The Proverbial Question Of Which Came First?

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people
the way back to their own nature.

-Lao Tzu-

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that for Lao Tzu the art of living and the art of governing were one. It took me awhile to figure that out. But coming to that realization transformed my life.

We’re going to take a look at today’s chapter in that context. Lao Tzu talks all the time about the ancient Masters. He certainly esteemed them. They informed his philosophy. He says today that they didn’t try to educate the people. Because they understood the problem wasn’t a lack of education. The problem was they already knew too much. Or more precisely, they thought they knew the answers already.

When you think you already know the answers, it will be difficult to guide you. The ancient Masters taught the people to not-know. This is that unlearning that I said we needed to be practicing. But, don’t mistake guiding for manipulating or controlling. They weren’t wanting to manipulate or control the people, Guiding was a very subtle practice. It wasn’t about manipulation or control.

In fact, Lao Tzu tells us it was just the opposite of that. When the people come to the realization that they don’t really know, and that is because they have learned to not-know, the people can find their own way.

That right there is how the art of governing is one with the art of living. The art of governing isn’t about control. It is about leading, guiding. And that is through being someone who is content to serve as an example. Of course this establishes the difference between rulers and leaders. But that isn’t all that Lao Tzu is trying to get across. The point of governing, of leading, of guiding, of serving as an example – is to show all the people the way back to their own nature.

The ancient Masters understood that people can find their own way; if only they aren’t confounded by their so-called knowledge. People don’t need to be forced to do the right thing. They can figure it out for themselves. All that is necessary is humility. The people need to be humble enough to come to the realization that they don’t really know. And the leaders need to be humble enough to be content to serve as an example, rather than needing to force some outcome.

This is why Lao Tzu says to those who want to learn how to govern, that cleverness and riches are not what is needed. Those actually are a hindrance. They will puff you up. Make you proud. And humility is what you need to be cultivating. The simplest pattern is the clearest. This is important whether you are just one of the people; or, you are wanting to be a leader of the people. Keep it simple. If you are going to serve as an example, you want a simple and clear pattern.

This simple and clear pattern is being content with an ordinary life. Once again, this does separate rulers from leaders. Rulers tend to be extravagant in their living. That doesn’t serve as an example to the people. Instead, it just enflames their desires. Leaders are a completely different breed from rulers. Leaders are content with an ordinary life. One that serves as an example to the people. Instead of enflaming desires, it calms them. And, people find their way back to their own nature.

Just like the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? We need to understand how the art of living informs the art of governing and the art of governing informs the art of living.

Now, Where Was I? Oh Yes, Effortless Action…

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

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

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

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

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

Because today’s chapter is a continuation of the theme from yesterday’s chapter, and yesterday, I was writing a lot about my own personal transformation with regard to this theme, I am just going to continue today, where I left off yesterday.

Yesterday, I admitted that what first attracted me to philosophical Taoism was what Lao Tzu wrote about the art of governing. It was so very libertarian of him. And it really meshed with my own libertarian ideas on governing. If Lao Tzu hadn’t been such a libertarian, I probably never would have stuck it out long enough with the Tao Te Ching to ever finally begin to understand the art of living, which is the philosophy behind his art of governing. Lao Tzu helped me to understand that I am not helping myself by compartmentalizing things. Maybe others can get away with separating their personal and political philosophy. For Lao Tzu, it was all one.

As I read through the Tao Te Ching, over and over again, this became clear to me. That certainly helped me to let go of everything that was holding me back from going all the way with philosophical Taoism. Certainly, when I started my tumblr blog and used the url libertariantaoist, I was more libertarian than Taoist at the time. I was just trying to come up with something I thought was somewhat original. Something to differentiate myself, and yet, I also knew there was something to this Taoism that, though I didn’t quite know what it was yet, given time, I knew I would get it.

More than anything else this past couple of years, I can attribute taking a chapter each day and adding my commentary to it, has shaped me into the blogger I am right now. Lao Tzu, more than any other, led me to abandon all hope in taming Leviathan (the State) or trying to downsize it. My own anarchism is the practice of philosophical Taoism. Nothing more, nothing less. I know I still have a long way to go on this path. I certainly haven’t arrived at “Master” level. And, I may never. But I’ll just keep taking it one day at a time and see how the Tao shapes me.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about the practice of effortless action. Acting without doing. Working without effort. And he told us how to go about that, practically speaking. He said, think of the small as large and to think of the few as many. By thinking that way we can confront the difficult while it is still easy. We break down great tasks into a series of small acts.

Today, he really does continue with this idea. If, as you were reading along, it sounded vaguely familiar to you, that may be because of the oft quoted “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” If you have a long journey before you, it can seem daunting. Lao Tzu’s advice is to remember to start at the beginning. And the ground beneath your feet is always the place to begin.

When I was laid off from my last job two and a half years ago, I knew I didn’t want to continue trying to earn a living, doing things I didn’t enjoy doing. I knew what I enjoyed. I had successfully home schooled my own children. I knew that one on one interaction with children was what I wanted to do. So, I decided to start my own tutoring business. I hit upon this idea in March, the same month that I was laid off, but it wasn’t until August that I had my very first student. I had to spend time planning. Thinking about how I was going to go about it. I tried to raise some venture capital. That proved unsuccessful. So, I ended up just doing it by the skin of my teeth with the meager means I had. I did some advertising until I didn’t have the money to invest in it any furtherr. That did result in the one student that I started with in August.

