All posts by Chuck Gullion

libertariantaoist is a blogger living in the Missouri Ozarks. He enjoys tutoring children and sitting outside in his backyard smoking his pipe while observing nature. He blogs a chapter each day from Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" (81 chapters in all); and adds his own commentary, interpreting current events from his own unique libertarian and taoist perspective.

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same Source.
This Source is called Darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

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

And, so we begin anew. For many of my followers this may be a little old hat. I go through the eighty-one chapters, one chapter at a time, each day. I don’t even know how many times I have been doing this. But, for some of you, I know, this is the first time that you are looking at chapter one with me. To all of you, I say, welcome to my journey. I have a special bond with Lao Tzu, which has been forged over the course of many cycles of moons and seasons. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on philosophical Taoism. I think of myself only as an apprentice; with Lao Tzu as the Master. But, I am learning so very much. And I hope to share a little of what I am learning along the way. Join me as a fellow apprentice, and find where this journey will take us.

Let’s get the rules out of the way first. Actually, I can only think of one rule. I don’t have any problem with reblogs. I know some of you like to reblog just the quote without my commentary. That is also no problem. The only thing that I ask is that you give Stephen Mitchell the proper recognition as the translator of Lao Tzu’s work. There are a bazillion different translations of the Tao Te Ching. Yes, I counted them all. But Stephen Mitchell’s is my favorite one, by far. I don’t know Stephen; but, I appreciate his work on translating, almost as much as I appreciate Lao Tzu for originally writing it. He deserves to be cited for his work. Oh, and if you don’t mind mentioning that you got it from me, I wouldn’t mind a little promotion, either.

Okay, with that out of the way, where to begin… Today, Lao Tzu introduces the Tao. He begins with a warning that anything that can be told about it isn’t actually it. This is just Lao Tzu saying, what I am talking about is infinite and eternal. My words are finite and temporal. I can point at it. I can use metaphors to give you an approximation of what it is. But the real, eternal Tao is shrouded in mystery. You can’t really know it. Even the name which I give it, the Tao, is just a name that I am giving it. The name isn’t important. It isn’t the eternal name.

But, maybe I already need to back up. What is this thing that Lao Tzu is ascribing with the name the Tao? It could be translated as the Way, or the Path. I like to think of it as the way things are. What gives order and balance to the Universe which we inhabit. It is the Source from which everything springs into existence. I will often refer to it as the Natural Law. And, even the Invisible Hand. But all of these are just manifestations of what the Tao is. They aren’t the eternal Tao.

Because we immediately have problems when we start to talk about the Tao. We have to differentiate between the mystery, which is the eternal Tao; and, the manifestations of the Tao in the Universe. The mystery is what we can only hint at. Lao Tzu tells us that is because we are caught in desire. Free from desire, we can realize the mystery. Caught in desire, we can only see its manifestations.

Don’t let that discourage you. Whether we are talking about mystery or manifestations, they arise from the same Source. Today is only day one of the eighty-one day journey ahead of us. Most of the time we will only be able to see the manifestations. And, that will have to be okay. Why? Because those manifestations do reveal to us a whole lot about ourselves and the Universe in which we find ourselves. Along the way we will have plenty of opportunities to peer into the Darkness within darkness. And, that is good, too. Because that is the gateway to all understanding.

We have lots to understand. Come join me. I post this at approximately 7 am central standard time each and every day. And, I always love to get messages from you with your thoughts and your questions. One final note: Some of my newer followers may be wondering what’s up with the “libertarian” in “libertariantaoist” Continue on with me and you will find that Lao Tzu was the original libertarian.

A Fitting Ending

True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others, the happier he is.
The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 81, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I think this chapter is a fitting ending to the Tao Te Ching. And, I never know how to add anything to it. Will I try to be eloquent? Nope, that doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Do I think there is some further point to prove? Again, no, nothing to be gained by that.

