Shake Off Those Chains And Live As You Were Born, Free

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic in desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing in darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the Source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about living life spontaneously. Lao Tzu has said that is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe, and that expression is one of love. Lao Tzu describes the Tao as a loving mother, giving birth and nourishing all things; and, as something that isn’t external to any of us, it is inside all of us. Today, we continue on with this theme, as Lao Tzu talks about practicing eternity.

To do this he takes us back to the beginning, where we find our Source, the Tao. And he reminds us that the Tao isn’t just our beginning, it is also our end. All things issue from it; and, all things return to it.

He has told us this before, yet we continue to have trouble understanding how to find the Tao. That is why it is helpful to know that we are all expressions, or manifestations, of the Tao. If you want to find the origin, trace back the manifestations. Recognize the children and you will find the Mother.

Yesterday, I told you what the point of all this is. It is that we are free. Yet, we don’t live like we are free. We live like we are slaves, rather than children. The imaginary chains we carry cause us plenty of sorrow. And Lao Tzu wants to help us to be freed from those chains and that sorrow.

This metaphor of slavery and chains vs. being free children, relates to the illusion that masquerades as the eternal reality. We need to see the illusion for what it is; and accept that the way things are really is the way things are. That is the eternal reality. That is where free children dwell.

So let’s talk a bit about that illusion. Why do we so easily fall for it? We can’t really prefer the chains of slavery to the freedom of children. How is it that we get so lost?

Lao Tzu tells us that it is because our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled by our traffic in desires. This is what makes us slaves. If we want to be set free, then it is up to us. We are each expressions of the Tao. We are the children of the Tao. And we aren’t ever going to find the Tao except through finding it inside ourselves. Everything you need is already present within you.

As long as our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled with desires, all we can find is darkness when we look inside ourselves. But that doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Lao Tzu invites us to dare to peer deep into the darkness, and find clarity. But how, when all I see is darkness?

I know just how scary that darkness is. I have peered inside my own enough to know how utterly naked and alone you feel. But only when you dare to peer into that darkness will you find your own light. You won’t find it by being led by your senses. And you must keep your mind from judging. But this is the way to a peaceful heart.

Something you will learn as you make your own way through the darkness, is that knowing how to yield is your greatest strength. We have talked about yielding before. It isn’t just slowing down and letting others go in front of us. It is also, producing abundantly beyond anything that we thought we had inside of us.

If we want to return to the Source of light, we will need to use our own light. It is this practice of eternity, which is just another way of saying, living life spontaneously, that will bring us through our own darkness.

Just Doing Whatever Comes Naturally

Every being in the Universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings.
Nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them,
protects them, takes them back to itself.
Creating without possessing,
acting without interfering,
guiding without interfering
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was teaching us to live in the present moment. Today, he tells us how and why, when we live in the moment, we are an expression of the Tao. Perhaps it was because of my own hang ups about living in the moment, which I think I expressed very clearly yesterday, I was really struck by that word “spontaneously” in today’s chapter.

In fact, I latched onto that word so much that I spent a lot of time today just thinking of the word spontaneous. I even read through its definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. And then looked at a list of synonyms.

Here is the definition: “Done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning.” And then I read further: “Doing things that have not been planned but that seem enjoyable and worth doing at a particular time.” And still more: “Proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint. Arising from a momentary impulse. Controlled and directed internally, self-acting. (movement characteristic of living things). Produced without being planted or without human labor, indigenous. Developing or occurring without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment. Not apparently contrived or manipulated, natural.”

I hope that didn’t bore you too much. I think it is important that we understand all that the word implies. And just to be thorough, here is a list of synonyms especially for those that find that easier to decipher than reading a dictionary definition: “casual, impromptu, instinctive, offhand, simple, unplanned, voluntary.” I got those off of I would like to add “intuitive” to the list.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, why exactly did I do that? Because, I think, Lao Tzu is saying that spontaneity is the art of living. It is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe. Let’s get back to the chapter and see the spontaneous nature of the Tao and every being in the Universe.

