Setting The Bar High

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The way of the Master is our example for how to lead people. We have talked about Lao Tzu’s lessons for governing (leading) a lot, throughout the Tao Te Ching, and he still has plenty to say. Today, he is focusing on being an example for the people. How does the Master do it? She has no mind of her own. But let’s keep this in context. It isn’t just that she doesn’t have her own mind. For she does. But in leading, she works with the mind of the people. Often, as leaders, I think we slip up right here. We have our own mind. Our own agenda, and to Hell with what anyone else thinks. But the Master is always thinking about the mind of the people. What is on their minds? How can I lead them?

Some people are just naturally good. It is easy to be good to them. It hardly requires anything of us to be good to those who are good. To those, in particular, who are good to us. But a leader who is only good to those who are good, isn’t demonstrating true goodness. What you are really doing is paying back goodness. Not a bad thing. You ought to be good to people who are good. What, are you going to repay them with evil? No, that wouldn’t be good, either.

But Lao Tzu sets the bar a little bit higher. It isn’t enough just to be good to those who deserve it. If you want to demonstrate true goodness, you need to do what requires more of us. True goodness requires that you are also good to those who aren’t good. I didn’t say it was going to be easy. It is hard. What would be easy, is repaying evil with evil. That is the easiest thing to do. But to demonstrate true goodness, to serve as an example of true goodness, you need to do the hardest, rather than the easiest, thing. You have to be good to them, as well. That is working with the mind of the people.

The same can be said for an example of true trust. Merely trusting people who are worthy of your trust isn’t really trusting them, at all. True trust requires an element of faith. Saying, I trust you because I know I can trust you? If I know I can trust them, I really don’t have to give it a second thought. I can depend on them. I know I can.

But, what of people who have demonstrated to me that they are not worthy of my trust? Now, we are entering the danger zone. Now, is where faith comes in. When I say faith, I am not meaning it in a religious context. What I am meaning is stepping outside of your comfort zone. You don’t know what is out there. It might be good. It might be bad. But you won’t know until you step out. You could choose to stay where you know it is safe. In your comfort zone. But Lao Tzu is expecting something better of us. He is wanting us, as leaders, to be an example of true trust.

True trust may sound foolhardy to you. These people have already proven how untrustworthy they are. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Yes, I get it. But this isn’t about being fooled. The Master is working with the mind of the people. She knows exactly what she is dealing with here. So, why would I want to trust them? I trust them, knowing they aren’t trustworthy, to demonstrate, not only to them, but to all the people, what true trust is. Because, as I said before, trusting someone that you can trust isn’t trust, at all. Only if they can’t be trusted, can you demonstrate true trust, by trusting them.

Like I said, this isn’t easy. It is hard. Very hard. But virtue wouldn’t be virtue if it was easy. The bar is high. Still, we can do this. If we couldn’t do it, it wouldn’t be virtue, it would just be impossible. And we aren’t talking about the impossible here. Just the very hard.

The Master’s mind is like space, Lao Tzu says. It is so above the ordinary. It is truly extraordinary. But extraordinary doesn’t mean I can’t do it. Ordinary minds just don’t get it. They see it as folly, and laugh out loud. But, while we may be amazed at the mind of the Master, and not understand her; still, people will look to her and wait. That is exactly the position the Master, as leader, is needing to be. Now, is where her example demonstrates her wisdom. She treats them like her own children. Not like children, but like her own children. She loves them and cares for them, just as she would her own children. That is the way of the Master.

The Practice Of Non-Interference

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about acquiring more knowledge by looking outside ourselves. I said that Lao Tzu was dissuading us from doing that. Why? Because we already have everything we need right now, inside ourselves. Today, we are talking more about the pursuit of knowledge versus the practice of the Tao.

Lao Tzu says that in the pursuit of knowledge, every day you learn something new. There doesn’t seem anything wrong with that, in and of itself. But look at how the practice of the Tao differs. Instead of addition, there is subtraction. The practice of the Tao is about unlearning, or dropping things.

But what is Lao Tzu really going on about? It isn’t that adding knowledge is a particularly bad thing. What Lao Tzu is concerned about is whether we are forcing things. The practice of the Tao, the dropping of something every day, is letting go of the need to interfere with, or force, things. This is an every day practice. Less and less do you need to force things. You are dropping more with each passing day. Less and less remains.

