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No Desire, Know Peace

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about why it is that the Tao is so impossible to perceive. As long as we are caught in desire we will never realize the mystery. Even the manifestations of the Tao, the universal harmony, the subtle perception of the way things are, can be difficult for us to see. Why? Because it isn’t something that can be seen with our eyes. Our senses aren’t of any use to us. The way things are, the universal harmony that can be perceived even amid great pain, is so subtle; you have to be able to quiet your heart and your mind. You have to find peace in your heart in order to be able to perceive that subtlety.

How subtle is it? The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. Its workings always remain a mystery. All we can see, if we are looking for it, are the results. This is what confounds powerful men and women.

Lao Tzu said this a few chapters back. If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao the whole world would be transformed into a paradise. Today, he echos this idea. But he changes the words slightly. No longer is it about staying centered. Now it is a question of if they could center themselves in the Tao in the first place.

The real reason that powerful men and women, and indeed all of us, have such trouble is that problem of desire. People need to be content with their simple, everyday lives. That is what brings about harmony. Freedom from desire.

Desires enflame us. Our passions rule us. And as long as they do, there can be no peace. Peace is our highest value. Who can be content when the peace has been shattered? No decent person. Powerful men and women, if we were to give them the benefit of the doubt, may have the best of intentions. But those good intentions, however noble, are not good. The end never justifies the means. No matter what good you are hoping to accomplish, by interfering with the way things are, the universal harmony, the Tao as the great equalizer, the bringer of balance and harmony, you will always only make things much worse.

Our problem really is desire. All kinds of desire. The desire to do good, as well as the desire to do harm. Both end up doing great harm. For we are at a state of war with the Tao. Turmoil, pain, and suffering are the direct results of this war. We must quiet our minds and our hearts. We must rid ourselves of desire. Then, all things can return to a state of peace.

Lao Tzu often brings up the Master right about now. And, tomorrow’s chapter, which continues where today’s leaves off, begins with the Master. I don’t won’t to get ahead of myself, but the idea of the Master is a good one. We need to master our desires, master ourselves. That is the path to freedom. That is the path to peace.

The Reason You Think I Don’t Care

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For today’s commentary, I think it would be helpful to remind my readers of what Lao Tzu said, way back in chapter one: The eternal Tao is not something that can be told. The eternally real is unnameable. It is a mystery. And we cannot begin to realize the mystery as long as we are caught in desire. We have to be free of desire in order to realize the mystery. Caught in desire, we can only see the manifestations. Obviously, we would prefer to be free from desire; but there is good news for those of us, including myself, still caught in desire. Both the mystery and the manifestations arise from the same Source. And that means that we can trace the manifestations back to the Source. That has been the point of our journey, all along.

What we have been doing is tracing back the manifestations. Remember, the eternal Tao, itself, is imperceptible. Our focus is on the manifestations. Those, we can perceive. And so, over the last several days, we have been talking about what we can perceive. Yesterday, we were reminded that this isn’t about what we can perceive with our senses. Our sense of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, aren’t of any use to us. At least as far as perceiving the manifestations of the Tao are concerned.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that we can perceive the universal harmony, even amid great pain. But only after we have found peace in our hearts. There is turmoil all around us. There is pain. There is suffering. And, as long as our focus is on that pain and suffering, on trying to do something about that pain and suffering, because who doesn’t want to do something to ease that pain and suffering, to shrink it, to get rid of it entirely, we will never find that peace in our hearts. We won’t be centered in the Tao. There will always be danger all around us, and we will always be in danger.

However, if we can maintain disinterest, I know that sounds cold and heartless but bear with me, if we can, like the stoics, be unmoved by that pain and suffering, we can avoid danger. We can go where we wish without danger. And I promise you, The pain and suffering, the turmoil, will be taken care of.

Now, I know that this is not an easy thing to read. And, even less easy to put into practice. Who wants to stand around and do nothing? We want to do something. We want to interfere. Every fiber of our being cries out for justice. Lao Tzu’s words are hard, cruel.

