Of Pine Trees And Long Journeys

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore, the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains calm at the end
as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares for nothing but the Tao.
Thus, he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the theme of yesterday’s chapter. It is a chapter filled with both encouragement and caution. What Lao Tzu is really trying to help us with is making all our actions, effortless.

How effortless? Well, how easy is it to nourish something that is already rooted? How easy is it to correct a mistake that was made only recently? How easily can you break something that is brittle? How easy is it to scatter something that is small?

We can, through learning from experience, come to understand how to prevent trouble before it even arises. That will take a certain wisdom that we gain through our experiences. But through careful planning, understanding that the way things are is the way things are, we can put things in order, before they exist.

That is why Lao Tzu invokes the familiar metaphor of the giant pine tree and the journey of a thousand miles. Even those who have never heard of Lao Tzu, or philosophical Taoism have heard these proverbs. That giant pine tree had to begin as something very small. Just a tiny sprout. And that long journey before you? It begins with the ground beneath your feet. So, don’t despise your small beginning. And don’t get overwhelmed at the enormity of the journey. Just take that first step. Then take the next.

But, like I said before, we need to understand the way things are. Rushing into action is a sure fire way to fail. And grasping at things is a great way to lose them. Sometimes, we don’t take things slow in the beginning. Feel things out. See the direction the current is actually going. Don’t rush. You’ll find yourself grasping.

Sometimes, we start out well enough, but then we get anxious to get things done before it is time. We’ll try to force some project to completion and ruin it when it was almost ripe. If only we had waited. If only we hadn’t rushed and forced. Rushing and forcing is needless effort. Remember we are seeking effortless action.

That is why the example of the Master is the best example for us today. How does the Master conduct himself, not only at the beginning, but all the way through to the end? By letting things take their course. Everything has its course. Tiny sprouts grow into giant pine trees. We must only be patient with them. Is it rooted? Good. Give it time. It will grow.

We need to remain calm, from beginning to end. That is the Master’s way. The Master considers himself to have nothing. That is important. For, far too often we are so focused on something. That something, we grasp at, afraid we will lose it. And guess what? We often do. That is why it is better to start with nothing. Then, you have nothing to lose. All those desires we have? They only prevent us from living life in the present moment. Desires are only about things we want, not what we already have in this present moment. But living life in the present moment is living without desire. You don’t desire what you already have.

I understand if some of this sounds strange to you. You may have never considered that desires are grasping for things that aren’t there. But go ahead and look up the definition of the word, desire, if you need to. You may say that you desire something in the present moment that you don’t have. But that is just my point. If you don’t have it in the present moment then it isn’t in your present moment. I think we all have plenty of things to unlearn.

That is what Lao Tzu intends for us to learn from the Master. He is simply there to remind us of who we have always been. You don’t like the way you have always been? Then quit focusing on your past or worrying about your future. And live in the present moment. Use what you have. You’ll find it is all that you need. Accept that the way things are is the way things are. That means putting your past behind you. And, accepting the present for what it is. It means caring about nothing but the Tao; that which is eternally true, about you, and about the world that you live in. Then, you can care for all things.

Try This Labor-Saving Device

Act without doing; work without effort.
Think of the small as large and the few as many.
Confront the difficult while it is still easy.
Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus, she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus, problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have spent the last several days talking about the art of governing. Today, we are going to take a break from that; as Lao Tzu, once again, talks about the practice of wu-wei. Wu-wei, for those of my newer followers, is not-doing doing. What that means is letting your actions be without effort. Here is the literal translation of the first few lines of today’s chapter: “Act without acting, manage without managing, taste without tasting.” So, how do we put this into practice?

I have said before that this effortless action can best be observed in nature. Or, if you want to see humans exemplifying it, watch martial artists. The fluidity of their moves. The effortlessness of their every action.

But those are only metaphors for something that can be put into practice in our own everyday lives. What Lao Tzu seems to really be getting at in this chapter is how to make great tasks, small; and the difficult, easy. How do we do that? We do that by thinking of the small as large and the few as many. What does that mean? Think of a specific problem in your life that you are dealing with, right now. Now, be honest. Why is this problem so big to you right now? Is it because you didn’t deal with it, while it was still small?

Lao Tzu is trying to save us a whole lot of effort in the future. Don’t wait for the problem to be great before you tackle it. While it is still small, it is easier to handle. Think of it as great, while it is still small. Things get out of hand quickly, if we don’t deal with the few little problems, while they are still few and little. All too soon, they become many and great. Then, we can become overwhelmed.

If you want to save yourself a whole lot of difficulty, confront the difficulty while it is still easy. Break down that great task into smaller tasks. What we are doing here is making the small, great; and the great, small. That is what wu-wei is all about.