Lao Tzu has that gift that I don’t have. He can say so much with so few words. And, today, I am really going to leave it at that.

Tomorrow is another day. For my newer followers, that means starting the cycle all over again with chapter one. The words that Lao Tzu will be saying remain the same. My commentary will hopefully reflect that I understand a little better, since the last time I went through this cycle. I look forward to sharing my journey with all of you.

What Is It Going To Take For You To Be Content?

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time
inventing labor-saving devices.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And, even though the next country
is so close that people can hear
its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We are nearing the end of another cycle through the Tao Te Ching. Throughout the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu has been telling would be leaders how to govern a country wisely. Today, he doesn’t tell us how. If we have been paying attention, we already know the how. But he does tell us what the consequences will be if a country is governed wisely. Its inhabitants will be content.

He has also devoted a lot of time to what it means to be content. Today’s chapter, with its idyllic picture of what Lao Tzu thinks true contentment looks like, encapsulates everything he has been saying all along.

I have always found this chapter fascinating. For me, it brings to mind Tolkien’s Shire. Simple hobbit folk content with their very ordinary lives. This is Lao Tzu’s picture of true contentment. And, it is mine as well. But, I never am quite satisfied with leaving it at that. We are all individuals. A hobbit’s life isn’t everyone’s ideal for being content. So, I always temper my own delight with one simple question to my readers. “What is it going to take for you to be content?”

I actually have two reasons for asking this question. First, I think that sometimes we can’t see the forest for all the trees. I just imagine that a whole lot of people are going to be reading through this chapter and getting bogged down with objections like, “What is wrong with labor-saving devices?” And, “What, I can’t love to travel?” Like I already said, it isn’t everyone’s idyllic picture of contentment. But, I do think you are missing Lao Tzu’s point.

The second reason I have for asking the question is that Lao Tzu has been very diligent all along about describing where true contentment is to be found. And it isn’t based on our outward circumstances. It comes from the inside. So, I am going to ask you all, once again, “What is it going to take for you to be content?”

In the midst of all these trees, there is bound to be a forest here, somewhere. I happen to love labor saving devices. My own life, along with countless millions of other lives are enriched by them. But, how might we be wasting our time inventing them? The question Lao Tzu is asking of us is, “Why aren’t you content?” And, there isn’t anything at all wrong with traveling. It is actually a shame I feel the need to affirm that. Because that isn’t the point. The point is, why don’t you dearly love your home? Why do you not find enjoyment in the food that you eat? Why don’t you take pleasure in your family? These, and other questions, are begging to be answered by you as you read through today’s chapter.

Because we know we are not content. And we aren’t quite sure what it is going to take for us to be content. And Lao Tzu just wants you to know if you are looking for contentment in outward circumstances, you aren’t going to find it there. No amount of labor-saving devices is going to change that. And no matter how far you roam from home, you won’t find it there, either.

It is tempting to just blame it on the government. After all, if a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. And, that is true. But, even that is something that we really can’t do much about. If having your country governed wisely is what it is going to take, you might never be content. No, I am going to go back to what Lao Tzu has been saying all along. True contentment is something you can only find deep inside yourself. Find it there. Keep it there.

See It As An Opportunity

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore, the Master
fulfills her obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I was musing on the impossibility of remaining serene if you have never been serene. I think I may have been a bit melodramatic. I can’t really say that I have never known serenity. Still, I don’t want to confuse something that is fleeting with something that is eternal. Real serenity isn’t something that merely comes and goes. If you are serene, you can remain serene.

The truth is that we, as humans, do screw up. And, we screw up a lot. Whether we are going to remain serene is going to be put to the test over and over again. And the real test is going to be how we handle failure.

The challenge before us is to see failure as an opportunity. And, not as an opportunity to be pointing the finger of blame at others. Once you start going down that road, warns Lao Tzu, there is no end to the blame.

