Let’s Reclaim What Moderation Means

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This is the third in a series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. I do hope you have read my commentaries on chapters 57 and 58, because they are intended to be read in context. These are some of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching; they allow me to really open up my heart to my readers, as I explain what libertarianism and Taoism mean to me.

In chapter 57, Lao Tzu got it all started by telling would-be leaders they must learn to follow the Tao, if they want to be great. The message that we must give up our need to control is central to philosophical Taoism. It is our desire, which is at the heart of the problems we face in our lives. It keeps us from letting things come and go as they will, and from being content in each present moment. In chapter 58, Lao Tzu introduced tolerance as the opposite of repression in governing. I said, then, tolerance is a word which has taken on a whole lot of negative connotations in recent years. Lao Tzu intends it to mean freedom from the will to power. The will to power is the real culprit, when governments repress people.

Now, here we are, today, with installment three and a new word, moderation. Moderation has also taken on a whole lot of negative connotations in recent years. But I want us to reclaim the word moderation, just like I wanted to reclaim tolerance, yesterday. In reality, moderation and tolerance mean very much the same thing. And, we need to understand what Lao Tzu means by these terms if we are to understand Lao Tzu’s art of governing.

He says, “For governing a country well there is nothing better than moderation.” Nothing better; my ears perk up, whenever I hear words like all or nothing, always or never. I try to be careful in using them. Seriously, just the other day I used the word “all” in a post, saying “all cops are thugs”, and I got taken to task over it. It was hyperbole, friends, hyperbole. I understand there are often exceptions to a rule. So, when Lao Tzu says, nothing is better than moderation in governing, I put myself on high alert.

But then he goes on to explain the mark of a moderate man. You want to know what moderation and tolerance really mean? Here it is: Freedom from your own ideas. Before I let Lao Tzu continue to explain what he means by freedom, I just want to add something here. Freedom from your own ideas doesn’t mean you have no ideas. Of course, you have ideas. You wouldn’t have sought political office if you were devoid of ideas. But the moderate person isn’t enslaved by those ideas. They are able to let go of their fixed plans and concepts. They don’t need to be in control.

I think this is important for us to understand because the words moderation and moderate have been co-opted in recent years by people who very much wish to be in control. If you want to know who is in control in Washington D.C. (and likely anywhere there are seats of power) it is so-called moderates. They let the extremes duke it out, whipping up the party faithful, and ensuring their “moderate” plans will be the ones implemented. But this kind of moderation isn’t what Lao Tzu is talking about. They don’t have freedom from their own ideas, they are just as enslaved to them, perhaps more so than the so-called extremists.

I want to reclaim the word moderation. So, whenever I see people misusing the words, I want to replace the word, moderate, with “scoundrel” or “tyrant”. I think those are more accurate labels for them. Oh, I know, I know, “Not all moderates.” Please……

But getting back to today’s chapter, what does Lao Tzu mean by freedom from your own ideas?

He says a moderate man is tolerant like the sky. Like I said earlier, moderation and tolerance really mean the same thing. How free are you? How willing are you to not be in control? Will you let the world govern itself, or do you just have to interfere, intervene, use force, try to control? For the man (or woman) who is moderate, the sky is the limit on their freedom from their own ideas.

Here is another side note. There has been a lot of talk lately about moderate versus extremist Muslims. In fact, we have been getting a real kick out of those two labels lately to describe all sorts of people. If your views on any subject is at all different from mine, that makes you an extremist. I, who have more sensible views, am a moderate. Barry Goldwater is, no doubt, spinning in his grave. Friends, please stop this. You aren’t helping.

There is so much more to freedom from your own ideas, we have barely scratched the surface. Like sunlight, it is all-pervading. There is that word, all. But what does it mean? Here in the northern hemisphere we still have quite a few more of these short days and long nights. But, every morning I get up before dawn, and welcome the sunrise, as I go for my power-walk. I am now walking more than three and a half miles each day (*pats myself on back), and I like to watch the sunlight as it creeps across the land each morning. By the time my walk is finished, the sunlight has spread everywhere my eyes can see. Freedom is like that. It pervades every thing.

Freedom from your own ideas doesn’t make you wishy-washy. Moderates, contrary to popular opinion, don’t have their fingers in the air trying to determine which way the political winds are blowing. They are firm like a mountain. Yet, like a tree in the wind, they are supple as well. Firm, yet supple. That tree has roots that go deep. But the branches do bend; so don’t look for him to soon break.

He has no destination in view…. Oh. My. God. If he has no destination in view, how will he ever know, when he gets there? My friends, do we really know and understand just how liberating freedom is? We are talking about freedom from expectations, here. He has no expectations, and thus is never disappointed.