Lao Tzu says, “It springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free, takes on a body, lets circumstances complete it.” I like this line because he is not very clear with what the “It” refers to, Does it refer to the Tao? Or, to every being in the Universe. The answer is, both. We are all expressions of the Tao. The Tao isn’t something external to any of us. It is inside each of us. And, as we live our lives, just doing what comes naturally, we are spontaneously honoring the Tao inside each of us.

I really want to emphasize the reality that the Tao is not some external being, manipulating us, forcing us to do this or that, demanding worship or honor or love. The Tao is inside each of us. Indeed, it is inside every being in the Universe. The honor we bestow on the Tao is not some duty required of us. It is spontaneous. It is simply us doing whatever comes naturally.

But while the Tao is not some external force, or being, demanding our love; love of the Tao, is in the very nature of things. It is in our nature. And why not? It gives birth to all beings. It nourishes and maintains them. It cares for and comforts them. It protects them and takes them back to itself. Every thing we do, throughout the cycle of our lives, is an expression of that love that is innate in us. We love because we are loved. And this love is unconditional. The Tao creates without possessing. Acts without expecting. Guides without interfering.

This is a love which has no rules and no bounds. It is spontaneous. It is characteristic of all living things. It is what makes us all expressions of the Tao.

It should be clear that I have great regard for this ode to spontaneity, this ode to love. But you might be thinking, “Yes, but what is the practical value?”

And here it is: You are free! Live like it.

Whatever The Moment Brings

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to;
No illusions in his mind,
no resistance in his body.

He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the Master has no mind of her own. Today, he says the Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.

We have that change in personal pronouns from female to male because the translator chooses to go back and forth between the female and male pronouns when referring to the Master. His point is that the Master isn’t gender exclusive. Any one of us could be the Master. It is my understanding that in the original Chinese, there isn’t any gender specification. And I suppose I could try to write it entirely without using gender specific language. Except for the fact that the English language doesn’t make that very easy. So, I will continue to use the back and forth that the translator chooses to use. I know I didn’t have to write this paragraph. I just knew it had been awhile since I had pointed out what was going on with the change in personal pronouns as we go from chapter to chapter.

Okay, back to the present chapter. Lao Tzu is really laying out the goal for us in today’s chapter. The idea is for each one of us, to get to a point where we give ourselves up to whatever the moment brings. As you read along through the rest of the chapter he talks about the inevitability of death and the need to be ready for it. But that isn’t the point of the chapter.

The point of the chapter is the art of living in the present moment. Too often, we are fearful of the future. What will happen? What if I die? Fear holds us back from living. Why do we fear death? We do. I know we do. I do too. But why? What is fearing it or worrying about it doing to make actually living life any easier?

So, I will admit right up front that I haven’t arrived at this point. But that doesn’t stop me from realizing that once I get to that point; when I really give myself up to whatever the moment brings; that I will actually be living, like I have never lived before.

And Lao Tzu gives us ways of telling when we are there. What I notice about these is how they are set up like dominoes, that each fall one after the other.

The first seems more simple than it actually is: He knows that he is going to die. Don’t we already know this? Well, we sort of do. We just don’t like thinking about it, or admitting it. But this reluctance to acknowledge reality is holding us back. We need to be firm about this. I know I am going to die.

Second: He has nothing left to hold on to. He specifically refers to what these things are that we have been holding on to: They are illusions in our minds and resistances in our bodies. We have spent a good deal of time talking about what is the eternal reality vs. what are merely illusions. The Master isn’t holding on to illusions any longer. He has let go of them all. But that isn’t enough, if the body is still putting up resistance. I picture me in a plane getting ready to jump out with a parachute. Or, maybe diving off a bridge with a bungee cord tied to my ankle. Yep. That isn’t happening. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is going to put up plenty of resistance. See, I don’t think I am quite ready to live in the moment. I am still hoping it isn’t going to come to this. But, I need to refer back to the preceding paragraph: I am going to die. Yes! I know that! I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be right this moment.