This right here is what separates the merely average from the truly great. Because blaming others is the easy way out. Or, so it seems to be. For that is all mere illusion. If we are to remain serene in the midst of failure, we need to keep it real. Do you have obligations to fulfill? Are there mistakes which you need to correct?

I have been in a downright funk the last few days. It has really affected me. Both emotionally and physically. If I am going to get out of this funk, I know exactly what I am going to have to do. I am going to have to turn and face the difficulty. I need to own up to the mistakes I have made. I still have obligations which I need to meet. And, there isn’t anyone else that I can expect is going to fix this for me. I need to do what I need to do and make no demands on anyone else.

I can do this.

You Can’t Remain Serene If You Never Were Serene

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet, for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore, the Master remains serene
in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu called the soft and yielding, disciples of life. And, he referred to the hard and inflexible as disciples of death. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu encouraged us not to interfere with nature’s way. In today’s chapter, he is honing in on how nature deals with the hard and inflexible.

Everywhere we turn, it seems we meet with disciples of death. Lao Tzu wants us to choose life. To be soft and yielding like water. If we want to dissolve the hard and inflexible, nothing beats it. And, we know this.

Everyone knows that the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows it, or gives mental assent to the truth of it; but, few seem to be able to put it into practice. How can I be like water? When I am butting up against something that is hard and inflexible, how can I put these teachings into practice and overcome the hard and rigid?

For the last week or so, I have been having this struggle. And, once again, I have been reminded how far from where I want to be, I am. The Master remains serene in the midst of sorrow. I have not mastered myself. I have not been serene. In the midst of sorrow, I have let evil enter my own heart. I haven’t been able to let go of my desire to help. And, I haven’t been of any real help to anyone that I have encountered.

Once again, I am encountering the paradox. The way things are vs. the way things seem to be. I want to help. And Lao Tzu gently tells me that to be the people’s greatest help, I must give up trying to help. Serenity, even in the midst of great suffering. Why do you elude me?

Oh, I know why. But that knowledge doesn’t help me. And, my stomach is tied up in knots. I must let go.

Like The Bending Of A Bow

As it acts in the world,
the Tao is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she
is better than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is another one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu is explaining the way of nature. It is a constant state of flux. The tide ebbs, and it flows. And through its ebbs and flows it always maintains a perfect balance. This is the course of nature. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Oh, things are quite different. It is readily apparent to all of our senses. The sameness I am referring to is not a static thing. The static changes. It is the dynamic which is always the same. The yin and yang of nature, that is the dynamic. This is how the Tao acts in the world. Lao Tzu gives us a perfect illustration of this when he invites us to picture the bending of a bow. He doesn’t tell us to picture us bending a bow. He doesn’t tell us to take hold of the bow and bend it. He simply says that if we want to see how the Tao acts in the world, it is like the bending of a bow.

I am really wanting to get this picture across, today. There is no human agency required in this bending of a bow. The top is bent downward. The bottom is bent up. The Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. The Tao is acting so that there is perfect balance. That is nature’s way.

But that isn’t human’s way. Humans want to take hold of that bow. They want to control the bending to their will and purpose. But the moment we do that, no matter how noble our purpose, we are going to end up going against the direction of the Tao. Why is that? Because the very act of taking hold of the bow is an act of defiance against nature’s way. We just want to help? Nature’s way is too slow?

And that is assuming that those taking hold of the bow really do have our best interests at heart. They seldom do. In reality, the reason people try to control, the reason they use force, is to protect their own power. We have seen this scenario played out throughout all of recorded history. They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

That last sentence deserves more attention. Because the obvious objection is going to be, “according to who?” This is the ongoing debate. And the powers that be love to pit us against each other, fighting with each other, instead of the ones manipulating the bow. Are we talking about the redistribution of wealth here? Certainly, we are. But Lao Tzu very clearly is not advocating a forced redistribution.

