If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Trying to control the future is like trying
to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today, I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about all the things that we try to hold on to. How much we want to be in control. Today’s chapter is a gentle reminder that all things change; and trying to control the future is just not something we can do.
These are ideas that we all give mental assent to. By mental assent, I mean, when I (or Lao Tzu) tell you that all things change, most people are going to reply, “I know, I know.” But, I suspect that a good majority of us answering this way are like the people, Lao Tzu has described in recent chapters. They think that they know. And, they don’t know that they don’t know.
Remember, as would be leaders, we are supposed to be serving as examples of the art of living. It isn’t our job to educate the people. But we do need to kindly teach them to not-know. Which means, show them that they don’t know. Why? Because, once they know that they don’t know, the people can find their own way.
I am thinking of this example because mental assent is just not good enough. Mental assent is only keeping us in our ignorance. So saying, “I know, I know, that all things change,” is not the same as actually coming to the realization that all things change. As long as we are still trying to hold onto things, we don’t really know anything.
Lao Tzu has been talking about the disease that seems particularly virulent in the human race, our presumption of knowledge. How is Lao Tzu teaching us to not-know? By reminding us of all the things we try to hold on to. This disease is what I blame for the rampant cognitive dissonance that I encounter, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, for whatever beliefs people want to hold on to. I see it in how easily we are manipulated by the powers that be and their willing accomplices (sycophants) in the corporate media establishment. People believe what they want to believe. And, because they don’t know that they don’t know, they will readily rise to the defense of the most heinous of crimes against our very humanity.
The rush that I have seen by many to defend torture is only the very latest example of this. I don’t need to read thousands of pages documenting the torture of our fellow human beings to know that is a crime against our very humanity. It doesn’t make any difference to me whether the conclusion of the U.S. Senate panel is that we did or did not gain any intelligence gathering benefit from the torture. Torture is just morally wrong. In the most absolute terms. And I see people arguing over he said/she said. Really? People think that torture is okay as long as we got information? And when you are told that we didn’t get any information, you just say that is just wrong, the CIA believes we did, so there!
My friends, it is this level of ignorance, which I can only define as willful, which I simply cannot tolerate. And this is only one of many examples I could name. The rush to defend our State and its “out of control” police lately, has left me mostly apoplectic. I put the “out of control” in quotes because I don’t think the police are out of control at all. They are operating according to design. As is the State. Nothing that I am seeing from our Masters is any surprise to me. What I can’t tolerate is the slaves who don’t know they are slaves. They love their chains and the taste of boot on their tongues.
And when I kindly show them they don’t know, they get all defensive. Such small minds. So little imagination.
Some of you may be thinking, “Okay, but what does this have to do with today’s chapter?” And, I will answer, “Nothing! And, everything!”
Let’s get to the everything. Lao Tzu compares our not realizing that all things change, to being afraid of dying. I can’t make you realize that all things change. And, I can’t really make you no longer afraid of dying. But I can point out, that is what is holding you back. Only you can come to realize the truth, and let go of everything you are holding on to. Only you can move past your fear of dying, and find that there is nothing you can’t achieve.
Let’s face reality for a moment. We really don’t like this idea of letting go of things. And, while we know we are someday going to face death, we fear that day. I say “we” because I am including myself. We want to be in control. We want to control today, and every day. Even, well into the future. And that was never promised to us. Lao Tzu specifically warns us about that desire to control the future. We need to keep our hands off those tools.