How does the Master achieve greatness? It isn’t because she tries to achieve greatness. She just breaks the great down into manageable smaller tasks. And gets them all done, overcoming one small difficulty at a time. Wu-wei is giving yourself to whatever the moment happens to bring you. Whatever difficulty that might be. In the practice of wu-wei, problems are no problem, because you aren’t clinging to your own comfort. Instead you are simply going with the flow and letting things come and go, effortlessly.

Today, We Wait. Tomorrow, We Teach.

The Tao is the center of the Universe.
The good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words.
Respect can be won with good deeds.
But the Tao is beyond all value;
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find; and,
when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The last few days we have been talking a lot about the art of governing. Lao Tzu’s words have been directed mostly at those who want to be a great leader. His advice to those who want to lead? Trust the Tao. Center yourself in it. Let go of the desire to control. Practice self-restraint. Mind your own business instead of interfering in the affairs of others. Practice humility. This is sound advice I wish our rulers were taking. Lao Tzu’s foreign policy is the antithesis to the one our rulers have been engaging in for the last several generations. Along those lines, I posted an article by the always erudite, Sheldon Richman, yesterday. I hope you all read it. Non-intervention is something our rulers are loath to practice.

But, as much as Lao Tzu has been saying to would be leaders, we aren’t all intent on being leaders. There are plenty of us who would be content to be followers; if, we had leaders who were leading where we want to follow. Most of us just want to be left alone. We, too, can put our trust in the Tao. We can center ourselves in it. We, too, are very willing to mind our own business. Lao Tzu’s words speak to all of us. Even those who don’t want to follow any call to be leaders.

Sometimes, it is very easy for us to forget that leaders are supposed to be chosen. Unlike our rulers, who are self-appointed. Now, I understand that we have the illusion, presently, that our rulers are duly elected by us. That we chose them to lead us. There are sham elections, all over the globe, where supposedly democratic elections are held; resulting in the yahoos that claim to be running things. Many of us are beginning to see through this illusion. We understand that we aren’t being given any real choices. Our rulers are being “chosen” for us. Some of us, see even more clearly. These “chosen” people are but actors, playing their part. They provide the illusion of representative government, but they aren’t the real power behind the throne.

Still, leaders are supposed to be chosen. And, because our rulers were not chosen, but self-appointed, they don’t qualify as leaders. We have our work cut out for us. Our rulers are never going to voluntarily give up their usurped power. What can we do? Here is where Lao Tzu’s words to us are even more important.

Because the temptation is to do something. Don’t entertain, for even a moment, that Lao Tzu’s admonitions to practice not-doing, don’t apply to each and every one of us. We really need to trust the Tao. We really need to center ourselves in it. If ever there was a time to do that, it is when we see the whole world going to hell in a hand basket. We need to restrain ourselves. Especially now.

So it is, that Lao Tzu speaks to us today about the Tao, the center of the Universe. This is our center. The good man’s treasure. The bad man’s refuge. Now, when things only seem to be getting worse, rather than better, is when we need to cling to that hope. Treasure or refuge? I need both.

Lao Tzu tells us why the ancient Masters so esteemed the Tao. It is because the honors and respect that our rulers so crave all come with a price. And, we pay that price. They can dazzle us with their fine words. Or, the illusion of their good deeds. But when it comes to the Tao, there is no way to achieve it. It is beyond all value. Oh, to be one with the Tao. Because when you are, when you seek, you will find. Treasure, here I come. And, when you make a mistake? You are forgiven. That is quite the refuge. And, that is why everybody loves it.

Things are not going so well right now. We might begin to forget about the Tao. But I foresee a day when new leaders will be chosen. Not the kind of leaders we have been getting. But new ones. And when that day comes, I hope I live to see it, then is the time they will need our help. How will we help them? Not with our wealth or expertise. We only have so much of that. But, that price is nothing compared with the infinite value of the Tao. No, if we want to really help our new leaders, we need to be ready to teach them about the Tao. Today, we wait. Tomorrow, we teach.

Maybe They Won’t, But We Can

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea.
All streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao;
thus, never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we continue talking about the art of governing. For the last couple of days we have been talking about the need to practice self-restraint if we want to govern a country well. Yesterday, we talked about how to deal with the problem of evil. With ISIS releasing regular videos of beheadings, it is very easy to spot the presence of evil. And people will insist that we can’t just ignore the presence of evil. But, when Lao Tzu tells us not to poke it, he isn’t saying to be ignorant of it. Not poking, or not intervening, is not ignoring it. We acknowledge evil for what it is. Then, we steer clear of it. That, my friends, is an art. It is the art of governing a country well. And, today, Lao Tzu tells us exactly what virtue we are going to need, if we are going to be able to steer clear of evil.

I read the first few lines of this chapter and can’t help but think of the United States. But, it isn’t just the United States. This applies to every country, in the history of the world, that has obtained great power. Pride is ever the downfall of great and powerful nations. That is why Lao Tzu’s words ring so true.

