Everything The Master Can Teach Us In One Easy Lesson

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 from beneath your feet.

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

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as 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 about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

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

Yesterday, Lao Tzu returned to talking about the practice of Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. This is a fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism and something that Lao Tzu returns to again and again. In that chapter, he was explaining how to put philosophical Taoism into practice in our daily lives. It was a very practical chapter. You don’t have to become a master in order to practice it. But if you practice it long enough, you will become a master at it. Lao Tzu said of the Master, “She never reaches for the great; thus she achieves greatness.” He was telling us how we, too, can achieve greatness. In today’s chapter, we are continuing where we left off, yesterday.

As you read through today’s chapter, I am sure that it sounded at least somewhat familiar to you. Long ago, the lesson about the giant pine tree’s humble origin as a tiny sprout entered our own lexicon. And, who hasn’t heard about where the journey of a thousand miles begins? But don’t let the familiarity of these word images distract you from grasping their meaning for your life, today.

“I know, I know” are the most dangerous words that can be uttered by someone who should be listening to instruction. When you are an apprentice, and the master is trying to teach you something, saying “I know, I know” brings an end to your instruction. It is now time to sink or swim, buddy. Now, we find out what you really know; and what you only think you know. There is a profound difference. That is the problem with familiarity with terms. You think you know, but do you, really? If you are only familiar with it, and it hasn’t yet taken root, then you won’t begin to realize any difference in how you live your life. I uttered those words to my own father countless times growing up. It is something I greatly regret, now. I only wish I had understood, then, what is obvious to me, now.

Today’s chapter is practical knowledge, just like yesterday’s. The point is to apply it to how we live our lives. When something is rooted, it is easy to nourish. What only happened recently is easy to correct. What is brittle will be easily broken. And, what is small is easy to scatter. We have this tendency to pass over truisms as if they weren’t that important. But it is essential that we let these words take root in our hearts and minds. Then, and only then, will they begin to make a difference in how we live our lives.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu warned us to think of the small as large and the few as many, to confront difficulty while it is still easy, to break down large tasks into a series of smaller acts. We need to be patient to apply these lessons to our lives. Ideas don’t take root in a day. Give them time to get rooted. When you make a mistake, don’t put off admitting it and correcting it. The sooner you do, the easier it will be.

We can achieve greatness. Yes, we can! But, it won’t be because we reached for greatness. Instead, it will be because we first learned how to follow the Tao. By following these truisms from the opening of today’s chapter, we can prevent trouble before it arises. And, even put things in order before they exist. Letting things come and go as they will, the Master’s way, is made easy by being ready for whatever the moment brings. You don’t have to be caught off guard.

How humbling it is to realize, when you want a giant pine tree, you failed to start with that tiny sprout from which it grows over many years. The journey you are on is a long one. A thousand miles, in Lao Tzu’s day before modern travel, seemed impossibly long. Yet, where does it begin? At the ground beneath your feet. So, start walking.

Patience, my friends, you can’t rush this. If you try to rush things, grasping at things that are fleeting, you are going to fail, you will only lose. Trying to force a project to completion, you only end up ruining what was almost ripe. Almost ripe. Why couldn’t I wait for it? Why did I have to force it?

Today’s chapter is brimming with the best words of sage advice from a master to his apprentices. How will we receive it? Hopefully, not with “I know, I know.”

After long practice, the Master has learned to take action by letting things take their course. He has learned to remain calm at the end, just as at the beginning. He has nothing. So, he has nothing to lose. What he desires is not to desire. What he has learned is unlearning. How does he teach us, his apprentices? He merely reminds us of what we have always been. Remember what you have always been. Be that again, and always. He can care for all things because he cares for nothing but the Tao.

How To Become A Master In The Art Of Living

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)

After talking, for quite a few days in a row, about the art of governing, Lao Tzu now returns to the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. Lao Tzu doesn’t mention governing in this or the next chapter, but this isn’t a time for would-be leaders to snooze. This is very useful for all of us; that means leaders, just as well as the rest of us. Today’s chapter is actually one of the most practical chapters in the Tao Te Ching. When I first started reading through the Tao Te Ching, the very first question that entered my own mind was, “How do I apply this to my life, how do I put it into practice?” Today’s chapter shows us the way.

