All posts by Chuck Gullion

libertariantaoist is a blogger living in the Missouri Ozarks. He enjoys tutoring children and sitting outside in his backyard smoking his pipe while observing nature. He blogs a chapter each day from Lao Tzu's "Tao Te Ching" (81 chapters in all); and adds his own commentary, interpreting current events from his own unique libertarian and taoist perspective.

Now, The Illuminating Kind Of Light

Know the male, yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white, yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world as it is,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block.
Thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Female and male. Black and White. Impersonal and personal. Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about how yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe. By understanding this, we can understand how to be lived by the Tao and interact as individuals in our world.

He wants us to know the yang, yet keep to the yin. That is how to receive the world in your arms, be a pattern for it, and come to accept the world as it really is. By doing this, the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

Interesting that word, luminous. I said, yesterday, when Lao Tzu was talking about embodying the light, that he wasn’t talking about the illuminating kind. He was talking about light as it relates to heavy. Today, we are looking for enlightenment. The luminous kind. And that happens as we allow yin and yang to complement each other.

It makes us like a little child. A favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s. He is talking about a return to to the innocence of a little child. By combining female and male, you get a little child.

There is nothing that little child can’t do. We are talking about potential here. All the potential in the Universe. All bound up in that little child. Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to our primal selves.

So, receive the world in our arms, like we would a little child. Be a pattern for the world. That is like being an example. Like how we would go about training that little child. And, finally, accept the world (that child) the way it is. This is how we go about returning to our primal selves. This is the path of enlightenment.

But let’s break this down just a little more. The world (that child) is formed from the void. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. That block of wood is another of Lao Tzu’s favorite metaphors. He has that block of wood representing the void. It is where we find our primal selves. What is that block of wood going to be for us. In its present state, it could be anything, anything at all. But in this case we have used it to form utensils. A block of wood and utensils. Just like female and male. Black and White. Impersonal and personal. Yin and yang. Know the utensils. Know how to use them. Yet, never forget they came from a block of wood. Always keep that before you. That block of wood. That is how we can use all things in this world. Whatever we encounter.

Not The Illuminating Kind of Light

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this,
you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is, of course, a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying yesterday about how to be a good traveler. What he said about traveling yesterday didn’t include the idea of being good or bad at it. But with today’s chapter we can see what he was talking about more clearly. I do hope you read yesterday’s post; but, in case you didn’t, I want to touch on some things that will help us to better understand what he is saying today.

He talked about the heavy being the root of the light and the unmoved being the source of all movement. These are important to understand if you want to be a good traveler. Yesterday, we were talking about always remaining serenely in yourself, rather than being blown to and fro. Today, Lao Tzu talks about how to embody the light. And, I think it is important to understand what Lao Tzu must mean by light here. He isn’t talking about light as in illumination. He is talking about light as opposed to being heavy.

There. I did it again. Words can be so frustrating to me. In trying to explain how heavy and light interact together, like yin and yang, I still find myself referring to them as opposing each other. And that is not really accurate at all. I don’t mean to convey opposites, so much as complements. Light needs heavy. Heavy needs light. You can’t have one without the other. So, if we want to embody the light we can’t ignore its root which is the heavy.

This is important for us to understand as we look at today’s chapter and we talk about another yin and yang, the concept of good and bad. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin with looking at the hallmarks of the good traveler, artist, and scientist first.

Yesterday, seemed to be all about the traveler; and today, Lao Tzu continues with talking about that good traveler. The one who has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. I want to remind you, once again, that yesterday, Lao Tzu was spending his time talking about the importance of the heavy. He wants you anchored to home, where your heart is. The heavy, your anchor, your root, keeps you from being blown to and fro in your travels.