It is humility that we need. When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea. All streams run downward into it. That is Lao Tzu’s metaphor for humility. The sea is great because it takes the lowest position. Because it has the lowest position, all streams run downward into it. Countries become great and powerful by being humble. This is a law of the Universe. It is the way of the Tao. If you want to become something, you must first allow yourself to be what you are. Beginnings are always humble.

But here is where every nation-state eventually fails. For, they must stay humble. As they grow more powerful, humility gets tossed away; as if it is no longer needed. But, the need for humility only grows as a nation grows more powerful. I am going to keep repeating myself. But, you can’t have one without the other. You can’t just have yang. You have to have yin, as well. To have great power, you must, in turn, have great humility.

So, what does Lao Tzu mean by humility? Humility means trusting the Tao. If you put your country’s trust in the Tao, you will never need to be defensive. But how do we do that? How do we put our country’s trust in the Tao? I am not a member of the political class. And, no member of the political class appears willing to practice any humility; as they continue to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. So what can any of us actually do?

This is where Lao Tzu takes things from the nationwide level to the individual level. He never was talking to whole countries. He is talking to us individuals. He tells us that a great nation is like a great man. So, all you “wanna be” great leaders, listen up.

When you make a mistake, realize it. That is the first step. Know when you screw up. Second step: Once you realize you screwed up, admit it. Own up to it. Why is this so hard to do? It isn’t hard for the truly great. Just the posers. Third step: Now that you have owned your mistake, correct it. It really is as simple as one, two, three.

But, as simple as it is, few and far between are those who will do all three. What separates a great leader from all the rest? These three steps. All the others falter here. But, a great leader considers those who point out their faults as one of their most benevolent teachers. This takes humility, friends. A humility that you won’t find in your nation’s capitol, I am sad to say. They are so quick to point fingers of blame at someone else. A great leader understands who the real enemy is. They see the real enemy in the shadow they themselves cast.

I want my nation to be centered in the Tao. I want it nourishing its own people and not meddling in the affairs of others. Is that so much to ask? I think it is a simple request. But, the simple can be very difficult to attain. Still, if people just like me, in all humility, will content ourselves with serving as an example, I think we can all live in a nation that is a light to all the nations of the world. Maybe they won’t, but we can.

For Goodness’ Sake Don’t Go Poking That Dragon

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able
to step out of its way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking for the last few days about the art of governing. Of how to be a great leader. Of how to govern a country well. Yesterday, we talked about the virtue of self-restraint. For governing a country well, nothing is better than practicing self-restraint.

Today, Lao Tzu begins by comparing governing a large country to frying a small fish. You might think this is a strange comparison. But Lao Tzu has a way of using common occurrences from every day life to make his point. And, in this case, he is perfectly illustrating the need to practice self-restraint. Both that small fish and that large country are only going to be spoiled with too much poking.

Those of us that have fried small fish, know exactly what Lao Tzu is getting at. The temptation is so great and very hard to resist. We want to poke and prod. We have good intentions. We are trying to fry up that fish. But all our poking and prodding, however well-intentioned, only results in us making a big mess out of dinner.

Carrying that metaphor over to trying to manage a large country, we get the same results. Our rulers, even those with the best of intentions, simply can’t resist the temptation to meddle in our affairs. I recently watched a pretty well done documentary on the one hundred year history of the Federal Reserve System. It is called “Money For Nothing” and you can find it on Netflix. I thought they did a good job with the documentary. With only one minor complaint. I thought they wrongfully placed the blame for the 2008 housing bubble solely on an unregulated market. While it is true that the banks were running amok while the Federal Reserve stood idly by, that wasn’t really the free market at work. In a free market, you are held accountable for your boneheaded decisions. But the Federal Reserve had already set previous precedents that they would come in to save the day if the banking schemes came crashing down. The crazed bankers, were given constant reassurances that they had no market consequences to fear if they failed. They would be bailed out. And bailed out they were. To the tune of multiplied trillions of dollars. And no lessons seem to have been learned from this. They just keep poking away. More bubbles are growing all over the world’s economy. Bubbles are never the result of a free market. They are always the result of government meddling.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about monetary bubbles though. Instead, he addresses the problem of evil. Something that humanity has been wrestling with as long as recorded history. The presence of evil is a delight to our rulers. War is the health of the State, after all. They will manufacture evil where they can’t otherwise find it, all to make us afraid and dependent on them to “rid” the Earth of this problem.

Is it any surprise to any of you, my friends, that Lao Tzu has a completely different take on how to deal with the problem of evil? Instead of trying to take on evil wherever it may be found, Lao Tzu wants great leaders that will practice self-restraint. Don’t poke at it! You’ll only get it riled up. Center your country in the Tao and evil will have no power. But… But… Evil is still there. Of course it is still there. Evil will always be there. You can’t rid the Earth of it with your interventions. Not with your poking. Not with your meddling in other people’s affairs. The only way to deal with evil is to render it powerless. That means minding your own business. Leaving it alone. Evil thrives on confrontations. It grows bigger and more powerful the more it is messed with. Stop poking it. Leave it alone. If you center your country in the Tao, you’ll be able to step around it. And evil, won’t have anything to feed on.