We have talked about this before, of course. When you are adding, there is always more to add. But when you are subtracting, you do finally run out of things to subtract. You finally arrive at the point where you have emptied yourself. You arrive at the point of non-action. This not-doing doing, or effortless action, is a place where all desire has been dropped. Nothing is done and nothing is left undone. Or, to put it a different way there is nothing left to do.

I really don’t want this to sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo. This isn’t some mystical thing. It is simply non-interference. Not interfering with the flow of the Tao. Letting things go their own way is letting things take their natural course. That is the way of the Master. We become the master of our world by accepting the way things are, and letting them be the way they are, without interfering.

Where Are You Going? And What Are You Expecting To Find?

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

At first glance, today’s chapter seems to really be anti-knowledge. “The more you know, the less you understand.” But, I really invite you to look at it from a completely different perspective than that. What Lao Tzu is really doing in this chapter is not so much nay saying knowledge, as affirming what you already know. You don’t have to open your door to open your heart to the world. You can do that from right where you are, right now. You don’t have to look out the window to see the essence of the Tao. I know I like to spend a lot of time outside looking around at nature and seeing the essence of the Tao all around me. But, you don’t have to do that. And, neither do I. We have the very essence of the Tao inside of us. It resides in each of us. In our hearts.

So, we aren’t nay saying knowledge. But we are affirming that you already have all the knowledge you need. You already have everything you need. We have to learn to be content with what we already have. Instead of looking for it outside of ourselves. We look elsewhere; and the more knowledge we acquire, the less we understand. Why is that? Because it isn’t increased knowledge that we are lacking. It is, and always has been, too little reliance on the Tao inside of each one of us. That is what we fail to understand. And adding to our knowledge isn’t going to increase our understanding. It only serves to take us further away from where it is that the Tao resides.

That is why Lao Tzu says that the Master arrives without leaving. Where are you going? Do you even know? The Master has already arrived because the Master understands that he or she needs look no further than inside the heart. Home is, after all, where the heart is. That is why the Master is able to see the light without looking for it. The light, my friends, is inside of you. Be your own light. That is how the Master achieves without doing a thing. This is that effortless action, the not-doing doing, that we have been talking about so much. Be content with the way things are. Be content with what you already have. Go with the flow of the Tao inside of you. And, your every action will be effortless.

You Can And Must See Through The Fear

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe.

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

We have been talking a lot about the way things are (the eternal reality) versus the way things seem to be (call that the illusion, or delusion). In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu provides us with the stark difference between a country which is in harmony with the Tao (the way things are) and a country that is going counter to the Tao (one that has succumbed to delusion).

The greatest illusion of them all is the phantom of fear. The greatest wrong of them all is preparing to defend yourself, because you have been deluded by the illusion of fear. The greatest misfortune of them all is to consider any of your fellow human beings, your brothers and sisters, your enemies. Fear is a powerful illusion. It causes great delusion.

I want my own country to be in harmony with the Tao. A country like that would be one that values peace so highly, that it wouldn’t be waging wars all over the planet. A country like that would have a thriving economy, benefiting everyone.

Alas, my country is not in harmony with the Tao. Looking back on the history of my country, I find it difficult to find a time when it wasn’t waging war or preparing for war. Our economy is built on lies and deception. It benefits the few at the expense of the many. But what can one lone individual do?

What can one individual do, in the face of a whole country that is going counter to the Tao? Lao Tzu has some sage counsel. Because the Tao Te Ching is written to individuals like you and like me. And, this is what Lao Tzu tells us: “Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe.”

Perhaps that doesn’t seem like much. But it is really a lot. See through the fear. It is an illusion. Don’t be deluded by it. Whoever can see through the fear will always be safe. Our rulers tell us there is safety in numbers. They want us afraid. Very, very afraid. And they want us to pin our hopes on them. They want us to join with them, en masse, united against a common enemy that they have fabricated to delude us.

But, that is what has gotten us in all the trouble we are in today. Individuals can and must dissent. Individuals can and must see through the fear. The safety our rulers promise us is all an illusion. The safety that Lao Tzu offers us is real. In truth, it is the only reality. But, we have to see through the fear.

Letting The Tao Speak For Itself

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True eloquence seems to stutter.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about looking for fulfillment and happiness in all the wrong places. Those places that are outside of ourselves. When all that we need to have happy and full lives, we already have inside of ourselves.

