The Difference Between If And When

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 danger.

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

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

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu offers us an if and a when. I think those are two powerfully distinct words; because they offer the difference between dreams and reality. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

The “if” comes first. This one is about hopes and dreams for a better world in which to live.

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.

So much is said in so few words. If they could, then look at the wonderful things that would transpire. Does it sound too good to be true? This utopian dream come true? Living in a paradise on Earth. Everyone living in peace in harmony. And the natural law written in everyone’s hearts. Who wouldn’t want to live like this?

Oh, that powerful men and women could stay centered in the Tao. Would that it were possible. But does Lao Tzu hold out much hope that powerful men and women would ever want this kind of world? Lao Tzu at the very beginning of this chapter gives us a hint at the problem for the powerful. He says the Tao can’t be perceived. It contains uncountable galaxies; yet it is smaller than an electron. Now Lao Tzu has spent a lot of time talking about this unperceivable Tao. And one thing he has talked about over and over is that the only way we can experience the Tao is from a position of humility. The powerful are far too lofty in their ivory towers to ever be able to perceive it, let alone center themselves in it.

People have spent lifetimes waiting on the powerful to do what is right. Many people keep holding out hope that the next election cycle will turn things around. If we just give the right people the power, they’ll fix things.

And oh the disappointment after each election, when the faces change but the policies remain the same. But I just know next election, things will be different….

If all we had was this if, we would probably continue our hoping and waiting and forever being disappointed. But thankfully, Lao Tzu doesn’t just offer us an if in this chapter.

He also offers us a when. I said right at the beginning that I think the difference between if and when is the same as the difference between dreams and reality. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. But there is a time for a reality check. There is a time to know the difference between if and when. And when “when” is now.

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 danger.

Knowing when is of the utmost importance. The first important thing that we need to know about when is that when we have names and forms, they are only provisional. Provisional means they provide or serve only for the time being, or temporarily. Names and forms have a temporary function. But that word, temporary, is key. I fear that too long holding out for the if, we run the very real risk that we will miss the when. The temporariness of names and forms.

Now hold on just a minute, what does Lao Tzu mean by names and forms? I think he gives us a hint in his next “when” where he speaks of knowing when the functions of institutions should end. Though I have little idea what, in Lao Tzu’s day he was getting at, I think I am not too far off to conclude that names and forms like capitalism, socialism, communism, democracy, monarchy, etc., were all provisional. These served a temporary function. But we need to know when to say when. And institutions, like governments, have served particular functions; and I think they have outlived their usefulness.

No doubt some of you are squirming right now. Some of those isms are sacred to us. Perhaps we are not quite ready to give up on some of them. And are we really ready for anarchism? How will we know when “when” is now. Henry David Thoreau believed that when we were ready for it, we wouldn’t need a government any longer. And I think it is high time to be ready.

But why now? The State would have us fear the unknown. Fear chaos. I mean, who will build the roads? But let me tell you what Lao Tzu feared. Because I fear it too. We fear the danger in not knowing when. These names, forms, and institutions were only ever supposed to be temporary. Their functions were supposed to come to an end sometime. That has always been the way it would be. But if we buy into the lie that now is not the time; let us also remember that the very people that are telling us that, will always tell us that. Powerful men and women don’t want there to be an end. And they will never want there to be an end. We need to know when to say “Stop!” in order to avoid danger.

But what is the danger? I mean, can you at least tell me that? Sure. And here it is.

All things end in the Tao, as rivers flow into the sea. All things are going to come to an end. If you knew that you were running toward a dead end, wouldn’t you like signs pointing out the danger ahead? And wouldn’t you pay attention to those signs? Because that word, dead, isn’t temporary. When we know that all rivers flow into the sea; and we are just lazily going along with the flow of the current; wouldn’t we want to know where the river ends and the sea begins?

The truth is, I don’t know exactly what lies at the end of the road. But I would much rather be prepared for a dead stop, than to not see the end until I go splat. And like it or not, all these names, forms, and institutions are going to come to an end. Oh, I don’t know an exact date. I don’t know how much further down the river we can go. But we better be making plans for the inevitable. Now.

