The More You Know…

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)

Yesterday, the challenge before us was seeing through all fear. It is the only way to always be safe. Today, Lao Tzu wonders what we are going to be doing with this new-found freedom from fear. What we want is to open our hearts to the world and see the essence of the Tao. There is so much that we want to learn. The pursuit of knowledge awaits us. We can’t wait to get out there and start learning.

But Lao Tzu catches me eying the window as I rush to the door in my hurry to get out and start exploring. “Hold on, there. Where are you going in such a hurry?”

“I’m sorry, Master, I was just thinking it was time to get going. So very much out there to see and do.”

“Oh? What exactly is out there, that isn’t in here?” Lao Tzu asks, pointing with his bony finger at my heart.

We don’t have to go anywhere to open our hearts to what is. The essence of the Tao is not outside of us, it is within us. Of course, I am not thinking about my heart, at all. I am thinking that my brain doesn’t have enough knowledge. There is still, so much to learn. I don’t know enough. And, living in the town of Podunk, in the middle of Nowhere, means I have some traveling to do.

Lao Tzu will have none of it. We think so highly of the pursuit of knowledge. So very highly, in fact, that we will go many thousands of dollars in debt, just so we can say that we acquired a little more knowledge. But Lao Tzu wonders what exactly we have gotten for all of that. You know so much, and understand so little. And you remedy your lack of understanding with still more knowledge. Only to find you understand even less.

Does that sound anti-knowledge to you? I don’t think Lao Tzu is anti-knowledge. I just think he wishes that we valued understanding a little more. Maybe we do; but we don’t understand that understanding isn’t gained in the same way that knowledge is gained.

In tomorrow’s chapter, Lao Tzu will better explain the differences between the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of the Tao. There is a stark difference between knowledge and understanding. Today, is something of a teaser.

Today, Lao Tzu teases us with the example of the Master, who arrives without ever leaving, sees the light without looking for it, and achieves without doing anything. That isn’t something I need to know. It is something I need to understand.

When Will We Be Safe?

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 all fear
will always be safe.

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

As I was thinking about today’s chapter in the Tao Te Ching, I was in the car coming home from tutoring. I was listening to NPR news on the radio, and the top story was President Obama’s press conference where he revealed that one of our many deadly drone strikes had inconveniently taken out two civilian hostages. One an American, and one an Italian. President Obama offered his condolences to the families, insisting that in the fogs of war, especially our endless (he said present) War on Terror, mistakes happen. He didn’t use the word inconvenient. But I think it is an appropriate word for our immoral actions all over the world. It was inconvenient that those hostages were there.

Of course, there also was some convenient news to report about this particular drone strike. It was also reported that two Americans, alleged al-Qa’ida operatives, were also assassinated in this drone strike. Now, why was that convenient? Well, because we are supposed to jump through special hoops before targeting Americans. But, just like we didn’t know the hostages were there, we, apparently, didn’t know the American alleged al-Qa’ida operatives were there either. And, since we weren’t actually targeting them specifically, their deaths were merely convenient. After all, we didn’t have to offer them any so-called “American” rights, some semblance of due process. How convenient!

Drone strikes always seem to have a way of being both inconvenient and convenient. We never seem to know until months after the bloody aftermath who we have killed. That is inconvenient for the families of the innocent victims. But it certainly is convenient for those who are motivated by fear to manufacture enemies out of thin air. We have stockpiles of weapons that we can’t allow to get dusty, after all. The health of the State depends on this endless war.

I think that would be how Randolph Bourne would see it. Lao Tzu just shakes his head, how counter to the Tao the health of the State is. For my part, I want a country in harmony with the Tao. There is a clear line that differentiates the State from a country. The State has no regards for any country. Including its own. All that matters is how many warheads it has stockpiled. And how best can we put those to use. Sure, there are going to be those inconveniences, that is just the tragedy of war. But, it is never the State that suffers those inconveniences. Only the country suffers those inconveniences. How convenient!

Yes, it is the country, with all its inhabitants, that suffers when the State is healthy, when the country goes counter to the Tao. It is individuals, like you, like me, like the hostages that weren’t supposed to be there, like the Americans that didn’t get anything near due process. Oh, to live in a country in harmony with the Tao. Factories making trucks and tractors? That is bliss!