When Lao Tzu talks about a giant pine tree growing from a tiny sprout, what he is saying to me is don’t despise small beginnings. Given time, that sprout will grow. My first student was 3 years old at the time. 3 years old? I had never thought I would be working with someone so young? I was thinking I was going to be helping out moms and dads with their school age children who were having trouble getting difficult concepts, in math, especially. But this little girl’s mom and dad wanted their daughter to succeed and they wanted her to get an early and fast start. They asked if I could teach her how to use an abacus. Sure, I could. Right after I figured out how to use one myself.

Anyway, I set about to teach her counting numbers, letters, both how to write them and how to say them, then phonics. What sounds do all these letters make? It, of course helped that I had home-schooled my own children. I just hadn’t begun with them so early. That was the only difference.

I started out with just one hour a day, five days a week. The little girl turned four in December. We continued working. I won’t bore you with all the details. My time increased with her to two hours a day, and now 3 hours a day. We are working with the abacus. It is amazing! What a useful tool. She is five now, and I am doing first grade curriculum with her. I am enjoying myself.

I said all of that because what little I said about myself yesterday, kind of left things up in the air. Sure, I was going to do what I wanted to do; but what exactly was that? Now, you know.

Time to get back to today’s chapter.

Things that we already know; and yet, Lao Tzu feels the need to remind us, anyway. It is easy to nourish things that are already rooted. The best time to correct things is while the mistakes made are still recent. What is brittle is easily shattered. And, while something is still small, it can easily be scattered in the wind. Yes, we already know all these things. But, for whatever reason, we fail to apply them to our own lives.

If we just applied these truths to our lives, we could prevent trouble before it arises. We would plan and put things in order, beforehand. Don’t be discouraged by the length of the journey before you. And don’t despise small beginnings.

Are you seeing how Lao Tzu is helping us to do what it is that we do, effortlessly? If only we will listen. And let things take their course. Yes, that is the most important concept of all. Planning is good. But only planning that takes into consideration, and allows, letting things take their course.

This is where the central planners get it all wrong. They never seem capable of an appreciation for the law of unintended consequences, largely confuse cause and effect, and believe the end justifies the means.

This whole, not despising small beginnings and not being discouraged by the long journey is some serious business here. But letting things take their own course is how we keep grounded in reality. If we rush into action, we will fail. If we try to grasp things, we will lose them. If we try to force a project to completion, we can end up ruining what was almost ripe. Take a moment to reflect on that last sentence. It was almost ripe. If only we hadn’t rushed it. If only we had waited. If only we had let things take their own course.

All of that is the opposite of effortless action. It is a good thing that we have the example of the Master, who always takes action by letting things take their course. Take your cue from the pace of nature. Remain calm from beginning to end. Remember, if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Don’t let desires rob you of life’s simple pleasures. We have much more to unlearn than we have yet to learn.

Perhaps this all seems elementary to you. Maybe it is because I spend three hours a day working with a little girl through her school work. Or maybe it is because Lao Tzu believes that reminding us of what we already know will help us to remember what we have always been.

I have come to love the Tao. You could say that there is nothing else I care about. It speaks to me of spontaneous order emerging out of the chaos. And free people interacting peacefully and voluntarily.
That is what the Tao means to me. By centering myself in it, and being one with it, I can truly care for all things.

How Problems Became No Problem

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)

If I had to pick out just one chapter in the Tao Te Ching, which epitomizes how philosophical Taoism has transformed how I practice the art of living, it would have to be this one. You would really have to know the me, before I encountered philosophical Taoism to understand this transformation.

For the old me, life wasn’t art. And it wasn’t really living. It was drudgery. Like my father before me, I knew if I wanted to provide for my family, that meant working 50, 60, or more hours each week. By the time each day of work was done, I had no energy left for making the little time that I was spending with my family, real quality time. To complicate my living further, I was the divorced father of two pre-teen children, and I had sole-custody. And, because I have never been one to make things at all easy, I was choosing to home school them.

While you are living each day of your life, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be able to see how the little things you are doing and the circumstances you are experiencing, are going to affect how your life is going to be in the future. It has only been when I have looked back on the past that I have been able to see the patterns. All the little things that, as they came together and built upon themselves, have resulted in the person I am today.

I certainly didn’t have the time then for any kind of introspection. I was just working, working, working. And trying to raise my two children. Thankfully, a lot of love goes a long way. My children turned out great. But I certainly didn’t know how that could possibly happen while we were just trying to make it from one day to the next.

But, life does have a way of messing with you. And sometimes, probably most of the time, that messing is going to end up resulting in something better than you could ever imagine. But I can only say that in hindsight. If only we could have the benefit of hindsight functioning as foresight. Then, life wouldn’t be so very complicated.

Life messing with me was the economy crashing and me going through unemployment, followed by a series of short term jobs, followed by longer unemployment, followed by disappointment after disappointment. I had encountered Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching some years ago, but had kind of put it on the backburner. Just no time for a real appreciation of what Lao Tzu had to say.

About two and a half years ago I was hit with my most recent lay off, and that was the final straw for me. I decided I just wasn’t going to be a participant in the labor force ever again. I was going to do what I enjoyed doing. And live on what little I could earn, doing what I enjoyed doing. That choice of my own pursuit of happiness made me happy. It helped that my children were then grown. I no longer had extra mouths to feed. It was only me that needed to be provided for, and I knew I could do with a lot less.

I think it was about that time that I encountered Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. And I ate it up. It was so clear to me that Lao Tzu was a libertarian, just like me. The chapters on the art of governing, were exactly what I had always believed. But then there were the myriad chapters like today’s chapter about the practice of wu-wei. Effortless action. That I just couldn’t comprehend. I simply couldn’t wrap my mind around it. It flew in the face of everything my Protestant Work Ethic upbringing had taught me. It is easy to agree with Lao Tzu when he agrees with you. That would be the politics. But what about the philosophy? The art of living?