Notice the difference between the first two stanzas. It is subtle, yet powerful. As the Tao acts in the world it takes from WHAT is too much and gives to WHAT isn’t enough. There isn’t any WHO. Now look at what happens when humans act in the world. They take from THOSE WHO don’t have enough and give to THOSE WHO have far too much. We, humans, make it all about us. When it never was. And because we do, some benefit at the expense of the many.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nature’s way is so very different. And, the results are very different. I am sure that some people are going to read this chapter and conclude that the many will benefit at the expense of the few. I think they are still clamoring to get ahold of that bow. If we just get the right people pulling, then we’ll get the results we want.

But, once again, we are making it all about us. And it never was. Try a thought experiment, if you can. Imagine that there are no humans. Just for a moment. Now, picture that bending of a bow. Excess and deficiency are adjusted. There is perfect balance. Now, at who’s expense did this occur? At no one’s expense. Because there is no one. Nature is impersonal; just like that.

Now, you can stop imagining no humans. I am not really intending this post as a diatribe against humans. Not really. I love humans. I happen to love myself. I want us to evolve; because I don’t want us to become extinct. And, if we are going to evolve, we need to stop making it all about us. We need to let go of our need to be in control. Let the bow bend. Let the tide ebb and flow.

So, is that it? We aren’t supposed to do anything? Well, actually, Lao Tzu wasn’t finished with the chapter yet. And, there is something for us would be leaders to do. I am not talking about those with a will to power, here. We know what our rulers want to do.

To us would be leaders, that is those of us who want to serve as examples, here is our example, the Master. She can keep giving because there is no end to her wealth. Please don’t make that about money. Wealth is much more than a commodity of exchange. She acts without expectation. See where we are going with this? Can we act without expecting something in return? Can we act without expecting anything at all? Or, does it have to be about us? What is in it for me? She succeeds without taking credit. That is a tough one, because I believe in giving credit where credit is due. How very human of me. But, do we really need to take the credit for what is accomplished? Can’t success be compensation enough? Or, an even more radical thought, can success not involve recompense? There is no end to her wealth, what more does she think she needs? What does she need? She needs nothing. And, as if that wasn’t nearly enough, she doesn’t think that she is better than anyone else. That is the toughest one of them all, for me. It is the demon I have wrestled with for all of my life. And, for all my complaining about my own personal demon, I keep him so well groomed and fed. You’d think I plan to keep him around for many years to come.

One More Time, Sans The Sarcasm

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead they are brittle and dry.

Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I really have been less than gracious the last couple of days with my posts. I have been easily annoyed lately; and, I sometimes fail to temper what I want to say with the needed grace. I am not so much apologizing for what I said, as the tone with which I said it. The good news is that Lao Tzu is giving me one more shot at making my point sans the sarcasm.

Lao Tzu has been stressing the problem that we, as would be leaders, face in trying to guide people. People think they know the answers already. And, they don’t know that they don’t know. Yesterday, I even went so far as to say that Jonathan Gruber was right when he said that the American voter is stupid. That wasn’t very gracious of me; and, it wasn’t entirely accurate, either. The American voter isn’t actually stupid. There just aren’t any justifiable reasons to be as educated as you would have to be, to know everything you would have to know. But the powers that be, do treat us as if we are stupid. And, they are counting on our stupidity. Otherwise, all their power is exposed as the sham it is. If I really believed we were stupid, I couldn’t get away with agreeing with Lao Tzu that people can be trusted to find their own way.

Still, the presumption that we know, when we don’t, is a real problem. And, there are two diametrically opposed ways of dealing with that problem. Jonathan Gruber, and his ilk, see the problem, and wish to take advantage of the situation. “If the people really knew, we wouldn’t be able to get away with our obfuscation; but they don’t, so we can. Lao Tzu takes a different tack. He is training would be leaders, not to deceive or manipulate, but to guide. Yes, people can easily be misled, deceived, manipulated. But, real leaders can guide in such a way that people can easily find their own way.