And it is all because of something that Lao Tzu has earlier called nothing but a phantom. Fear. The greatest illusion of them all. Fear. It isn’t real, but succumbing to it has deadly consequences. Our rulers actually have people believing that what these drone strikes are actually accomplishing is defending us. Defending us? From who? An imaginary enemy, like those two hostages? Like the countless civilians that we have killed in all the years we have been using drone strikes? This is a defensive posture? No, you’re wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. Why do we have all these enemies? Our rulers keep telling us that they hate us for our freedoms. What a crock! Our freedoms? What freedoms would those be? The ones pre-9/11? That would be just about all of them. We don’t have those anymore. But they still, supposedly, hate us. It couldn’t be that it isn’t little ol’ you and me that they hate. That it is the State, waging war on them, that induces them to hate.

This didn’t begin on 9/11. We have been running counter to the Tao for generations now. Meddling in affairs in which we had absolutely no business. No, I can’t say we didn’t have any business. Because it was always about business. Our meddling, and our wars, have always been about making a few people rich at the expense of all the rest of us. But when the health of the State is on the line, you can’t be in harmony with the Tao. It isn’t the State’s misfortune that we have an enemy. That is the State’s lifeblood. But it is our greatest misfortune.

Somehow, someway, we are going to have to figure out how to see through all the fear. That is the only way to always be safe. For my part, I have never been afraid of anyone that wasn’t an agent of the State. The State has manufactured for itself plenty of enemies for us to be scared of. But they aren’t my enemies. And I don’t fear them. But I do fear the State. Leviathan is pretty scary to me. And somehow, someway I have to be able to see through this fear, too. Then, I will be safe.

Just Give Me A Moment

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 art seems artless.

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)

Yesterday, we were talking about what Lao Tzu is always talking about, you already have everything you need. Be content with who you are and what you have. We waste a whole lot of our lives, looking to others for fulfillment. And happiness will elude us, as long as we think it depends on money. Instead of focusing on something outside of ourselves, we need to look deep inside our own selves. For it is there, that true happiness and true fulfillment is to be found.

That, of course, is easier said than done. What makes it not as easily done, as said, is that we are our own worst critics. Just turning our focus inwards isn’t going to be enough, if we are going to insist on believing the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. Oh, we don’t think we are lying to ourselves. We think we are giving an all too honest appraisal of just how imperfect and empty we appear, as we look within.

Look, I know what Lao Tzu has been saying, and I want to believe it is true. But when I look at me, I don’t see perfection. That is the problem, isn’t it? How can I be content with imperfection?

Most of my readers are quite a bit younger than me. This is something that makes my day, each and every day. Because I love working with young people. I can be a mentor of sorts, and I benefit from your youth and enthusiasm. It’s a win-win. I do hope you don’t mind getting a few words of wisdom from this older guy.

And here they are: You are more perfect than you seem to be. Oh, you don’t see it. And, you probably never will. You are always going to judge yourself by an impossible standard. Your greatest perfection is going to seem imperfect to you. You never are going to quite measure up to your exacting standards.

We all live a kind of double life. We are so concerned with appearances. So, we try to appear to have it all together; while, to our own selves, we appear to be a complete wreck. While we hope we can fool others, we know we can never fool ourselves. And, regardless of what Lao Tzu tells us, well, if he knew the truth about ourselves, he wouldn’t make it all sound so very simple.

But Lao Tzu does understand. That is why he says that the truest perfection is always going to seem imperfect. The truest fullness is always going to seem empty.

Perhaps it would help for us to simply follow Lao Tzu’s instructions instead of interrupting with our objections.

Could it be that we are measuring things differently than we should be? Instead of worrying about not being perfect enough, why not just be yourself, completely? Forget about other people’s standards of perfection for a moment. And just let yourself be free to be you. Now, try to ignore your own inner voices as they point out all the ways you don’t have it together. And just be you. Is this supposed to be easy? No! But it is necessary.

Lao Tzu has been talking about being truly fulfilled. And, we can’t get past how empty we feel. How can he keep saying that I have everything I need? That there is nothing lacking? I am so empty! Okay. Work with me here. So, you seem empty to you. I get it. But is that the final verdict? Can you do one thing for me? Just be filled in this one present moment. Forget about later today, or tomorrow, or next week. And don’t be thinking about all the ways you failed yesterday. Just be present with me in this moment. Fully present.