Third: He doesn’t think about his actions. Now where were you when I was in that plane thinking about my actions. Oh, that is the point. I am not supposed to be thinking about my actions. But that sounds a whole lot more haphazard than Lao Tzu intends. When Lao Tzu says he doesn’t think about his actions, he explains how and why that is. It is because his actions flow from the core of his being. It is intuitive. He doesn’t have to think. He just acts.

Fourth: He holds nothing back from life. I had such trouble with the first three, this fourth one seems impossible. But if there is one thing that I know, it is that as long as I am holding back, I am not really living. I keep thinking to myself, but I am not ready for death. And that right there is the very reason to hold nothing back from life. Because it prepares you. And makes you ready. So that when death comes, as we all know it will, we can be as ready for it as any man (or woman) is for sleep, after a good day’s work.

People Don’t Understand Her

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What are we to make of today’s chapter, in which Lao Tzu reveals to us the mind of the Master? Well, first, let’s not fail to remember what Lao Tzu has been saying all along in the Tao Te Ching. Context is important, after all.

The Master is one who is perfectly in harmony with the Tao. Her mind is in tune with the Tao; and therefore she knows how to work with the minds of all the people. By saying she has no mind of her own, Lao Tzu is merely saying that she doesn’t limit herself, to only what she thinks. She understands how other people are thinking, as well.

This understanding of the minds enables her to be good to all people. Whether or not they are good. After all, what kind of goodness is only good to people who are good? Anyone can be good to people who are good. But it takes someone extraordinary to be good to those who aren’t good. That is true goodness.

The same can be said for true trust. It isn’t enough to only trust people who are trustworthy. Of course, you trust people who are worthy of trust. Why wouldn’t you? But to trust people who aren’t worthy of trust? Now, that is an extraordinary thing. You may think “foolhardy” is a more apt description. After all, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But that is only taking into consideration my own mind. And that isn’t how the Master thinks.

The Master’s mind is like space. I think that nails it. People don’t understand her. What? Is she just gullible? I bet she gets taken advantage of, a lot. Trusting people that can’t be trusted. *shakes head

But, wait! See. how the people look to her and wait. Do you see it? The Master understands something that only the extraordinary can understand. She treats every one of them like they are her own children. Notice he didn’t say she treats them like children. No, she treats them like HER OWN children.

In this, she represents the perfect parent. She isn’t harsh with any of them. She is patient and understanding. Doing good to all. Trusting all. And like her own children, they look to her and wait.

Every Day You Drop Something

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu began what I could easily call an anti-knowledge rant. I thought his reasoning for it was valid. I just know that it flies in the face of a lot of conventional thinking. Yesterday, he was stressing that understanding was much more important than gaining new knowledge. Today, he continues on from there.

If you are pursuing knowledge, every day you will have to add something to your knowledge. There is no such thing as a complete amount of knowledge. There is always something more to learn. But that isn’t how to practice Taoism.

It is like reaching a fork in the road. If you continue in your pursuit of knowledge, you have to go down one path; and if you want to practice the Tao, you will need to go down a different path. This different path is what interests me. Perhaps for the same reason that I used to like Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Instead of having to add something every day, in the pursuit of knowledge; I choose this path where every day something is dropped. Will it make all the difference? And what are we dropping along the way?

I like that word “dropping” because it speaks to me of letting go of things. We drop things all the time. Usually, we rush to pick them back up. We never intended to let go of that thing. But this letting go of things is a deliberate act. You drop it, and you continue on your way. Never looking back.

To what end? Well, that would depend on what you are letting go. Lao Tzu is speaking of the practice of the Tao; and what he wants us to drop is our need to force things. The more we drop, the less we need to force. Until, (yes, there is an end) we arrive at non-action.