We were talking a couple of chapters ago about letting go of things that we have been holding on to. We don’t like change. And, we resist it with every thing we’ve got. But Lao Tzu gently reminds us that if, instead of resisting, we let go of those things, we will ultimately find that there is nothing we can’t achieve.

He compared it to not being afraid of dying. The ultimate change. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks of life and death. Once again, he is encouraging us to let go.

I think the gist of what Lao Tzu is asking of us today is, “Are you going to be a disciple of life, or a disciple of death?” He returns to one of his favorite metaphors, that of the newborn. Remember how you started your life. You were born soft and supple. Plants were born that way too. Tender and pliant. We need to remember where we have come from and continue to be that same way: soft and yielding. That is being a disciple of life.

It should only be in death that we become stiff and hard, brittle and dry. The stiff and inflexible, those that won’t let go of all the things that are holding them back, are disciples of death. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us fearing death. But, he certainly doesn’t want us embracing it, while we can still be very much alive. It is the fear of death that holds us back. We won’t let go because of that fear. And that just hastens death’s onset. Let go, and live.

Jonathan Gruber Was Right

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I hopefully didn’t lose too much of my audience with yesterday’s rant. I maybe got that out of my system yesterday, and won’t be ranting again for awhile…

But, if there ever was something to rant about, it would be today’s chapter. This is something I would like to shout from every rooftop. It is all so obvious to me that this should be self-evident. And yet, I think most people are going to read it and immediately dismiss it. Our rulers are acting for the people’s benefit, after all. I mean, we elect them with a majority each and every election. And they make loads of promises to we, the people. And the only reason that they don’t come through on their promises is because of those other guys in office that are making it so difficult. But that is okay. We always can fix things with the next election. Just don’t fail to vote. Because if you stay home, you can’t complain. And it is your fault, anyway, for not voting for the preselected option in the first place.

I guess it is a good thing that I am not going to rant today.

First off, I just want to say that Lao Tzu is absolutely right about this. Second, people are stupid. What other explanation can there be for willfully ignoring the obvious. Look, friends, we need to understand that Jonathan Gruber was right. I have been watching the political theater the last few days regarding this. People have turned this into “How dare he?” People are offended at the notion that the powers that be look down on the rest of us from their ivory towers, and feel nothing but contempt. The sycophants are jumping through hoops in the hopes that they can sacrifice the messenger of the truth, and somehow maintain the veil of deception. But Jonathan Gruber was right. The powers that be do believe they are our betters. They believe we are stupid. They are counting on it. And, we don’t do anything to dispel that notion when we will be upset about this one day, and on their own terms; but will easily get distracted, and turn to other more important things, like the next round of bread and circuses they offer us, tomorrow.

But I was talking about today’s chapter. Oh, I see someone has their hand up. Please, tell me how Lao Tzu is wrong. “Oh, well Chuck, you just don’t understand. We are using those taxes so that we CAN feed the hungry. And, Chuck, the government has to intrude on our lives, like they are. Lao Tzu lived a very long time ago. He couldn’t possibly know that people would be committing acts of terrorism around the world. People have been beheaded, Chuck. Beheaded. Chuck? Chuck?” …

It is so peaceful when I leave the room and just go outside and enjoy the sights and sounds of the Universe around me. I may never go back inside…

Okay, I am back. Look, I get it. You aren’t going to get it. But I am still going to say it anyway. If you really want to act for the people’s benefit, trust them; and leave them alone. That is all. I am going back outside.

libertariantaoist Goes On A Rant

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future is like trying
to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about all the things that we try to hold on to. How much we want to be in control. Today’s chapter is a gentle reminder that all things change; and trying to control the future is just not something we can do.

These are ideas that we all give mental assent to. By mental assent, I mean, when I (or Lao Tzu) tell you that all things change, most people are going to reply, “I know, I know.” But, I suspect that a good majority of us answering this way are like the people, Lao Tzu has described in recent chapters. They think that they know. And, they don’t know that they don’t know.