He begins by stating the tenet: Act without doing; work without effort. For the longest of times, I thought that this involved some mystical practice whereby I would enter a zen-like state of being. The good news, which I only later discovered, is that it isn’t nearly as difficult as I was making it out to be. It is actually quite simple. It is a practice for every day living. You don’t have to become a master to practice this. But, if you practice this, you will become a master at it.

Here, is just how simple it is. As you are going about your day’s activities, think of the small as large and the few as many. Say what? What Lao Tzu is explaining to us is that it all begins with how we think about things. Approach every task as if it is a great task. No matter how small it is, think of it as large. No matter how few things you may have to accomplish, think of them as many. This may seem counter-intuitive, at first; but hear Lao Tzu out. When we think of the small as small, something we would obviously be inclined to do, we tend to make light of it. We might even be inclined to procrastinate. It isn’t any great thing. It can wait until later. Even if we aren’t prone to procrastination, we may still not think very much of what we are doing, as we are doing it. This is devaluing the little and ordinary things that we do. Life to us becomes a series of rote acts. It is all rather boring. We will seek out something else to liven up our lives. This is the very opposite of a life of contentment, the goal of philosophical Taoism. Yes, there is a point to all this.

Lao Tzu wants us to be on guard against devaluing these little things that we have to do. We don’t want to fall prey to procrastination. And, we don’t want to be so bored out of our minds that we seek happiness outside of our simple ordinary lives. By thinking of the small as large and the few as many, we are thinking of it as being the single most important thing to accomplish right now. This can’t be put off. It is too important. And what’s more, look at all of its aspects, this couldn’t possibly be boring. We make things way too complicated. We make things difficult. All because we don’t place value on getting things done while they are easy to get done. The time to confront the difficult task is while it is still easy. We can’t very well go back in time to do that. So don’t put it off. When you view those small things as large, the few as many, you are confronting the difficult while it is still easy. Now that you see it as large and not small, you can break it down into a series of small acts to accomplish.

I said, earlier, that you don’t have to become a master to put this into practice in your own life. I am speaking from experience, here. This has become my own daily practice. Every day I do the very same things. Someone looking on the outside might think that my life is boring. Au contraire. I have found it to be quite the opposite of boring. I have learned how to be content with a simple and ordinary life. All by doing the task at hand, regardless how great or small, by seeing it as bigger than it is, and breaking it down into smaller acts. I was never content with my life before it was simple and ordinary. I always was reaching for something more. More, more. I always wanted more. And, consequently, I never had enough. Now, I have all I need, all I want.

That is how the Master got to where she is. She never reaches for the great. She lets things come and go, as they will. She merely shapes events as they come. Accepting every little thing as being great, and doing those little things as if they were great, she achieves greatness. Sometimes she runs into difficulty. We all can identify with her, there. Sometimes life throws you a curve. Wasn’t expecting that. But she doesn’t expect anything, so she is never disappointed. What does she do when life throws her a curve? When she runs into a difficulty, she stops and gives herself to it. What does Lao Tzu mean by that? He means that, sometimes, the very best thing we can do is to stop. Take a break. And when your break is over it is time to give yourself to the difficulty. With your break over, you can now look at things with a fresh perspective. Perhaps I didn’t confront this difficulty while it was still easy. Maybe all that is needed is that I break it down into a series of smaller acts.

This is not the time to begin whining about how unfair life is. Also, throwing up your hands, and walking away in disgust, is not an option. Giving yourself to the difficulty means not clinging to your own comfort. So it proved to be more difficult than you imagined. You aren’t the first person that has encountered this problem. And you won’t be the last. Why not choose to be an example of how to get the job done right, this time. After all, you probably have acquired a long list of ways that didn’t work to get it done. That means all the time you spent before was not wasted. You learned a lot. Problems are no problem for her, because she doesn’t let them become problems for her. We don’t have to be a master to put this into practice in our lives. But, if we do it long enough, we will become masters at it.

Both Treasure And Refuge

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)

Over the course of the last few days, Lao Tzu has been instructing would-be leaders in the art of governing. His instructions? Learn to follow the Tao. Trust the Tao. Center your whole country in it. Let go of your desire to control. Practice self-restraint in governing. Don’t try to force things. Don’t interfere in the affairs of others. Nourish your own people. Just yesterday, Lao Tzu said that one mark of a great leader is that they will surround themselves with advisers that will point out their faults. Those advisers would be the rest of us. We aren’t all destined to be leaders. But we are all necessary in the formation of good leaders.