Today, we are onto talking about embodying the light. Just don’t forget the heavy. A good traveler isn’t blown to and fro in the wind; but, that anchor doesn’t keep him from embodying the light. In fact, it is because he doesn’t lose touch with who he is, that he is able to embody the light. A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. Letting your intuition lead you wherever it wants may seem very much like being blown to and fro in the wind. But, of course, reality is very different from appearances. This traveling artist, being good, isn’t letting go of his anchor. He isn’t being blown to and fro. He simply is going where his intuition leads him. In much the same way, a good scientist has freed himself of concepts. He keeps his mind open to what is. Concepts clutter and close the mind. A bad scientist can’t free himself from concepts of the way he thinks things should be. His mind isn’t open to the way things really are.

Traveler? Artist? Scientist? What is it that Lao Tzu is really saying to us today? He is differentiating between being good at something and being bad at it. For the Master, who is good at something, it is about embodying the light. And that means being available to everyone and rejecting none. It means being ready to use all situations you may encounter. And not to waste a thing. As a traveler. Or, an artist. Or, a scientist. You want to be a good one. I know you do.

And that brings us to how the good and bad complement each other. Yes, they are yin and yang as well. I think it goes without saying that we are not talking about good and evil here. This isn’t about moral judgments.

Far from it. We are talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice. The teacher and the student. In your travels you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and a variety of people. Many are going to be much better at some things than you are. And, many times, you are going to be better at some things than other people you will encounter along your way.

Lao Tzu wants us to embody the light in order to be available to everyone that we encounter. What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Every master (or teacher) needs an apprentice (or student). And where would the apprentice (or student) be, without the master (or teacher)? Sometimes I find myself being one and sometimes I am the other. That all depends on the situation and the people I encounter. I have found it so in my own life that whenever I was particularly bad at something, someone that was good at it came along. How fortuitous! I also believe that I have fortuitously come along to help out when someone else has been particularly bad at something I was good at.

That is how yin and yang works. The ebb and flow of nature’s way. But that just shows how important it really is that we aren’t bound by fixed plans and concepts. That we aren’t so intent on arriving that we aren’t available to help, or be helped. It takes a mind that is open to the way things really are. That means being attuned to our intuition and going where it leads us.

This may be one of the most important things for you to know. Lao Tzu calls it the great secret. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, he says.

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus, the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu identified humans as one of the four great powers. Thus, we are great. At the same time, he made us subordinate to the Earth in greatness. I think this provides us with a healthy balance with which to understand how we should act in our world. We are truly great. But, we should temper our greatness with a healthy respect of the Earth. We should always be following it. Its natural rhythms. The Earth isn’t ours to exploit. It is far greater than us. We depend on its richness and goodness for our very survival. Too often, I think we forget that. Or, lose sight of it. And that is our great folly.

Today, Lao Tzu continues to refer to our greatness. He says we are all lords of the country. And how should we behave in a way that is fitting for lords? It begins with balance. Thus, he uses the familiar imagery of yin and yang to show us the way. The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement. Heavy and light. The unmoved and movement. How these interact is how we are to interact in the Earth that is our home.

We have a root, an anchor. Not to weigh us down, but to allow us to thrive, even amid the greatest storms. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. Being blown to and fro. He doesn’t want us to lose touch with our root. With our home. It is thus that the Master is able to travel all day, enjoying all the splendid views. She never loses touch with her root, with home. Thus, she is able always, even in the midst of great chaos, to stay serenely in herself.

What moves you? What do you allow to move you? Is it restlessness? That is the danger. Being blown about by every wind that comes along. How foolish. If you let restlessness move you, I know what the danger is. It is that we lose touch with who we are.

Point to any problem we are facing in our world today and I can point at people who lost touch with who they are. We know it. We know it when we say things like, “It wasn’t always this way. When did things go so horribly wrong?”

I can’t do anything for the myriad that have lost their way. That have lost touch with who they are. But I can do this. I can return, myself, to who I have always been. I can be serene, even in the midst of all the chaos. I won’t let go of my root, my anchor. And, don’t you, either.

Back At The Very Beginning. Who Is Following Who.