True straightness is going to seem crooked to you. True wisdom is going to seem like folly. True art is going to seem completely lacking in art. You are always going to be your worst critic. But just stop that for this present moment. You can go back to feeling like a failure later. For now, be what Lao Tzu insists that you are.

Are you with me? Here, in this present moment? Good. Now, things are getting ready to happen. Don’t freak out on me, but things are going to happen. Don’t let that shake you up. You are here in this present moment. Don’t worry about things that are going to happen. Just let them happen. Don’t fight it. Don’t resist it. Just relax. Enjoy this present moment.

As events transpire, breathe. Always breathe. Now, begin to shape those events as they come. You are in the present moment. You aren’t thinking about what happened yesterday. You aren’t thinking about tomorrow. You are right here, right now. And as events are happening, you are shaping them.

Now, step out of the way. That’s right. Step out of the way. I didn’t say, “Jump!” I didn’t say, “Look out!” I simply said, “Step out of the way.” You are living in the present moment. Conscious of every breath. And, now, the Tao can speak for itself: “You are perfectly yourself. You are fully present.”

It Really Is A Choice

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)

What is most important to me? What do I value the most? How do I define success? Failure? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking ourselves. Because our answers will tell us a lot about ourselves. You can gain the whole world and lose your own soul. That is the problem with looking outside of ourselves for what really matters.

To get to the end of my life, never to know true fulfillment and never happy with myself – how horrible a life to live. But that is the kind of life you have as long as you are looking to others for fulfillment and your happiness depends on how much money you have.

Oh, to be content! A life of contentment. That is what Lao Tzu is offering to anyone who will choose it. It really is a choice. Realizing I have everything I need, right now. That what I have is enough. That there is nothing lacking. It really is a choice. I can and do rejoice in the way things are. I don’t have to lose my own soul to gain the whole world. The whole world belongs to me, now. Because I am one with the world, now.

The Value In Doing Nothing

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)

Today’s chapter is all about the value of non-action. Non-action is a translation of the Chinese, Wu Wei; which could literally be translated “doing nothing” though our Westernized minds don’t understand what it is that Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. Still, if there is one fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, it is this one. In other words, if you are going to learn anything from the Tao Te Ching, make sure it is this that you learn.

It permeates through all of the Tao Te Ching. The Tao does nothing, yet through it all things are done. The Master does nothing, yet nothing is left undone. Clearly, there is something more to this doing nothing than doing nothing.

For Lao Tzu, he sees this principle in operation most obviously in nature; and, his favorite metaphor for illustrating Wu Wei is water. In this chapter, without even naming water, we know that is exactly what he is picturing in his mind. The gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. Now, picture water consistently dripping on the same spot of a rock. However soft the water is, it will eventually penetrate that rock. It is powerful, although it does not appear to be so. He tells us that it takes something with no substance to enter where there is no space. That, he insists, shows the value of Wu Wei.

If there is value to it, then we better understand it better. Because doing nothing doesn’t mean doing nothing. At least, not in the way that we understand doing nothing. What Lao Tzu is defining is a state of being in harmony with the Tao, behaving in a completely natural, not-contrived, way.

I have already said that Wu Wei could literally be translated as doing nothing. But, I also added the caveat that doing nothing doesn’t mean doing nothing. So what does Wu Wei really mean? Wu may be translated as “not have” or “without”; Wei may be translated as “do”, “act”, “serve as”, “govern” or “effort”. The most common translations are “non-action” like Stephen Mitchell translates it. But it can also be translated: without action, without effort, without control. It is also presented as a paradox, Wei Wu Wei, meaning acting without action or effortless doing. And now, through the paradox, we can see there really is some doing with this doing nothing. Doing nothing is doing something.

To better understand Wu Wei, consider less commonly referenced senses of it: Action that does not involve struggle or excessive effort. In this instance, Wu means without and Wei means effort. Now we have effortless action. And that is probably the most apt definition of Wu Wei that I can come up with. So, what does effortless action mean? It means doing what comes naturally. It means going with the flow. It means submitting to the laws of nature and working with, instead of against, nature.

But the real question before us is how do we go about Wei Wu Wei, doing not doing, or simply, doing nothing?

First, of all, we already do it all the time. We just don’t realize that we are doing it while we are doing it. What do I mean? I am talking about a state where things just flow and you almost lose track of time. When you become one with your world and what you do seems to come out naturally? You are in the zone. But the moment you actively begin to think about what you are doing, to realize you are in the zone, is to compromise that state.

