Don’t Try To Be Powerful

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how our desires are a problem for us. I recently watched the movie “The Giver” based on the book of the same name, by Lois Lowry. I had read the book some years ago when my own children were in middle school, and loved it. And I enjoyed the movie, too. And it got me thinking about how the community of sameness dealt with the problem of our desires. I am assuming that a lot of you read the book back when you were in middle school. But I apologize if I am spoiling it for those who somehow never read the book, and haven’t seen the movie, either. I do encourage you to do both of those things. If you haven’t yet, and spoilers are something that bother you, I apologize, because today’s chapter is full of spoilers.

In the community of sameness, set in some distant future, the elders have designed a community where there are no desires. It ends up being a bland, black and white world. There is no color. No variation in the climate or the terrain. There are no differences, only sameness. Everybody basically looks the same. Everybody basically acts the same. Sameness is celebrated, and anything that sets any one individual apart from the rest of the community, is not allowed. The elders in the community, understand that the only way to eliminate any possibility of all the negative desires is to eliminate any possibility that there be positive desires. There is no suffering, but there is also no joy. There is no hatred. But there is also no love. Freedom, choice, are no more. Because people free to make their own choices, often choose badly.

This community intrigues me because this is what powerful men and women might like to do in order to rid the world of pain and suffering. It is enticing. A community set up on the best of intentions. It is a utopia. At least to those who don’t know any better. If you have never experienced anything else, what’s not to like? There is no war. There is no poverty. There is no hunger. And, what’s more, all memories of what life used to be like, with its wars and poverty and hunger have been erased. That, along with any memories of what it is to experience joy, and love. So, no one, in fact knows what they are missing out on. Is this what Lao Tzu has been getting at, with all his talk about powerful men and women being centered in the Tao, and the world becoming a paradise?

The story would be pretty boring, if not for one very important addition to the community. There is one individual in the community that is burdened with all the memories. That individual is the receiver of memories. This person, alone, bears the burden of all the horrors of their previous experiences; but also, all the joy and the love. The question is, why should this burden be only on one? Besides the obvious sparing of everyone else, this person counsels the elders, so they will never repeat the mistakes of their predecessors.

The problem arises when the current receiver of memories, having advanced to a ripe, old age must now transfer those collective memories to a new, younger receiver of memories. The old receiver now becomes the giver. What happens when the new, younger receiver gets a taste of not only all the bad, but all the good? Suddenly, becoming aware for the first time, that there is something before and beyond the illusion that has been put in place of reality, how will he or she respond? I have spoiled the book and the movie enough. So, I won’t answer that question and spoil it further, for those that ignored my spoiler alert.

The answer to the question on whether this is what Lao Tzu was getting at when he talked about powerful men and women being centered in the Tao, and the world being transformed into a paradise, is no, absolutely not. He isn’t envisioning a utopia where there are no desires. It isn’t all desires that must be eliminated, it is the desire to interfere with the Tao, that we have to be on guard against.

That is the desire that we want none of, in order to know peace. If powerful men and women didn’t have that desire, then the world would be transformed. But, alas, just like the rest of us, they do have that desire. The community of sameness isn’t a utopia because it is centered in the Tao. The Tao embraces our differences; good and bad arise from the same source. And that source is neither good, nor bad.

I said all that, to say this. If we want to be truly powerful, we won’t try to be powerful. Trying to be powerful, the will to power, is the desire to interfere with the Tao. The Master, one who is centered in the Tao, doesn’t try to be powerful because he doesn’t desire to interfere with the Tao. Unfortunately, all our powerful men and women are nothing but ordinary men and women, those who keep reaching for power and never have enough. Their desire to interfere is unquenchable. Oh, they have good intentions, just like the elders in the community of sameness had good intentions. But the will to power will always be their undoing.

The will to power will always drive ordinary men and women to do something. Something must be done. And they, because they aspire to be more and more powerful, are just the ones to be doing it. They are always doing things. See just how committed to it they are? Yet, many more things are left to be done. That is okay, they will say, just give us more time, and more power.

Meanwhile, the Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. How very different! That is the example we should be following. But ordinary men and women, always desiring more and more power, will never stoop to the Master’s level.

There are many more ordinary men and women, than there are masters. Many of them are kind and just and moral. These aren’t necessarily bad people. Remember, they may have the best of intentions. But the results are always the same. It doesn’t matter how kind or just or moral you are. If the will to power is what drives you, you will never be satisfied.

No matter how much they do, something will always remain undone. Sometimes many things. The will to power is insidious. When people don’t respond, like the people in power want them to, they will roll up their sleeves and begin to use force.

People sometimes make bad choices. Well, something must be done about that. We need to force people to do the right things.