But, I kept reading it, and thinking about it, and reading it, and thinking about it. I encountered a roadblock. What I needed to be doing was unlearning. What I thought I needed to be doing was learning something new. But my own circumstances, the very circumstances that I chose for myself as my own pursuit of happiness, kind of forced me to this roadblock. Back in chapter 48, Lao Tzu talked about the pursuit of knowledge vs. the practice of the Tao. I wanted to practice the Tao. I knew that. But I was trying to do it through the pursuit of knowledge. Every day I thought something needed to be added. That is certainly how the pursuit of knowledge works. But that isn’t how things work in the practice of the Tao. In the practice of the Tao, every day something is dropped.

I had a “Eureka!” moment when this just clicked. I wish I could tell you the exact day and hour this took place. Aren’t most “Eureka!” moments like that? But mine was a lot more gradual and subtle than anything like that. I didn’t see it while I was living it in the present moment. It was only later, using that infamous hindsight, that I could see what had happened.

I can look back and see that I gave up the pursuit of knowledge and chose the practice of the Tao. An entirely different kind of path. A path that has been strewn with the things I have dropped. And that has resulted in the practice of wu-wei, effortless action. It isn’t something that I can still as yet wrap my mind around. Don’t be expecting any intellectuaal explanation of it here. Remember, I gave up the pursuit of knowledge a while back.

I just know that my practice of the Tao, which has made living an art for me, is exemplified in this practice of effortless action.

It is still so very strange for me to try to explain. How very different from how I used to live my life. I live my life effortlessly. I act without doing. I work without effort. I am able to think of the small as large and the few as many. I confront the difficult while it is still easy. I accomplish great tasks by a series of small acts.

I don’t know how else to explain it. I just go with the flow. I gave up trying to achieve greatness. And I really think that somehow – don’t ask me how, I had nothing to do with it – somehow, I achieve greatness. When I run into a difficulty – because yes, I still encounter difficulties, all of the time – I just stop and give myself to it.

And while these words are ones that Lao Tzu is using to describe the Master, I certainly don’t think of myself as the Master of anything, right now. But I do know, that one thing that has helped me more than anything else, is when I quit clinging to my own comfort. That right there is huge. At least it was for me. Once I let go of that, problems became no problem for me.

Why Does Everybody Love It?

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)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu takes a break from talking about how to govern a country. Or does he? He begins by laying on us a little Cosmology; and being as Lao Tzu wrote this sometime around 400 B.C.E., I am, of course, curious, to see what he has to say; and see whether it fits with our current understanding of Cosmology.

Lao Tzu says the Tao is the center of the Universe. This is an interesting beginning sentence to this chapter because Lao Tzu has been talking about centering our country, and indeed, ourselves, in the Tao. And I read that sentence, and my first thought was, “But if the Tao is somewhere out there, wherever the center of the Universe is, how am I supposed to center myself in it?”

But that was just my first thought. Then I really started thinking about what he means by that. Is the center of the Universe really some far off place? My own understanding of the cosmos is admittedly limited. But I don’t mean by limited, limiting. Bear with me while I explain what I mean.

To hear some people talk about the Earth in its relationship with the rest of the Universe, it is infinitesimally small and insignificant. We are, after all, just a tiny speck in a tiny galaxy in some remote corner of the Universe. The Universe is so much bigger than anything we can even imagine, let alone know. The actual center of the Universe must be a gazillion lightyears away, and who would even know which direction one would need to steer the ship that is going to transverse the darkness to find it.

But wait just a doggone minute. Is that really true? I was watching the fourth episode of the first season of the reboot of Cosmos, now with Neil Degrasse Tyson. I don’t care too much when that man is talking about stuff he knows nothing about; but I have to admit, I really enjoy listening to him talk about the Cosmos. Maybe it is just because my own understanding of the Cosmos is limited. But he said something in that fourth episode that really jumped out at me. I am going to paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote in front of me. Wherever you are, you are in the center of the Universe. It doesn’t matter whether you are standing on Earth or some planet in the furthest known galaxy from us. When you look out on your Universe, you are in the center of it.

That resonates with me. If that is true, then Lao Tzu telling us that the Tao is the center of the Universe, is not sticking it some unknown place, far, far away. Instead, he is saying the Tao is very close, indeed. It is inside each of us. Which, of course, he has already told us before.

Okay, that was the lesson in Cosmology for today; now to what he really wants to talk to us about. The value of the Tao.

What does Lao Tzu have to say about the Tao today? Besides it being the center of the Universe, he calls it the good man’s treasure and the bad man’s refuge. Don’t forget those two, we will get to them toward the end of the chapter. Right now, he lays it all out on the line for us. The Tao is beyond all value.

Which gets me wondering, what is it that we value? Is it honors? Respect? Wealth? Expertise? Lao Tzu tells us that anything else that we can come up with has some price. Honors can be bought with fine words. Respect can be won with good deeds. But the Tao? There is no price that you can put on it. No one can achieve it.

If you are instantly dismayed at that last sentence, don’t be. No one can achieve it. But, Lao Tzu isn’t wanting to discourage us. He is wanting to encourage us. That is what today, and every day, is all about.

Given what we know about the Tao, which admittedly is still very limited – though, I hope not limiting – Lao Tzu has this advice for us, when we choose a new leader. See, Lao Tzu hasn’t stopped talked about governing a country, after all. He says, don’t offer to help your new leader with your wealth or expertise. Oh, they both have their value, but they aren’t beyond all value, like the Tao. That is why Lao Tzu tells us that we would do our best service to our new leaders by teaching them about the Tao.