I understand that many of you are thinking that this is hopelessly naive. But, Lao Tzu understands what we all need to understand. The way things are. The way the Universe operates. We are going to be covering this more in upcoming chapters. I hope for today that it will suffice for me to say that actions have consequences. Many of them are unintended. But that doesn’t change the eternal reality that there are going to be consequences for failing to center your country in the Tao. We are already encountering them. And, we still have many more dire consequences to come. All because our rulers refuse to learn the lessons of history. Because actions have consequences, Lao Tzu has been encouraging us daily to do less and less, until we are doing nothing at all. Wu-wei, not doing, is what this self-restraint in governing is all about.

The Virtue Of Self-Restraint

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 to 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)

We have been talking for the last couple of days about how to be a great leader. Yesterday, Lao Tzu contrasted governing a country with tolerance versus governing a country with repression. Quite simply, there is all the difference in the world between the two, both as to method and results. Suffice it to say that if you really want comfortable and honest people, you’ll choose to govern with tolerance. Lao Tzu spent a great deal of his time explaining that no matter how well-intentioned our plans for a country may be, if we try to achieve them through repression, we are only going to make things much worse.

Today, we are going to talk a little more about the virtue of tolerance. But first, we need to get past a certain word in Stephen Mitchell’s translation of today’s chapter. That word is moderation. It isn’t often that I take issue with the words that Mr. Mitchell uses in his translation. I have long considered it, by far, the best translation of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching. But that doesn’t mean I don’t consult other translations as I prepare my daily commentary on each chapter. And, I must take issue today with the word moderation.

My first reason to take issue with it is because I think it is a word that is largely misunderstood in political circles. And, because we are talking about governing, politics does come into play. Thinking purely politically, what do you think of when you think of moderation? Or, more specifically, what characterizes those who are referred to as moderates?

I don’t know, maybe I am alone in this; but I don’t think any of the so-called “moderates” are, in any way, shape, or form, virtuous. They come across, at least to me, as people that you just never know where they are going to stand on any issue. Are they going to vote with their own party, or rebel and vote with the other? We don’t know. They seemingly hold all the power, the whole house of cards will either stand or come crashing down based on the outcome of their decision. And what is their defining principle? I wonder if they even know. Are they practicing moderation? Not if I understand what Lao Tzu means by the word.

My second reason for taking issue with the word moderation, today, is that I think there is a better word to convey the meaning of the virtue that Lao Tzu is talking about today. If you read through a few different translations you will find it. It is restraint.

So, I am throwing out “moderation” and “moderate” today and substituting the words “restraint” and “restrained.” Let’s see what that does.

“For governing a country well, there is nothing better than restraint.” Ah, there is a word I can sink my teeth into. What Lao Tzu has been saying all along is that if we want to effectively govern a country well, we must give up our need to control. And that, my friends, requires what Lao Tzu considers a very high virtue. If you want to be a great leader, if you want to govern a country well, you must restrain yourself. To keep yourself from this desire to control others, you must practice controlling yourself. You must restrain yourself.

“The mark of a restrained man is freedom from his own ideas.” Now, let me pause for just a moment and be clear on what I think Lao Tzu means by restraint and restrained. I understand that both of those words can be used to refer to outside force being used on another individual. Yes, I know what a restraining order is. I also know that agents of the State often restrain those of us deemed not to be following the dictates of the State. But Lao Tzu isn’t talking about outside force being used to restrain, here. He has already talked about the evils of repression. Lao Tzu is talking about an inner restraint. Holding back from doing something that would cause harm. And, especially, holding back from doing our well-intentioned good deeds that likewise, will have disastrous results.

Trying to control others. The initiation of force. These are not the way to govern. If we want to govern a country well, we need to practice restraining ourselves. So, Lao Tzu begins listing the marks of a person who practices this inner restraint. Lao Tzu begins by saying that such a person is in a state of freedom from their own ideas. What does he mean by that? Well, what does freedom mean? It doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own ideas. We most certainly do. But, freedom from them, means we aren’t enslaved by them. Our ideas don’t rule us. We are in charge. Our ideas are subordinate to us.

I think we can better illustrate what Lao Tzu is getting at with this freedom from our own ideas, as we look at how he goes on to further describe this restrained person. They are tolerant like the sky. There is that word tolerance again. I promised we were going there again. For producing comfortable and honest people, you need to be tolerant. How tolerant? Lao Tzu says, the sky is the limit. How much are you going to restrain yourself? How tolerant are you going to have to be? If the sky is the limit, there must be no limit to your tolerance.