See? He isn’t just anti-knowledge. He is anti-doing anything at all! But if I leave it at that, I think I am really misrepresenting what Lao Tzu is trying to say.

So, let’s hold up for just a moment and review what exactly Lao Tzu means by non-action. Back in chapter 43, I talked a bit about Wu-wei, the principle of non-action which is fundamental to Taoism. We were talking about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri; with a militarized police feeling compelled to use force to calm protestors and restore order for the State. Lao Tzu is wanting us to let go of our need to use force each and every day; until there is no longer a need to use force.

This is the end we are journeying toward. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. Letting go of our need to interfere, apply force, means letting the Tao do its thing in the Universe, letting things go their own way. This is the path to true mastery in the practice of the Tao.

The More We Know, The Less We Understand.

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

It would be easy to dismiss today’s chapter. Is Lao Tzu opposed to opening your door, or even looking out your window? Is he saying that being a hermit is the only way to live? Does it seem that Lao Tzu is anti-knowledge?

If we only read this one chapter, out of its context, perhaps we could come to that conclusion. But thankfully, we aren’t doing that.

No, Lao Tzu is only using extremes to make his point. We place a premium on gaining new knowledge. And we sometimes think that will mean leaving our homes and going some place else to do it. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But Lao Tzu means to remind of us of one very solid truth. You don’t have to go anywhere else to understand what you need to understand.

Every thing you need, you already have. Increasing knowledge, without increasing our understanding, is pointless. This is something that Lao Tzu really wants us to understand. Perhaps, that does sound anti-knowledge. I just think Lao Tzu expects that we already know everything we need to know. If there is a lack, it isn’t in our knowledge, it is in our understanding.

Wisdom doesn’t come from attaining greater knowledge. It comes from greater understanding. And so he describes how the Master arrives without ever leaving, sees the light without having to look for it, and achieves all things without doing a thing.

As I read those words, I remember a few chapters ago where Lao Tzu said that the superior man, when he hears of the Tao, immediately begins to embody it; while the fool, when he hears of the Tao, laughs out loud. In that chapter Lao Tzu also offered us the example of the average man, who, when he hears of the Tao, half believes it and half doubts it.

I can certainly see how a chapter like this one would elicit such varied responses. I think I am doing better, I more than half believe it, and only a little doubt it.

Seeing Through The Fear-Mongering

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through fear will always be safe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter presents us with a choice. We can either live in peace and harmony, or we can choose to live in fear. It is the difference between dwelling in the eternal reality, or succumbing to the snare of the greatest illusion of them all.

When we are talking about an entire country, choosing to dwell in the eternal reality means a healthy economy. It means peaceful relations and commerce with all of our neighbors and entangling alliances with none.

That this idyllic picture seems unrealistic shows just how far we have fallen. Countries that are ruled by those who profit from the illusion of fear, are left with little choice but to attempt to manage their failing economies. Their modus operandi is to work out entangling alliances with their neighbors in which there is something to be gained by exploiting them. And, if their neighbors don’t respond the way they want, then that means war.

Fear is a power motivator. And, Lao Tzu tells us it is the greatest illusion of them all. This chapter seems timely, given the recent beheading of James Foley, and the various pronouncements by the ruling elite and the military industrial complex, that we have plenty to fear.

While I am no fan of FDR, his words after the attack on Pearl Harbor, seem to stand in stark contrast to how the ruling elite wishes to manipulate its citizens today. “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

Truer words have never been spoken by any person. But who is bold enough to speak those words today? No, they want us to be afraid. They want us very, very afraid. That is how they play their game. That is how they manipulate us into begging them to take away all our civil liberties.

But I will be so bold. There is nothing to fear, but fear itself. Fear is an illusion. The greatest illusion of them all. Its only purpose is to blind us to the eternal reality. To keep us from seeing the truth behind the game the ruling class plays, in order to further augment their power.