Today, Lao Tzu opens the chapter saying that the Tao is beyond all value, both to those who are good and to those who are bad. To those who are good, the Tao is a treasure. To those who are bad, it is a refuge. More than honors, which can be bought at a price. Or respect, which can be won. The Tao is not something that can be achieved.

It is because of this that we, who are called on to be advisers for leaders should understand just how great is our responsibility. Fine words and good deeds aren’t what they need. Our wealth and expertise, likewise, are not what they need. The best thing that we can do to help new leaders is to teach them about the Tao.

I actually followed my own advice during the last congressional election in 2014. I was an adviser to an independent running for Congress in my own district, here, in southern Missouri. Every day of her campaign I was thinking of my responsibility to teach her about the Tao, and I did. Sadly, she didn’t win. She was running as an independent in a solidly republican district filled with people who wouldn’t vote for anyone other than a republican. She did get second place in her own home town. That was quite an accomplishment, beating out the democrat that was running. But elections are a useless exercise. The corporate establishment always wins. I had hoped that she could win against all the odds against her, but what I really wanted to do was teach her about the Tao.

This is what I strive to do with my blog. It isn’t that I think that any of those who are out there seeking for power are reading my blog. Though they are welcome. But I do think there are a number of you, my readers, that are destined for greater things than you imagine. I do hope you learn something here. One of the things I hope you will learn is why the ancient Masters esteemed the Tao, so much. It is because, when you are one with the Tao and you seek, you will find. And when you make a mistake, you will be forgiven.

The Tao is both a treasure and a refuge for all of us. That is the reason that everybody loves it.

A Light To All Nations

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 with Lao Tzu’s instructions to would-be leaders in the art of governing. If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao, and give up your need to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself. The problem when the will to power is in charge is that the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be. Leaders must be content to serve as an example, and not to impose their will. This takes self-restraint, the highest of virtues when it comes to governing. Yesterday, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish. The temptation is always great to poke, to meddle, to interfere, to intervene. This is especially true when it comes to the problem of evil. I said, yesterday, that there is a symbiotic relationship between evil and the will to power. They give each other something to oppose. Lao Tzu wants us to center our country in the Tao. Then evil will have no power.

Today, Lao Tzu explains what centering your country in the Tao looks like. It happens when great leaders practice self-restraint, that is, true humility in governing. He begins by returning to his favorite metaphor to talk about the practice of the Tao, water. The greater the power of a country, the greater its need for humility. It is like the sea, all streams run downward into it. What makes the sea powerful is its position beneath all streams. And, if a nation wants its greatness to endure, it needs to be humble, just like the sea. Lao Tzu even goes so far as to explain what he means by humility. Humility means trusting the Tao. Hearkening back to what he said, yesterday, about not giving evil something to oppose, he says trusting the Tao means never needing to be defensive.

Just like a great nation must learn to trust the Tao, thus never needing to be defensive, so to a great man. When a great man makes a mistake, he realizes it. But that isn’t the end of it. Having realized it, he admits it. But that isn’t the end of it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. A great man considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. This is powerful! Can you think of anyone in Washington that would humble themselves enough to put this into practice? Any of the presidential candidates? No, they are slow to realize a mistake, quick to blame others for it, and choose damage control over correcting their own mistakes. Asking their closest advisers, “How can I spin this?” They surround themselves with “yes” men, sycophants. A truly great man would think of his enemy as only the shadow that he himself casts. But I don’t see that kind of humility in our so-called leaders. They, instead, are ever looking outside of themselves for enemies, with the intent to destroy them.

How very different is a nation which is centered in the Tao. Because it nourishes its own people and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others, it is a light to all nations in the world.

Why They Won’t Stop Poking

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.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

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

Today, Lao Tzu continues teaching on the art of governing. He has told would-be leaders that they must learn to follow the Tao. The art of governing is the practice of the Tao. It is our only defense against the will to power. We learned, yesterday, about the importance of practicing self-restraint when governing. Lao Tzu said that nothing is impossible to those who are not slaves to their own ideas. Today, Lao Tzu is talking about why it is we are so sorely tempted to interfere, or intervene. Self-restraint is the highest of virtues when it comes to governing. It is hard to restrain your self.