But, like I said, freedom from your ideas doesn’t mean you don’t have ideas. No, though this leader is restrained in their governing; they are yet, firm like a mountain. Their ideas are majestic, like mountains. And, they are going to be reckoned with.

But this is where another quality of the restrained person comes into sharp focus. They are supple like a tree in the wind. Suppleness is another one of those qualities that Lao Tzu has spoken of quite a lot with regard to the Tao and the Master. Can you be both firm like a mountain and soft like water? Well, if you are a tree in the wind, you better be. Flexibility is key to survival for that tree. If it won’t bend, it will break.

Which brings us to the last quality, the last mark of the virtue of restraint within a person with freedom from their own ideas. They have no destination in view. No destination in view? I know how bizarre this will seem to those who have not been with me very long, taking a chapter at a time through the Tao Te Ching. I have been adding new followers pretty steadily on tumblr. I just surpassed the thousand follower plateau a day or so ago. Thank you, one and all. It is with great humility that I consider you all to be friends. And, it is because I consider you all friends, that I want to take the time to explain what Lao Tzu means by this.

Having no destination in view is a mark of utmost restraint. Why? Because that person is trusting the Tao. This person is not looking ahead at some future end that may or may not happen. Instead, this person is living in the present moment. Letting things come and go as they will. Making use of anything life happens to bring their way. Because, guess what? Life has a way of throwing you curves when you were “expecting” a fast ball. But this person isn’t “expecting” anything. They are just going with the flow. And, you know what? Nothing is impossible for them.

Why? Because they have let go. That, my friends is freedom from your own ideas. You want to care for the people’s welfare, right? I mean, that is why you are there, governing the country, right? To care for the people’s welfare. That was your idea all along. The one you needed to free yourself from. Because you knew as long as you tried to care for the people, you were only going to make things worse. And, because you have restrained yourself. Because your government is marked by your own restraint. You are now able to care for the people’s welfare. Just as a mother cares for her child.

Who’s Really In Charge?

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 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)

Yesterday, I was on a tear; giving our rulers no slack, when it comes to their understanding of what their policies mean to all of us ordinary people. Today, I am going to take a step back to look at things from a different angle. Yesterday, I was talking about the way things actually are. Today, I want to address the way things seem to be. Some of you, I know, want to believe that we just don’t have the right people in charge. That is why we are always looking to the next election to fix things. That is the illusion that we always have before us. It keeps us always waiting for that next election.

The problem with the way things seem to be is that things are not what they seem to be. Our elected officials may mean well. They may go to Washington, or whatever your country’s capital is, with the best of intentions. They may have grand plans and schemes. But none of that changes the reality that they aren’t the ones that are calling all the shots. They get into office and soon find out, unless they already knew it, that they will either tow the line, or they won’t last long.

Still, I will play devil’s advocate long enough to say that many of our elected officials don’t know any better. They think their fixed plans and concepts are going to produce the results they insist they will. They don’t understand the real problem. They mean well. They just don’t understand what they are up against.

With that groundwork laid, let’s get to today’s chapter. Lao Tzu is continuing where he left off yesterday, where he was teaching those who want to be great leaders. Today, he contrasts tolerance with repression. Tolerance has gotten something of a bad reputation lately. I don’t think most people rightly understand what it means. So, I want to begin with defining what I think Lao Tzu means by tolerance. It means “Mind Your Own Business.”

Mind your own business. Stay out of others personal affairs. Don’t interfere. Stop trying to control people and outcomes. That is what Lao Tzu means by a country governed with tolerance. It is a country where people are free to live their lives howsoever they wish, as long as they are not infringing on others equal right to live their lives howsoever they wish. In a country like that, the people are comfortable and honest.

That is Lao Tzu’s claim throughout the Tao Te Ching. If it sounds counter intuitive to you that minding your own business and otherwise leaving people alone is going to promote comfort and honesty for all, then congratulations. You don’t live in a country like that. Instead, we have a country that is governed with repression. And, once again, I want to be clear about what Lao Tzu means by the term repression. Because, far too often we are fed the lie that repression is only occurring in places like North Korea, or whatever “repressive” regime our rulers want us to be scared of this particular week. And, I am not saying that places like North Korea are not governing with repression. Of course, they are. But comparing our own system of repression with another one doesn’t get ours off the hook that easily. So, what is repression? The very opposite of tolerance. It is marked by any country whose rulers don’t mind their own business. Who don’t leave the people alone to live their lives howsoever they wish, as long as they are not infringing on others equal rights to live their lives howsoever they wish. Repression may come in degrees. But any degree of repression is still repression. And all countries that are governed with repression are filled with people who are depressed and crafty. By that definition, I think it is fair to say that all our rulers are making us depressed and crafty.