This is why when Lao Tzu has said over and over again, IF the powerful could center themselves in the Tao and stay centered, the world would be a paradise, I know that waiting for that outcome is a fool’s errand. For war is the health of the State. I want you to not pass over that last sentence. War is the health of the State. Let it sink in. Don’t just let it go on by. The powers that be, thrive on war and the threat of war. It is only in that, their power grows. They will have none of this peace and harmony. Because a world in peace in harmony is a world that has no use for them.

Am I painting a hopeless picture? Hold on, don’t give up on things just yet. The words that Lao Tzu speaks are not just wasted on the powerful. They also are directed to each one of us. And that is good news, my friends. Because we don’t have to wait and wish hopefully for the transformation of the powers that be.

I have been enjoying the posts of a fellow tumblr blogger, Jake Shannon. He has been posting about what he refers to as Personal Anarchism. He talks a lot about the illusions of the State. And their power to hypnotize us. He thinks trying to make change from the top down is idealistic. What he is promoting instead is individuals practicing their own form of personal anarchism in all the ways and places that they can. Try to avoid enforcement zones. Those are places where the State is busy doing what the State does best. The point is to live your own life the way you want. Wherever and however you can. I hope I am not putting words in your mouth, Mr. Shannon. I haven’t read your book, yet. If you would like to send me a copy of it, I will most assuredly read it. I find your ideas resonate very well with me.

We truly can practice our own personal anarchism. We can choose to live in harmony with the eternal reality, the Tao. We can step out of the way of the snares laid out for us. The illusion of fear, is easily spotted. Don’t be hypnotized. Step around it. Don’t be fooled. And do not fear. It is nothing but an illusion. Designed to manipulate you. There is no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself, no greater misfortune than having an enemy. From what are you defending yourself? Who is your enemy? The State wants you afraid. But you don’t have to live in fear. You can live in peace and harmony with your self, your family, your neighbors, and your world. See through the fear-mongering and you can always be safe. To Hell with the State.

The Truth Will Tell… Let It…

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True eloquence seems to stutter.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we have yet another chapter covering the distinction between the eternal reality and the illusion which masquerades as the truth. Lao Tzu keeps talking about this because the illusion can seem all too real to us, deceiving us. And, what is real may just not seem quite what we think it ought to be. We have been conditioned over the course of many years to believe the illusion is what is real.

And this makes seeing beyond the illusion to what is real quite a challenge for us. Thankfully, Lao Tzu is patient with us. Taking it slow. Repeating concepts in different ways. Just trying to communicate to us.

True perfection seems imperfect. That is the illusion. It doesn’t seem perfect. Yet, Lao Tzu encourages us to see the lie for what it is. Appearances can be deceiving. What things seem to be may be very different from what they are. True perfection is perfectly itself. That is the eternal reality. I wonder if it isn’t just years of conditioning that has us doubting the truth. Perhaps, we just want the truth to be different from what it is.

And it isn’t just perceptions. Though that is a huge part of it. True fullness seems empty. Once again, that is the illusion. But the eternal reality is more than just fullness. It is fully present. What has us seeing true fullness as emptiness? Are we bogged down in what has been? Or fearful of what may be? True fullness is always in the present moment. If we are letting things pull us away from the present moment, is it any wonder, that true fullness seems empty? Our thinking is cloudy, murky. And that has skewed our perception of what is eternally true, in this present moment.

Lao Tzu keeps on and on about this because he understands how powerful the illusion is to us. True straightness seems crooked. True wisdom seems foolish. True eloquence seems to stutter. When what is straight seems crooked we want to intervene. We want to straighten that which is crooked. When wisdom seems like folly, we won’t see any value in it. We’ll just laugh and walk away. And what of the ones who speak the truth? Our minds are so muddled that their speech seems to stutter and falter. “Make it stop! Make it stop!” We can’t bear to hear the truth when we are so inured in the illusion.

That right there is the number one problem, I think, facing the liberty movement. We sound like stuttering fools to the masses of people.