Today, Lao Tzu likens governing a large country to frying a small fish. You spoil it with too much poking. That is the image that Lao Tzu uses. Anyone who has ever fried a fish knows the temptation to poke at it. But you must restrain yourself. Those who govern a large country have that same temptation to want to start poking, to interfere, to intervene, to try to force things.

And the time when that temptation is the greatest is when you are faced with the problem of evil. We have been conditioned to want to do something about evil. To begin with, all of recorded history seems to be one long battle between good and evil. And then, in order to reinforce what we read about in our history books, our great works of fiction, both books and movies, always seem to have as their plot, some great battle between good and evil. The odds seem against any possibility of good triumphing in the end; but against all odds, good always triumphs. But not without a fight. This is how we have been conditioned to believe that evil is something that must be vanquished. You have to face it head on. You can’t leave it be. Or, good has no hope of triumphing.

What Lao Tzu advises, on the other hand, seems almost hopelessly naive. He has us thinking of what happens when you poke too much at that fish you are frying. Now, imagine, poking at evil. What do you think that will accomplish? Gee, when you think of it like that, it begins to make sense. Why would you want to poke at it? Why egg it on? Why stir things up? At least that is how I see things. The powers that be, consumed by their will to power, will counter, evil can’t be allowed to endure. We must do something.

Lao Tzu isn’t buying it. He says, center your country in the Tao and evil will have no power. Once the fish is frying, leave it alone. Don’t poke at it. But, but, if we don’t do something about evil, won’t it just grow bigger and badder? Consider the source for those who make this argument. They want you to give them carte blanche to deal with the problem of evil; but there is no end to that war. Evil is always going to be a problem. The only question is how great a problem it is going to be. Centering your country in the Tao doesn’t eliminate the problem of evil. But it does take away its power. It will still be there, but you can step out of its way.

The will to power is very tempting here. You don’t really expect us to do nothing about evil? Surely, we have to do something? Lao Tzu tells you exactly what to do. Step out of its way. That is the thing to do. Give evil nothing to oppose, and it will disappear all by itself.

If only that would be good enough for the powers that be. But they have their own agenda. And that means ever reaching for more and more power. They can never have enough of that. So, they keep poking. Giving evil something to oppose. And evil provides them with their reason for being. There is a symbiotic relationship between evil and the will to power. War is the health of the State. That is why they won’t stop poking.

This Is What Freedom Means

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

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

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

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

Today, is day three of Lao Tzu’s instructions on the art of governing. Two days ago (chapter 57), Lao Tzu got the ball rolling by telling would-be leaders, if you want to be great you must learn to follow the Tao. You must stop trying to control and let go of fixed plans and concepts. The world will govern itself, if only you will let it. Yesterday (chapter 58), Lao Tzu contrasted a country which is governed with tolerance with one which is governed with repression. The problem when the will to power is in charge is that the higher the ideals, the lower the results will be. In order to be great, leaders must be content to be an example and not impose their will. Today, Lao Tzu opens the chapter by saying that there is nothing better than moderation for governing a country well. The task before us, today, is to understand exactly what Lao Tzu means by that term moderation.

What I want to do is return to the classical understanding of what the word moderation means; and hence, gain a proper understanding of what it means to be a moderate person. Because Lao Tzu is talking about moderation in governing, I tend to immediately think of what moderation and being a moderate means as it relates to politics. But, that has nothing to do with the classical understanding of the word moderation. And is therefore not of any help when trying to understand what it means to be a moderate person. I hope it will suffice for me to say that in modern politics, the power resides in so-called “moderates” and their perceived “moderation”. What Lao Tzu is advocating is the antithesis to the will to power, modern political moderates are enthralled with. The kind of moderation we need to have in our government is very different from the cheap counterfeit on display in governments, today.

So, what is moderation, then? I consulted various translations of the text, since I don’t know Chinese. But, also, I always try to keep in mind context when interpreting what Lao Tzu is saying. Lao Tzu may use different words to convey the same meaning; but you have probably figured out, by now, that he keeps saying the same things. In other words, this term, moderation, may be a different word than he has used before, but its meaning is the same as everything else he has been saying. Moderation is the antidote to the will to power. What Lao Tzu is talking about is self-restraint.