And then he gives us the historical context for what he has been saying all along. Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao so? And this goes back to those two points I touched on earlier, but then left for now. It is the good man’s treasure and the bad man’s refuge. Lao Tzu explains what he means by that. He says that the ancient masters believed that when you are one with the Tao – and, guess what, that isn’t so hard to be, once you realize you are in the center of the Universe with the Tao – it doesn’t matter if you are a good person or a bad person. The Tao is exactly what you need it to be for you. Are you good? Then it is a treasure. A treasure is something we seek, and being one with the Tao, when you seek, you find. Oh, but what if you are bad? Then the Tao is your refuge. When you make a mistake, you are forgiven.

That is what makes the Tao beyond all value. That is why everybody loves it.

It’s Not Great Power, But Great Humility, That Sets You Apart From All The Rest

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)

I think after having a few chapters in a row where Lao Tzu has been talking about governing a country, that it is good to remember that Lao Tzu is not writing to countries, or governments, really. He is writing this to individuals; who he believes can put into practice the words he is sharing.

Notice in today’s chapter how he segues from talking about a great nation to a great man. Lao Tzu isn’t interested in trying to motivate a collective. He is interested in motivating individuals. He does start with discussing a country that obtains great power. But his point is the importance of humility. And that is a very human trait.

By humility, Lao Tzu means trusting the Tao. When you trust the Tao, whether you are a great nation or a great person, it means you never need to be defensive. That really brings out the definition of humility for me. When you are not humble, when you don’t trust the Tao, you necessarily feel the need to be defensive.

When you are on the defensive and you make a mistake, it is very hard to first realize it, and then to admit it. But it is this that sets apart a great nation or a great person, from just the merely mediocre. We all make mistakes, both great and small, alike. Maybe it is easier for those of us that don’t think we really matter in the grand scheme of things, to realize when we have messed up. But whether or not we think we matter, it is always important to both realize and admit when we have made a mistake.

But this is only the beginning of what is required of us, if we have any hope of being really great. We must then go on to correct our mistakes. And that may be the hardest thing of them all. Keep in mind, this is what separates those who are great from those who are merely mediocre. There are plenty of pretenders out there, who have all sorts of people believing the illusion of their greatness. But if you want to see past the illusion, here is the reality. When someone has a hard time realizing they have erred, an even harder time admitting it, and gets all defensive when it is time to make amends, that is your neon sign pointing out the mere mediocrity of that person. Don’t be that guy.

It is the shame of every nation who have so called leaders that are really only mediocre at their very best. I live in the United States, the further along we go the more mediocre our leaders seem to get. And the only thing that is greater than their level of mediocrity is their level of hubris. But Lao Tzu would say that is exactly how it would be. They need to be humble. Instead they are proud. And that is their downfall.

No, what we need are great leaders, willing to serve as an example for all. The truly great ones have no need to be on the defensive. They consider those who point out their faults as their most benevolent teachers. That stands in stark contrast to so many of our so called leaders who surround themselves with sycophants. When you aren’t feeling the need to be on the defensive, you are free to think of your enemies as the shadow that you yourself cast.

Think about that last sentence for just a moment. Now, repeat after me, I am always my own worst enemy. So, how do you overcome the enemy, when he is you? By surrounding yourself, not with yes men, but with people who will be honest with you. Pointing out your faults. Insisting you admit it. Helping you to make amends. These are the kinds of people that surround great leaders.

As I read through the chapter today, I realized that great nations aren’t always the ones we think they are. For a nation to be great, it needs to be centered in the Tao. Being centered in the Tao means nourishing its own people and not meddling in the affairs of others. That right there is the definition of a great nation. If your nation doesn’t fit that description, and I know mine doesn’t, then you know your nation is only one of the merely mediocre ones. Too bad mine has delusions of grandeur, thinking it should serve as the policemen of the world. We can’t even nourish our own people. Yet, we meddle in the affairs of others. Shameful!

I am old enough to remember when Ronald Reagan said of my nation that it was a shining light on a hill for all other nations. It wasn’t really true then. And it is even less true now.

Give Evil Nothing To Oppose And It Won’t Have Anything to Oppose.

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

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

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

My posts the last few days have been rather long. I hope that hasn’t been too discouraging for those of you that want to read them. Today, I am hoping to keep it shorter. Yes, as you could already tell by reading the quote today, Lao Tzu is still talking about the art of governing. Today, his focus is on the maddening desire to interfere. For Lao Tzu, the art of governing, is really the art of living. Instead of having rulers who are driven by the will to power, he is looking for those who want to be great leaders, those who will be content to serve as an example.

Governing really is an art. If you are talking about governing a large country, the temptation is to think that bigger means a greater need to interfere. But Lao Tzu uses the illustration of cooking a small fish to illustrate the art required in governing. Yes, I have fried fish before. I know how strong is the temptation to poke at it. Any of us that have tried our hand at frying fish, know what happens when we succumb to that temptation. I have spoiled quite a few fish I was frying.

The lesson that Lao Tzu is wanting us to understand is that the art of governing is just like that. The greater the temptation to interfere, to poke, the more we need to resist that temptation.

But… There is always a but. What about the problem of evil? People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. We can’t leave the people to their own devices. And that would seem to be more and more true the larger the country.

And Lao Tzu has an interesting solution to the problem of evil. What is his solution? Don’t poke at it. Don’t interfere with it at all. Leave it alone. Center your country in the Tao and evil won’t have any power. Won’t have any power? But evil is all around us. Of course, we have to acknowledge it. Of course, we need to try and do something about it.