There was something formless and perfect,
before the Universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary.
Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the Universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside,
and returns to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The Universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the Earth.
Earth follows the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, once again, Lao Tzu takes us back to the very beginning. Back before humans. Back before the Earth. Back before the Universe was born. To the Source of Everything. To that which is without form; and yet, it is perfect. It is serene; even in the midst of chaos. It is empty; yet, it contains all things. It is solitary; yet, it is never alone. It is itself unchanging; yet, it is the great bringer of change. It is infinite and inexhaustible. It is eternally present in and around you. It is the Great Mother of the Universe. It is nameless; and, for lack of a name, we call it the Tao.

The Tao is ubiquitous and liquid. It is ever flowing through all things. Always on the move, both inside and outside. Always returning to itself.

There are but four great powers. The Tao is great. The Universe is great. The Earth is great. And humanity is great. These four great powers are listed from greatest to least.

Humanity, being the lowest, follows the Earth. The Earth, being subordinate to the Universe, follows the Universe. The Universe, being the highest creation of the Tao, follows the Tao. The Tao, being itself, follows only itself.

Remembering My Childhood

He who stands on tiptoe,
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead,
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine,
dims his own light.
He who defends himself,
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others,
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his own work,
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

That reference to standing on tiptoe always brings me back to my childhood. I was small for my age, growing up. And I never liked that my younger brother was taller than me. Whenever we had pictures taken together, I was always standing on tiptoe to try and look taller. I didn’t think it was natural that my younger brother was taller. So, I resorted to something unnatural to try and make me appear taller. In looking back through pictures from my childhood, it is apparent. In candid pictures, I look natural. But in posed pictures I am not.

The resistance to being natural is the point of what Lao Tzu is talking about in today’s chapter. Are you a poser, too? Are you always standing on tiptoe? Rushing ahead? Trying to outshine everybody else? Always feeling the need to defend yourself? Do you have or crave power over others? Are you clinging to your own machinations? None of that is in accord with the Tao. And, none of that is going to result in anything that endures.

To those who think they already know, yes, that used to be me, they can’t know who they really are. If you really want to empower yourself, give up your will to power. Do your job and then let go of it. Don’t cling to it. Don’t try to make a big show of it. Instead of trying to shine, let your light shine. Be content to be who and what you are. Let go of all your desires to become something you are not.

It Isn’t Time Yet To Keep Quiet

Express yourself completely,
then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature;
when the wind blows,
there is only wind;
when it rains,
there is only rain;
when the clouds pass,
the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao
and can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao,
then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about how very easy it is to dismiss this as nothing but a whole lot of empty phrases. Lao Tzu has been talking about residing in the Tao. That to truly be yourself, you must be lived by the Tao. What he is wanting for each one of us is that we will be truly ourselves. We don’t think we are there yet. We think we can only hope to become something. Yet, Lao Tzu insists that it isn’t becoming that is the challenge. It is being. Simply being. Can we be content to simply be ourselves?

Today, he is giving us just a little bit more of how we can fully embrace just that. He tells us to express ourselves completely. We never feel like we do that, do we? We always are holding something back. Never fully expressing ourselves. But that is exactly what we must do. Then we can keep quiet and see how the Tao lives in us.

He gives us the example of the forces of nature. We need to be like the wind and blow until we are all finished blowing. We need to be like the rain, and not stop raining until it is time for the clouds to pass and let the sun shine through again.

Being willing to fully express ourselves, without holding anything back, is the beginning of everything the Tao wants to accomplish in us. That full expression of who and what we are is opening ourselves to the Tao. And that is what makes us at one with the Tao, in perfect harmony with the way things are. Having fully expressed ourselves, now we can fully embody it.

What is holding you back from fully expressing yourself? What are you afraid of? Are you hoping first to get some new insight? But you already have everything you need. Just open yourself to it. Be at one with it. Then you can use it completely.

Perhaps, you are scared of experiencing loss. But loss isn’t something we can avoid. It will happen over and over again in our lives. The only way to accept it completely is to open ourselves to it and allow ourselves to become one with it.