We need leaders who will practice self-restraint. Self-restraint, then, means resisting the urge to try and control, the will to power, the desire to interfere. In other words, it is just another word for the practice of the Tao.

To further elaborate on what he means by practicing moderation, or self-restraint, he tells us the mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas. It isn’t that they are wishy-washy, some milquetoast with no real convictions. It is about not being a slave. No matter how good your ideas are (and no doubt, you are convinced they are good), if you find yourself being tempted to use force to implement those ideas, you are nothing more than a slave to the will to power. Choose freedom! Practice some self-restraint. Because Lao Tzu is talking about the practice of the Tao, he starts listing off metaphors from nature to illustrate what freedom from your own ideas looks like.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about toleration. And toleration is a key element in what it means to practice moderation. Today, he says the moderate person is tolerant like the sky. That immediately has me picturing a great expanse of blue, unencumbered by anything but an occasional fluffy cloud going by. What is the measure of your tolerance? It is without measure; or, the sky’s the limit.

They are all-pervading like sunlight. I think of how I wake up just before dawn to go out for my 3 mile walk each day. The sun is just breaking out from under the horizon in the east as I begin. But, by the time I am home again, everywhere I look is touched by the sun’s light.

They are firm like a mountain. This certainly is the opposite of wishy-washy. They are firm. They won’t be slaves to their desire to be in control.

But, at the same time, they are supple like a tree in the wind. What a beautiful image this is. That tree is rooted, so it is firm. But it is flexible enough, supple enough, to be able to bend. They won’t break.

But what is this? They have no destination in view? But how are they going to know when they get there, if they don’t know where they are going? What Lao Tzu is describing is a freedom like some of us have never known before. It can be hard to wrap your mind around freedom from your own ideas. I finally gave up trying to understand it, and decided to just go with it. It sure beats being bound. It is being free to make use of anything that life happens to bring my way. Let things come and go, without interfering; only shape events as they happen.

At this point, I am almost giddy with delight in thinking about what freedom from my own ideas really means. Nothing is impossible.

This should be especially encouraging for would-be leaders, who insist they have the best of intentions, when it comes to the people’s welfare. For now that you are free, really free, you can care for the people’s welfare, just like a mother cares for her own child.

This is what true freedom looks like. It means nothing is impossible.

The Art of Governing: The Practice of Tolerance

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

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

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

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

Today, we continue what Lao Tzu began yesterday, a series of chapters on the art of governing. I think of it as a manual for would-be leaders. Yesterday, we talked about the distinction between leading and ruling. People sometimes think that libertarians, in general, and more specifically, anarchists, don’t want any governments. While I don’t purport to speak for all libertarians or anarchists, I think that is a misunderstanding of what it is that we believe. We are opposed to rulers. But true leaders? We will always need those. And, there are acceptable ways to govern. I don’t know of any libertarians or anarchists that are opposed to self-government. And, I would support any government which has the unanimous consent of the governed.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu answered the question of how to be a great leader. First, you must learn to follow the Tao. That means you have to give up your need to try and control. And, you have to let go of fixed plans and concepts. If our leaders don’t interfere with it, the world will govern itself. It is right about here that people ask me, “What, then, is the point of having any leaders? If the world can govern itself, without them.” But, Lao Tzu didn’t say that we didn’t need leaders. He said that leaders need to not interfere with the flow of the Tao. The best leaders are content to be an example of how to follow the Tao. It is when our leaders are content to be an example, that the world will govern itself.

But enough of the recap of yesterday’s chapter, let’s move on to today’s chapter. Today’s chapter addresses the universal laws that we come to understand as we learn to follow the Tao. Following the Tao is simply accepting, and not resisting, universal laws.

Here is one of those universal laws: 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. Would-be leaders can try to deny this universal truth all they want. But, it has been self-evident for all of history. Giving up your need to control and letting go of fixed plans and concepts requires that you be tolerant in your governing. It is that way by definition. If you are being intolerant, you haven’t given up your need to control. It is your way or no way. And, intolerance always leads to repression. Show me anyone who is intolerant, and I will show you someone who will seek to impose their own will. And repression is repression no matter how good your intentions are. Let it be settled, the more tolerant you are, the more comfortable and honest people will be. The more you try and repress people, the more depressed and crafty they will be. Any nation on Earth can be judged by this standard. Are its people comfortable and honest? Then their government is tolerant. Are its people depressed and crafty? Then their government is repressive.

