The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.
If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be
transformed by itself,
in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.
When there is no desire
all things are at peace.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today’s chapter is almost a copy of an earlier chapter in the Tao Te Ching (chapter 32). I say, almost, because there are subtle differences that are very important to note.
We have been talking about the way things are. The Tao is just the name that Lao Tzu has given for the organizing principle of the Universe (the Way things are). In talking about the Tao, I have referred to it, and its ways, as mysterious. In chapter 32, Lao Tzu says the Tao, though it contains uncountable galaxies, is so small that it can’t be perceived. Today, he says the Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. This is simply Lao Tzu’s way of confirming the mysterious nature of the Tao.
But just because it is mysterious, that doesn’t mean we can’t see its manifestations and follow it; going with the flow, so to speak. But it can be difficult. Particularly for some people. Refer back once again to chapter 32, “If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao, all things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace and the law would be written in their hearts.”
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu once again begins with “If powerful men and women…” but notice the subtle shift as he continues, “…could center themselves in it, the whole world would be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.”
In chapter 32, Lao Tzu ponders the question if powerful men and women can stay centered. And by this chapter, he is asking if powerful men and women can even center themselves. This is a subtle difference; but I think it is still significant. Either way, the result is much the same: peace and harmony.
Because, you see, I believe that Lao Tzu is absolutely right. The Tao, though it does nothing at all, accomplishes all things perfectly. The whole world is capable of being transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People are fully capable of being content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony and free of desire.
The bugaboo always comes down to what powerful men and women are going to do. Lao Tzu promises that if they could center themselves in the Tao, and stay centered, the world would transform itself, into a paradise. So what exactly is holding us back?
That was a rhetorical question. The answer is obviously, the powerful; who only want to hold onto their power. Because, if you have been actually picturing the world that Lao Tzu is describing, then you know that it is a place that has no need or use for them. And that just won’t do.
Which is why we see so much unrest in the world today. And I mean all over the world. I have been particularly interested in the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, lately; because I happen to live in Missouri, just a little over 3 hours drive away from Ferguson. My children’s mother grew up in Hazelwood, right next to Ferguson. She actually worked at the McDonalds that the police closed down the other night. So, unlike so many other places that I could be talking about right now, Ferguson seems very close to home for me.
And I think to myself that I am just about certain that the people of Ferguson would very much like to be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire. But that can not be, because the powerful have other plans.
Let us never forget how this all got started. Two young men had the audacity to walk down the middle of a street. Jaywalking!?! Well, that is certainly something that demands attention. And attention it got. From the powers that be. I don’t know for sure what all happened after that. All I can say with certainty is that a police officer, sworn to serve and protect, pulled out a gun and fired it multiple times at one of the young men. That man is dead, after committing the crime of jaywalking. And that incident has inflamed all kinds of desires.
And this is where Lao Tzu gets really sad. Because it is freedom from desires that he is after. But no, it will be awhile now, before the people of Ferguson experience any freedom from desires. They desire justice. The police desire control. And things are likely to get a whole lot worse before they ever get better. Because only when there is no desire, are all things at peace.