We only seem to be able to reflect back on it, after the fact. While we are in the zone, we aren’t thinking, we aren’t doing, things are just getting done. This state of Wu Wei is something beyond the realm of thinking. It is on a whole other level than acting by thinking. It is something different than a direct action coming out of desires or goals. It is being, not doing. It is going with the flow.

We have all experienced those moments. You know exactly what I am talking about. The question is, how to go about stringing more of those moments together. Is this something that we can bring about more regularly? If thinking only compromises the moment, if desires and goals don’t help, what then?

Teaching without words, performing without actions, that is the Master’s way. But is that example of any help to us, at all? This is about effortless action. And effortless means without effort. That means that trying to effortlessly act is, by definition, to not act effortlessly. It would seem hopeless. But it isn’t. Let the Tao be your guide. Observe nature. Go ahead. Pay attention to the natural flow of nature. It isn’t in any hurry, yet everything gets done. Observe the natural laws of our Universe. Begin to pick up on the natural rhythms, the flow. Everything acts according to its nature. Even you. Pick up on that flow and go with it. That is how to practice doing nothing. No, you won’t be cognizant that you are in the flow, when you are in the flow. But does that matter? Just go with it. Don’t think about it. Just go with it. And don’t be surprised, if you ask me what I am doing, when I tell you, “Oh, I have been doing nothing.”

Demystifying The Mystery

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Of all the chapters which delve into the mystery of the Tao, none are as mysterious as today’s chapter. What is this mysterious One to which the Tao gives birth? What is the Two? And, the Three? Is this some esoteric mystery that only a select few can know? Or, is it something that his initial readers would have immediately understood, but my westernized mind does not? I have even entertained the notion that Lao Tzu intends for it to be a mystery. But, only for a moment. Lao Tzu seems to want us to understand the mystery, as best as we can. I decided, some time ago that I needed help. I read through many different translations. I consulted quite a few commentaries. I never was satisfied. Finally, I decided that Lao Tzu was speaking plainly. This was just one piece in the jigsaw puzzle. All the other pieces would help me to understand it, if I could just figure out how they all fit together. Eventually, I consulted the second most familiar early Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu. What Lao Tzu said in few words, Chuang Tzu expanded on.

This is what Chuang Tzu had to say on the mysterious One. “At the beginning, there is Nothing. No existence. No names. Where One rises up, there is One, but it doesn’t have a form yet.” That helped me. Because that pointed me back to what Lao Tzu has been saying all along about non-being. Non-being is nothing. It has no existence, no name, no form, yet. Non-being is very hard to explain. It is not yet manifest, what it will be. I think the only way to describe it is to call it the non-manifestation of the Tao. It is a mystery.

And every creation story seems to start out with nothing. I don’t know how satisfying it is, but I am going with identifying the One as non-being, or nothing. The initial action of the Tao, then, is to give birth to nothing. What an inauspicious beginning! Why not light? No, we start out with nothing.

That makes things a whole lot easier, actually. Since Lao Tzu has already told us that non-being gives birth to being. This has yin and yang all over it. The One gives birth to Two. Non-being and being. That would be Wu and Yu in Chinese philosophy. What we have here is two very distinct aspects of the Tao. The Tao that gives and the Tao that receives. And these aspects rise up spontaneously, almost simultaneously. Yes, I know we see the One rise up first. Giving precedes receiving; but only for an instant. Until what is given is received, nothing has been given. They work in concert together. That is why it is also correct to say that being gives birth to non-being. This is how yin and yang work. Spontaneous, and almost simultaneous.

Now that we have non-being and being, yin and yang, what is this mysterious Three? To answer that, I had to delve a little deeper into Chinese philosophy. We understand that yin and yang are always in a state of flux, a state of motion. All things are in a constant state of motion. But what is the motivating force that puts them into motion? This mystery Three is a third aspect of the Tao. The first being, wu. The second being, yu. The third is chi. I have seen chi defined as energy. Or, the life force. And, sometimes, as breath, or spirit. I think all of these are helpful. The Two, wu and yu, yin and yang, combine. And, like the splitting of an atom, produce chi. Once again, I see this as something that happens both spontaneously, and almost simultaneously. All three are merely aspects of the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to itself, in all its aspects. This can be more easily understood and accepted, once we understand and accept that the Tao is everything. I spent a great deal of time demystifying just the first third of today’s chapter. But all of that is necessary if we are to understand the next two-thirds. Once we have that, we can understand how the Three gives birth to all things.