What are you really afraid of? Open yourself to the Tao. You can do this. And, you can trust your natural responses. No matter what you may think to the contrary. No matter what you have been told. You can trust you. And, as you do, everything will fall into place. That is what it means to be in harmony with the way things are. To go with the flow. To do what comes naturally to you. At one with the Tao.

Stop resisting.

Not Just Empty Phrases

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,’
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you truly be yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I think it is very easy to read through today’s chapter and think these are all just empty phrases. What does he mean? We are driven from early in our childhood to become something. Something that we don’t apparently think we are right now. What do you want to be when you grow up? What is going to become of you? If it isn’t our parents and family or well-meaning friends putting us under stress, we will manage to do it all by ourselves. I want to become whole. I want to become straight. I want to become full. Perhaps, what you are seeking is some kind of rebirth. Whatever it is that you want to be given, you must first give it all up.

What does Lao Tzu mean? How can I become whole by being content to be partial? How can I become straight by being content with being crooked? How can I become full if I am content to be empty? What Lao Tzu is teaching us is to let go of our ambitions. We, of course, balk at this. I don’t want to let go of my ambitions. I want to become something great. How can I become something great without ambition? It isn’t easy to let go of that ambition, is it? It is almost like dieing. Maybe it is exactly like dieing. But, if we want to be reborn that is exactly what we will need to let happen. You have to be willing to give everything up.

Bear with me now, it is going to get better, I promise. Let’s look at what Lao Tzu is getting at as he uses the example of the Master. He says that the Master resides in the Tao. Yes, we are still talking about that. That is our example. That is what Lao Tzu is instructing us to do. The Master doesn’t put himself on display, yet people see his light. He has nothing to prove, so people can trust him. He doesn’t have any goal in mind, and that is why everything he does succeeds.

And now, we may be even more confused. What does Lao Tzu mean? Well, here it is. It has to do with that residing in the Tao. What Lao Tzu is telling us is that these aren’t empty phrases. It is only in being lived by the Tao that we can truly be ourselves. So, let’s take another look at what we want to become in that light.

You want to become whole. Good. Content yourself with being partial. And let the Tao complete you. You want to become straight. Content yourself with being crooked. And let the Tao even out all that isn’t straight within you. You want to become full. Then content yourself with being empty. You will find that the Tao is everything that you need.

Yes, it is a kind of dieing. But that is what it is going to take if you are going to be reborn. You must give everything up. Reside in the Tao. Be lived by the Tao. That is how to be your true self. Please don’t dismiss this as some hokie religion. What Lao Tzu is teaching us is how everything in the Universe works. The Tao is simply the guiding and unifying principle of everything in the Universe. You let the Tao live in you by letting yourself be who you are. You resist the Tao by trying to become something other than who you are. But, it is really funny how things work out. If you give up trying to become, and are content to be, you will become so much more than what you are. That is being lived by the Tao.

You’ll Have To Look Inside Yourself To See It

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao;
that is what gives her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were, the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking a lot about letting go of, or throwing away, our ideas of how we think the world should operate. The problems we are facing are only exacerbated by clinging to them. What Lao Tzu is offering to us is being one with the Tao. Being one with the Tao, or in harmony with the way things are, is all about returning to our common Source. Or, like Lao Tzu depicted it yesterday, drinking from the great Mother’s breasts.

Stop trying to grasp this. It is ungraspable. If we are going to accomplish this, we have to let the Master serve as an example. She doesn’t cling to ideas. She doesn’t grasp. She ungrasps. She lets the dark and unfathomable Tao, illuminate her.

I am going to keep my commentary brief today. Why? Because my posts lately have been overly long; though, I hope, illuminating. There isn’t anything really new to say today. We have been saying this all along.

We need to let go and let the Tao. If that sounds a whole lot like “let go and let God” good, that means you are getting it, somewhat. Not because the Tao is God. We covered that in a much earlier chapter. What is God, but our notions of how to make sense of it all? But, the Tao predates our notions of God. The Tao is before time and space. What are time and space but our notions of the way things are? Well, the Tao is before that, too. It is beyond is and is not. What is Lao Tzu trying to say here?