Today, Lao Tzu warns us that things aren’t what they seem. We can’t trust the way that we perceive things. Why? Because we have suffered through years of programming. And, because of that programming, our minds are biased to look at things in a skewed way. Everything that we see with our eyes, or hear with our ears, even our sense of smell, taste, and touch, have been conditioned. Over the years, your mind has formed preconceptions about everything that your senses are going to bring in touch with your mind.

That actually is a very useful thing. A lot of the time. It helps you in countless ways. Still, it can be a problem for us. And, it often is. We often see only what we want or expect to see. Only being able to see what we want or expect to see, might sound quite agreeable to us. But there is a downside. The reality is something different. And that means our judgment has been compromised.

Lao Tzu tells us that true perfection seems imperfect. Remember, we are talking about looking inside ourselves. We are so conditioned to compare and compete with others, we are measuring ourselves against some other measure of perfection. But that isn’t how to measure your own perfection. Look closer at it. Not at others. Do you see it? It is perfectly itself.

Do you feel like you are running on empty? I know, I feel that way sometimes, too. Okay, a lot of the time. But, what we need is a change in perspective. Perhaps, it is time to take a break. Go outside. Breathe in the fresh air. Take a walk around the block. Or, go for a run in the park. Just take five or ten minutes to change your scenery. That may be as simple as closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, or two, or three. Set aside whatever project you are trying so hard to get accomplished, and give it a rest. I know I make frequent trips outside for a change in scenery. And after a bit, I come back in, renewed and refreshed. That seemingly empty well has everything you need in this present moment. It only seems empty. Change the way you look at it. Then you’ll see.

We have been so conditioned to measure what is real, up against the standard of the illusion that true straightness will seem crooked. True wisdom will seem foolish. And true eloquence will seem to stutter. This is why we need to remember, always remember, that things are not what they seem to be.

Take a page from the Master’s handbook. When things happen, she doesn’t get all bent out of shape. She doesn’t resist. She simply allows things to happen as they happen. And then, she shapes events as they come. Molding them and using them in whatever way she can best work with them. Remember what Lao Tzu has been saying all along. Practice not-doing doing. Sometimes, a lot of the time, when our senses are screaming at us the loudest to do something, the best course of action is to do nothing. To do as the Master does. To step out of the way and let the Tao speak for itself.

Now, what does that mean? Stepping out of the way and letting the Tao speak for itself? Often we choose to interfere. To get in the way. But you have a power greater, inside of you, than anything you are going to encounter on the outside of yourself. It is the Tao inside of you. Let it do the talking. Let it do the acting. Go with its flow, and you will find that effortless action working through you.

Where Not To Find Fulfillment And Happiness

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never be truly fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the value of effortless action. Not-doing doing. I even shared a little of how I practice it. I talked about my own decision to live life purposefully. To simplify and downsize. To see just how little it takes for me to live a happy and full life. Today, Lao Tzu begins with three rhetorical questions to get us thinking about the purpose of our own lives. Which is more important, fame or integrity? Which is more valuable, money or happiness? Which is more destructive, success or failure?

What Lao Tzu is doing here is asking us to take an honest assessment of our lives. Our purpose in living. What is important? What is more important? I don’t think you can’t have both fame and integrity. But that isn’t the question. The question is, which is more important? Because if you are looking to others for fulfillment, you will never be fulfilled.

Then there is the question of money and happiness. We tend to tie the two together some how. I will be happy if only I have enough money. But I never seem to have enough money, so I am not able, yet, to be happy. But, once I accumulate more money, once I have all the things I want that I need money to acquire, then I will be happy. Lao Tzu will have none of this. He states it pretty clearly. If your happiness depends on money, you will never be happy with yourself.

Who doesn’t want fulfillment? Who doesn’t want to be happy? I think we all do. We may all have different ways of going about our pursuit of it. And there is nothing at all wrong with that. We are individuals, after all. Vive la difference! But Lao Tzu wants us to understand that fulfillment and happiness are things to be found inside each of us, rather than outside of us.

We really get to the heart of the matter when we talk about success and failure. He has talked about that ladder before. You know the one. Where, instead of keeping our two feet standing on the solid ground of reality, we start going up and down rungs of the illusory ladder, encountering the phantoms of hope and fear. Now, the question isn’t about importance. Nor, is it about value. Now, it is all about destruction. Now, we ask the question that confronts the illusion with a huge dose of reality. The success we hope for and the failure we fear are both destructive. Which is more destructive? That is a pretty good question, and one that I am not going to attempt to answer.