All things stand with their back to the female and face the male. What an interesting position in which to find ourselves. Where is the balance, the harmony? The chi moves all things, so that male and female combine. And then, harmony is achieved.

So, why is it that ordinary men hate solitude? Yesterday, we were talking about extraordinary and ordinary individuals. Actually, the words we used were superior and average. But, they mean the same thing. It takes an extraordinary person to so value solitude, that you embrace your aloneness, and know how to make use of it. Let’s not forget how everything came into being. It started with One. Just One. Nothing, really. Embrace your oneness with the Tao, and with the whole Universe. We are all one with the Tao. The Tao is nothing, and everything. And, in the Tao, we are both nothing and everything. Ordinary people can’t tolerate being alone. They hate solitude. But, the Master understands. It is only in solitude that we come to realize that we are not alone. We are not separate. We only appear to be separate. We are all One with the Tao.

Submit To It To Embody It

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about the retrogressive movement of the Tao. Why is it that the Tao wants to take us backwards, when all we want is to move forward? It really has a lot to do with what we want. Lao Tzu is leading us to let go of all of our desires, our wants. That is the way of the Tao, the way things are. It is the only way to be content. But this way seems foolish, weak, backwards. And you, of course, know why that is. It is because that is the way things are. We resist it. Most of us put up a life-long fight against the current of the Tao. We want so much. We want to advance. We want more. And, we are never satisfied. Yesterday, it dawned on me what accepting that the way things are is the way things are, really means. It means submitting to the Tao. It takes that act of submission. A sign of weakness, yes. But, it is only by submitting that we can come face to face with reality.

Today, Lao Tzu further explains the trouble that our desires cause us. And, why it is that the Tao evokes such stark and varied reactions from us all.

What we want is to go into the light, to go forward, we want a clear and direct path. Yet the path before us only seems to be getting darker. We don’t seem to be advancing at all; instead, losing ground. The path seems long and dreadful. Talk about frustrating our desires. But that is the way things are. The question before us is whether we will submit to this. That is always going to be the question. Will we submit? Or, will we continue to resist, to strive?

How do we reckon with the Tao? We can’t perceive it. It conceals itself from us, by being nameless. How can we know it? This path of life that we are on seems like it is going backwards. This is the tragedy of life. We keep looking forward for happiness, but it always appears still far off, beyond some distant horizon. The very idea that we should cease all of our desires and remain still, is anathema to us. Yet, that is exactly what we must do. Once, we stop desiring, once we stand still, the reversing movement of the Tao takes us back to the Source. That is where we will find true happiness, true contentment.

Yet, we still resist. It truly takes a superior person to hear of the Tao and immediately begin to embody it. I mean, you really have to hand it to them. They get it. Right from the start. I do wish that had been me. Most of us are merely average. We are going to wrestle with our doubts. And why not? The kind of power the Tao wields seems weak. Its purity seems tarnished. Its steadfastness seems changeable. Its clarity seems obscure. Of course, we have doubts.

Lao Tzu keeps insisting that we already have everything that we need. And we doubt it. But, in an odd way, the more that we get, the less it is that we have. Why is that? How can you have anything until you learn to appreciate it. The very fact that we are pursuing more of anything, shows that we don’t appreciate what we already have. Hence, the only way to be content is to appreciate that you already have everything. We think we can only become content once we have enough. And we never have enough. Our desires create a vicious cycle. The more we desire, the more we seek, the more we seek, the less we appreciate what we have, and that only makes us desire more.

You see, we have it all backwards. And that is why the Tao is always moving to reverse things. The way things are is another, cycle. Dare we call it a virtuous one? The less we desire, the less we seek, the less we seek, the more we appreciate what we already have, and that is true contentment. A contentment free of all desires, because it is only in being free of desires that we can be content. In being content, we always have enough.

To the fool, the greatest art will seem unsophisticated. The greatest love will seem indifferent. The greatest wisdom will seem childish. That is why the fool laughs out loud. And why wouldn’t they laugh? They always want and expect there to be something more.