The problem with so many nations is that the will to power is in charge. That is what leads to repression. They may have high ideals. Like, we want the people to be happy. Or, we want the people to be moral. But, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. This is the way the Universe operates. It is a universal law. It is the way things are. You simply can’t ignore this. It makes as much sense to ignore this, as it does to ignore the law of gravity. If you try to make people happy, you only lay the groundwork for misery. If you try to make people moral, you only lay the groundwork for vice.

When the will to power is in charge, you end up achieving the opposite of your good intentions. But, if your intentions were really good, you would have learned to follow the Tao, before trying to govern.

We want leaders who have become masters at following the Tao. Then, they will be content to serve as an example, and won’t seek to impose their will. The Master is our example. She is pointed, without piercing. Straightforward, while being supple. Radiant, yet easy on the eyes. We want leaders who will govern with tolerance.

Why They Should Let Go

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)

Today’s chapter is the beginning in a series of chapters on the art of governing. For Lao Tzu, training would-be leaders in the way of the Tao was just as important, if not more so, as teaching everybody else. Why? Because the so-called powerful men and women among us, have the greatest capacity for running things counter to the Tao. Even, and especially, when they have the best of intentions; their will to power, their desire to be in control, is a constant temptation, a corrupting influence, that ultimately achieves the opposite of the good they may intend. The Tao, which is the way things are, doesn’t work at things from the top-down. It works from the bottom-up, from within each individual expression of the Tao, and outward from there. Top-down outward force is the antithesis to the Tao. As individual expressions of the Tao we need to practice doing not-doing and knowing not-knowing to go along with the flow of the Tao. This is true of all of us. But it is especially true for those with the most power to wreck the lives of every being on the planet. Lao Tzu’s advice to those who want to govern us has always been consistent. Trust the people and leave them alone. Don’t try to control. Don’t use force. Doing nothing is always preferable to interfering with nature. If you didn’t interfere, the world would govern itself.

This is why he begins today’s chapter with the importance of learning to follow the Tao. If you want to be a great leader, you must do this. Not, you should. This isn’t something just to be taken under advisement. You must learn to follow the Tao. If you don’t do this, you won’t be a great leader. You may be a despot. But you will never be a great leader. Here, I want to clear up any confusion. There is a world of difference between a leader and a ruler. A ruler may be able to impose their will on people. If they are powerful enough, they may accomplish all sorts of things. But a true leader doesn’t rule. They know how to follow, first. They don’t have to apply force. They don’t have any desire to be in control. They lead by being an example, not by terror. So, the very first thing that any would-be leader must learn is how to follow the Tao.

And that means, stop trying to control. Know that you can’t control things, first. It never ceases to amaze me, the capacity with which some people in high places just don’t get this. They have actually convinced themselves that they have the power to control people and circumstances. But the Universe is forever out of their control. There are natural laws at work here. You can’t run counter to those laws and expect to succeed. When you learn to follow the Tao, you will find how yin and yang complement each other, working together to balance things out. Let that happen without interfering. Don’t try to control outcomes.

It also means that they need to let go of fixed plans and concepts. We will discuss some of these fixed plans and concepts, shortly. There are myriad ways that the powers that be have come up with to try and control things. But they need to let go of them all. The world will govern itself, if only they will cease and desist their efforts to try and control things. Now some would-be leaders are no doubt thinking to themselves, “But what is left for us to do? You are just one of those anarchists that don’t want to be governed.” Well, you are almost right. I am one of those anarchists that don’t want to be ruled. But, if your idea of governing is being an example for how to follow the Tao, I am cool with that.

Be a leader, not a ruler! Learn how to follow the Tao; and then, be an example to all people of how to do that. That is the definition of a great leader. Your will to power, your desire to be in control, and all your fixed plans and concepts need to go.