Where Are The Decent To Be Found?

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 the highest value.
If you 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)

Given the news today (as I am typing this up), that our Nobel Peace Prize winning, Anti-War President Barack Obama has announced that once again we are bombing the Hell out of Iraq, I think today’s chapter is once again, timely.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how the use of force is a failure to rely on the Tao. He specifically warned that for every force there is a counterforce; and, that violence always rebounds upon itself. He was framing all of that in the context of being content with yourself and with the world.

Today, Lao Tzu continues where he left off with another beautifully written chapter. This time he targets weapons; which, he says, are the tools of violence and fear. I couldn’t agree more with Lao Tzu. All decent people detest them and will avoid using them except in direst necessity. And in those rare moments when direst necessity requires it of them, they use them with the utmost restraint.

Peace should be our highest value. I know that many scoff at that idea. Many can come up with all sorts of reasons to justify war. They’ll even use euphemisms to call war something else than what it is, so they can then smile in the camera and try to justify how still deserving they are of Nobel Peace Prizes. But your euphemisms can’t mask the truth, Mr. President. If you were a decent man you wouldn’t be dropping bombs on Iraq. You wouldn’t be using drones to target individuals without due process. And you wouldn’t call the innocents killed, just collateral damage. If you were a decent man you wouldn’t be fomenting war all over the globe. So, given your actions, I have no choice but to conclude that you are far from a decent man.

And once again, the peace has been shattered. Oh, whatever do I mean? I don’t think there has been a moment of peace in my lifetime. The United States government doesn’t want peace. It wants war. It has been that way for many decades now. And it expects us to be content. But how can we be content? Without peace, there can be no true contentment. Our enemies are not demons. They are all fellow human beings, just like ourselves. How could we possibly wish our fellow human beings personal harm?

And, war is Hell. The ruling elite, that sacrifice our young men and women in endless and needless war, know this. That is why they insulate themselves from the consequences of this Hell that they wreak on the Earth. Millions have been slaughtered. And we award medals and build statues for the ones who slaughter the most. How could I ever take delight in the senseless slaughter? How could I ever rejoice in the kind of victory that the tools of violence and fear brings about?

Still, Lao Tzu recognized a circumstance he called direst necessity. It is a very rare thing, indeed. If I combed through the history of the United States government, I don’t think I would find one instance of it. There are those that would suggest that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor; and that right there was a real justification for war. Hmmmmmm. Well, maybe. But I am also well aware that we provoked that attack to give us the necessary justification to enter a conflict in which we had no business, and the American public was dead set against. And, after that, all sorts of civil liberties were sacrificed (Japanese internment, anyone?).

But just because I am having a hard time coming up with an example of direst necessity, doesn’t mean that such a thing, though rare, couldn’t exist. And if, or when, it ever happens, we should use our tools of violence and fear, gravely; with sorrow and great compassion, like we were attending the funeral of a loved one. I don’t think going on the late night talk show circuit and joking about it, quite fits the mood.

The reason that I have been having such a difficult time coming up with what direst necessity really is, is because I have been looking for it in all the wrong places. Only decent people know when direst necessity comes. And I won’t find any decent people in the United States government. Not throughout its history.

But decent people understand it. And they are ready for it when it comes. No, they don’t delight in it. But they are ready. I am talking about one of the most basic of human rights, the right of self-defense. Decent people never initiate force or violence on their fellow human beings. But when they have been aggressed against, it is their sacred and somber duty to defend their own lives, the lives of their loved ones, and their own personal property.

But I warn all you fellow decent people out there, indecent people (the State, and its apologists) will call you ugly names, like terrorist. They will defame your name. They will speak all manner of evil against you, saying you are the indecent ones. They will put you on their special watch lists, keeping an eye on your every move and listening in on your most private communications. They will convince many that you are to be feared. And it is all a big lie.