Because of his freedom, he is able to make use of anything life happens to bring his way. If you are bound by your own ideas, when life throws you a curve ball, when you were expecting a fast ball, you are going to swing and miss. But, nothing is impossible for him. That, my friends, is what freedom means. It means nothing is impossible for you.

Why? Because you have let go. You have let go of trying to control. You have let go of your fixed plans and concepts. You have let go of everything which prevents you from simply following the Tao. Your own ideas aren’t ruling you. You are the Master! Now, you can truly care for the people’s welfare, like a mother cares for her own children.

Let’s Reclaim What Tolerance Means

If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is the second in a series of chapters on the art of governing. I think of it as a manual for would-be leaders. Because some of you may have missed yesterday’s chapter, I will briefly recap what we covered yesterday. We talked about the distinction between leading and ruling. Sometimes, those of us who call ourselves libertarians, and anarchists specifically, are accused of being completely opposed to governments of any kind. I don’t claim to speak for all libertarians and anarchists; but I do think that is a misunderstanding of what we believe. We aren’t opposed to all governments. I, for one, think very highly of self-government. And, I think any government which has the unanimous consent of the governed, couldn’t be a bad thing. We are opposed to rulers, but see an obvious need for leaders. Yesterday, Lao Tzu told would-be leaders what they needed to learn if they want to be great: You must learn to follow the Tao. If you take the time to learn the way things are in our Universe, you will find trying to control is not in keeping with the Tao. We are going to cover, in a bit more detail, today, why it is trying to control, never works quite the way you want. It is why you need to let go of your fixed plans and concepts. The number one lesson from yesterday’s chapter, the one powerful men and women seem to refuse to ever learn, is the world will govern itself, if you let it.

Okay, I think that gets you caught up. We all must learn to follow the Tao, from the least of us to the greatest. Why? Because there are universal laws at work here. And we go counter to those at our own peril. It is very much like ignoring the law of gravity. Powerful men and women can cause the most peril, here, just because they are in positions of power. So, listen up, would-be leaders.

The first universal rule or law for governing comes from our understanding the world can govern itself. That is why Lao Tzu insisted, yesterday, would-be leaders must learn to follow the Tao in order to be great. Given that the world can govern itself, the less you meddle, interfere, intervene, and otherwise try to control things, the better. Today, he explains it as a dichotomy between tolerance and repression. Tolerance meaning the least amount of trying to control. And, repression meaning the greatest amount of trying to control. You can use this measure to judge any nation which has ever existed in our world. If the people are comfortable and honest, then that country is governed with tolerance. If the people are depressed and crafty, then that country is governed with repression.

No doubt, some will scoff at this, thinking Lao Tzu is oversimplifying things. But, I think Lao Tzu hits the nail on the head. The more those who govern us let things go their own way, the happier people will be. The more those who govern us try to force things, the more miserable people will be.

The problem is, and always has been, the will to power. When it is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be. Like I said before, this is a universal law. Repression takes many forms. Usually, it doesn’t come in the form of people in power who are openly hostile. Usually, they insist they have the best of intentions. And, their intentions may be good. But, the higher their ideals, the lower the results will be, if they are forcing things, if they are governing with repression.

When you try to make people happy, for instance, you only lay the groundwork for misery. Or, if you try to make people moral, you only lay the groundwork for vice. I know that isn’t your intention. You have been quite insistent you only have the best of intentions. But the will to power is in charge. And that is the problem. You are governing counter to the Tao; and, we are all in grave peril, because of this.

I said, yesterday, I want the Master governing us. I want someone who is content to serve as an example. That is what it means to be a great leader. Remember the difference between a leader and a ruler, from yesterday. A leader leads by serving. A ruler only wants to impose their will.

The Master is content to serve as an example of how to follow the Tao. She would never wish to impose her will. She is pointed, but not in a way which pierces. She is straightforward, but always supple. She is radiant, but easy on the eyes.

In the last few years, tolerance has taken on some negative connotations in a lot of circles. I think that is because some people try to force people to be tolerant. But tolerance isn’t repression. It is on the other side of the scale from it. We need to reclaim tolerance the way Lao Tzu intends the word. We need to let the world govern itself.

Where The Good Becomes Common As Grass

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I hope you enjoyed all the celebrations that come with the ending of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one. Hopefully, you are sufficiently recovered from a bit of over-doing the celebrating, as well. With today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is beginning a series on the art of governing. Because I am not just a philosophical Taoist, but a libertarian anarchist to boot, these chapters are some of my favorites. If you really want to know what is in my own heart, with regard to governing, my heart will be an open book in the days ahead. These next few chapters are like a training manual for would-be leaders. Whenever I have occasion to talk with would-be leaders, I always point them to these chapters. I do wish more of them would have the change of heart necessary to follow Lao Tzu’s advice.