Where is the universal harmony in the midst of pain and suffering? My friends, pain and suffering are not the manifestation of universal harmony. They are evidence that things are completely out of balance. The mysterious, eternal Tao is working to bring about balance and harmony in the Universe. And things will return to a state of balance and harmony, but we have to stop interfering. We have to give up our need to be in control. Our interest in helping. We have to let the Tao do its work in us, as well in all beings. Even in the midst of that pain and suffering, the universal harmony can be perceived, if we will only be at peace with the Tao. That is really so much better than being at war with it. Because it is that state of war that has gotten us all, in the mess we are in.

Perceiving the universal harmony is not easy. It is downright impossible if we won’t quiet our hearts and minds. But we can perceive it. Though it is subtle. Oh, so subtle. Remember, it isn’t something you can pick up on with your senses. But, if you are quiet, you can perceive it. It is perceived in the way things are. That the soft overcomes the hard. That the slow overcomes the fast. We don’t understand how this can be. We just know it is true. We know it intuitively. But it remains a mystery.

So, when we want to shrink something, we must first allow it to expand. When we want to get rid of something, we must first allow it to flourish. Oh, how we rebel at this. But this is how things are. This is how the Tao works. First, it expands; then, it shrinks. First, it flourishes; then, we are rid of it. We have to let it expand first. We have to let it flourish first. We must wait on the Tao. We can’t take anything, without first allowing it to be given.

Does that make you want to scream out in frustration? I know I have done my own share of screaming out in frustration. Nature is terribly slow; especially when we are wanting to rush it. But we must find a way to work with nature, rather than against it. The soft does overcome the hard. The slow does overcome the fast.

And people will look at you and accuse you of not caring about all the pain and suffering. Why aren’t you doing something? Don’t you care? How can you maintain this disinterest? People are suffering. Do something? Why won’t you do something?

Can we be satisfied to let our workings remain a mystery, and just show people the results? Must we satisfy their craving to see what we are doing? Will it ease our own conscience?

This is tough, my friends. I deal with this all of the time in my own life. You can’t be in this world and not be tempted to be moved by the suffering. You see it all around you. And it comes close to home, as well. Your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children. They don’t understand you. It is one thing to ignore the suffering of those at a distance from you; but how could you ignore the plight of your own dear loved ones? How, indeed?

I am not ignoring, by the way. But what I am doing to ease your suffering isn’t something that you can perceive with your senses. And I know, for you, that is as much as doing nothing to relieve your pain. But I know the way things are. And I know that your suffering is drawing to a conclusion. You can’t see that, I know. It seems to be only getting worse. But that just means that it will soon be over. How do I know this? I don’t know. It remains a mystery to me. Just as it is for you. But I can’t ease your suffering any other way than to allow it to take its course.

Ouch! But that is the reason you think I don’t care. It is because I can’t.

Where Peace Is To Be Found

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

That word, danger, keeps popping up. Back in chapter 29, Lao Tzu said there is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger. We need to see things as they are, without trying to control them. We need to let them go their own way, and reside at the center of the circle. Then, in chapter 32, Lao Tzu said that if we know when to stop, we can avoid danger. It was in that chapter that Lao Tzu reiterated that the Tao is not something that can be perceived. Now, here, in chapter 35, Lao Tzu once again enjoins us to be centered in the Tao. Then we can go wherever we wish, without danger.

Clearly, danger is something that can be avoided. And the times we are in danger, rather than being safe, have little to do with where we we may go. Avoiding danger, isn’t a matter of avoiding the places where there is danger. Actually, when we are centered in the Tao, we will some times find ourselves in the midst of great pain. Being centered in the Tao means being led by our intuition and going wherever our intuition leads us. We want to be available to all and ready to make use of whatever life happens to bring our way. So, some times we ourselves, or others around us (just an extension of ourselves) will be in pain. The danger is that we will be moved by the pain to try and interfere with what the Tao is accomplishing. If we want to avoid danger, we must perceive the universal harmony, even in the midst of the greatest suffering.