For you are the only ones that can be trusted to wield tools of violence and fear. You are the only ones that truly detest them. You are the only ones that will try to avoid them. You are the only ones that will show the utmost restraint. Only you understand your enemies are not demons, but human beings like yourselves. You alone wish them no harm. You alone don’t rejoice in victory, nor delight in the slaughter of fellow human beings. Peace is truly your highest value. And how can you be content when the peace has been shattered?

Indeed, we cannot.

Oh Noes! He’s Talking About Anarchism Again.

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 oneself.

The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and 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 other’s approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

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

I have been talking about anarchism the last couple of days, and then Lao Tzu brings up the importance of relying on the Tao to govern. For some of my newer followers I wanted to use today’s chapter to talk a little bit more about anarchism and what governing has to do with it.

First off, when I refer to myself as libertariantaoist, I think I am being a little redundant. But redundant or not, I use it for a very special reason. I am trying to show just how much my political and personal philosophy are intertwined. And, I don’t think a lot of people know just how much libertarian thinking and philosophical Taoism go hand in hand. I am attempting to attract libertarians to philosophical Taoism and philosophical Taoists to libertarian thinking.

But if I am an anarchist, how does governing even come into it? I am glad you asked. First off, I don’t think anarchists are opposed to all governing. But you do need to define what you mean by governing. If you mean a system that is set up where a few, the powerful ruling elite, make all the rules; and we are all subject to them simply because we were born within particular geographical political boundaries; and we can’t really opt out; then yes, I think anarchists would be opposed to this “arrangement.”

So what kind of government can an anarchist support? First off, anarchists are quite fond of self-government. That would seem to be a given. But I don’t just want to try to speak for all anarchists. I want to speak for myself, you all are free to agree or disagree with my ideal form of government.

Beyond self-government, which is really the pillar on which all good government must stand. Speaking for myself, as an anarchist, I would be in support of any community government (be it a community based on geographical boundaries or virtual ones) if the said government had unanimous consent of the governed. Rule by a simple majority or even a super majority would not be satisfactory. I want the ability to opt out. Only unanimous consent works.

That is bound to get me hate mail. After all, the very idea that I would let one lone individual (me) keep the entire community from wreaking havoc on my sovereignty to govern myself. If you think that is unthinkable, then come, let’s reason together.

Okay, now to the actual chapter. Lao Tzu tells us that when we rely on the Tao in governing we won’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Does that sound like any government that has ever existed on planet Earth? It seems to me that through the course of history, governments have been all about forcing issues and defeating enemies by force of arms. Might makes right!

And through the course of history, we have found this natural law at work: For every force there is a counter force. If we were relying on the Tao, it wouldn’t have come to this. But just because we haven’t been relying on the Tao, doesn’t mean that the laws of nature no longer apply. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

We don’t really need to resort to violence. Oh, certain individuals and groups of individuals love to create situations where they feel like they have been backed up against a wall and now they have no other recourse than to be violent. But, it didn’t have to be that way.

If we rely on the Tao, and this goes, not just for governing, but for whatever we are doing in our lives, there will simply be things that we will come to understand. One of those things, is that the universe is forever beyond our control. As we come to understand this, we will stop trying to dominate events. We will understand that is going against the current of the Tao.

But how do we get there? Because, I am not stupid. I know that the way things appear to be is far from ideal. Still, the Tao keeps doing its thing. Unmoved by the march of humanity going against its current.

Well, here are some thoughts. We can start by believing in ourselves. When we truly believe in ourselves we won’t feel the need to try and convince others how right we are and how wrong everybody else is. Next, be content with yourself. When you are content with yourself you won’t need anyone else’s approval. And finally, accept yourself. Now this would seem to just follow naturally once you have believing in, and being content with, yourself, mastered. And really, it should come just that naturally. When you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you. When we are at odds with ourselves, the whole world will seem to be at odds with us.

It, of course, is about going with the flow of the Tao; rather than trying to swim against that current. I am not talking about going along to get along. No, far from it. I can believe in myself, be content with myself, and accept myself, and still be opposed to a system set up to deny me sovereignty over my own self-government. But, if I am relying on the Tao, and, I believe in, am content with, and accept, myself, I am rather assured that the whole world will believe in, be content with, and accept, me.