Why is Lao Tzu addressing would-be leaders? I think it is because he realized the so-called powerful men and women among us have the greatest capacity for doing great harm. Well, don’t they have the greatest capacity for doing great good, as well? Perhaps, but the best way for would-be leaders to do the greatest good is to first do no harm. I may be getting ahead of myself, I think I will step out of the way and let Lao Tzu do the talking for a bit.

If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. What a way to start! If you want to be a great leader you must first learn how to follow. And that doesn’t mean finding some other powerful person and following their lead. No, Lao Tzu’s advice to would-be leaders is the same as it is to the rest of us. You need to learn to follow the Tao. Stop trying to control! Let go of all your fixed plans and concepts. Give all that up. None of that will help you be a great leader. If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. And, that means coming to understand and accept how the world governs itself.

I think that is the one thing would-be leaders are never taught. And they never understand. They have grand plans. They honestly believe their plans and concepts have either, never been tried before, or it was just the wrong person in power trying to implement them. If only they were in control, everything would be different. What they can’t accept, what they can’t understand, is the world is perfectly capable of governing itself.

The very idea that the world can govern itself is anathema to any would-be ruler. I inserted ruler, here, for leader, because we need to differentiate between the two. A great leader doesn’t rule. They don’t try to control. They have let go of fixed plans and concepts. And the world governs itself. But a would-be ruler thinks that would leave them without any reason for being. If I am not in control, if I can’t be implementing my own plans and concepts, just exactly why am I in this position of power? I don’t actually think they ever get that far in their thinking about it. But the results are the same. They want to be in charge. That is why they got in the position. They want to rule! And anyone who dares to stand in their way is the enemy. After all, my friends, I only want to help. Those people who are opposing me, every step of the way, are obstructionists! I could accomplish so much good, if only we didn’t have these nincompoops limiting my power.

And just in case you think I am referring to one particular person, or party, the nincompoops being referred to are not following the Tao, either. They are just biding their time until they can be the ones wielding the real power. There isn’t a great leader among them all in the great seats of power. They have all been corrupted. They all want to be in control. They all have their own fixed plans and concepts they will never let go of. They don’t believe the world can govern itself. They need to learn to follow the Tao.

For, if you only learned to follow the Tao you would discover the world is not only fully capable of governing itself, it is right now; it always has, and it always will. So, why do we need leaders, then? Who said anything about not needing leaders? Of course, we need leaders. And the more great ones we have, the better. But if the world can and does govern itself, why do we need them? We need leaders who have learned how to follow the Tao, so they can be an example to all others of how to follow the Tao. We need leaders who have learned how to follow the Tao, because the alternative is rulers who try to control and force their own fixed plans and concepts, counter to the way the Tao governs our world.

That last paragraph is important, because anarchism is such a misunderstood concept. We, anarchists, aren’t opposed to governments. We are opposed to being ruled. We aren’t opposed to leaders, we are opposed to rulers. Governments can be great! My personal favorites are self-government and government with the unanimous consent of the governed. For those of you who scoff at these notions, take some time to learn to follow the Tao. You will find the world can and will govern itself. It doesn’t need your systems of control. And your fixed plans and concepts run counter to the Tao.

This is kind of off-topic, but do you know why so many people think democracy is the best form of government? It is because they know they would never have a chance to rule, if it took unanimous consent. If they can manage to rule through the tyranny of the majority, they will be quite pleased with themselves. But, great leaders understand we are all individuals. And minorities, individuals, need to be protected from tyranny. So, yes, we need great leaders.

This is so elementary; it is a great shame we don’t all know this, already. Actually, I think we do, intuitively. But we have been so inured to the present system, we have forgotten the Tao. More prohibitions don’t make people more virtuous. They make them less virtuous. More weapons don’t make people more secure. They make them less secure. And, who in their right mind thinks they are helping people be more self-reliant by giving them more and more and more subsidies? We have to know we are making them less self-reliant. So, who, exactly, are we really helping?

All your efforts at trying to control, your grand plans and schemes, have, all, only resulted in making things much, much worse. If I didn’t know any better, I would think that was your design all along. Make the problem bigger, and you just have reason to try harder. But, I don’t doubt your good intentions, no, not for a moment. I just know your good intentions have paved the way to Hell.

The Master understands these things. Let’s listen to what someone who has learned to follow the Tao has to say: I let go of the law, and people become honest. I let go of economics, and people become prosperous. I let go of religion, and people become serene. “What is this quackery? Are you advocating lawlessness? Why, if we aren’t controlling the economy, people will be starving and homeless. And, people need to be free to practice their religion; I won’t let you stand in their way.”