Lao Tzu doesn’t deny the presence of evil. But when he says it will have no power, what he is really saying, is we are the ones that give it the power. If we are not interacting with it, it won’t have any power. Center your country in the Tao. Evil will still be there. No, he isn’t promising that it is going to go away. It will still be there. But, we will be able to step out of its way.

Maybe that sounds too simple to you. The will to power is strong, indeed. And plenty of would be conquerors of evil will rise up to make grandiose promises of deliverance from the evil. But I think Lao Tzu has a point here. What is it that gives evil its power? When we are in its way. And why are we in its way? Because we are wanting to confront it. To deal with it.

I am rather sure that if Lao Tzu believed for even a moment that we could successfully confront it, and deal with it, once and for all, that he would encourage us to do just that. But Lao Tzu understands what we all need to understand. The problem of evil isn’t something that can be successfully confronted and dealt with. What we want to do is create for ourselves a situation where we can successfully step out of its way. That is the only thing to do with evil. Avoid it.

Now this is not going to go over too well with those with the will to power. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the U.S. government creates evil wherever it can; so that we can then have to confront it and deal with it. U.S. foreign policy has been a prime example of this for decades now. The situation in Iraq with ISIS or ISIL or IS, or whatever they are calling themselves now, is only one of the more recent examples of this.

Now, I have no problem acknowledging that the people that are a part of this Islamic State business are the very definition of evil. But, I also know that if we would only center ourselves in the Tao, we could very easily step out of their way. They are egging us on right now. That is good news for the powers that be. They have been looking for an excuse to get us back in Iraq since we got out of Iraq. But it isn’t good news for the rest of us.

Some are going to tell me that, sure we created this mess, but now we have an obligation to clean up the mess. And I am going to counter that, we never do actually clean up the messes. All we ever do is make more messes which we will then need to go clean up.

Tl;dr? Give evil nothing to oppose and it won’t have anything to oppose.

It Starts With Freedom

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky.
All pervading like sunlight.
Firm like a mountain.
Supple like a tree in the wind.
He has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

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

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

Today is Day 3 of me trying to apply what we have learned about philosophical Taoism to the art of governing. I am still out on this limb I call anarchism. Lao Tzu hasn’t come along and lopped off the branch, just yet. But, in spite of the fact that I am still maintaining the eternal reality, the way things are, is best referred to as anarchism, Lao Tzu does still continue to talk about how best to govern. And I know that a lot of you are still having trouble meshing together the idea of government with anarchism. Perhaps, if I had a better understanding of it myself, I would do a much better job of conveying what it is I believe.

The problem, I think, comes from trying to make anarchism out to be some set, static way of accomplishing things. But the Tao isn’t some set, static thing. And neither is anarchism. What we are trying to understand isn’t static at all. It is dynamic. It grows with our own understanding. We understand more and more as we go along in our journey. All I can ask of you is that you will indulge me while I continue to understand more and more.

Today, Lao Tzu says that there is nothing better than moderation. He specifically applies that to governing a country. Yesterday, he warned us that the higher our ideals, the lower our results were going to be. This is especially true when the will to power is in charge. But today, he has left that will to power behind. Oh, I know, we still have that to deal with. But Lao Tzu is beyond that, for today.

Now that he has dispensed with the problem of the will to power, he is telling those of us who want to be great leaders how best to govern. And he tells us that moderation is the way to go about it.

When he gives us the marks of a moderate person, he is merely talking about someone who is in perfect harmony with the way things are, the eternal reality. This is just another way of saying, this is how the Master looks when they are governing. And if we are able to see the marks, we will better understand what Lao Tzu means by moderation.

The first mark is freedom from your own ideas. It isn’t that you don’t have any ideas. It is that you aren’t a slave to them. What Lao Tzu is saying is that the difference between a moderate and an immoderate person is that freedom. An immoderate person is so certain that they are right. Their ideas, Their way of doing things. That they are completely incapable of seeing any other way of looking at things. They are enslaved to their own ideas. I know some anarchists that are just as enslaved to their own ideas, their own way of thinking and doing things. But anarchism doesn’t work that way. Freedom isn’t static. It is dynamic.

The second mark of a moderate person is how tolerant they are. I know that the word “tolerance” has been taking a beating the last few years. Tolerance had been a politically correct buzzword for awhile. After years of this, it seems to me that the growing trend is intolerance toward tolerance. This first showed up as intolerance of the intolerant. Then I started to hear that tolerance was simply not enough. I call that intolerance toward tolerance. Look, I get it. Acceptance sounds more accepting. The intolerant want acceptance to be the new politically acceptable buzzword. But I am not willing to play that game right now. Like it or not, I want to use the word tolerance. If for no other reason than that is the word that we have before us. Lao Tzu doesn’t say “accepting as the sky,” he says, “tolerant as the sky.” So, please, try to be moderate with me and “accept” that tolerance will just have to do.

Let’s keep this all in perspective. We are, after all talking about the marks of the moderate. Not the marks of the liberal, or the marks of the conservative. The moderate are not enslaved to their own ideas. And that makes them tolerant of every other idea.

I hope you are seeing the pattern that is beginning to develop as we explore what it is that moderation means. Each of these marks, these traits build on the last. Because the moderate person is free, they are tolerant. And because they are tolerant they are… All-pervading. That is the third mark. Sunshine spreads over the whole country. And moderation, too, spreads through all parts of the country.

It might come as a shock to some of my readers, but I will here equate anarchism with moderation. Moderation, or anarchism, does in fact pervade every thing in the world, the whole Universe really. If you are having trouble understanding that right now, give it time. I have said before that we have a whole lot of unlearning to do. And when it comes to that word, anarchism, we really have a whole lot of unlearning to do.