Residing At The Center Of The Circle

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 a 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)

I hope that you enjoyed my little look, yesterday, at both yin and yang and how they interact together to create order out of the chaos. Today, I want to expand on that, and take a little bit closer look at the center of the circle, which is where Lao Tzu says the Master always resides.

Lao Tzu begins with the question on the mind and heart of every one who has ever hoped and dreamed of making this world a better and brighter place in which to live. Do we want to improve the world? Well, of course we do. We want to be good stewards of this world upon which we spend such a small fraction of time, when compared to all of eternity. We want to make it a better and brighter place for the generations to come. And we certainly want to make it a better and brighter place than previous generations have left it.

But just as our hopes are rising, Lao Tzu dashes them. “I don’t think it can be done.”

Lao Tzu has some explaining to do. What does he mean, it can’t be done?

Good news. Lao Tzu doesn’t just leave us hanging. He does some explaining.

He says the world is sacred. Let that sink in for just a moment. The world is sacred. When he says that, what he is saying is that the way things are is the way things are. When we refuse to accept that, when we try to tamper with it, we are going to ruin what is sacred. What should be sacrosanct. You simply can’t improve on it. It is already perfect. Or have we forgotten what we have been learning so far in the Tao Te Ching? You can’t treat the world like it is an object. When you treat it like it is an object you are going to lose it.

So much of the problems with the world that we are so gung ho on changing, on trying to control, are not a problem with the way things are, in the first place. They are the result of tampering. With trying to control.

This is what Lao Tzu is trying to get us to understand when he says we simply must accept that the way things are is the way things are. That is why he insists that there is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, and a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, and a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, and a time for being in danger.

What, you can’t accept that? You can’t accept that you can’t be in control at all times?

But how much better it would be for you to be like the Master. She sees things as they are; therefore, she doesn’t try to control them. She understands the way things are. She understands that there is a time for everything, and that everything will happen in its own time. Let things go their own way. Reside at the center of the circle. That is Lao Tzu’s prescription.

Now what does Lao Tzu mean by residing at the center of the circle?

Let me invite you once again to take a look at my tumblr icon that we were talking about yesterday. The circle represents everything. You have the familiar yin and yang symbol within the circle, and in the center of the circle is the letter A, for anarchism.

Of course, I was going to bring it back to this. The primal state. Anarchism. Where the Tao does the controlling. The invisible hand of the free market. And everything balances out perfectly, in harmony and unity. When we let the invisible hand work, free of our tampering, the Tao achieves everything that is needed, perfectly. And the sacred world that we live in cannot be improved upon.

Of Yin And Yang

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 as it is,
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 the block;
thus she can use all things.

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

We have been talking a lot about yin and yang recently; but as I read through today’s chapter, I was thinking it has been a long while since I took a little bit of time to explain yin and yang. So today, I want to devote to that. Being as most of you, that are reading this blog post, are accessing it through my tumblr blog, I want to use my tumblr icon, or avatar, as a visual representation of what I want to talk about today.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to anarchei, a fellow blogger on tumblr, for designing my tumblr icon. I am extremely pleased with the patience and effort required to satisfy my humble blog’s needs. Thanks always, anarchei!

So, let’s begin by taking a look at that familiar yin yang symbol. It begins with a circle, which, like a Venn diagram, represents everything, Within the circle you find the familiar black and white shapes, representing yin and yang. They represent perfect balance, harmony, and unity. It is a picture of fluid energy. Of change and motion. It shows how opposites interact with each other to cause everything to happen.

The colors of the spectrum that you find around the perimeter of the circle and forming the A in the center are my way of expressing that all are represented within this circle; and the A, of course, represents Anarchism. While you certainly don’t have to be an anarchist to be a philosophical Taoist, and you don’t have to be a philosophical Taoist to be an anarchist – for me, anarchism and philosophical Taoism go hand in hand.