What our rulers fail to reckon with, when it comes to the way things are, the natural laws that “govern” our Universe, is that the more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. Their attempts at controlling us, they will say all they want is virtuous people, have the opposite effect. They are trying to regulate people’s behavior from the outside. But virtue is an inner thing. You want virtuous people? Let the Tao work on the inside of them. I am just going to say this, even though some people are going to scoff at it. The less prohibitions you have, the more virtuous people will be. But that statement is anathema to anyone who wants to be in control.

Our rulers absolutely love to amass more and more weapons. Their objective, they will insist, is to make us all secure in our lives and our property. But here is the “shocking” truth: That isn’t how to follow the Tao. The more weapons they have, the less secure people will be. “But why? Why don’t people trust us to take care of them?” It is because people aren’t nearly as stupid as you think we are. The greatest threat to our security has always been people in power who said they had our best intentions at heart. Those weapons you have, don’t make us secure. They make us vulnerable. Incidentally, we know that is exactly what you want. Just another way you try to control us.

And, of course, our rulers “love” us so very much that they offer us more and more subsidies. The end result is that people become less and less self-reliant. Once again, you can say all you want about how you are only trying to help. The truth is the truth. You aren’t helping. You are hurting. And if it isn’t a deliberate move on your part to try and control us, then you are even more stupid than I imagined.

I said, earlier, that we would talk more about letting go of fixed plans and concepts; and here is where we do. Lao Tzu invokes the Master to show us the way to let go, and why.

The Master says: I let go of the law, and people become honest. The law is one of the fixed plans and concepts Lao Tzu is talking about. Is Lao Tzu advocating lawlessness? See how you are? Already stirring up fear and anxiety with your imagined outcomes.
That is your first line of attack. Get people scared, very, very scared. Then, they will let you do anything. But I am not buying it. Lao Tzu already covered this. It isn’t advocating lawlessness to recognize that all the external force that you apply on others, doesn’t achieve the desired results. The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. Let go of the law and people become honest. “How is that even possible?” You can’t even imagine what the Tao is capable of, if we will only let it be.

The Master says: I let go of economics, and people become prosperous. I can’t hardly listen to a discussion of economics by people in high places anymore. Their fixed plans and concepts are wreaking havoc on our world. That has been the case for generations. But it does seem like it has really escalated in the last few years. The more they try to control things from the top-down, the worst things are going to be. Will they ever learn? That would depend on them caring about enriching the lives of anyone besides the hands that feed them. If they learned to follow the Tao they wouldn’t be interfering in the economy. They really need to let go of it. Everyone, not just an elect few, would prosper.

The Master says: I let go of religion, and people become serene. Serenity is supposed to be the aim of every religion. Right? Well, somewhere along the way, we screwed up. But this isn’t about individuals no longer being free to practice their religion, or not. This is about religion being imposed from the top-down. Trying to legislate morality would be included here. Forcing people to do things that run counter to their own conscience is another thing. Kim Davis, I am not talking about you. No one is forcing you to approve of gay marriage. If you don’t want to do your job, then quit. But, if someone owns a bakery, and they don’t want to bake a cake for a gay wedding, they shouldn’t be forced to. Personally, I would be delighted at the prospect that my business could increase. But it is your business, turn away all the business you want. Would-be leaders, leave it alone. Let it go.

If only would-be leaders would learn to follow the Tao. I am thinking, here, of the desire for the common good, that so many would-be leaders insist is their reason for being. The Master says: I let go of all desire for the common good, and the good becomes common as grass. That is how the Universe operates. It is the way things are. Which is why it is so very important that those who want to govern us learn to follow the Tao.

The Advantages Of Being A Newborn

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Lao Tzu pictured harmony with the Tao by describing certain familiar aspects of a newborn child. He said that the Master’s power is like this. But Lao Tzu obviously doesn’t expect us to reenter our mother’s womb and experience rebirth. Or, does he? Well, not physically, of course. But there is a sense in which we can return to our primal identity. And it does involve returning to our beginning, the Source. We can’t be a newborn again. But we can, in each new present moment return to our primal identity. The newborn child is a metaphor for it. There is much to learn from newborn children. And perhaps, the first thing we can learn is not to talk. I am convinced that newborns have a knowledge that we have forgotten over many years of talking.