So, how do we deal with this? The problem of distinguishing between the eternal reality and the illusion which masquerades as the truth. This is how Lao Tzu says the Master does it. If you don’t want to be deceived, don’t be in a hurry, and don’t interfere. Allow things to happen. Yes, that is exactly what he said. Simply allow things to happen. Don’t interfere with them. Just let them happen. You can still shape events as they come. That isn’t the same thing as interfering with them. It is cooperating with the Tao. Letting it shape you. And always be ready to step out of the way. Let the illusion pass on by. You don’t have to fall in its snare. Step out of the way. The truth will tell. The Tao will speak for itself. Let it.

This Is My Problem-Free Philosophy

Fame or integrity; which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Have you ever noticed when people are asked questions that, instead of answering the questions, they respond to a whole different set of questions that weren’t even asked? I was thinking about that today as I was reading through this list of rhetorical questions that Lao Tzu poses to us in today’s chapter. He asks us, of fame and integrity, which is more important? And, of money and happiness, which is more valuable?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t much want to answer those questions. I want to make up entirely different questions: Can I have both fame and integrity? If not, why not? Can I have both money and happiness? Do I really have to choose one or the other?

As you can see, I have successfully dodged his questions. Or have I? Because I have chosen to go down this road, let’s see where it takes me. For the sake of argument allow me to have Lao Tzu agree with my questions. Sure, Chuck. You can have both fame and integrity. You can have both money and happiness. Now, have you succeeded? Or have you failed? And which is more destructive?

And I can see that my dodge hasn’t helped me at all. I still land exactly in the same predicament. Because Lao Tzu isn’t asking us to choose fame or integrity. And he isn’t asking to choose money or happiness. He is looking for answers to his questions. Even if I could have it all, what have I truly gained?

And the answer is, not much. How much importance do you put on fame? How about integrity? How much value do you ascribe to money? What price would you be willing to pay for happiness?

Now he has us thinking. Doubting. And that isn’t such a bad place to be. Are we really being asked to choose between success and failure? No. But it may be very difficult to quantify which would be more destructive.

I feel absolutely devastated by his questions. That is why I tried to dodge them in the first place. And now he has me right where he wants me.

Chuck, if you look to others for fulfillment, you will never truly be fulfilled. This kind of puts the question of success and failure in a whole different light. True fulfillment isn’t something that comes from outside of me. It isn’t dependent on other people and what they say or do. It isn’t dependent on outward circumstances, at all. If I am going to be truly fulfilled, it has to come from within myself.

Okay, so far, so good. But what about happiness? Chuck, if your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself. This is important, guys. And not just the part about the money, either. I mean, sure, we have heard that about money not buying happiness, before. Nothing new here. But that wasn’t all he said. He didn’t say I would never be happy. He said I would never be happy with myself.

The goal isn’t happiness. It is happiness with yourself. That is what Lao Tzu is trying to get across to us today. Do I think my happiness depends on money, on people, on circumstances, on fame? I could have all of that and not be happy with myself. And I just don’t like the sounds of that word never. If my happiness depends on anything outside of me, I will never be happy with myself.

So, let’s take a look deep inside ourselves. Because that is the only place that true happiness is going to be found. I simply must choose to be content with what I already have. Getting more will never really satisfy. Be content with what you have.

And, I need to rejoice in the way things are. There that phrase is again. The way things are. Are we chasing after an illusion? Or are we going to see reality for what it really is? The eternal reality is actually something in which we can, indeed, rejoice. And there is something quite interesting about rejoicing. Once you start, it is very hard to ever stop. And why would you want to?

When you realize (this is reality) there is nothing lacking (that is the illusion) the whole world belongs to you.

What If You Didn’t Have To Explain Your Actions?

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I shied away from trying to explain the mystical language that Lao Tzu was using to express how all things get birthed and how all things achieve harmony. I had a friend who has been “into” Taoism much longer than I, try to help me to better understand the mystical language that Lao Tzu was using. Thanks, John. I promise that the next time I get around to that chapter again, to delve back into the mystical; and what you said to me will be a big help.