Now that we have my explanation of my icon out of the way, let’s dig further into what is meant by yin and yang. Yin and yang are the two fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy in general, and Taoism specifically. One of these fundamental principles, yin, is negative, dark, passive, cold, wet, and feminine; while the other, yang, is positive, bright, active, hot, dry, and masculine.

Now before I go any further I want to make sure that we understand that these two fundamental principles are not at odds. One is not better than the other. They are always in perfect balance. That is the way things are.

Because they are in a state of flux, things may appear to sometimes be out of balance. But don’t let appearances fool you. That is merely an illusion. The reality is that you can’t have one without the other. Both negative and positive, dark and bright, passive and active, cold and hot, wet and dry, feminine and masculine.

These all interact with each other in such a way that balance, harmony, and unity is always the natural state of things. It is the way things are. Yes, I know I am repeating myself. I often do that when I want to make sure the point is being taken.

I keep stressing that, because I often hear yin and yang described as a tug of war. And people want to pick sides. Positive is seen as good. While, negative is frowned upon. We are often afraid of the dark, when we aren’t complaining that the lights are too bright.  And it becomes a great competition, that even has masculine and feminine at war with each other.

This is not the way things are. I think Lao Tzu explains it best in today’s chapter; so let’s take a look at that.

Lao Tzu says to know the male, yet keep to the female. Know the white, yet keep to the black. Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. It is in embracing both the yin and yang, equally, that we receive the world in our arms; and we become a pattern for the world. It is all about accepting the world as it is. In that way, the Tao never leaves you; and it is strong and luminous inside of you. You become like a little child. There will be nothing you can’t do, as you return to your primal self.

What does he mean by returning to our primal selves? Primal speaks of origins. Originally, the world was formed from the void, just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu wants us to know the utensils, yet never forget the block. That is how we can best use all things.

The Importance Of Just One Word

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this,
you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

– Lao Tzu –

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What never ceases to amaze me is how I can read through a chapter, like today’s, over and over again for many moons now, and never once notice that word thus. This morning, when I read through the chapter again, it was like I was reading it for the first time.

And I hope that is a good thing. Having now noticed the thus, it completely changes my take on the entire chapter. Wow!

In the past, when I have read through the chapter I have thought Lao Tzu was just pulling out random vocations like traveler, artist, and scientist; and using those as a launching pad for a discussion of what constitutes good; and what to do if you are bad at something.

But that thus changes everything. Everything. So here goes.

Lao Tzu isn’t just pulling out random vocations to talk about. Whatever was I thinking? No, he is describing the Master. The Master is all of those things.

He is the best kind of traveler, having no fixed plans and not intent upon arriving. How many times have I talked about the journey we are on, and I missed that one?

The Master is also quite the artist, always letting his intuition lead him wherever it wants. The Master is in perfect harmony with the Tao, with himself, with the way things are. Yes, it is all about intuition.

And the Master is the consummate scientist, having freed himself of concepts, always keeping his mind open to what is.

Thus, because of all of that, the Master is available to all people. The Master doesn’t reject anyone. He is ready to use all situations. He doesn’t waste anything.

When your plans are fixed, or you are intent upon arriving, people are a distraction. They can be a nuisance. They are a disruption. They can totally mess up your plans. People wreak havoc on schedules.

If you aren’t being led by your intuition wherever it will take you, then changes in situations can really throw you for a loop. But when you are led by your intuition you find yourself at home no matter what your changing situations or circumstances may be.

And if you lock yourself into a particular concept or mindset, and can’t begin to see things for what they are – because that would completely upset your worldview – then you waste every precious moment afforded you. Time. Resources. People. All going to waste because you can’t think outside those preconceived notions.

I am sure glad the light bulb turned on this morning for me. I was walking along in darkness. Now, I understand a little better what Lao Tzu means by embodying the light.