That we are still resisting. We still don’t understand that our ideas of what is, and is not, are holding us back from being in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu knows this is true; because he looks inside himself, and sees that it is true. Dare to let go of all these notions. Dare to look inside yourself and see. Let the Tao illuminate you. What do you see?

The I And The Others

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value?
Avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they are at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright; I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp; I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose; I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimlessly as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about things that we hold dear. Ideas, concepts, that Lao Tzu says we need to throw away. I went so far as to call them sacred cows. And, I want to make clear what I think Lao Tzu is trying to get across to us. What is it that he is wanting us to throw away? Perhaps it helps to realize what it is about any of these things that we are trying to hold on to and not wanting to let go of. And, Lao Tzu gives us a very good idea of just that in today’s chapter.

He begins by saying, “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” There it is, plain and simple. It isn’t so much holiness and wisdom, or morality and justice, or industry and profit, which need to be thrown away; as it is what we think those mean. All of our problems begin with the way we are thinking. Stop thinking, and you end your problems.

For the longest of times, when I got to today’s chapter, I always found myself treating it like it was somehow separate from all the other chapters. Almost like it didn’t belong. What is Lao Tzu doing here? Is he describing some crisis of faith, or a dark night of the soul? Is he suffering from a bout of depression?

How mistaken I was in my thinking. It is becoming much clearer to me now. What Lao Tzu is doing is continuing what he has been saying all along. Every one of these chapters is simply building on the last. He has identified the central problem. Yes, it is that we have forgotten the great Tao. Our body’s intelligence, our innate ability to connect intuitively with the Tao, is in decline; or worse, is virtually non-existent. It has to do with our minds, our cleverness and knowledge; and, it has to do with the withering of our hearts, through its obsessive desires.

That is what Lao Tzu is addressing today. It is time to take a step back. Maybe get alone with yourself. And do some serious soul searching. What difference is there really between yes and no? What difference does it make whether you are thought of as a success, or as a failure? Must you value what others value and avoid what others avoid? For Lao Tzu, the answer is, “How Ridiculous!”

That is the conclusion he is leading us to arrive at. He has already said it in so many ways. If we chase after money and security our hearts will never unclench. If we care about others approval, we will always be their prisoner. We need to be content to simply be ourselves. That means not comparing or competing. The respect we crave from others, begins with respecting ourselves.

Lao Tzu is letting us in on a little secret when he starts using that personal pronoun, I. We are measuring our own self worth by looking outwardly at others. Look at him compare and contrast: Other people are excited, as though they are at a parade. I alone don’ t care, I alone am expressionless. Notice the isolation that we bring on ourselves by comparing and contrasting ourselves with others. I am alone. Other people have what they need. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about, like someone without a home. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. The isolation brings on a sense of misery. We are very much alone. And, we are become idiots.

Other people are bright and sharp and have a purpose. I alone am dark and dull and don’t know. The misery of our isolation is fully expressed as we feel ourselves drifting about like a wave on the ocean; and, blowing as aimlessly as the wind.

Things seem desperate. But, it is here, and only here, that we finally find who and what we really are. We have sunken as deeply as we can. We can go no further. And, Lao Tzu says, “Vive la difference.” Yes, I am different. I may never be like the others. I may never like what they like or succeed like they succeed. But, so what? I drink from the great Mother’s breasts.

I could leave it at that. Lao Tzu certainly did. But, I want to make sure that you understand the monumental shift that happened here. Lao Tzu has already told us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion. We are not separate. We are the whole. That is the eternal reality. In comparing and contrasting the I (which is separate) from all others, Lao Tzu is highlighting how alone, isolated, and separate we are feeling. We have each of us felt this. It is a very common experience. Interesting, because we think we are so very “different” from others. But, we have all felt the very same thing.

Yet, that is all an illusion. Yes, he celebrated our differences. Vive la difference. But he did not celebrate separateness. Instead, he expressly said how we are all connected to the one reality. And, that is the great Mother. She is our common Source. Drink from the great Mother’s breasts. After drifting about like a wave on the ocean, or blowing about as aimlessly as the wind, it is nice to return to the great Mother’s breasts. That is serenity.