First off, no, Lao Tzu isn’t promoting lawlessness. That is always what someone who wants to scare you will lead with, when talking of anarchism. Letting go of the law is not about lawlessness. It is about letting go of a system that doesn’t make people virtuous. “There ought to be a law against that” is on my list of phrases which should never be uttered. Stop that! Stop trying to control. You aren’t going to succeed in controlling. You are only going to make things that much worse.

Second, concerning your manipulation of the economy, can’t you see it is your manipulation which is why people are starving and homeless, now? You create the problems you claim to want to fix. Stop trying to control! Let go of your economics plans and concepts. Let people be self-reliant again.

Third, this isn’t about freedom of religion. Your problem is you don’t want people free to practice whatever religion they wish. Stop trying to control! Let go of every last one of your fixed plans and concepts. Learn to follow the Tao. You could end up being a great leader.

I want a great leader like the Master; someone who will let go of all desire for the common good. Because, you know what? All your scary predictions about how horrible such a leader would be, are just so much blather. The good can become as common as grass. But not because we force it; it will be because we let it.

The Return To The Primal Identity

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us, a person who is in harmony with the Tao is like a newborn child. Harmony with the Tao appears weak, but it is powerful. It appears ignorant, but it is wise. A newborn child is a good metaphor for harmony with the Tao; but, Lao Tzu doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb, and become newborn children again. Not physically, anyway. Still, returning to our primal identity is the way to be in harmony with the Tao. So, today, Lao Tzu tells us how to do this.

Interestingly enough, he begins by telling us we shouldn’t be talking. Those who think they know, certainly do plenty of talking. But we need to practice knowing not-knowing. The more we know we don’t know, the more we don’t know we know. That should shut us up in a hurry.

But closing our mouths is only the first step in returning to our primal identity. We need to block off all of our senses. Why? Because people who are being led by their senses aren’t being led by the Tao. Our senses, remember, only tell us the way things appear. Like newborns, who don’t talk, and with none of their senses fully developed, we need to learn to rely on the Tao, Mother. Newborns understand something intuitively, they have been trusting and relying on mother for some time now. They know who gave birth to them, who nourishes them, who maintains and cares for them, who comforts and protects them. And, they know if they scream loud enough, and for long enough, mother will take them back to herself. That is what the Tao does for all of us. If, we will just let it. And, by the way, no screaming will be necessary.

We think we have come such a long, long way since we were newborns. I can’t even remember that far back. Over the years we have come to rely on our senses. And, sadly, we have forgotten how to trust in the Tao. I know so much more! I have become sharp, so acute is my presumed knowledge. I am independent! I don’t need mother to care for me, any more. So many milestones have come and gone. I tied a knot for each one of them. First, I began to sit up, then to crawl, then to stand up, then to walk. But, when I started talking, that was my greatest triumph. Except maybe, just maybe, that was when I stopped knowing like I had known before. Is this when the Tao was forgotten? It made no difference to me, then, I was on a roll. I still had milestones to mark, knots to tie. My first day in school; and, oh here, I graduated from school. (We’ll skip over the milestones achieved between these dates, they all happened so fast.) I got a job. I got married. A couple of children got added into the mix. That started the whole process over again. But I paid little attention to that new beginning. I was too busy forging ahead. Tying those knots, hardening my glare. I was unstoppable! Always on the move. Upwardly mobile, of course. Never leaving any time for the dust to settle, on and on and on, I went.

But Lao Tzu wants us to return to our primal identity. Close your mouth. Block off your senses. Blunt your sharpness. Untie those knots. Soften your glare. And please, oh please, be still, until your dust settles. I am so glad I finally stopped; and took a step back.

Returning to our primal identity is to become like the Tao. It isn’t something you can approach or withdraw from. It can’t be benefited or harmed, honored or brought into disgrace. It means giving yourself up continually.

“Wait! Did you just say I was going to have to give myself up continually?”

Well, that is what the Tao does. And we need to be like the Tao.

“Well, I don’t know if I want to do that. That giving myself up, thing.”

But, that is exactly why you won’t endure. Can’t you see, the Tao gives itself up continually. And that is why it endures. We still get hung up on thinking of the self as self. Those twin phantoms of hope and fear arise to do their dirty work on us. We fear annihilation of self, only to self-annihilate.

Close your mouth, block off your senses, blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. This is the primal identity. It has no expectations, thus it is never disappointed. It is never disappointed, thus it always endures.

Speaking Of Intense Vital Power And Complete Harmony

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft, its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about the union
of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things come and go
effortlessly, without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Out with the old and in with the new. Happiest of new years to all of you, my friends. Today’s chapter is appropriate for today, because we always picture the year just ended as incredibly old, while the year just begun is pictured as a newborn child. And, today, Lao Tzu returns to another of his favorite metaphors for talking about the Tao, being like a newborn child. I probably should have some kind of parental warning upfront: If you are uncomfortable with language depicting an erect penis, perhaps Lao Tzu is a little too intense for you. For those of you mature enough, please read on…

We have been talking for days, now, about being in harmony with the Tao. Today, he likens it to a newborn child.