They are both destructive. They don’t have to be equally destructive. One may be more destructive than the other. Or one may only seem to be more destructive than the other. For me, it is like choosing between the lesser of two evils in an election. You get evil either way. So why choose? You think that because one seems less evil or more evil than the other one, that it matters?

But let’s leave politics aside. I shouldn’t have even brought it up, since it isn’t what Lao Tzu is talking about. What he is talking about, is purposeful living. And, where not to look for fulfillment and happiness.
You won’t find it on that ladder.

Instead, you have to learn to be content with what you have. Be content. With what you already have.

Instead of fretting over the way things seem to be, rejoice in the way things are.

Once you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.

That is what it all boils down to. The key to the art of living. Not nearly as hard as we make it out to be. Still, you have to make some choices. You need to choose to be content. You need to choose to rejoice. And you need to realize the truth. The truth is right there. It isn’t very far away. You carry it inside of you. Look inside yourself and you will see.

The Value Of Non-Action

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter we return to the concept of Wu Wei. That could be translated as not-doing doing, or inactive action. But I see how saying, “Let your doing be not-doing or your action inactive” could be quite the challenge to wrap our minds around. I know it was for me. To begin with we need to understand yin and yang. And, how they interact together. Not-doing doing is yin yang. That is helpful but I also understand why me saying, “I am going to practice not-do do” might elicit laughter. Lao Tzu talked, just a couple of chapters ago, about why the fool laughs out loud when hearing of the Tao. He certainly gives the fool plenty to laugh out loud about. Still, especially for some of my newer followers that find themselves smack dab in the middle of the Tao Te Ching and wondering what I am going on and on about, I would like to make this concept of Wu Wei a little easier to understand. It is, after all, a very central concept in philosophical Taoism.

In the translation that we have before us, Stephen Mitchell translates it as “non-action” and says there is value in that. And there is. Too often we want to do something when doing nothing would be the best course of action.

But, I don’t think most of us properly understand what is meant by this non-action. It is more than just not-doing, as we already said when we defined it as not-doing doing. It isn’t non-action. It is inactive action. It isn’t just yin without any yang. Of course if all we have been doing for a long while is yang, maybe it is time to balance things out with a good dose of yin. Hopefully, this is making the sense I am trying to make.

For me, the best way to express Wu Wei is to call it effortless action. Acting effortlessly in everything that we do. That is the Master’s way. We see that manifested all the time. Especially in nature. Actually, nature shows us the way perfectly, if we only have eyes to see. But humans can and do demonstrate effortless action as well. You can see it demonstrated in the martial arts. The ease with which martial artists perform their every movement.

So, becoming an ardent observer of nature and taking up one or more of the martial arts would both be excellent ways of learning how to act effortlessly. But I know some of you are going to say that you simply don’t have the time for that.

So, I am going to tell you what I did. I determined that I needed to live purposefully. And, for me, that meant simplifying my life. Letting go of all the extra baggage I was carrying around. And, finding out how very little I actually need in order to live a happy and full life. I am not finished yet. So, don’t think I am speaking from some mountain top trying to convey wisdom here. I certainly don’t consider myself a master yet. I am still only an apprentice, with plenty more to learn. But, I can say, that I have managed to reduce the number of hours in any given week that I need to work in order to accumulate more and more and more. And never finding satisfaction in all that stuff. Nor, ever having enough hours to get everything done that I needed to get done.

Because I am now working a third of the hours I used to have to work, I have many more hours for not-doing doing. What does that mean? For me, it means that now, I don’t ever look back on my day at a long list of things I didn’t get done. I didn’t write the list in the first place. That helps. But it really doesn’t convey what I am trying to convey. When I lay my head down on my pillow at night, I do so, utterly amazed at all the things I got accomplished that day. It didn’t used to be that way. I used to look back on all the things that I was going to have to get done tomorrow. That never made for a good night’s sleep.

If I am actually conveying what I am trying to convey, it would be effortless action, or Wu Wei. I just go through the flow of each day. Doing things as the need arises. I have plenty of time for that. No pressures. No stress. I just effortlessly act throughout my day. Much in the same way that I am typing this up. Just letting it flow. Not forcing, just letting. And, just like that, it is finished.