And this brings us to the problem of which our elected officials, if we judge them kindly, are wholely ignorant. The problem is the will to power. Lao Tzu says that when the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. There it is in a nutshell. No matter how idealistic you are, you aren’t going to achieve your intended results. Once again, I am giving these guys and gals the benefit of the doubt. I am playing devil’s advocate and saying that they really intend only the best for all of us. I don’t believe it for a moment. But provided that I am wrong, and they really are looking out for us, and all they want is to help us; the problem is the will to power is in charge. And, as long as it is, we are going to be screwed.

When the will to power is in charge, and it is, when you try to make people happy, you only lay the groundwork for misery. There is a reason that Thomas Jefferson talked only about being free to pursue happiness and not being made happy. Leave people alone to pursue their own happiness. They’ll find it. Try to make them happy and you will only make them miserable.

When the will to power is in charge, and it is, when you try to make people moral, you only lay the groundwork for vice. The more prohibitions we have, the more immoral we become. Stop trying to control! Leave people alone. But, as long as the will to power is in charge, no one is going to be content to leave anyone alone.

The will to power. That is the problem. As long as that is in charge, and it is, none of the lofty ideals we look to have enacted by our elected officials is going to have the intended result. Instead, just the opposite.

That is why Lao Tzu is looking for people who want to be great leaders, instead of rulers. He is looking for those who will circumvent the will to power. How do we do that? I had a friend on Facebook asking me yesterday about net neutrality, and how we can stop the FCC from imposing its good intentions on us. That is a tough question to answer. You could petition your government through your elected representative to oppose it. But, your elected representative is in the hip pockets of those with the will to power. And, they are in charge. So, not much help there.

I have a much more novel idea. Why not stop petitioning your government to impose your good intentions on us. What am I doing with my life? I can’t do much about the goings on with our rulers. But, I can still live my own life as free from their machinations as I can get away with. FEMA camps may one day await me; but until then, I am going to follow the example of the Master. She is content to serve as an example and not impose her will. She may be pointed, but she doesn’t pierce. She is certainly straightforward, but she is supple, too. Because you have to be, to go with the flow. She, our example, is radiant, but easy on the eyes. Don’t mistake this as being a reference to her beauty. Sure, she is beautiful and she radiates light. But that is only a metaphor. What she is, is effective. She has bypassed the will to power by just being who she is and being content with that. She just serves as an example and doesn’t seek to impose her will. Can I do that, too? Can you? Sure we can.

The World Can And Will Govern Itself

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)

Hooray! We got back around to one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching. This one is always a welcome sight for me. One reason, is because it gives me an opportunity to rant a little bit about our rulers. That will be part of my commentary today. But, there really seems little that any of us can do about our rulers. I am certainly endeavoring to wait them out. Their plans are sure to come to naught in the long run. But, in the long run, we’ll all be dead. So, what can we do in the short run? That is something that I think we can be positive about.

So, let’s begin. Lao Tzu addresses today’s chapter to those who want to be a great leader. Not just a mediocre leader, but a great one. Here begins Lao Tzu’s words of advice for those of us that want to be a great leader. First things first. If you want to be a great leader, you must first learn how to follow the Tao. Following the Tao puts following first. But, what are we following? The Tao. We have been talking a lot about the Tao. And we began with a warning that anything that we say about the Tao is not the eternal Tao. So, that does present a challenge. But, I do think it is safe to say that the Tao is the natural Way. If you are going against nature, you are going against the current of the Tao, rather than with it. The Tao leads great leaders. Would be leaders who won’t first learn how to follow, will never be great leaders. You might become a despotic ruler. But rulers are not leaders. At least not Lao Tzu’s definition of leadership, which is that of humble examples of service.

Great leaders are not about controlling. And when Lao Tzu is talking about not controlling, he means both people and outcomes. This is something our rulers simply can’t abide. Their driving ambition is to be in control. They want to control people and they want to control outcomes. Because their attempts to control people and outcomes are being thwarted all the time, they do tend to become despotic. The more out of control people and things are, the more they want to control them. They are going against the current of the Tao. And, because they are not following the natural flow of things, their authority is not anything natural. And, that means their power will be exposed as the illusion it is, in the end.

We need great leaders. We have no need for rulers. That will become obvious as we continue. If you want to be a great leader, follow the Tao and stop trying to control. But there is more. Now, we get to the nitty gritty of leading. The intricate details. And what does Lao Tzu have to say about that? Great leaders are always prepared to let go of fixed plans and concepts. Wait, I have such grand plans and concepts. Why would I ever let go of them? Why? Because contrary to what our rulers want us to believe. We don’t need them. The world can and will govern itself.

Those last seven words are the most important words I am going to type today. The world can and will govern itself. Oh, things aren’t going to go according to your fixed plans and concepts. And things and people are not going to be controlled by you. But, if you are following the Tao, as all great leaders do, then you will see the truth for yourself. We don’t need rulers because the world can and will govern itself. It got along just fine before we had rulers. And, it will get along just fine when the last ruler is but dust.