And, where is the Tao? It is nowhere to be found. The fool dismisses it. The average person half believes it, half doubts it. Yet, it still nourishes and completes all things. Let’s begin to embody that.

A Retrogression

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This little chapter, nestled halfway through the Tao Te Ching, has always given me pause. Lao Tzu seems to be saying so much with so few words. I feel like I never give it its due. But then again, Lao Tzu is speaking of the mystery of the Tao. Anything that I can say isn’t really going to do it justice.

Still, I am going to try and keep my commentary brief today. Like I said, Lao Tzu says a whole lot here. And I think he intends to give us pause. We have been talking about submitting to the way things are. Though I don’t think I have used that word submitting before. I always have chosen to use the word accepting before. Submitting is a much stronger term. And I have resisted it. That, I now admit, is my bad.

Accepting that the way things are is the way things are, is submitting to the way things are. This is a whole new level of understanding for me. So, it may take me awhile to fully digest what I am going to do with this whole idea of submitting. More on that in the future. Maybe today’s chapter will help.

I decided to look more closely at the original text today. Usually, I am quite satisfied with Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Though I do often consult other translations, just to make sure I have a good understanding, before adding my commentary. But today, when I found today’s chapter before me, I knew I needed extra help. So, I went back to the source, the original Chinese characters. What Stephen Mitchell translates as return, in the original is reversing. What he translates as yielding, in the original is weakness. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with the words, return and yielding. But it does help me to better understand what is meant by return and yielding.

But, let’s look at those opening lines, once again, inserting reversing and weakness. That might make things a little more interesting.

Reversing is the movement of the Tao. Weakness is the way of the Tao.

What Lao Tzu is saying, if I am understanding this, at all, is that while there is a time for advancing, the movement of the Tao is one of retrogression. Taking all things backwards, returning back to the Source. This makes perfect sense, when you consider that the Tao is always bringing about balance.

But the second half is even more telling. How is this retrogressive movement of the Tao accomplished. We are, of course, used to seeing things accomplished through the use of force, strength, power. It should come as no surprise that the Tao turns the tables here. The way, or character, of the Tao is one of weakness. It accomplishes everything it does, not through the use of force, but through yielding. It is through weakness, that it is strong. It is by eschewing power that it is truly powerful.

There are lessons for us in these few words, consider it something to chew on today.

Now, on to the second half of the chapter. Being and non-being. I don’t know why I let these two confound me so. It is only talking about the Tao. All things derive their being from the manifestation of the Tao. Being is the manifestation of the Tao.

But, what of non-being? Because non-being is pretty important. After all, there is no being without non-being. Non-being is the source of being. Yet, non-being is nothing. How do we solve this riddle? Non-being is simply the Tao in its eternal mystery. It is not yet manifest. When it is manifest, it is being.

So, being and non-being, represents the Tao in its entirety, both the manifestation of the Tao and the mystery of it. The Tao is always moving us backwards, balancing things out. It does this through manifesting weakness. That is its strength. Which brings me back to submitting to the way things are. Submission is weakness. That is why I never liked the sounds of that word. Yet, Lao Tzu is showing me something, here. Submitting may be more powerful than I ever imagined.

Time To Get In Shape

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way they are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as a stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao is everything. I said that, yesterday. And, it is worth saying again, today. When the Tao is lost, it is our connectedness with everything that is lost. Then, things start to go horribly wrong; both, in our lives, and by way of extension, in our world.

Things are just so much better when we are in harmony with the Tao. Pristine is the way Lao Tzu describes it in the opening lines of today’s chapter. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full Earth. All creatures flourishing together. And, everyone content with the way things are: endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed. That is what being connected with the Tao, and thus everything, means.

But the picture changes drastically when we lose our connectedness with everything. Then, we start interfering with the Tao. Why? Well, we are lost and confused. Soon, that pristine picture of a beautiful world is replaced with a dystopian vision. The sky has become filthy. The Earth is become depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct.

It isn’t hard for us to figure out in what kind of world we find ourselves living now. We want that pristine vision. But our present reality is the dystopian one. We don’t like it, and we wonder what exactly can one lone individual do about it.

What is needed is individuals, like you and me, to regain our connectedness to the Tao. Then we can start making a real difference in our world. All it is going to take is compassion, understanding, and humility.