The Mystery Of One, Two, And Three

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

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

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

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

A couple of days ago we were talking about being and non-being. I promised, then, that with today’s chapter we would look more into origins for a better understanding of the relationship between being and non-being. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins with the mystical One, Two and Three. So, let’s take a look at this and see if we can decipher what it is that he means.

I am looking first at where Lao Tzu says: “The Tao gives birth to One.” My initial gut take on this “One” is that he is speaking of the Tao. So, the Tao gives birth to the Tao. And, I immediately see why that is going to sound less than satisfactory. The Tao gives birth to itself? Can that be right? So, I delved deeper into Taoist philosophy. What Lao Tzu first put down in writing, Chuang Tzu, who came along a little later, expounded on. Here is a little snippet of what he has to say: “At the beginning, there is Nothing. No existence. No names. Where One rises up, there is One, but it doesn’t have a form yet.”

That is Chuang Tzu expounding on what Lao Tzu identified as the One. What is at the beginning? Nothing. The One rises up, but it doesn’t have any form yet. It is still nothing. That is more helpful than you may think at first. Because we have already been talking about being and non-being. And, we have already said that non-being is nothing.

So, the One is Nothing, or Non-Being. What Lao Tzu is saying, I think, is that non-being is one aspect of the Tao. The Tao gives birth to One. One aspect of the Tao is Non-Being. This is the way it was at the beginning. There was no existence, no being. No names. Just Nothing. But Nothing, Non-Being, rises up. That is the initial One. Formless and nameless. Still, it is the Tao.

Something Lao Tzu has already told us is that non-being gives birth to being. Non-being and being, in Chinese philosophy that is wu and yu. Now, we have two. One gives birth to Two. Non-being and being. Yin and yang. Still, this Two is One in unity. We are talking about two distinct aspects of the Tao. The Tao that gives and the Tao that receives. It has both of those aspects working together simultaneously. There isn’t one without the other. What I mean by that is that as non-being rises up, it spontaneously creates being. I asked, a couple days ago, “What could precede existence, if not nothing, or non-existence?” But that word “precede” is a shadowy term. Words are very limiting. Before and after. These are words that only have meaning to us if we look down on them or back at them. They are still yin and yang. Simultaneous and spontaneous.

As if this look at the One and the Two wasn’t mysterious enough, now we have the Two giving birth to Three. This Three gave me a lot of trouble for quite awhile. I really had to delve into Chinese philosophy to understand what it is that Lao Tzu is referring to. The conclusion that I came to is that Lao Tzu is referring to a third aspect of the Tao. We have the first, which is wu. We have the second, that is yu. And, we understand, that is yin and yang. The third is chi. I have seen chi defined as energy. Or, the life force. And sometimes, breath, or spirit. I think all of those are helpful. The important thing to understand is that yin and yang combine, and like the splitting of an atom, produce chi. I still think of this as a simultaneous and spontaneous thing. And all three are merely aspects of the one Tao.

Now, we see how it is that the Tao gives birth to all things. The three, wu, yu and chi, do it. I hope you have found this both interesting and helpful. When I first decided to start posting these chapters daily, and adding my commentary to them, I didn’t really know whether I was ever going to be up to the task of deciphering some of these more mysterious chapters. But I have enjoyed the challenge and I always enjoy hearing from my followers how much they are enjoying my take on these things.

But we have only gotten through the first third of the chapter. What does Lao Tzu mean by the next lines? And what, if anything, does it have to do with what he has been saying so far? “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. When male and female combine all things achieve harmony.” Once again, we are having a reference to yin and yang. How is it that the life cycle continues? We can’t turn our backs on the feminine. And only deal with the masculine. We need to allow female and male to combine yin and yang, to achieve harmony.

And then we have these last lines: “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole Universe.” Yesterday, we were talking about extraordinary and ordinary individuals. Actually, the translation used the words superior and average. But it means the same thing. What makes the Master extraordinary is his willingness to embrace his solitude, his aloneness. Let’s not forget how everything came into being. It starts with one. By embracing your oneness, you make real that you are one with the whole Universe. We are all one with the Tao. The Tao is nothing and everything. And in the Tao, we are nothing and everything. Ordinary people can’t tolerate being alone. They hate solitude. But, it is only in solitude that we come to realize that we are not alone. We are not separate beings. We only appear to be separate beings. We are all one with the Tao.