Today, I want to talk about perceiving the universal harmony, because while the Tao isn’t something that can be perceived, the universal harmony (the manifestation of the Tao) is something that can be perceived. But how?

We perceive the universal harmony when we find peace in our hearts. Peace? But what about all the turmoil, the pain, that is all around us? And that is where we focus. We focus on the pain, the suffering, the turmoil of beings. There is a lot of that to observe. But don’t contemplate that. Contemplate their return. To the Source. What are you contemplating?

Don’t let the turmoil be a distraction to you. What you want to focus on is your heart. Find the peace. Be serene. Stay serene. I know that music or the smell of good cooking is something that makes people stop and enjoy. And that is great. Enjoy listening to that music. Enjoy the smells. But words that point to the Tao aren’t like that. They seem monotonous and without flavor. We are so led by our senses. But the Tao isn’t something we can perceive with our senses. And the universal harmony can’t be perceived by our senses, either. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

It isn’t something outside of us that we are after. It is a matter of the heart. Look for it there. Find that peace, that serenity, in your own heart. The Tao contains uncountable galaxies. And it is there, in your heart. In your heart, you will perceive the universal harmony. When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

The Greatest Vanishing Act

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu returns to the great themes which have resonated throughout his Tao Te Ching: The greatness and humility of the Tao. How it flows everywhere and pours itself into its work. How it nourishes. How it is hidden. And how all things end in it. The way in which Lao Tzu sings the praises of the great Tao, sound very much like an ode. But it is much more than an ode. It is really a continuation of what he was saying in yesterday’s chapter: About our need to center ourselves in the Tao, and about embracing our own death. It is about our relationship with the Tao as we come to know and master ourselves.

As we center ourselves in the Tao, we become one with the Tao. As the Tao is like water, we, too, become like water. Water, as we have said before, is Lao Tzu’s favorite metaphor for the Tao. Just like water, the Tao flows everywhere, and all things are born from it. Yet, just like water, the Tao doesn’t create them. Just like water, it pours itself into its work; yet, it makes no claim on them. Just like water, the Tao nourishes infinite worlds; yet it doesn’t hold on to them. The Tao is like a vast ocean of water. And we are like all the rivers and streams that flow into that ocean.

We all merge into the Tao and the Tao merges into all things. It is hidden in the hearts of all beings. That it is hidden, Lao Tzu says, shows its humility. But, since all things vanish into it, until it alone endures, is what makes it great. That it isn’t even aware of its greatness is what makes it truly great.

Yes, we could talk on and on about the humility and greatness of the Tao. But let’s not miss out on the other thing that Lao Tzu would have us understand, today. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. We talked of how we fear death. The finality of it. Losing our sense of self. Today, Lao Tzu describes this death as a great vanishing act.

A vanishing act is a staple with magicians, illusionists, the world over. How do they do it? We are always amazed by these feats. But they aren’t going to reveal their secrets to us. And they always end up reappearing before the conclusion of the show, anyway. But the vanishing act that Lao Tzu describes is one from where we never expect to return. All things vanish into the Tao. All things end in the Tao. Like rivers flow into the sea. All things vanish into it, and it alone endures. That vanishing is the death that we were told to embrace with our whole hearts, just yesterday.

And I spent some time thinking about this vanishing, this death to myself as separate. And that got me thinking about what it means to know and master ourselves. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that required true wisdom and true power. He also said that when you realize you have enough, you have the true riches. And I realized how right he was. Knowing and mastering myself is to be known and mastered by the Tao. Our goal is to be lived by the Tao. That is the only way to truly be ourselves.

We have been programmed into thinking that death is final. In spite of the fact that magicians always reappear before the conclusion of their show, we think they will vanish, for good. In spite of the fact that we can see the circle of life all around us as we observe the Earth in its natural rhythms; and we can see that death is but one part of the life cycle; and there is no concluding part, it just keeps endlessly repeating; we still think that death is the end of us.