But I don’t really mean to distract you from our discussion about moderation. It just gets lonely out here on this limb sometimes, so I have to wave at you as you walk by.

The fourth and fifth marks of the moderate person I want to mention together; because they really serve to dispel a myth that I long believed about the moderate person. How can the moderate person be both firm like a mountain and supple like a tree in the wind? For a very long time I have not understand what being moderate really meant. And I still think a lot of people that label themselves moderate, don’t really know. But, contrary to my lack of understanding, the mark of a moderate person is not one who is holding up a wet finger to see which way the political winds are blowing and proceeding in that direction.

No, the moderate person is firm and supple. Not wishy-washy. The firmness relates to the fact that they still have very firm ideas. They are resolute in their purpose. Just like a mountain. And mountains are firm. Still, notice the subtle shift that Lao Tzu makes in going from describing the moderate person. Firm like a mountain, supple like a tree. Not supple like the wind. Not blowing every which way. Not going in whatever politically expedient way happens to be in vogue at the moment. They are like a tree, planted. And when the wind blows, because winds do blow, generally they come in from a variety of directions, that tree can withstand the winds. It doesn’t break, it bends. It is flexible. If the moderate person, so firm in their ideas, were likewise a slave to their own ideas, then they would break. But they are free. So, firm, yet supple.

The final mark of the moderate person is just downright crazy. Or at least it would sound downright crazy if we weren’t beginning to understand how this being in harmony with the way things are works. If I don’t have any destination in view, how am I ever supposed to get where I am going? But when I talk that way I am betraying my own enslavement to my own ideas. Once we understand what freedom really means, we see that this is the only end that we could ever have.

When I don’t have any destination in view, I can make use of anything life happens to bring my way. Life does have a way of bringing anything your way. Are you ready? Or do things have to be just so? If you are free, truly free, nothing will be impossible to you. When you have really let go of all your preconceived ideas of the way things ought to be, then, and only then, can you really deal with the way things really are. And, now you can really care for the people’s welfare. Oh, it isn’t that you didn’t care before. But you thought the solution was using force to achieve your ideals. That isn’t how a mother cares for her child. And that is why, for governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.

But Who Among You Is Content To Serve?

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

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

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

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

I know I really went out on a limb with yesterday’s post tying philosophical Taoism together with anarchism. Some of my friends who are into Taoism may be questioning whether Lao Tzu was really expressing anarchism. And some of my anarchist friends may be not so sure about this whole Tao thing. I am going to content myself with sitting out on this limb until such time as Lao Tzu comes along with a saw and cuts off the branch. I actually think I am sitting on a firm branch. The tree has been growing in my mind for sometime as I have been going through the Tao Te Ching. Today’s chapter is yet another which makes this particular branch sturdy.

I guess the first objection that is going to be raised by those that doubt the validity of the marriage of anarchism with philosophical Taoism is that Lao Tzu keeps talking about governing. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments?

Of course, today’s chapter is just a continuation of the previous one. Haven’t they all been? I mention that, not just because I am stalling on answering the previous paragraph’s question. I talked to some new people today, who may or may not be looking at my blog for the first time. Chapter 57 wouldn’t be the ideal place to start this journey with me. And chapter 58 isn’t any better. You’d really have to go back to the beginning. To chapter one. But even then, that wouldn’t be enough. I have been traveling through the Tao Te Ching now for so long. When I get to chapter 81, I am not really at the end. And chapter one really wasn’t the beginning for me. I just know that I have really felt like I have been making real progress as I have been going along through this particular cycle of the Tao Te Ching. I hope my regular readers – you guys are out there, aren’t you? – have been picking up on that.

But now back to the present question. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments? Well, that is easy enough to answer. No. Anarchists come in all shapes and sizes – and ideological persuasions. But I have yet to meet one that is opposed to all governments. What we are opposed to is the State. The State is a particular form of government that all anarchists oppose. And sadly, most governments end up being the State. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today’s chapter affords me the opportunity to explain better this marriage of philosophical Taoism with anarchism and address the problem of governing from that perspective. Yesterday, I entitled my blog post: “Anarchism! Because I believe the world can govern itself.” Except for that controversial word, anarchism, I took that line straight from Lao Tzu. He said in yesterday’s chapter, that the first lesson to be learned by someone who wants to be a great leader, is to stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.

The only question that is really up for discussion is whether we believe that or not. I do. I believe the world can and will govern itself, if we will just let go of the will to power. The need to interfere. That ties in very nicely with today’s chapter. In which Lao Tzu specifically refers to the will to power. He very neatly lays out the difference between a country that is governed with tolerance and a country that is governed with repression. It makes all the difference between whether the people are comfortable and honest, or the people are depressed and crafty.

And this difference relates to when the will to power is in charge. It is the difference between a government that anarchists would not oppose, and the State, which anarchists will always oppose. The will to power is the defining mark of the State.

When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. The State may say its goal is to make people happy or to make people moral. Those are certainly high ideals. But the results, to put it as bluntly as possible, suck. Does the State make people happy? No, it makes people miserable. Does it make people moral? No, and Lao Tzu covered this quite well in yesterday’s chapter. No matter how high your ideals, people can’t be made to be what you want them to be.

Which is why the Master is content to serve as an example. This is the very opposite of making anyone be anything at all. She isn’t interested in imposing her will. Lao Tzu, in previous chapters has intimated that she actually has no will of her own. Instead, she has mastered the art of being content. The will to power is never content. And it isn‘t just because they don‘t want to be. It is, by definition, impossible. This is important to understand because many people mistakenly think that the problem isn’t the will to power, it is that we just don’t have the right people wielding that will to power. If the right people were in charge everything would be different. But that is folly. The problem isn’t the people. People are all the same. The problem is the will to power. That is the problem. It has always been the problem. And, it will always be the problem.