Why The Fool Laughs Out Loud

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

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

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

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

Look all around and you will see it. The way things seem to be. The path into the light? It seems dark. The path forward? It seems to go back. The direct path? It seems long. That is what confronts us as we trust our senses to show us the way forward in our journey. The way things seem to be confound us and keep us from following the right path. The one that is the eternal reality.

Our senses enamor us with the illusion. What seems powerful? What seems pure? What seems steadfast? I understand how our thinking gets all muddled. The way things seem to be seem so very clear. Why can’t what we see? What we hear and smell and taste and feel? They seem so real. True power? It seems weak by comparison. True purity? It seems tarnished. True steadfastness? It seems changeable.

The illusion has really messed with us. The greatest art seems unsophisticated. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish.

This is why Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by saying it takes a superior person to immediately begin to embody the Tao. It takes an extraordinary person to see beyond the illusion. Beyond the way things seem to be.

I wish I could say that I was one of those truly extraordinary persons. It has been years since I first heard of the Tao. I was reading C.S. Lewis, of all people to be getting information on the Tao. Of course, I wasn’t looking for the Tao then. But he talked about the Tao. And what he said intrigued me. It sparked an interest in me that lay dormant for many years. So, I can’t say that I immediately began to embody it.

Perhaps, I just wasn’t ready yet. Maybe, I just had too many things to unlearn. It was years before I again thought of the Tao and began to actually try to find out more about it. I found various copies of translations of the Tao Te Ching. As I began reading through them, I found myself half believing and half doubting. Yes, I was merely average.

I am thankful, I suppose, that I didn’t respond like the foolish person. I didn’t laugh out loud. Not about the Tao. No, I just had that wrestling thing going on in my mind. The wrestling between belief and doubt. Perfectly normal reaction, actually. I am even thankful for the years of wrestling. It was necessary for my journey. And, I came out on top. That is when I laughed out loud. Because it was all so very simple. That is why I missed it for so very long. I was making it a whole lot more complicated than it ever had to be.

I understand why the average person only half believes it. Why they also have their fair share of doubt. Because I understand my own journey. I understand, too, why the fool laughs. Perhaps most importantly, I understand why it is that the superior person can immediately embody it.

The fool laughs because the Tao is nowhere to be found. I get that. Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. With the way things seem to be, why wouldn’t the fool laugh out loud. It’s okay. Go ahead and laugh. If you didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The superior person is able to immediately embody it because they can see what the fool will never see. They see beyond the way things seem to be, the illusion. They see what it is that nourishes and completes all things. They perceive the eternal reality behind it all.

But me? I just get glimpses of it. Maybe out of the corner of my mind’s eye. When and where I wasn’t looking for it. But that is okay, too. Because that doesn’t change the eternal reality. And, I am still being nourished and completed.

 

Of Cycles And Being And Non-Being

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

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

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

We have talked a lot, before, about how the Tao is like water. It is both fluid and ubiquitous. It is content with the low places. Thus, humble. It is soft; yet, it overcomes the hardest thing. Today, Lao Tzu describes the movement and the way of the Tao as cyclical. Always on the move, forward, never looking back; yet, always returning to the beginning again. Just like Spring yields to Summer. Summer yields to Autumn. Autumn yields to Winter. And Winter will yield to Spring again. Night and Day follow each other, each yielding to each other in their time. We see it as we observe the cycle of the Moon from New to Full. We observe it as we see how life renews itself through birth, growth, maturity, death, decay, new birth, and so on… This is an easy way to explain the operation of the Tao.

But how do we explain being and non-being? Yu and Wu in ancient Chinese philosophy. To say that all things are born of being, this would seem to go without saying. Who disputes that? But where does being come from? Lao Tzu says being is born of non-being. This notion that anything can come from nothing has confounded philosophers and scientists for ages. But Lao Tzu doesn’t set out to prove that it is true. He merely states it as fact. Being has to come from nothing. How else could it come to exist? What precedes existence, if it isn’t non-existence?

A couple chapters from now we will look deeper into origins. Maybe then, we will better understand the relationship of non-being with being. Until then, think of yin and yang. How they complement each other. How they interact together to create balance and order and harmony in our Universe.