The first stanza is where Lao Tzu talks about the power of a newborn child. Soft bones, weak muscles; yet, just feel the grip of those little fingers. It doesn’t know anything about sex; yet its penis stands erect. Lao Tzu calls that intense vital power. It can and does scream its head off all day; yet it never becomes hoarse. What’s up with that? Lao Tzu calls that complete harmony.

Everything Lao Tzu said in the first stanza pertains to the Master. Remember, the Master isn’t some ideal we can never hope to attain for ourselves. Every one of us has that potential within us. Hey, if a newborn can do this, we all can, right? The Master’s power is like the power inherent in a newborn child. His vital power is just as intense. He is in complete harmony with the Tao.

But, how does this translate to us? Having a powerful grip is good. Having an erect penis, no, I won’t go there. But, I sure would like to never get hoarse, no matter how much I scream my head off. Then again, why exactly am I screaming my head off?

No, that isn’t how it translates.

What it does mean, however, is being able to let all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. Okay, let me just admit it, I am not there, yet. We were talking, yesterday about letting the Tao be present in our lives. That the great way is easy. And, it is. But, I still find myself interfering, when I should be letting things come and go. And, that takes effort, hurrying things along or slowing them down. I still find myself disappointed, when things don’t go quite the way I expected. Today’s chapter is just a reminder for me that I need to look longer inside of me to find the Tao present in me. If I never expect results, I will never be disappointed. But we are talking intense vital power, here, and complete harmony. All the potential is there, inside of me. Just like with a newborn child.

But, you probably see what I did there. Talking about potential, and being there, rather than here. The Tao is present. I keep coming back to that. Yes, I still need to let the Tao be present in my own life. That way I will never be disappointed, and my spirit will never grow old.

Let It Be

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will become genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the Universe
and the Universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us to be aware when things are out of balance. The result is always robbery and chaos, and not in keeping with the Tao. Lao Tzu offered us three warning signs to be aware of; they were happening in his own day, and they are still just as prevalent in our own. And, while he insisted the great way is easy, he told us people prefer the side paths. This, too, is just as widespread, today, as it was in Lao Tzu’s day. We may wonder how can we more effectively persuade people to stay off those side paths. After all, the problems we perceive in our world are tied to people preferring the side paths. We can’t force people to do the right thing. So, what can we do? Be a better example, maybe?

It is tough to have to face the way things seem to be, especially for those of us that do perceive the eternal reality, before and beyond it. Why won’t people wake up? What has caused them to become so inured to the way things seem to be? They don’t seem to want to behave according to what we have come to know is innate in all of us. Why do they prefer the side paths?

We know the answer, don’t we? There is a powerful elite who benefit tremendously from the system they have set up in opposition to the Tao. From early in our childhood, we have been indoctrinated to prefer the side paths. Most people will go all their lives, unaware they are pawns in a game being played at their own expense. This is all the more reason for us to be aware when things are out of balance; and center ourselves, and stay centered in the Tao.

One of the things which has always endeared me to Lao Tzu’s teaching is he never expected great things from so-called powerful men and women. Oh, things would certainly be great if they could center themselves in the Tao, and stay centered; but our own personal happiness, true contentment, doesn’t have to, and indeed can’t, depend on them. Lao Tzu always uses “ifs” with them. But with the rest of us he uses “whens”. We shouldn’t be waiting on them to amend their ways. They won’t willingly give up their own need to control. But, ultimately, each one of us has everything we need to be content with our simple, ordinary lives. The great way, indeed, is easy. We just need to stay off those side paths.

We can do this! We can be planted in the Tao; and know we will never be rooted up. We can embrace the Tao; and know we will never slip away. We are the ones with direct access to the true power. A power which those who reach for it, will never have enough. When all is said and done, it will be our names which will be held in honor from generation to generation. So-called powerful men and women may be notorious; but they will only be remembered as those who tried to get in the way, and failed.

I know what you are thinking, right now. You are thinking that I keep talking about how easy this all is, yet you are wondering, exactly how do we get planted in the Tao, how do we really embrace it? So, once again, I will say, it is so easy, the so-called powerful will scoff at us. That is okay, let them scoff; it wouldn’t be the Tao if they didn’t.

Now, I will admit, this took me far too long to figure out for myself. Hey, I was just as indoctrinated, just as inured in the system, as everybody else. I was slow to begin looking inside myself, when everything and everyone around me was telling me to look outward at them. But, once I started looking inside myself, peering into the darkness, I found clarity. I found the Tao present in me, it was there, all along. Once I discovered the Tao is present, all that remained was for me to let it be present in my life.