Today’s chapter is a bit easier for me to decipher. Lao Tzu paints two pictures for us. Both are referring to the Tao. It is the Tao that is the gentlest thing in the world which overcomes the hardest thing in the world. And it is the Tao which has no substance and enters where there is no space.

And these two illustrations are what Lao Tzu uses to show the value of non-action. We have talked a lot about the value of non-action. It is a fundamental principle of the Tao. How does the gentlest thing overcome the hardest thing? By not-doing.

Too often, we see force being met with more force. The events in Ferguson are the ones closest to home for me, that illustrate that point. I have already talked previously about the events in Ferguson. By now, I am sure you are very much aware of that situation. So, I have no intention of rehashing that. Knowing what you do about that situation, you can see that is the exact opposite of the way of the Tao.

Sometimes I like to play what I call the “What If?” game. It is a mental exercise where I wonder how events would have transpired differently if certain actions had not been taken. Generally, hindsight is 20-20. And it is easy for me to say, “What if the police had not responded to the peaceful protestors with overwhelming, militarized force? But at the same time, I doubt the powers that be are learning that kind of lesson from the situation in Ferguson. Somehow, I suspect they are only preparing for further escalation of force, the next time the opportunity arises.

But I am running off on a tangent. Let’s get back on today’s chapter. And the value of non-action. Wu-wei, which is the principle of non-action is fundamental to Taoism. Often the best solution is not to act at all. Or, when action is needed, to do as little as possible. I think of the Tao like the Invisible Hand of the free market. I am opposed to interfering with that invisible hand. Most things in the world correct themselves, given time. But we get impatient, don’t we? We get in a hurry. The Tao will take too long. But when we interfere, we only make things worse. Sadly, for the powers that be, that only emboldens them in their efforts to further interfere. Now the mess is even bigger. They must interfere even more.

Now I know, that when some hear of this principle of non-action, they think it is speaking of passivity, or surrender. But that is all an illusion, used to masquerade the truth. People with power need excuses to wield power. If there aren’t ready excuses, they’ll manufacture some.

Non-action isn’t passivity or surrender. It is the patience to wait for the outcome. The Tao has things under control. The Universe only seems to be chaotic and without order. That is the illusion. But the reality is that we do live in an ordered Universe, governed by universal laws. When things are chaotic, it is only because we have been interfering with the natural order. Left to itself, the Tao always balances things out.

We simply must trust that the Tao has things under control; and is governing the Universe towards harmony. I can’t stress this enough. Problems we perceive as demanding our attention are often merely phases on the way to a good outcome, and in no need of our meddling. The law of unintended consequences comes to mind right here. How can we be sure that we are contributing to a solution when we don’t even know what would happen if we left things alone?

I know that someone is thinking about situations where we need to take action, and quickly. Like, for instance, to save lives or to avoid a disaster. While I am not going to deny that very real possibility, I am also wary of that excuse; since the powers that be will always use that excuse to justify everything that they do. Just look at what went down in Ferguson. The police can justify their militarization with the need to be prepared for the very worst that could happen. And then they set out to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ultimately, we humans have a tendency to regard ourselves a bit too highly. It is nothing short of hubris if we think that nothing would happen, at least nothing good, without our intervention. And that hubris, pride, will likely be our undoing.

But Lao Tzu doesn’t only paint us a picture that illustrates the value of non-action. He also talks about teaching without words. Perhaps that is why he likes to paint these mental images for us. Lao Tzu has said before that the more we speak the less we know. We speak because we have to explain our actions. We have to defend our actions because if we had only avoided those actions, we wouldn’t have to defend them.

This is not the way of the Master, who teaches without words. How can the Master teach without words? Because the Master performs without actions. By letting the Tao do the work, there is nothing that needs to be said. You can see the results without any explanation being necessary.