What does Lao Tzu mean by this vanishing act? What has become of us, when the Tao alone endures? What does it mean to be a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Water, the Tao is like water, we need to be like water, too. That is what it always comes back to, for me. All rivers flow into the sea. That is where they end. But are there no more rivers, then? Do we lose our own identity, when like a molecule of water, we vanish into that vast ocean of water? No! We are more than just a part of that ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. In some ways, we are more complete than we have ever been. Yes, we are surrounded by other molecules of water. But that ocean would not be complete without each and every one of us.

I don’t fear death because I know what always follows death. I see it every Spring as I witness death give way to rebirth. The circle of life continues endlessly. What do I have to fear, as I reside in the center of it? Now, I know that some of you might take issue with being compared to a molecule of water surrounded by a whole lot of other molecules of water; but it is just a metaphor for how complete we are in the Tao. “But I don’t want to be just like everything else?” Oh, but you already are. That is the way things are. You aren’t separate. You never were. That was all an illusion. Embrace the death of that illusion. Let the very idea of your separateness vanish in the Tao. Then, you can truly be yourself; as you always were and always will be.

Peeling Away The Layers

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I was talking about the hopelessness, when we see ourselves as separate. It becomes very easy to give into hopelessness; when you spend as much time on social media, as I was the last few days after the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage. I found myself seeing myself as separate from the others. It takes intelligence and strength to know and master others. But is that really what I want to do? No, I don’t want to give into that hopelessness. I can’t be content with that.

What I really want is to know and master myself. But that requires much more of me. That requires true wisdom and true power. I know that I must see the world, not as separate from me, but as myself. That is the only way to accept the world as it is; it is the only way to accept myself, as one with the world.

That leads to an obvious question: How do I attain this true wisdom and true power? Thankfully, this is something that Lao Tzu has been doing a lot of talking about. He keeps telling us to do our work and then stop. We need to know when to stop in order to avoid danger. So, how do I know when to stop? I think it is easier than we may think. Have we completed our work? Have we fully expressed ourselves? Because that is when we need to stop, take a step back, and let the Tao do its thing. To be truly rich is to realize that you have enough. As long as you don’t realize this, as long as you are thinking that you need more, you will never have enough. But you really do have enough. You just need to realize this.

We have talked before about the difference between knowing and realizing. I think of knowing as giving mental assent to something. But giving mental assent to some truth isn’t enough. The difference between knowing and realizing, is that when you realize it, it actually begins to transform your life. You can think that you know something; but that knowledge doesn’t make a bit of difference in how you live your life. Your life will be full of what has been called cognitive dissonance. That results in your life being a struggle. You will keep running into walls; as you live your life as if what you think you know doesn’t really matter.

We want a life of ease. That is the promised life of residing in the center of the circle. A life of contentment, with ourselves and others, because we aren’t separate; we and the world are one. And that doesn’t mean just getting in the center of the circle. It means staying in the center, residing there. While in the center of the circle, the lies we have believed, the delusions of our separateness from the world, will be slowly peeled away.

This peeling away is a kind of death. It is a death to ourselves as separate. This is a death which we must embrace with our whole heart. It is only then that we will realize the true wisdom and true power of a life lived content with our simple, ordinary lives, a life that accepts the way things are. We tend to shy away from death. We fear it. It seems so final. But, remember, fear is only a phantom that arises because we are still thinking of ourselves as separate. If we will stay in the center of the circle, we will endure forever.

Know When To Stop

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

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.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The last couple days have been mentally and emotionally exhausting for me. I spent way too much time on social media; much of that time sighing at posts made by friends and acquaintances, who I wish I could make understand the wonders of the Tao. My post, yesterday, particularly exhausted me. I poured the contents of my heart out on that one. Pleading for people to be decent human beings. I have an audience of somewhere around 1400 people each day. That would be the number of people that have direct access to what I write. But even after yesterday’s post, the silence has been deafening. I hoped someone would read it. But I have serious doubts.