The Tao is present. But I wasn’t letting it be present in my life. And because I wasn’t letting it be present in my life, I wasn’t being the real, genuine, me. Oh, I put on a good show, fooling myself and others, for a long time. I couldn’t really see just how out of balance things were. You see, Lao Tzu keeps insisting this is innate in all of us. Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. But if we don’t realize that, if we don’t let the Tao be present in our lives, we are settling for less than the real “us”. Those side paths got well worn by me. But that was never the real me. Now, I am real. Now, I have become genuine.

I said that was all that remained; but I, then, discovered something more, as I continued to look deep inside of me. The Tao isn’t just present in me. It is present in my family, too. And I needed to let it be. Then, my family would flourish. When I continued looking, I saw the Tao is present in my country, as well. And I need to let it be. Then, my country will be an example to all countries in the world. When I continued looking, I saw the Tao is present in the whole universe. And I need to let it be. For it is then, the whole universe will sing.

The Tao is present, in you, in me, in our families, in our countries, in our universe. We just need to let it be. People may prefer the side paths, right now; but, there isn’t one of them who wouldn’t be open to finding a better way. What can one person do? Let the Tao be present in your life, first. Then, let it spread outward from there. Let it be present. Your genuineness is the best example you can be for everyone you encounter. Before long, you will start to hear it too. The whole universe singing in perfect harmony.

Things Not In Keeping With The Tao

The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For several days, now, Lao Tzu has been making the case that following the Tao is something innate in all of us. Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. Every being spontaneously honors the Tao. The love of the Tao is in the very nature of things. Since this is true, that means the great way is easy. That certainly is Lao Tzu’s conclusion, today. It is easy. It is the most natural way for us to be. It is built into our nature, intrinsic to us. But… Wait, you mean there is a but? Of course, there is. All we have to do is observe the world around us, and see our fellow human beings in turmoil, to see there is something at odds with how easy the great way is. People prefer the side paths.

I was listening to a podcast, yesterday, an interview with Stephan Kinsella, where this was sort of the topic. I say, sort of, because they weren’t talking about philosophical Taoism specifically, they were talking about what can we libertarians do to win over more people to the cause of liberty. And, Kinsella said he thinks libertarianism is something innate in all of us. My ears perked up. Because that sounded all too familiar. He said it isn’t something we need to try and force. Oh? I won’t go through everything my ears picked up. I really need to go back, and find it, and reblog it. I think it was moralanarchism that originally posted it. I only mention it because it corresponds to what Lao Tzu is talking about today.

Why is it that we prefer the side paths? The great way is easy. It really is. I know this is true. I have found it true for myself. And yet, I still find myself, sometimes, on the side paths, as well. What makes them so tempting?

There are probably a variety of reasons.

The first one that comes to mind is we simply forget the Tao. We get so used to what our senses are telling us; and, pretty soon we just find ourselves being led by our senses, instead of our inner vision. That intuitive, spontaneous connection is easily lost if we aren’t being aware when things are out of balance.

Another, more sinister, reason is there are those who benefit, and dare I say, profit, when people are on the side paths. A system has been set up in direct opposition with the way things are. It is designed to keep things out of balance. For the few that benefit from the imbalance, they couldn’t be more delighted than when they convince us to prefer the side paths. That is all the more reason to be aware when things are out of balance. We need to re-center ourselves in the Tao.

Knowing we can easily find ourselves on the side paths, Lao Tzu offers us three warning signs for which to be on the look out. Be aware when things are out of balance. These are all robbery and chaos; and not in keeping with the Tao.

The first warning sign is when rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land.

Now, keep in mind, if things were in balance, everyone would be prospering. We have talked about this so many times before. If powerful men and women were centered in the Tao, and stayed centered, the whole world would be a paradise. When things are out of balance, a certain few still prosper, while many others suffer. The problem isn’t so much that rich speculators are prospering, so much as it is that farmers are losing their land. One doesn’t have to prosper at the expense of another. If you are one of those who think there isn’t enough pie for everyone to have plenty, that if one has a slice, someone else will have to go without, you don’t understand how supply and demand work. The reason some are without is because someone is interfering with the laws of supply and demand. That is what has created the imbalance. Stop interfering. Stay centered in the Tao and all will return to balance again.

The second warning sign is when government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures.

It is important to understand what Lao Tzu means by contrasting weapons and cures, here. Cures, here, isn’t referring to health care. He isn’t talking about the government funding a cure for cancer, or AIDS, or any other very worthy cause. Cures, here, refers to the very reason we find it necessary to be spending money on weapons, instead. How do we respond to conflicts? Do we interfere, intervene, where it should be none of our business? Do we initiate violence and force to get our way? Or, do we react to violence with further violence, just letting it keep rebounding back and forth? There are better cures than spending money on weapons. Conflict resolution doesn’t have to involve escalation of the conflict. Making enemies and treating them like demons, rather than fellow human beings, our brothers and sisters, only takes us that much further away from the cure. Things are very clearly out of balance. Do you see it? Be aware and re-center yourself in the Tao.