We all want to embody the light and be good, like the Master. And we all have plenty still to learn on this journey. I hope no one needs reminding that when Lao Tzu compares good and bad that he is not passing moral judgments.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Lao Tzu is teaching us something that we really must understand, lest we get lost. It isn’t a matter of how intelligent any one is. If you are good at something you need to seek out a student to teach. If you are bad at something you need to seek out a teacher.

The great secret is knowing how to embody the light. When you embody the light, good teachers always have a job and bad men always can find a good teacher.

Stay centered. Stay balanced. Stay serene.

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus, the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu once again returns to the yin and yang; which represents the great balancing act of the Tao. So let’s take a quick look at just how yin and yang work together to achieve harmony.

He says the heavy is the root of the light and the unmoved is the source of all movement. What Lao Tzu seems to be saying is that we need an anchor. And we need to keep that anchor in mind as we read through the rest of the chapter.

How can the Master travel all day without leaving home? Well, if we hadn’t read the first two lines we might just think that it could mean that the Master doesn’t actually go anywhere. She does her traveling with her mind, perhaps? But I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu has in mind, at all.

Remember that anchor? This is just another example of yin and yang. The Master can travel all day without leaving home because she is anchored to home. This isn’t some dead weight that is keeping her from straying too far, or preventing her from enjoying herself. She is light as she travels, but she still has that root to keep her balanced.

The source of her movement is that unmovable anchor.

Remember yesterday, when Lao Tzu said that humanity is one of the four great powers? We humans are all lords of the country. And Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. It isn’t just that it is unbecoming, though it is; when we let ourselves be blown to and fro we lose touch with our root.

The balancing comes in understanding that there is a time to move. There is a time to be light. It is just important to keep that balance. Lao Tzu wouldn’t advise us to just sit at home all day and remain unmoving. That would be just as foolish as flitting about, being blown to and fro.

But what should, and what should not move us? The key, says Lao Tzu, is not to let restlessness be the source of our movement. The unmoved should be the source. And the unmoved, the source, is who we really are. Restlessness can cause us to lose touch with who we are.

For, as we go about our travels, there will be splendid views to enjoy. And enjoy them we should, as we stay serenely in ourselves.

A Creation Myth (of sorts)

There was something formless and perfect,
before the Universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary.
Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the Universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside,
and returns to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The Universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the Earth.
Earth follows the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Sometimes, it is good to go back to the very beginning. Lao Tzu has already told us that we have to know where we came from in order to know where we are going. So today, Lao Tzu goes way back. It is a creation myth of sorts. The origin of the Universe.

There we find something without form and perfect. It is serene and empty. Solitary and unchanging. Infinite and eternally present. It is the great Mother of the Universe. It is the Tao. It is at once, our Source, and our Destination. It is the Life Force which flows through all things. Both inside and outside, the Well-Spring of all being and nothingness.

Our beginning is our end. Knowing where I have come from and to where I am going is what gives meaning to my own life. It frees me to simply enjoy this present moment with a certain indifference. I am present in every being in the Universe. We are all one. There is such unity in the knowledge that we all come from the same Source. The same Mother. And we all have the same End.

This kind of knowledge is exceedingly liberating for me. How can I hold grudges? How can I hate? How can I not have a deep love and respect for all of humanity? Indeed, for all beings in the Universe? Why are we so prone to point out such trivial differences, when we are really all just the same?

Understanding how the Tao brings order out of chaos, comes as Lao Tzu explains how that order is maintained in the midst of what sometimes appears hopelessly chaotic. It is understanding how the four great powers (the Tao, the Universe, the Earth, and Humanity) get their power.

Humanity follows the Earth. The Earth follows the Universe. The Universe follows the Tao. The Tao follows only itself. Or, put another way: the Tao is doing the leading. Following its own intuition. The Universe intuitively follows the Tao. The Earth intuitively follows the Universe. And Humanity? Well, we are really just along for the ride.

At least that is the Way it is supposed to be. Sometimes, we get dismayed; thinking that humanity is destroying the Earth, our only habitable home. I tend to take a much more optimistic view of things. The Earth is a remarkably, marvelous and resilient planet, supplying us with everything we need.