There isn’t a ruler alive, or one that ever lived, that would accept this truth. The world can and will govern itself. “Well, if that were the case, what need for me?” Exactly. Your steadfast refusal to follow the Tao. Your constant need to be in control. All your fixed plans and concepts, you know the ones, the ones the streets of Hell are paved with. All these things are why the world is in the mess it is in.

The more prohibitions you have made, the less virtuous people have become. Not that that makes you pause and reconsider your folly. No, you just make more prohibitions. And, when that just makes things worse? You just make some more.

You keep making people less and less virtuous, and your power and authority, being the ephemeral things they are, are constantly in danger. So, you increase the number of weapons that you have. Must protect your power and authority. You certainly aren’t adding to the security of the people. The more weapons you have, the less secure they are. And, with good reason. That is your end game.

Prohibitions and weapons aren’t enough though. Now, is when you really screw the masses of people. Now is when you start offering subsidies. And what a devilish grin you have as you do so. For you know the end result all too well. The subsidies, like the prohibitions and the weapons are not intended to help the people. The whole point of the subsidies is to make them dependent on you. This is true whether we are talking about subsidizing the working poor or corporations. Subsidies breed dependence. People become less and less self-reliant. For you, that is a good thing. They need you. Which means they won’t threaten your very existence. But it isn’t good for the people. What will become of the people when your whole system collapses? As it inevitably will.

Well, I have been writing those last few paragraphs as if Lao Tzu were speaking to our rulers. But he wasn’t. He is speaking to would be great leaders. And that is where the rest of us come in. We do need to understand the lessons of the rulers. Because there are things that we need to let go of. All eyes turn to each one of us. What are we afraid to let go of?

That is where the Master is content to serve as an example for us all. Remember, the Master is following the Tao. The Master understands the world can and will govern itself. And now, we see demonstrated how the world does just that.

If we let go of the law, people will become honest. Don’t be afraid. Let go of it. See how the world governs itself.

If we let go of economics, people will become prosperous. This one is of special interest to me, because on tumblr, I am witness to the constant struggle between capitalists, socialists, and communists on why their fixed plans and concepts are the only way to right all the wrongs in the world. You are all right; and, you are all wrong. All the problems that I can see with capitalism, socialism, and communism are tied to the State. It is the problem of state capitalism, state socialism, and state communism with which we should all agree. Get rid of the State and let individuals join together in community to see how their own individual ideas work with or go against the current of the Tao. Be prepared to let go of your own fixed plans and concepts. And that means economics, too. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Let it go. The world can govern itself. All the people can prosper again.

If we let go of religion, people will become serene. Is Lao Tzu saying we all need to be atheists? No, I don’t think so. What he is talking about is the need to control. We need to coexist. And that doesn’t begin with the other guy. It begins with me. Let it go.

Let go of all desire for the common good. Perhaps this last one is the hardest one of all. Why? Because we are good people. And, because we are good people, we strongly desire the common good. But desires are dangerous things. We need to let go of all desires. And, that means all desire for the common good, too. But there is good news. The world can and will govern itself. And the common good? Once we have let go of all desire for it, the good becomes as common as grass.

How Do I Get There From Here?

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)

We talked yesterday about the lesson to be learned from observing newborns. I said they were in their primal state. This is what Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to. And, probably because I was raised in a Christian home, I can’t help but identify with Nicodemus and his encounter with Jesus, one dark night.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Nicodemus was a religious leader of his day. He found himself intrigued by the things Jesus was saying and doing. But, he didn’t dare come to Jesus by the light of day. That would betray his religious community. So, he goes under the shadow of darkness, to try to gain wisdom and understanding from this radical young rabbi. Jesus, perhaps a little annoyed that he was being bothered during his off duty hours, told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus was bewildered by this statement. “How can a man reenter his mother’s womb and be reborn?”

I think of that, because we all perhaps have the same question concerning Lao Tzu’s example of the newborn. “How can I return to this primal state?” Jesus, in replying to Nicodemus’ bewilderment wonders how a religious leader, who is tasked with explaining to the people how, doesn’t know himself.

Thankfully, Lao Tzu, offers us a little more understanding of what I called the primal state; what he, today, refers to as the primal identity. And he starts, much like Jesus, with a little jab at those who think they know. “Those who know, don’t talk. Those who talk, don’t know.”

If I was even a little intelligent here, I would know it is best to stop talking right now. That is the starting point, if I want to return to the primal identity. Stop talking! Close your mouth.

But don’t just stop with your mouth. Block off all your senses. That may sound counter-intuitive at first. How am I supposed to learn anything, if I am not able to observe with my senses? But, this isn’t about acquiring more information. We already know. Or, at least we would find that we already know, if we will just be silent. The point of blocking off all our senses is to prevent our inner spirit from being bombarded by all the stimuli around us. Stop the distractions.