Whenever I survey the world, I try to remember that the hopelessness I feel is but a phantom. It isn’t real. But before I go on to today’s commentary, I would like to correct one mistake that I caught after posting yesterday. I said, near the end of my commentary, that there is one thing I do know: we used to enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral. I was echoing what Lao Tzu had said in the chapter about the requirements of human decency. But I realized I made a mistake there; when I said I knew we used to express this kind of human decency. After posting, I thought better of that. I think I was romanticizing our history of prior wars. I don’t actually know that we ever entered a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral. Hollywood may depict prior wars like that. Even many of our history books might suggest that. But I really doubt that has ever been true. Maybe there have been a few individual acts that demonstrated the human decency that Lao Tzu was asking for; but they haven’t been the norm, in any age.

Hopelessness. The Tao can’t be perceived. How am I ever going to be able to make people understand its wonders? It is smaller than an electron; yet, it contains uncountable galaxies. What Lao Tzu is getting at here isn’t the utter hopelessness, though. What he is saying is that the mystery of the Tao isn’t something we can perceive with our senses. That doesn’t make it any less real. But it does make it seem less real to those of us, conditioned to only believe in something that is tangible.

Hopelessness. If powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao, oh, what a wonderful world it would be. I mean, Lao Tzu comes right out and says the world would become a paradise. But we know better. We know better in two distinct ways. First, we think we know better than to trust the Tao. We can get along just fine without it, thank you very much. Lao Tzu’s teachings are nonsense! Or, they are lofty, but impractical! Then again, we think we know better because we know that powerful men and women can’t remain centered in the Tao. It would be great if they could, but they can’t, so that is that. Hopelessness.

I guess I fall firmly in the second camp, I don’t trust powerful men and women. I don’t believe they can be trusted. But I refuse to give into the hopelessness. I do trust the Tao. Though the Tao is a mystery we cannot perceive, it does contain uncountable galaxies. The Universe follows the Tao. The Earth follows the Universe. And, you and I can follow the Earth. We can accept the world, just as it is. We can accept ourselves, our world. It isn’t a hopeless situation.

We just need to do our work and then stop. We need to know when to stop so that we can avoid danger. Because, while there is a time to be in danger, there is also a time to be safe from all harm. We can avoid trying to force things. We can avoid trying to dominate events. We can go with the flow of the Tao. I don’t have to convince others. I don’t need others’ approval.

We just need to understand that names and forms are provisional. There is a time when the functions of institutions should end. All things end in the Tao. That isn’t a hopeless end, at all. All things end in the Tao like rivers flow into the sea. I am just going to be like water. I am going to function like water. Flowing, always flowing, until I end in the Tao. Things that served us for a time, may no longer serve us. I don’t have to convince others of this. But that doesn’t mean I can’t know when their time has come to an end. I am just going to be like water. I know where I will end.

What The World Needs Now, More Than Ever

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how vital our relationship with the world is. Not just the physical world, the Earth, but every being that inhabits it; including, of course, our fellow human beings. If we want to be one with the Tao, there are two things we must do: First, we must accept the world as it is. Second, we must accept ourselves, as we are. I said, yesterday, that acceptance is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child. We simply must accept others, no matter how different from us they may seem to be. Accepting others is a key component in accepting ourselves. Why? Because we aren’t separate. We are all one in the Tao. When we refuse to accept others, we are not accepting ourselves. And when we refuse to accept ourselves, we can’t accept others. Lao Tzu has said it before, but it bears repeating, where we get into trouble, is in seeing ourselves as separate. We must see the world as ourselves. When we accept the world as ourselves, when we truly accept ourselves, the whole world accepts us.