I think the Earth will survive us. It isn’t following us, you see. It has a much different Course in mind. And, I think humanity is waking up to the reality that the Course the Earth is taking is a better one than anything we could ever manufacture.

As more and more of us are learning to intuitively follow the Earth, as it intuitively follows the Universe, as it intuitively follows the Tao, as it intuitively follows itself, we find where the true power resides.

Creating Something That Endures

He who stands on tiptoe,
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead,
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine,
dims his own light.
He who defends himself,
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others,
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his own work,
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is comprised of little ways that we go about our lives, oblivious of the eternal reality that is inside of, and all around, each of us. I could go through each and every one of them; and just end up repeating back everything you just read.

I think you all are smarter than that. It isn’t necessary, at all. But what is the bottom line? What is the “take away” from today’s chapter?

If you want to accord with the Tao, you need to stop all this nonsense. This reaching and grasping. This trying to outpace and outshine everybody else. This exerting your dominance over others; and when you are called on your bull shit, rushing to your own defense; instead of coming to a realization of just who and what you have become.

And nowhere is this more important than in the work we do in our everyday lives. We do want to create something that endures, don’t we? Why else are we, as humans, alive; if it isn’t to create something that endures? And Lao Tzu saves this warning for last. Don’t cling to the work that you do. Let it go. “But, but, how? How, do I just let it go?”

You let it go when you realize that is the only way that anything endures.

What can we learn from the wind and the rain?

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature;
when the wind blows,
there is only wind;
when it rains,
there is only rain;
when the clouds pass,
the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In the last few days we have been talking about spending time in the darkness, in order to find your inner light. It is about opening yourself to the Tao and becoming one with it. Today, Lao Tzu continues that theme by inviting us to take our cue from nature. Whether it is in fully expressing ourselves and then knowing when it is now time to shut up, or it is just coming to terms with what is actually real, about ourselves, and about the world and the Universe we live in; opening ourselves to the Tao is a very important step for us to take in our journey.

So, let’s take a look at nature today, and see if we can see what Lao Tzu means by opening ourselves to whatever the Tao wants to accomplish in us, today and every day.

The first thing that strikes me about Lao Tzu’s depiction of the forces of nature is how he hones in and focuses on just one thing at a time. When the wind blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain.

Lao Tzu wants us to learn a lesson here. To be like the wind. To be like the rain. And how do we do that? By embodying it completely. Sometimes the wind just has to blow and it will continue to blow until it is finished. The same is true of the rain. Yesterday, I stepped out of my house and into my backyard. I was immediately greeted with two things, and I don’t know in which order I experienced them. Whether it was the wonderfully, refreshing smell of the rain, or the rain drops hitting me. I was delighted because we need the rain. And when you have a little garden in your back yard, you come to delight in even a few precious raindrops when they choose to fall.

Part of the art of living, of being one with the Tao, is opening yourself to whatever the Tao brings your way. I am talking about the idea of accepting, receiving, learning, and adapting, as it applies to insight. The challenge before us is that while we want to think that we are open to insight, how often, when the wind starts to blow, do we retreat into our sheltered place of refuge, our comfort zone. That place where our own preconceived notions aren’t threatened. When the wind blows, anything that can be blown away, will be blown away. It takes courage to face the wind. To open ourselves to it. To become one with it. To use it completely.

And, part of the art of living, of being one with the Tao, is opening ourselves to loss. When the rain is coming down, we need to let it. Not resist it. Loss is not something we can avoid encountering throughout our short lives on this planet. We can’t avoid it; so open your heart to it. Let the rain come down! Let it wash away all that isn’t truly you. Let it bring life-giving nourishment to what is truly you.

I hope you are seeing how the Tao is something that you can embody completely as you allow it to completely embody you. By opening yourself to insight, your mind is opened to the Tao. By opening yourself to loss, your heart is open to the Tao.

After the wind, after the rain, the clouds do pass. And the sun does shine through. It was always there, just waiting on you. You can trust your natural responses. Everything will fall into place.