For Lao Tzu, that one lone individual is the Master, who views the parts with compassion because he understands the whole. He understands his connection with the whole. He sees how the parts have been severed from the whole. How they have lost their connectedness with the whole. He acts as a pattern for the world. Showing each separate part how to be reconnected to the whole. This takes making humility your constant practice. You can’t be interested in glittering like a jewel. Glittering jewels do attract attention to themselves. But that takes attention away from the whole. Being a pattern, is letting the Tao shape you into whatever you need to be. And, that always seems to end up making you as rugged and common as stone. Just like any other stone. Not very attractive. Not drawing attention to itself. Only drawing attention to the Tao. And that, my friends, is everything.

We need to get this settled, once and for all. Nature wins in the end. Oh, we can interfere with the Tao. Sadly, we all too often do. And, in the process, we mess up things quite badly. Still, nature does win in the end. Count on it.

It is Spring in the Ozarks; here, in south central Missouri, the trees and bushes have been in full bloom. And that has me thinking of gardening. I know I have told this story before, but it bears repeating, because it tells of how nature always wins in the end. It was years ago, back when I was a child. My family had a large garden in our backyard. I remember vividly how we took a plot of land that was covered in grass and turned it into a garden. We had to get rid of all the grass, battling with weeds for years. Along with that, we had many harvests of the one thing that Missouri soil seems to be rich with, rocks. How many tons of rocks we pulled out of that garden plot, is something I can’t begin to calculate. We plowed and tilled, year after year. And, I must admit, though it was never a secret to anyone, I despised working in that garden. It was the weeds and rocks that soured me. They never seemed to go away. Oh, we got lots of yummy vegetables, thanks to our efforts. But that was little consolation to me. I hated it. Which is why, now, I am happily gardening the lazy way, with a raised garden bed. Yay! No more rocks and weeds.

But, getting back to the story, we only had that garden until all us kids grew up and moved away. Then, my parents gave that garden back to nature. And, within a few short years, you would never know that a thriving garden had once been there. My Dad didn’t have to do anything to let nature return things to equilibrium. All he had to do was leave things alone. We had been battling with nature for years to have that garden. And nature put up quite the fight. And, in the end, nature won. That is my story. It just goes to show that every man-made thing is only going to last so long as nature allows it to last.

So don’t be discouraged by the dystopian vision you see all around you. Nature will win in the end. We really don’t need to worry about nature. Though, we maybe should worry for us humans. What, or who, are we really harming with our habitual interfering? Us. But that is why it takes individuals, like you, like me, who will act with compassion and understanding. Oh, and with humility, too. We need to be the pattern for the world of the way we want our world to be. Let the Tao take care of shaping you.

What Sets Apart The Master From The Ordinary?

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Just yesterday, we were talking about being free of desire and content with our simple, everyday lives. Lao Tzu said that would happen all by itself, if only powerful men and women would center themselves in the Tao. The reason he puts the onus on them is because it is they who hinder this. Their will to power is always running counter to the Tao. Their program incites desires. If we are going to be free of desires, if we are going to learn to be content with our simple, everyday lives, the powerful won’t be of any help to us.

So, knowing that, it seems like a tall order, indeed. It has been a daily challenge for me for some time now. I think I am making headway. But, I still find myself not quite rid of desires. That is why I encourage myself every day with the idea that it isn’t the destination, but the journey. The journey is something I take one day at a time. Some days are triumphs. Some days there are setbacks. But I cannot be discouraged. I have the rest of my life for this journey.

And, anyway, just as Lao Tzu reminded us, yesterday, we shouldn’t be striving to do anything. The Tao doesn’t strive. It doesn’t do anything, at all. And it still accomplishes everything. I just want to be more and more like the Tao with each passing day.

Today, Lao Tzu separates the Master from the ordinary person. Remember, the Master is simply anyone who is in harmony with the Tao. The ordinary person doesn’t get what the Master is about. The Master is centered within the Tao. How does the Master accomplish this centering? Without trying. Without striving. Without effort. That sounds, well, nigh impossible. How do you accomplish anything without trying to? Without striving to be your very best? Without putting some effort into it?

The Master has got a secret. He has learned how to tap into true power. How? By not trying to be powerful. That is so simple, so profound, that the ordinary person is confounded by it. Oh, the ordinary person wants power. They keep reaching for it. But they never can get enough.