Now, along those lines, yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about accepting the world in terms of relying on the Tao in “governing” men. I said that word, governing, could easily be translated as “interacting with” and, with that in mind, Lao Tzu says that whoever relies on the Tao doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Then he brought in an elementary law of physics, the law of the Tao, “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

That is the perfect segue into today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu begins by identifying “weapons” as “the tools of violence and fear.” Because weapons are the tools of violence, because violence always rebounds on the violent, because what we do to others we do to ourselves, how people choose to use weapons is a litmus test for human decency. Lao Tzu insists that human decency demands that we detest weapons. “Detest” is a strong word. But, because weapons are the tools of violence, it is appropriate. To the extent that weapons are used as the tools of violence, I do detest them. Decency requires that of me and you. Violence is something to be abhorred. When a violent person takes up a weapon and uses it to inflict violence on others, we are right to detest the use of that tool.

Then, when referring to weapons as the tools of fear, Lao Tzu says that decent people will avoid them, except in direst necessity, only if compelled, and only with the utmost restraint. I want to reiterate what Lao Tzu has said before: Fear is a phantom. It arises because people are thinking of themselves as separate.

Now this chapter is timely, given that we have seen weapons being used as tools of violence and fear, a lot lately. Human decency demands that we detest this. And we rightly do. But today’s chapter is also timely because it highlights the importance of decent people. People who have peace as their highest value. People who could never be content that the peace has been shattered. People that know their enemies are not demons, but human beings just like themselves. People that don’t wish another human being harm. People who don’t rejoice in victory. How could they take delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children? People complain a lot about a lack of decency, these days. But this is our real litmus test for human decency right here. All the other things that people complain are indecent, pale in comparison to this.

I have been saddened a lot, lately, as I have scrolled various social media posts. Human decency seems in very short supply. People not accepting of other people, and so, not accepting of themselves. People getting their panties in a wad over symbols, and ignoring the substance. It really saddens me, both those that are making the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston about removing Confederate flags wherever they can be found, and those who are rushing to defend that flag. It is just a symbol, folks!

And I have been more saddened as I saw some of the responses to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, regarding same sex marriage. Here is a post I found on Facebook Saturday morning. By a person I grew up with that is pining away for the good old days:

“The country is so messed up today that it makes me glad to be old, because I feel blessed in the time I grew up in. When I was a kid: Parents could be parents No seat belts You could ride in the back of a truck and on the tailgate We had Christmas parties at school We played outside You could sit “Indian style” and nobody was offended Said The Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school We were taught to have pride in our country We were taught to respect authority Dates were between a female and a male (no I am not homophobic) History was history no matter how bad or good it was Everybody I knew believed in God. The food at the school cafeteria wasn’t determined by the first lady Thank you Lord for letting me be raised in the time I was.”

Perhaps I am reading too much into this, but I have been seeing a lot of these kinds of posts. And it saddens me. It saddens me because people can’t seem to accept the world the way it is. Sometimes they pine for the good old days. But mostly they just seem to think we are “going to Hell in a hand basket.” One of my other friends posted a quote from the Bible. Specifically, Romans, chapter one, where Paul described the Godlessness that invited the Lord’s wrath, saying “The Gates of Hell have opened in America today.”

Now, I don’t mean to offend, seriously, I don’t mean this to offend. But to your litany of things about the good old days, I could add a few of my own: “Ah, the good old days. When women knew their place. And “niggers” weren’t uppity. But if they ever were, we had ways of dealing with them. When “faggots” didn’t dare come out of the closet, because if they did, if we ever suspected they were anything but normal, we’d beat the living daylights out of them. When everyone we knew were white and Christians. And they knew we were Christians by our love, by our love, yes they knew we were Christians by our love.”

Yes, I am saddened. Because this just isn’t right. And I hate to be the one to have to say it, but Jesus never had a kind word for you religious zealots. He was there, always there, for the outcasts, for the “sinners” but when it came to the religious crowd of his day, which is much like the religious crowd of our day, his words and actions were full of righteous indignation.

I apologize if my words have offended. But I needed to make a point. Words are weapons too. They are used just as much as tools of violence and fear, as any other weapons. And it isn’t decent that we use them as such. What it shows is a lack of human decency. I am not pining away for the good old days, because I don’t think those fabled good old days had any greater claim to human decency than today has. Still, there is one thing that I do know: we used to enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral.