The third warning sign is when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn.

Let’s be clear, here, the problem isn’t that the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible. I personally don’t care how anyone chooses to live their own lives or spend their own money. Lao Tzu isn’t judging them, per se. The problem is that the poor have nowhere to turn. So, what is the solution? This is where some well-meaning people will offer their good intentions. Let’s take some of that extra money the rich have. It is obvious they have more than enough, look at how extravagant and irresponsible they are; we should redistribute this to the poor, then they will have some place to turn. But, if you were paying any attention to what Lao Tzu was saying, you would see that is not his intention. We have already seen the government is more interested in weapons than cures; so those redistribution schemes you have formulated are doomed right from the start. But even if the government had the best of intentions, that still isn’t the solution.

So, what is? Because things are seriously out of balance here.

It is the very thing we are loath to practice, though it is the most natural of things, innate in all of us. Center yourself in the Tao. Love all beings unconditionally, just like the Tao does. Don’t interfere with the natural order, leave the balancing to the Tao. “But, but, you just don’t get it, the poor have nowhere to turn? Something has to be done!” Oh, I get it. You want to do something? Help out who you can; encourage others to voluntarily do so, as well. But never, never resort to force, to trying to bully people into doing the right thing. Because the right thing is no longer the right thing, once you have had to force it. All things will return to balance and harmony, if we will only stop interfering; and, wait for it, be patient.

Practicing Eternity

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, I talked about how love of our fellow beings is something innate in all of us. I concluded by saying, let’s all start doing what is really already natural for us, the love of the Tao, loving unconditionally. Resisting the Tao, and by that I mean, resisting loving our fellow beings unconditionally, is not natural. Today, Lao Tzu goes into this further.

He opens today’s chapter by reminding us that we can trace our way back, all the way to the beginning, to find the Tao. All things issue from it, and all things return to it. How do we trace our way back to the Tao? By tracing back the manifestations. Lao Tzu identified what the manifestations, or expressions, of the Tao are, yesterday. We are. All of us, all beings in the universe. We are all the children of the Tao. If we want to find our way home to mother, we only need to recognize the children. That is how to be free of sorrow.

The reason we are experiencing sorrow, instead of contentment with our mother, is because, instead of recognizing that we are all children, we close our minds in judgment, and we traffic with desires. This is important for us all to understand. Our hearts are troubled because we are resisting that something which is innate in all of us. Our minds are closed. We are not the masters of our own minds. Our minds are our masters. And they judge our fellow creatures as being separate from us. How can we love unconditionally, when our minds keep insisting that our love can only be offered conditionally? And, we still insist on being led by our senses. That is what Lao Tzu means by trafficking in desires. The problem is, our senses can only tell us the way things seem to be, only what is apparent to our senses. Our senses cannot show us the eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. That is not their function. Observe the world, yes; but, trust your inner vision. That is what Lao Tzu has insisted on, all along. It is the only path to serenity, the only way our heart will find peace.

Okay, I get it! Now, how do I put this practice of the Tao, you know, into practice?

Understanding that I can no longer allow myself to be led by my senses, I begin trusting my inner vision; this is like a leap of faith, my friends. When you are looking inside yourself, all you will see, to begin with, is darkness. How can I trust this? Wait for it. Let your eyes get adjusted to the dark, so to speak. Clarity will come, if you will wait for it. If you get antsy, impatient, your heart will remain troubled. The practice of the Tao takes patience. It takes knowing how to yield. But if you will wait it out, you will find the source of your strength, your own light. It was there all along. We just let our minds be closed and our hearts be overwhelmed by desires. That is why there was so much darkness. But, now that you have found your own light, you can use it to return to the source of light.

Congratulations, you are now practicing eternity. It is a whole other realm of existence. Now, you are seeing what is before and beyond the way things seem to be. You see your fellow beings as yourself. You aren’t resisting anymore. All things are issuing from the Tao. All things are returning to it. You are at one with that flow, as it goes through you, inside and outside. You don’t just feel the love, you are the love.

What Is In The Very Nature Of Things

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

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

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

Yesterday, we talked about how knowing we are going to die, and being ready for death, free us to hold nothing back from life. Today, Lao Tzu weighs in on the universal question, “What is the meaning of life?”