This is key, friends. It is realizing the way things are is the way things are. Anything that you are reaching for, you will never get enough of. Why? Because anything you have to reach for is only an illusion. True power isn’t something to be taken. That is why you won’t see the Master trying to take it. True power isn’t taken, it is given. And, it is given freely. But only to those who aren’t reaching for it. Trying to be powerful is never the way to attain true power. True power is something that powerful men and women will never have. All they have is the illusion of power. How do I know their power isn’t actually real? Because they never have enough. True power isn’t like that. It never leaves you wanting more. Just like the Tao, it is inexhaustible. You will never need more.

Like I said, this is a secret. But it is only a secret to those who have blinded their own eyes. The Master taps into this secret power by not doing anything at all. Yet, the Master leaves nothing undone. The Master’s actions are effortless. There is never any striving. That is what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. It is doing not-doing. Ordinary people can’t wrap their heads around this doing not-doing. They always must be doing something. They must always be busy, busy, busy. Always striving. Exhausting themselves with effort. And what does that get them? Well, look at the results. Look at all the things that are left undone. That is why the ordinary person is always complaining there are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Time is a constant concern, because they never have enough.

We encounter ordinary people in every profession. They are everywhere. Many of them are kind. And, because they are kind, they occupy themselves with doing kind things. But, no matter how many kind things they do, and believe me they do plenty of kind things, there are still plenty of things that remain undone. And, you will find many ordinary people who are quite motivated to be just. Everywhere they turn, they are working to accomplish justice. Yet, no matter how many works of justice they perform, many more are left to be done. They never can do enough. Is Lao Tzu telling us that we shouldn’t waste our time being kind or just? That there is something wrong with being kind or just? If we can’t possibly get everything done through our random acts of kindness or our many works for justice, should we just resign ourselves to the hopelessness of our cause?

Don’t give into hopelessness just yet. There is a better way. One that actually works. And, for those of us who are kind and just, what are our motives really? I like to think the best of people. I just always have wanted to believe the very best of people. So I want to believe that we are kind and seek justice because we want the world to be filled with kindness and justice. That is certainly a much better motive than simply to be seen as kind or just. There is a huge difference between wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and wanting to put on a good show for everyone.

Even so, as much as I want to make the world a better place for everyone, I also know that we have already been warned about trying to improve the world. Lao Tzu says the world is sacred. We need to be careful. Our efforts to improve it, may be interfering with the Tao. That is how things got messed up in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that we have a hopeless situation, either. We can, and should, be a pattern for how we want our world to be. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being a pattern. Notice, that isn’t doing; it is being. Just like the Master doesn’t do anything. The Master is a pattern. And, all things do get done.

Oh, but just look at the moral person over there. They can see all that is wrong in the world and they know just how to fix things. So, they start applying their fixes; and, when no one responds, in other words, things don’t happen just like they wanted them to, they reveal their true nature: They roll up their sleeves and use force to accomplish their objectives. How very ordinary they are. They can’t get anywhere by reaching, so they turn to the use of force. True power never apples force. It never has to. Because unlike the illusion of power, it has nothing to prove. And, when the facade starts to crumble, more and more force is brought to bear.

This was a long chapter; so much was said, and my commentary is going long, as well. How do I bring this to a close? The Tao is everything. That is why it does nothing. When the Tao is lost, which means our connectedness to everything is lost, we seemingly can’t get away with doing nothing. That is why we start substituting other things for the missing Tao. We’ll try goodness. But goodness can be lost, too. So, we substitute morality. Because, if people can’t be good, naturally, we can always force them to be good. So, what happens when morality is lost? Then, all that is left is ritual. The Tao has been lost. Goodness has been lost. Even morality is lost. Goodness isn’t something that comes naturally to us, anymore. We aren’t even being forced to be good, anymore. But, we can put on a good show. That is what ritual is. A good show. An act. It is only the husk of the real thing, true faith. That, my friends, is the chaos that we are living today.

Everyone fears chaos. At least they fear the imaginary kind of chaos. But they seem quite satisfied with the very real chaos that they are living. I tell people there is a better way. But they are so filled with fears of the imaginary, they won’t turn their backs on what they have brought on themselves. Ordinary people can’t see beyond the surface, to the depths. They concern themselves with the flower, instead of the fruit. It is time, my friends. It is time to let go of desires, to have no will of your own. It is time to dwell in reality and let go of all illusions. You can be imagining far better things.