peace in the family, you will hear a lot about duties.
Like I said, just having it affect families like that, should be enough. But it doesn’t stop there. I started out my blog post today by talking about a poll identifying the government as the number one problem in America. And, I said that most people are wondering how did things get this way. It starts out with individuals forgetting the great Tao. But the repercussions spread outward from there, far and wide. It affects families and communities. Even whole countries and the world.
And, when a country falls into chaos (wouldn’t that pretty much sum up our situation today?), patriotism is born. Yesterday, we were talking about how best to govern a country. The Master certainly never forgets the Tao. And, there is a natural and spontaneous trust that develops throughout the land. Patriotism is not natural. And, it isn’t spontaneous. It is contrived, just like the goodness and piety, the cleverness and knowledge, and the filial piety. It is contrived by people that have a will to power and the need to control. Perhaps you will love them. It is just as likely that you will fear or despise them. But by now the tsunami is doing its peak damage. Ravaging the whole countryside.
And to think, it all started with a little chunk of ice crumbling and falling into the ocean. That is the consequences of forgetting the great Tao. It perfectly describes the mess we are in today. And, the best we can hope for is that the waters will reside and we can begin the work of rebuilding the shattered lives, homes, and dreams. This time, let’s not forget the Tao.