You need to blunt your sharpness. Wait a minute. Have I really been too sharp? Too keen? I have been blathering on. Perhaps, this returning to the primal identity will require a certain dullness.

Untie your knots. Knots. They are markers, placeholders. Just like the proverbial question of what do you do when you are at the end of your rope? You tie a knot, and hold on. But, Lao Tzu is turning that advice on its head. He isn’t wanting us holding on. He is wanting us to let go. Untie those knots, and let go.

Soften your glare. This, I believe, is referring to your countenance. Is it rigid? Hard? You haven’t really let go, until you have let go of all the rigidity and hardness in your body. Soften it. Let it go.

And…plop…. You are grounded. But, you aren’t quite there yet. Wait for it. Wait for the dust to settle.

This is your primal identity.

So, what was the point of this little exercise? What are we trying to achieve? What we want is to be like the Tao. And, you accomplish that, not by becoming, but by simply being.

The Tao can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. Look inside yourself. You’ll see it for yourself.

But, it isn’t about becoming anything. It is about being everything. And, nothing. Giving yourself up, continually. And, always enduring.

As Powerful As A Newborn’s

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft,
its muscles are weak,
but its grips 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)

I didn’t mark this post nsfw, I think that is supposed to be used for images that you wouldn’t want your boss seeing popping up on your dashboard as you’re scrolling down, while you are supposed to be working. So, don’t worry, no images here. But, there is an erect penis.

I used to try and scroll past the erect penis while I was adding my commentary. But, I finally gave in. Lao Tzu thinks that erect penis is important. Who am I to disagree? So, today, we are going to talk about the erect penis, giving it the attention, Lao Tzu thinks it deserves.

So, stop your giggling. This is serious business. Lao Tzu has something serious to say in today’s chapter. That erect penis is there to illustrate the vital power inherent in being in harmony with the Tao.

Come on, you knew already that a newborn’s erect penis is not about anything sexual. Newborns don’t know anything about the union of male and female. It isn’t about sex. But it does point (no pun intended) to what brings about harmony in all things. And, that is the union of female and male, yin and yang.

I know that many libertarians come across as being anti-baby. I see posts from time to time on my dashboard quoting Murray Rothbard saying all sorts of horrible, and largely laughable, things about babies. I give them a good chuckle, before pausing to think of why it is that Lao Tzu has such a great appreciation for newborns. And, why we should, too.

Sure, babies are pretty much useless things… They are totally dependent on someone else to take care of them. They can’t feed themselves. They can’t clean up after themselves. They are constantly soiling themselves. And that means they require constant maintenance. Do babies, therefore, suck? Well, yes; and, no.

Because there is so much more to them than meets the eye. Or rather, it takes a special kind of looking at them to notice these things that we may tend to scroll right past, in our mock disgust. Yes, their bones are soft and their muscles are weak. But, just feel how powerful their grip is. And no, we don’t like it when they scream their heads off all day. But consider this. Not only can they do that; they can do it, and never get hoarse. And, then there is that erect penis. We can’t forget that. Lao Tzu didn’t know it in his day, but they even get erect in utero. That is fascinating for a whole lot of reasons, and not one of them sexual.

So, there are plenty of reasons to hold up the newborn as an example of being centered in the Tao. They illustrate harmony. Harmony? Yes, harmony. They are the very picture of one who is in harmony with the Tao. A newborn. The primal state. Our beginning. And, our end. You think endlessly caring for newborns is a pain? Wait until you are taking care of your aging parents or grandparents. You will be saying the same things about them, that you said about the newborn.

But I don’t want to get sidetracked with dealing with our aging population. Today, we concentrate on newborns. What is the Source of their power? Because, they do have power. That is what we have been talking about, as we have described their firm grip, their incessant screaming without getting hoarse, and that erect penis. We are talking about vital power.

The power to let things come and go, effortlessly; and, without desire. That is what the art of living is all about. The Master understands this. We need to learn the lesson from newborns. Letting things come and go. Letting, requires no effort. In fact, all your efforts only muck up the process. So, don’t interfere. Just let them come. And, let them go. Then, what of all those desires? We need to let them go, as well. Our desires only serve to blind us to the eternal reality.

Do newborns even have the capacity to have expectations? I think not. With all their wailing and crying, do you think they are expecting someone to come and take care of them? I really don’t think so. I witnessed my own newborns crying when they had every possible need and desire met. And yet, they still cried. What did they want? They can’t tell you. They don’t expect any particular result when they cry. They just cry, because that is what babies do.

Don’t miss the point, here. They do what babies do. They are acting without expectations. And, because they aren’t expecting anything, they are also never disappointed. Be like the newborn. Return to that primal state. That is a spirit that is never disappointed. And, a spirit that is never disappointed is a spirit that never grows old.