Time To Clean Up This Mess. Things To Throw Away

Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I was comparing the shape my country is in, and I suppose the whole world falls into the same category, to facing the devastation of a tsunami. No one ever accused me of a lack of hyperbole in my writing. But I do think it is a serious matter that we have forgotten the great Tao. And, I think the consequences we are facing, and will continue to face, are much like the kind of desolation that a tsunami brings. We’ve ignored repeated warnings. I don’t think we can do much more than deal with the aftermath.

That means a whole lot of cleaning up. And as we are surveying the devastated landscape, there is going to be lots of things we will need to throw away. Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter addresses the problems of cleanup when we have been substituting so many things for the great Tao. Remember from yesterday, that we said that the Tao is natural and spontaneous. Because we have forgotten the Tao, we have substituted the unnatural and contrived. Things like goodness and piety. Cleverness and knowledge. Filial piety, and patriotism.

Those things are not just poor substitutes. What they really are, are symptoms of just how bad things have gotten. Today, Lao Tzu uses different words. Words like holiness and wisdom. Morality and justice. Industry and profit. We really hold these words as precious and dear to our hearts. They aren’t just words. They are ideas. Must we really throw them away?

Well, yes. Remember, we are cleaning up after our day of reckoning. No matter how dear, how cherished, these ideas may seem to us, they have outlived their usefulness. We may not like the idea of having to throw them all away. The cure may seem more terrible than the disease. But Lao Tzu has words of encouragement for us all.

We, as leaders, have a responsibility to the people. If we throw away holiness and wisdom, people will be a hundred times happier. That would be a start. Give people a jump start on picking up the pieces and beginning again their own pursuit of happiness.

It is time to begin trusting the people again. It was because our leaders didn’t trust the people that we got into the mess that we are in. It is time that we trust them to do the right thing. Not command that they do. That is why our tired and worn out ideas of morality and justice must go. They never really achieved their stated purpose of making the people moral and just, anyway. Throw out those ideas. And trust the people. They will do the right thing.

We all have our sacred cows. Those things we don’t want to sacrifice. Lao Tzu is certainly not pulling any punches as he lists them one by one: Holiness, wisdom, morality, justice. I may be in the minority when I admit that I have less of a problem giving those up than some of you might. But then we get to industry and profit. And the struggle is real. Oh, it is easy to get on a bandwagon when you like what you are hearing. But what happens when they start talking about your own sacred cows?

That is my dilemma. I face it every time I cycle back through to today’s chapter. But, I don’t want to allow my own misgivings to get in the way of the plain context of what Lao Tzu is telling us. Does it help that I admit I don’t know how to throw these away? The answer is it is a whole lot easier than I am making it out to be. I know they need to go. But how that plays out is something I haven’t got completely worked out in my mind. Which is intriguing to me, since I don’t feel the same necessity to explain myself with the other throwaways.

I am going to take a few steps back and then re-approach this from a different angle. The problem we have been dealing with is that we haven’t been properly understanding how the Universe works. We have been at odds with the Tao instead of in harmony with it. Because of our failure to be in harmony with the Tao, we clever humans have come up with a variety of systems to try to make sense of it all. And make it work for us through interference and manipulation. This has been a disaster. That is what Lao Tzu has been describing. The point he is making is that we need to get back to where we came from. The clever substitutes are not going to help us to do that. All they are is a hindrance. That is why they need to go. We need to throw them away.

Okay, that was better. But it still may not be enough. That is why Lao Tzu has one more thing for us to do. And this is the most important of them all. Can we do it? Can we stay at the center of the circle and let all things take their course? Or will we continue to insist on interfering and manipulating? It isn’t enough just to exchange one set of interference and manipulation for another. We need to let go of our need to control. That is both the hardest and the easiest of tasks. It is hard because we so love to be in control. It is easy because the very idea that we can be in control is all an illusion. Think about that one for today.