What the world needs now, more than ever, is decent people. We, each of us, need to be decent people.

What We All Yearn For

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is another one of my favorites in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu has been teaching us about the need to rely on the Tao in every aspect of our lives. By relying on the Tao, we will have a life of ease; rather than one of struggle. Today’s chapter begins with an elementary physics lesson. It is one we all learned when we were very young. It is how to interact with others. Like how we should interact on the playground as children. When we rely on the Tao in governing people (that word, governing, can easily be translated as interacting with), we won’t try to force issues, or defeat our enemies by force of arms. Bullies on the playground may be feared, but are they respected? Are they accepted? No! For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even the well-intentioned variety of violence, always rebounds upon one’s self. This is a law. It always is this way.

We have been talking about how being one with the Tao depends on our relationship with the Earth. The world is sacred, and it can’t be improved. We shouldn’t treat it like an object. That will only result in our losing it. We must accept the world as it is. We must follow it to be lived by the Tao. And, what will be the result? When we accept the world as it is, the world will accept us.

This has been a wild week. It began with the tragedy at the AME church in Charleston being turned into a debate over a symbol, the confederate flag. And it ended with a whole lot of rainbow flags being proudly displayed. I have never been one to get all excited about waving any flag. A flag is just a symbol. I always wonder, where is the substance? I understand the passion on both sides of these issues. But I don’t understand why we exchange substance for symbolism.

Caught up in the drama of the last few days, I think we have a tendency to forget the elementary physics that govern our world. The Universe is forever out of our control. The Master understands this. That is why he simply does his job and then stops. He doesn’t try to control. He doesn’t try to force issues. He doesn’t resort to force of arms. He doesn’t try to dominate events. He understands what violence will end up doing to himself. He doesn’t wish to go against the current of the Tao.

Ultimately, what accepting the world as it is comes down to, is believing in yourself, being content with yourself, and accepting yourself. You don’t have to convince others, when you believe in yourself. You don’t need others’ approval, when you are content with yourself. And, most importantly of all, when you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

That is the basic yearning of every man, woman, and child in our world. To be accepted, just as we are. We yearn to be free of violence. We yearn for acceptance. So, go ahead, all of you; raise your flag; display it proudly. But remember that your symbol, is just that, a symbol. The substance comes in believing in yourself, in being content with yourself, in accepting yourself, just as you are. Don’t worry about others’ approval. You don’t have to convince others, if you can just be convinced in yourself.

The Universe is forever out of our control; but it is governed by elementary laws. The Universe follows the Tao. The Earth, our world, follows the Universe. And we, when we accept ourselves, follow the Earth. When you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you.

What Time Is It?

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we are continuing talking about our relationship with the world in which we live. The Earth is our home. As we follow it, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao, we are one with the Tao and have great power. We are one of the four great powers. So, let’s talk about that power. What do we have the power to do? We have the power to receive the world in our arms. We have the power to be a pattern for the world. And, we have the power to accept the world as it is. These are all great powers. But none is more great than the power to accept the world as it is. When we avail ourselves of that power, the Tao will be luminous inside of us and we will return to our primal selves. When we don’t avail ourselves of that power, we might start thinking we can improve the world. But that is one power that Lao Tzu doesn’t think we have.

If we are going to accept the world as it is, we need to get this one thing settled: The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. Trying to improve the world is tampering with the very nature of things. The world is sacred. It is already a perfect home for us. When we treat it like it is an object to be exploited, we place ourselves in very real danger. The danger is that we will ruin it, that we will lose it. And then where will we be? No longer lords, that is for sure.

So, how do we avoid tampering with it? How do we truly accept the world, just as it is; not as an object, but as something subject to the natural laws governing our Universe?

Once again, the complementary relationship of yin and yang show us the way. Accepting means agreeing that there is a time for everything. And, letting things come and go according to their time. There is a time for yang to be in ascendancy. And, there is a time for yin to be in ascendancy. This is simply accepting the way things are. Things in our world, our Universe, are always in a state of flux. Change is the only constant.