Remember, as would be leaders, we are supposed to be serving as examples of the art of living. It isn’t our job to educate the people. But we do need to kindly teach them to not-know. Which means, show them that they don’t know. Why? Because, once they know that they don’t know, the people can find their own way.

I am thinking of this example because mental assent is just not good enough. Mental assent is only keeping us in our ignorance. So saying, “I know, I know, that all things change,” is not the same as actually coming to the realization that all things change. As long as we are still trying to hold onto things, we don’t really know anything.

Lao Tzu has been talking about the disease that seems particularly virulent in the human race, our presumption of knowledge. How is Lao Tzu teaching us to not-know? By reminding us of all the things we try to hold on to. This disease is what I blame for the rampant cognitive dissonance that I encounter, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, for whatever beliefs people want to hold on to. I see it in how easily we are manipulated by the powers that be and their willing accomplices (sycophants) in the corporate media establishment. People believe what they want to believe. And, because they don’t know that they don’t know, they will readily rise to the defense of the most heinous of crimes against our very humanity.

The rush that I have seen by many to defend torture is only the very latest example of this. I don’t need to read thousands of pages documenting the torture of our fellow human beings to know that is a crime against our very humanity. It doesn’t make any difference to me whether the conclusion of the U.S. Senate panel is that we did or did not gain any intelligence gathering benefit from the torture. Torture is just morally wrong. In the most absolute terms. And I see people arguing over he said/she said. Really? People think that torture is okay as long as we got information? And when you are told that we didn’t get any information, you just say that is just wrong, the CIA believes we did, so there!

My friends, it is this level of ignorance, which I can only define as willful, which I simply cannot tolerate. And this is only one of many examples I could name. The rush to defend our State and its “out of control” police lately, has left me mostly apoplectic. I put the “out of control” in quotes because I don’t think the police are out of control at all. They are operating according to design. As is the State. Nothing that I am seeing from our Masters is any surprise to me. What I can’t tolerate is the slaves who don’t know they are slaves. They love their chains and the taste of boot on their tongues.

And when I kindly show them they don’t know, they get all defensive. Such small minds. So little imagination.

Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, but what does this have to do with today’s chapter?” And, I will answer, “Nothing! And, everything!”

Let’s get to the everything. Lao Tzu compares our not realizing that all things change, to being afraid of dying. I can’t make you realize that all things change. And, I can’t really make you no longer afraid of dying. But I can point out, that is what is holding you back. Only you can come to realize the truth, and let go of everything you are holding on to. Only you can move past your fear of dying, and find that there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Let’s face reality for a moment. We really don’t like this idea of letting go of things. And, while we know we are someday going to face death, we fear that day. I say “we” because I am including myself. We want to be in control. We want to control today, and every day. Even, well into the future. And that was never promised to us. Lao Tzu specifically warns us about that desire to control the future. We need to keep our hands off those tools.

What Does It Mean To Be At Ease?

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu has so many different ways of saying the same thing. Some of you might find that a bit redundant. I tend to like it; because I am just dense enough, I need a variety of ways to see the same thing. If I was to describe philosophical Taoism in as few words as possible it would be, “The art of living is being at ease.” The last few days we have been talking about all the reasons that we, as humans, are not living our lives at ease. I believe that Lao Tzu is telling us that regardless whatever the outward conditions on which we may wish to blame our unease, it always can be boiled down to the condition of the human heart. You can point my attention to any trouble anywhere in the world, and I am going to point my finger at your heart. Deal with that. Once you have taken care of that, you’ll find the rest of the world takes care of itself.

I hope none of you are thinking, “Well, that is easy for you to say.” Believe me, I always am pointing my finger at my own heart. I have my own personal times of testing. I just happen to be experiencing one in this present moment. Outward circumstances change. You can’t depend on others. You need to have confidence that the answers you are looking for are inside of you. Because if they aren’t inside your own heart, they are no where to be found.