Every being in the universe is an expression of the Tao. I understand that for some, life seems to be without meaning. But, let me assure you, things are not what they seem to be. My life has meaning, your life has meaning. From the least to the greatest, all beings are connected to each other through the Tao. We are all manifestations of the Tao; and that is what gives our life meaning and purpose. We may all start out unconscious of this meaning and purpose. But we are all perfectly ourselves, from the moment we sprang into existence. And, we are free to discover, for ourselves, what gives our existence meaning and purpose. We, all, do this by taking on a physical body, and letting circumstances complete us.

If there is any question of what volition we have in all this, the second stanza explains a little more of what “letting circumstances complete us” means. Don’t be surprised at how spontaneously it all happens.

The Tao gives birth to all things. It nourishes us, maintains us, cares for us, comforts us, protects us, and takes us back to itself. That, is a whole lot of loving. But don’t think, even for a moment, you have nothing to say about any of this. The Tao creates without possessing. It acts without expecting. It guides without interfering. We aren’t coerced. We aren’t forced. We aren’t manipulated. We are loved. Perhaps, we don’t always understand what love means. But the Tao perfectly embodies it for us. Love leaves us free. It makes no demands. It offers itself freely. That love is something innate in each of us. It is in the very nature of things. It enables us to both love the Tao and all our fellow beings, too.

So, now that Christmas has come and gone, with its songs of peace on Earth and good will to all, not to mention, another calendar year nearing its end, why don’t we all start doing what is really already natural for us; let’s start loving all our fellow beings, as unconditionally as the Tao loves us.

It Is About Being Free

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

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

Today’s chapter is timely, because we are coming to the end of another calendar year. We recently experienced another Solstice, which pagans marked as a death and rebirth of our Sun. And, because we have been talking about the “end” of the practice of the Tao. If today’s chapter seems morbid to you, with its talk about death and dieing, I would suggest we need a better understanding of the way things are in our Universe. To that end, Lao Tzu offers us today’s chapter.

It is really just a continuation of what we have been talking about for the last few days. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said, “The Master has no mind of her own.” He has been talking about letting go of a little something, each day, of our desire to be in control, of the need to force things. Today, he says, “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.” That is our focus in today’s chapter. Giving ourselves up, living life in the present moment, not holding anything back from living our lives to the fullest in each present moment. It is about being free. Remember, the Master didn’t become the Master in one giant leap. To arrive at this present moment, involved a series of smaller acts. You let go, one thing a time, one day at a time, until you arrive at this present moment.

We are all the same in this regard. Whether, or not, we are conscious of all the choices we have made to arrive at this present moment, we are here. All that is left is to make the most of it. That is the point of today’s chapter; so, when he says, “He knows that he is going to die”, he isn’t being morbid. He is merely stating what should be obvious to us, but usually isn’t. Death and dieing are very much a part of that “whatever” the moment may bring for us. Knowing that we are going to die is important. You could say, it is vital; if, we are going to be freed to live. And this knowledge can’t be a mere mental assent, like we all know we are going to die. It has to go much deeper than that. It is a realizing, that is life-changing. We have probably all heard stories of people who survived a close brush with death, and then began to experience life on a whole new level. This is what Lao Tzu wants us to appreciate. And, thankfully, it doesn’t take a close brush with death to come to this realization.

Still, we must come to this realization. That we are going to die. That we are ready for death. For only then, can we really live life to its fullest in this present moment. What are you still holding on to? That might be hard for us to immediately realize; but you can be sure it involves illusions in our mind and resistances in our body. Yes, we still are talking about the practice of knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing.

The Master has no illusions in his mind. What are these illusions? They are anything that competes with the eternal reality, the way things actually are. Here, Lao Tzu is talking about not thinking about our actions. It is the “no mind” Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday.

The Master has no resistances in his body. What are these resistances? They are anything that makes us hesitate, when we should act; or, do something, when we should do nothing. The picture in my own mind is when my body involuntarily jerks because it thinks I am falling. See, my body is still offering up resistance.

No resistances means all of your actions flow from the core of your being, without impediment. You don’t have to “think” about it. Your body just acts, effortlessly, intuitively, spontaneously. Nothing is held back from life, therefore you are ready for death.

Lao Tzu talks again and again about death because we don’t really understand death. We don’t realize it is just part of the life cycle. Death, to us, is final. That is a complete misunderstanding of how nature works, the way things are. Life is a series of recurring cycles, which include death and new birth. It happens all around us on a daily basis. And, we like to think we understand nature’s cycles; but somehow we don’t realize this applies to us, humans, as well. For us, death is it. Oh, we may hope to be reunited with our loved ones in some sweet by and by. But that is only an article of faith; it makes little difference how we go about living our lives in the here and now. But Lao Tzu wants us to view death as it is in reality, the eternal reality. He wants us ready for death like we are ready for sleep after a good day of work. Your work is done. It is time to sleep. But that isn’t the end.