Lao Tzu puts it quite bluntly: Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know. This isn’t something we haven’t heard before. We even guffaw at it. For we know of plenty of examples of people who so willingly share their vast knowledge, only to end up displaying their great ignorance. Watching the presidential debates is a prime example of this. Various candidates will complain that they didn’t get their fair share of time to talk. What? If only they realized how much better it is that people don’t know them better. The more they talk, the more evident it is that they should sit down and shut up. If I was inclined to vote for anyone, all I have to do is wait for each candidate to speak up. Then, I decide, no, not that one. They try so hard to be noticed. Jumping up and down, waving their arms in the air, “pick me, pick me.” No, thank you. But Lao Tzu’s words aren’t for the circus freaks. It is for those of us with the good sense to close our mouths. Maybe we will learn something.

If we want to return to the primal identity, in this present moment, closing our mouths is the first step. But it isn’t the only one. We need to block off all of our senses. Why? Because people who are led by their senses aren’t being led by the Tao. This is another one of the advantages of being a newborn. Not only are they not talking, none of their senses are very well-developed. So, they don’t rely on them. We shouldn’t rely on them, either. Let Mother, who gave birth to us, nourish us. Let Mother maintain us and care for us. Let Mother comfort us and protect us. Let Mother take us back to itself. That is what the newborn does. We could learn a lot from a newborn.

Over the years we have been trained to rely on our senses. And, we have forgotten the Tao. Mother is long ago, left alone. We have become so sharp. Our presumed knowledge is quite acute. We are independent! We don’t need Mother any more. There have been so many milestones that have come and gone. We tied a knot with each one. Here is where I began to crawl, to sit, to stand up, to walk, to talk. Here is where I went to school. Here is where I graduated from school. Here is where I got my own job. Here is where I got married. It goes on and on. All these knots along the way. Over the course of many years, our glare has gotten harder and harder. No matter how many times we are knocked down, we will get right back up again, only to do the very same things that got us knocked down, in the first place. And we are always on the move. Busy, busy, busy. Never a moment when we aren’t doing something. Our dust never settles. This is so unlike the Tao. We live each day in denial of what we are, an expression of the Tao. This is no way to live our lives. We must return to the primal identity.

That means close your mouth. Block off your senses. Blunt your sharpness. Untie those knots. Soften your glare. And, please, please, stay still long enough for your dust to settle. This is the primal identity. It is a return to what we were in the beginning, what we are now, if only we will let ourselves be it, an expression of the Tao. It is to be like the Tao.

Be like the Tao. That is what Lao Tzu is getting at. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. I think of the shell that we construct around ourselves in the hopes that we can be protected, that we can be safe. We think we are safe in our shell. But that shell is a lot more fragile than we dare realize. We are in grave danger. I don’t want to give myself up! That is what we are afraid of. But, the Tao gives itself up continually; and, far from being lost, that is why it endures.

This Is A Picture Of Harmony, Of True Power

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

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

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

Yesterday, the imagery was one of a whole Universe full of individuals singing together in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu was talking about how the Tao works from within each individual; and then outward from there, to families, neighborhoods, communities, countries, and the world. It was a picture of the true power that we have as individual expressions of the Tao. All we have to do is let it happen.

Today, the imagery changes to that of a newborn child. This is another of Lao Tzu’s favorite metaphors. It is a return to our primal identity, when we were like a newborn child. Lao Tzu is beside himself, almost giddy, as he describes what anyone, who has ever cared for a newborn child, knows.

Their bones are soft and their muscles weak; but check out how powerful a grip that little one has. It doesn’t know about the union of male and female; yet, its vital power is so intense, its penis can stand erect. And, as if lending their own voice to the song of the Universe, they can scream their heads off all day, without becoming hoarse. Lao Tzu calls that a sign of its complete harmony with the Tao.

Lao Tzu is talking about the true power that each one of us has inside of us, if only we will look inside ourselves to discover it, and let it issue forth. That is why he says the Master’s power is like this.

It is the power to let all things come and go effortlessly and without desire. That is, without interfering; without reaching for things not yet here, or grasping at things that are leaving. It is about living in the present reality. That is the true power. The power to live in the present moment, not bogged down in the past, nor hoping or fearing the future. It is a life that is free of disappointment; for you never expect results. You just work with what is. And leave the results to the Tao. Because you are never disappointed, your spirit will never grow old. Behold, the power of a newborn child!