The Master understands this. She sees the eternal reality. She is in harmony with it. It is that harmony with the eternal reality that enables her to see the illusion for what it is. And, she is content with the way things really are. This is the mark of a truly great leader. This contentment. When you are content, the people who follow you will be content. Leaders, at least the great ones, serve as examples of how to live. They are pointed, but they don’t pierce. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes. Great leaders don’t make us anything at all. Great leaders work with the mind of the people. They understand human nature for what it is, instead of wishing it was something entirely different from what it is. And the people? We just are. And the world governs itself.

Anarchism! Because I Believe The World Can Govern Itself

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says
‘I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes as common as grass.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been wading through some of the more mystical elements of philosophical Taoism. Every time I cycle through the chapters I feel like I venture deeper and deeper into these mysterious waters. Hopefully, I am not just understanding them better; hopefully, I am doing a better job of conveying the mind of Lao Tzu. But I will admit, it is when we get to chapters like today’s that I feel like I am once again standing on firm and solid ground; where I can say, this isn’t just what Lao Tzu is saying, this is what I am saying. This is why I am libertariantaoist. This is what I believe.

In fact, if I was going to describe this chapter in three words, it would be “This Is Anarchism.” Anarchism is not a word with which a lot of my potential readers are even familiar. Most people have heard of the word anarchy before. And that word and those who practice it, anarchists, have all sorts of negative connotations. Anarchy = chaos. That is the stereotypical definition provided to us by the powers that be in our world of illusion. My family and friends find me a bit strange because I am a self-described anarchist. Their understanding of anarchy was provided to them through the indoctrination of the State. And based on that indoctrination, I should be throwing Molotov cocktails on my weekends.

But anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t fit that stereotype. So what gives? Someone is obviously confused. Am I confused? I can’t really be an anarchist. I don’t fit the stereotype. I would like to suggest that it is in your indoctrination that the error is to be found. Let’s take a look at today’s chapter for a better understanding of what Lao Tzu is trying to teach those who want to be great leaders.

First off, I really want to dispense with the word anarchy. This is not going to be a defense of anarchy. Anarchy equals chaos in too many minds. That notion is so entrenched, I don’t hope to change any minds. No, I want to talk about a completely different word, anarchism. Because that word, I hope, is one that can be used as a counterpoint to anarchy. This is how it is done. I am not talking about anarchy. Gosh, I am just as scared of anarchy as you are. What I am talking about is anarchism. Your concept of anarchy and the reality of anarchism are two very different things. See, that wasn’t hard at all.

And now to the chapter. Lao Tzu presents the world of illusion, in today’s chapter, for all to see. In the world of illusion we have rulers who must be in control. They have fixed plans and concepts which they use to try to manipulate and control. Let’s take a look at the results.

Because of the increasing number of prohibitions, the people are become less virtuous. Because of the increasing number of weapons, the people are become less secure. Because of the increasing number of subsidies, the people are become less self-reliant.

This is the world of illusion in which we find ourselves. I call it the world of illusion because it only masquerades as reality. Oh, it seems very real. It is the world that we find as we explore with our senses. But, there is also an eternal reality, the way things really are, that is hidden to our senses. But can be revealed to us, if we will only look inside ourselves, to find it. This is the real world in the real Universe. In this world, we don’t have rulers trying to control us with their fixed plans and concepts.

In the real world, you learn to follow the Tao. And, Lao Tzu says, if you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. This isn’t a place for rulers. What, no rulers? Yes, this is anarchism. Once again, not to be confused with anarchy. This isn’t a world of chaos. This is a world of order. Spontaneous order. Anarchism = order.

One of the things that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. To people that have been indoctrinated by the State,, in our world of illusion, this sounds very strange indeed. In the world of illusion, people are led by the State to believe that people are made virtuous by their rulers imposing virtue on them. That is the stated goal of the increasing prohibitions. People are not virtuous enough? We’ll just increase the prohibitions. Of course, this is all an illusion. The real reason for the increased prohibitions is control. The rulers don’t care about virtue. They care about control.

But back in the real world, where people are following the Tao, and great leaders are born and bred, there is only one rule. What? Only one rule? Yes, this is anarchism. There is only one rule. The Golden Rule. Treat people like you want to be treated. As long as you aren’t aggressing against anyone else’s rights, you can do whatever you want. People can do whatever they want? Yes, as long as they aren’t aggressing against anyone else’s rights to do the same. It is anarchism. And the people become more and more virtuous, the more they learn to follow the Tao.

Another thing that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. Once again, to people that have been indoctrinated by the State, in our world of illusion, this seems like crazy talk. In the world of illusion, people are led by the State to believe that while people that live in other countries, and look and talk differently than us, are definitely our enemies; by enabling the State to amass more and more weapons to “defend” us from these foreign threats to our “sovereignty” we will end up, some day, feeling secure. And, as if these foreign threats are not enough, they are now scaring us with the specter of domestic threats.

Back in the real world, we recognize the illusion for the lie it is. People are people wherever they live. Those people in foreign countries are not enemies, but fellow humans. And those weapons are not to protect us, they are to protect the ruling caste. By fomenting war we are not more, only less secure.