In the last couple of years, I have really embraced the art of living. I have been at ease. No, I haven’t had a whole lot of money. Money, while useful, is not a guarantee of a life at ease. I have become a whole lot more inwardly focused; and, far from turning me into a recluse, I can honestly say that I now have some solid friends. This is the antithesis to the way I used to live my life. Then, the focus was outward. And friends, were merely acquaintances. You see, the more shallow I was, the more shallow my friendships were. That isn’t passing judgment on my friends from years gone by. That is merely pointing a finger at my own heart. I was shallow. You reap what you sow.

I hope I am communicating what I am trying to communicate. Words don’t do it justice. Suffice it to say what Lao Tzu has already said, “My teachings are easy to understand and easy to put into practice.” You just can’t let your own intellect deprive you of the true knowledge. I never did put these teachings into practice as long as I kept trying to. It was when I stopped trying and just did it.

And, so we arrive at today’s chapter. I want to be like the Tao. How many times has Lao Tzu told us to be like the Tao? I have lost count. Let me tell you something I learned. You can’t be like the Tao by trying to be like the Tao. It just doesn’t work like that. How does it work? Let’s look again at what Lao Tzu has to say about the Tao, today.

The Tao is always at ease. There it is. Always. At. Ease.

After typing the last line, I stopped what I was doing, and went outside to think about what it means to be always at ease. And, it came to me suddenly. Perhaps, the word that we should be looking at, isn’t the one we think we should be looking at. I was focusing on the word, ease. Then, I was thinking about that word, always. But, when I went outside I started thinking about the word, at. What a tiny, insignificant word! Or, is it? Because I started to realize that the problem I am always encountering in my own life is that I want a life OF ease. That is what I was working on for the first 49 years of my life. I want a life of ease. And, who doesn’t? But, a life OF ease and a life AT ease are two very different things. And, that difference makes all the difference.

A life of ease is a life with no difficulties. Sure, we would love to never have any difficulties. Or, at least we think we would love to never have any difficulties. When we are going through difficulties we like to comfort ourselves with the notion that there is some higher purpose for these difficulties. And, you can be sure, that if you are finding little comfort in that, your friends and family will still be trying to comfort you with that notion, anyway.

But, Lao Tzu isn’t making any promises of a life of ease. If you think that is what philosophical Taoism is teaching, then definitely do like I did; look inside your own heart, and have those crazy notions dispelled.

Lao Tzu is offering a life at ease. And that is something entirely different. The Tao is always at ease. And, we can be just like the Tao. But, notice how Lao Tzu explains what that means. It overcomes without competing. It answers without speaking a word. It arrives without be summoned. It accomplishes without a plan.

A life of ease would have nothing to overcome. But, a life at ease does have its difficulties. There are things that you will have to overcome. Just like the Tao. You will still need answers. This is a journey, and that means both arrivals and departures. There are things to accomplish. A life of ease offers none of these things. And, sometimes, we may think that would be a-okay.

But, that isn’t what Lao Tzu is offering us. A life at ease means we can overcome without competing. It means we can find answers without a word being spoken. It means we can arrive without being summoned. It means we can accomplish without a plan.

I know that is just repeating back what Lao Tzu has said in this chapter about the Tao. And I am not really fleshing out how to do that in our own lives. The reason for that, my friends, is that how that is going to be fleshed out in all of our lives is going to be done in myriad ways. Live your own life. Look in your own heart. You’ll see it played out for yourself.

This is where he reveals the mystery. We tend to get bogged down in the how. When we just need to regain our awe. (For those of you that didn’t read yesterday’s post, it was talking about losing our sense of awe.) Forget how. Just let that go. Allow yourself to get swept up by the awe again. The Tao has a net that covers the whole universe. And though its meshes are wide, it doesn’t let a thing slip through. And, you and I are not going to slip through, either.