There is a time for being ahead. But there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion. But there is also a time for being at rest. There is a time for being rigorous. But there is also a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe. But there is also a time for being in danger. Yin and yang, being what they are, these all follow each other. Much as the Earth follows the Universe, and the Universe follows the Tao.

We want to follow the Earth, not tamper with it, not interfere with it. When we go against the flow, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, or when we try to put things in motion that need to be at rest, or when we push ourselves to be vigorous when we are already exhausted, we will find ourselves in danger, when we could have been safe.

We really need to follow the example of the Master, who sees things as they are, and not as we may wish them to be. She doesn’t tamper with the natural order. She never tries to control. She just lets things go their own way, knowing there is a time for everything. She resides at the center of the circle, the most sacred place of all. It is there we let all things take their course. It is there the Tao does nothing, yet, through it, all things are done. That is where we need to reside. It is when we venture out, away from the center of the circle, that things start to get chaotic, and the temptation to interfere becomes strong. But if we will stay in the center of the circle, that most sacred place, we, too, can do nothing, while letting all things get done.

Know The Yang, Yet Keep To The Yin

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Over the last few days, we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth governs our lives. Today’s chapter, once again, finds us talking about how to relate to the world in which we live. And, of course, that means yin and yang are at the forefront as we learn to follow the Earth in its natural rhythms. Yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe; and so, in our world. Understanding this, we can be lived by the Tao and find all things falling into place as we do what comes naturally.

What is today’s theme? “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Male, white, and personal, these are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal, these are all yin. We aren’t supposed to prefer one to the other. We are supposed to let them balance each other out. If we know the yang, while keeping to the yin, we will receive the world in our arms, be a pattern for the world, and come to accept the world as it really is. The balance of yin and yang in our lives means the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

I mentioned that word luminous, yesterday. We are wanting to embody the light. The Tao is the Source of that light; but remember, the Tao is inside each of us. So the light we are embodying is within each of us. Understanding how yin and yang complement each other in our lives, we become like a little child. That little child is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s that he returns to again and again. As a metaphor, that little child doesn’t just represent innocence to us, it speaks of unlimited potential. There is nothing that little child cannot become. All of the potential in the Universe is bound up inside that child, just waiting to be manifest.

We are familiar enough with how female and male complement each other. Combined together, the unlimited potential of a little child is brought into being. We are speaking metaphorically here. That little child represents our primal selves.

How are we to interact in, and with, our world? We need to return to our primal selves, to be like a little child, again. Receive the world in your arms. Be a pattern for the world. And, finally, accept the world as it is. This is how we return to our primal selves. This is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

We understand how female and male work together to produce a child. We are also familiar with how black and white work together to make a pattern. The yin yang symbol shows the balance of black and white flowing and interacting together. But then things get a little harder, when we start trying to understand the interaction of the impersonal and the personal. How often have you heard someone say, “Now don’t take this personally.” Don’t take it personally? How else am I supposed to take it? Because there is one thing I can be sure of, right now. The next words out of your mouth are going to be very personal. How do we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal? It is so very important to get this one right. After all, this is how to accept the world as it is. And that is the way to make the Tao luminous inside of us.

But Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us without any help to understand. After talking about a little child (there is nothing more personal than a little child) he then goes on to talking about an uncarved block of wood. That is where today’s chapter takes a strange turn from the personal to the impersonal. Let’s see if we can see how they relate. He says, the world in which we live was formed from the void. Notice how the personal is formed from the impersonal: like utensils from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils, yet keeps to the block. That uncarved block of wood is like that little child. It contains within it, unlimited potential. What will it become? It could be anything. How about a set of utensils? Yes, that would do nicely. But it could be anything. And even after she has carved out the utensils, she still keeps before her all the potential of that uncarved block. That is how she can use all things. Personally and impersonally.

Now, go ahead and finish saying what you were getting ready to say. The thing that you didn’t want me to take personally. I think I am ready now. That uncarved block of wood will show me the way.