Another thing that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be. When you have been following the Tao for awhile, it becomes self-evident that this is the case. Subsidies breed dependence. And regardless of the political rhetoric that would have us believe that it is because our benevolent rulers care that they offer these crumbs, the reality is that our rulers are not benevolent at all. They know exactly what they are dong. They don’t want us self-reliant. Self-reliant people are not easily manipulated. We can’t be controlled. And this is true, whether you are talking about welfare to individuals or corporations. Whole industries have become dependent on the public dole for their economic survival. Which means they are well under control by the ruling caste.

The world of illusion is the truly scary place. This is where chaos truly reigns. If you want order, you will need to look for it deep inside yourself. You won’t find it in the world of illusion. Rulers in the world of illusion won’t stop trying to control. It is the only way they have of maintaining their power. Their fixed plans and concepts are all they have to work with. They could never let go of them.

But, in the world of illusion, those who have been indoctrinated by the State believe what the Rulers want them to believe. We can’t let go of the law. We can’t let go of economics. We can’t let go of religion. We must increase our desire for the common good. Anything less than this would be chaos.

Back in the real world, it is just these fixed plans and concepts, the Master has let go of, along with the need to control. The Master has let go of the law, and people become honest. The Master has let go of economics, and people become prosperous. The Master has let go of religion, and people become serene. Finally, the Master has let go of all desire for the common good. And the good becomes as common as grass. This isn’t chaos. This is spontaneous order. This is anarchism.

It Is Ever So Subtle

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)

I have been so cut off from the outside world, the last few days. Not having internet, my only means for knowledge of what is going on out there, has provided me with quite the vacation from the world of illusion. At first, I was angry and out of sorts. My routine was entirely thrown off. Now, I am beginning to actually like my vacation, just a little. As much as I can’t wait to have the internet up and working again, I can’t help but feel a certain dread that I will sink back into that routine, my comfort zone. Thankfully, just a day before the internet decided to inexplicably quit on me, I had downloaded a book that I have been meaning to read since I was a Freshman in college. That would be back in the early 80’s, long before a lot of you were even a part of this world. Someone, sorry, I don’t remember which one of you on tumblr it was, had posted some quotes from it that I found very enticing. They made me quickly log into the iBooks store and search for and download the book on my iPad. The book is “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and it has been occupying much of my time for the last few days.

We don’t realize just how entrenched in routine and comfort zones we are, until we are forced out of them. I have been able to keep up with my daily Tao quote. Largely because I can type at my computer without needing an internet connection, and I can always run with my laptop to Hardees, the closest wifi spot available to me, a mile or so away. I can then log on, and post my blog post, respond to any messages and then leave again. Twenty minutes every day. That is it. I want more. I used to think I need more. I still think I do.

The last two paragraphs should suffice to explain my absence from liking and reblogging your own posts from my dashboard the last few days. I know I have been missing out on a lot of great content; just because the blogs I follow are all quality. I miss you guys. And hope to be able to reconnect with you soon.

But none of that has anything to do with today’s chapter. Which I will presume to begin discussing now. Yesterday, Lao Tzu presented us with the tale of the newborn’s erect penis. In the past, I have simply ignored that part of the chapter, kind of wishing it to go away. But see what happens when my comfort zone and routine have been made topsy-turvy? I begin to go places I never dared to go before.

And, as we continue with today’s chapter, I realize that I am understanding better, why it is that Lao Tzu chose to go there in the first place. Oh, I understood why he was enamored with the newborn. He was wanting us to want to return to our own primal identity. But I didn’t understand that making me want to go there, would mean confronting what had always proved to be an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge. Newborns do that to you. They force you to think about things you never wanted to think about before. Like why is his penis erect? And what does Lao Tzu mean by vital power?

See, I have already said so much; and yet, I think I have really said so little. Lao Tzu begins this chapter by saying those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know. Have I learned nothing?

But there really is a point to all of this. And the point is our need to be like the Tao. To return to our primal identity. If we are going to do that we are simply going to have to shut our mouths. We really talk too much. I know I do. But you don’t learn by talking. You learn by listening. By observing.

But then, what is this, block off your senses? But if my senses are blocked off, how am I supposed to observe? To learn?

But then I get it. The point of shutting my mouth isn’t to acquire more knowledge. If I talk because I don’t know, the reason to shut my mouth is because I do know. We don’t need to acquire more knowledge. That isn’t the point. We have a lot to unlearn. The newborn isn’t observing. Learning. No, not really. The newborn just is.

I am convinced of this now. I have been too sharp, too keen. If I am going to get back to my primal identity, I need to blunt my sharpness. I need to untie my knots. What are knots? Knots are those places along the way where he have made marks. Placeholders. We have all heard the joke about what you do when you are at the end of your rope. You tie a knot and hold on. But Lao Tzu has the opposite advice for us. We have lots of knots that we have tied along the way; and each and everyone of them need to be untied.
We need to soften our glare and allow our dust to settle. That glare is due to our determination to forge ahead. We see the prize just ahead, and we dig in, intent on reaching the goal. But Lao Tzu is wanting us to stop with this going forward. He is wanting us to return to the beginning, again. And wait for the dust to settle. Now, you are there. Now you are back at the beginning, the primal identity.

That is where the newborn is. They know nothing, and everything. Just like the Tao. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It just is. That is where Lao Tzu wants us. We just are. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can’t be benefited, or harmed. You just are. You can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. You just are.

And this is important. This last line about the Tao giving itself up continually. Lao Tzu says that is why it endures. And a part of me says that I want to endure too. If I want to endure, this is the path I must take. But I am putting the cart before the horse. The goal isn’t to endure. That isn’t why the Tao does what it does. It doesn’t give itself up continually so that it will endure. It endures because it gives itself up continually.

It is ever so subtle. But that is what Lao Tzu means by vital power. As long as I am still thinking about what is in it for me, I am not there yet.