There is a downward spiral that takes place in our world when the Tao is lost, when people aren’t centered in the Tao. At first, we try to substitute goodness, in place of the lost Tao. Do good, because it is the kind thing to do, or it is the just thing to do. But what happens when people, who aren’t centered in the Tao, continue to make bad choices. When goodness is lost, we substitute morality. We will force people to do good, because it is the moral thing, the right thing to do. But what happens when morality is lost? Perhaps you see a world full of immorality, but immorality isn’t the absence of morality. Amoral is probably a better description. That is when the will to power will substitute ritual. Don’t do good because it is good to do good. Don’t do good because it is kind or just to do good. And don’t do good out of some sense of duty. That has all been lost. Now all we have is ritual. Do good, because that is just the way we do things. But that is just the husk of true faith. The Tao has been lost, and all we have left is the husk. People will still sometimes make bad choices. Their connection with the Tao has been lost. Goodness, kindness, justice, morality, none of these motivate them. And ritual is an empty shell. There is nothing there to motivate people to do good. That, Lao Tzu says, is the beginning of chaos.

An empty shell is all that remains. That is what happens when we leave reality behind and dwell in the illusion. The illusion that people can do good out of goodness, or because of kindness, or out of a sense of justice, or because it is the right thing to do. Goodness, kindness, justice, morality – these are all just illusions. Why must it take things devolving until only the empty shell of ritual remains for people to see the illusion for what it is?

Therefore the Master concerns himself with the depths and not the surface, with the fruit and not the flower. And we are going to have to follow his example. Too long have we been concerned with the surface and the flower, while failing to perceive the depths and the fruit. If we are going to dwell in reality, we must let all illusions go. And that means the will to power must be let go, as well. The Master has no will of his own. He knew, all along, what that will would do to him.

When Will We Realize The Mystery

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be transformed
by itself, in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire,
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about perceiving the universal harmony, the way things are. It is the eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be, what is going on in our world around us. Lao Tzu insists that one who is centered in the Tao can perceive it, though it is subtle. How subtle? It is so subtle that though the Tao never does anything, through it all things are done. We have to be able to perceive this, for that is the only way for us not to interfere with the flow of the Tao. When we are not centered in the Tao, when we can’t see that all things are done even when the Tao never does anything, we will inevitably desire to intervene. There are so many things going on all around us, that very much need improvement. How can we be indifferent to the pain and suffering? How can we be disinterested? Something has to be done. Why can’t I be a catalyst for the change I want to see in our world? Yesterday, I called that an innate desire all humans have.

Of course, some of the problems seem way too big for any one person to be able to do anything about. Which is why we also have a compelling desire to get the right people in power, so that they can collectively accomplish what we, as individuals acting alone, could never accomplish. Lao Tzu recognizes those desires, the best of intentions, for what they are. That is why he keeps coming back to talking about powerful men and women, and what they can and cannot do.

The problem with our desires, even those which are based on the best of intentions, is that they run counter to the Tao. They don’t accept the eternal reality before and beyond, the universal harmony, the way things are. They don’t acknowledge there is anything before and beyond what we can see and hear in the world around us. When we fail to perceive the eternal reality, our desires will enslave us.

We could talk about all the reasons that powerful men and women can’t be trusted to shrink or get rid of the pain and suffering in our world. We could talk about why so many of these problems are what empowers them. But I don’t think we need to talk about that, today. Because, I don’t think that is the reason Lao Tzu keeps returning to talking about them.

Imagine, instead, a reality that exists where powerful men and women really did have the best of intentions. In that world, the powerful, more than anyone else, can do the most good, or the most harm. That is why Lao Tzu keeps returning to them.

Perceiving the universal harmony, the way things are, becomes all the more important for powerful men and women. For if they don’t, they can really do great harm. Oh, but if they did, what a difference it would make. Why, if powerful men and women could center themselves in the Tao, the whole world would be transformed… That does sound promising. But notice how this transformation takes place. It isn’t because powerful men and women are doing something. It is because they aren’t doing anything. They are centered in the Tao. That is a state of being, not doing. The whole world is transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms, because it is left alone.

I like this reality. I want this reality. But it isn’t based on reality. That is why Lao Tzu begins this little exercise with that word, if. If powerful men and women could… If we want our whole world transformed, we must leave it alone. Left to itself it will be transformed, in its natural rhythms. People would be content with their simple, everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.

The reason the whole world is not transformed, the reason people are not content, is because we have those pesky desires to interfere. And we act on them. Powerful men and women have the same desires we all have. Not a one of them is exempt. But, because they are powerful, when they act on those desires, the consequences are all the more powerful. Which is why Lao Tzu is always telling leaders and would be leaders, to trust the people and leave them alone. Don’t interfere with the way things are. Let the world sort itself out. Nature always does that, you know.

If we want to experience peace in the world around us, we need to start by finding peace in our own hearts. And that means, we must let go of all desires to interfere with the natural order. Lao Tzu is a whole lot more, do I dare say, “hopeful” here? While he said “if” with regards to the powerful, he says “when” to the rest of us. When there is no desire, all things are at peace. It is like he said, way back in chapter one: “Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations. Free of desire, you realize the mystery.”

Why Your Work Must Remain A Mystery

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.
This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about how to perceive the universal harmony; that is, the eternal reality before and beyond whatever is going on around us in our world. Lao Tzu had already said that the Tao is not something we can perceive with our senses. So, perceiving the universal harmony, words that point to the Tao, is going to seem monotonous and without flavor to us. It can’t be perceived by looking or listening outside of ourselves. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. However, one who is centered in the Tao can perceive the universal harmony, by looking inside their own heart. There, they can find peace. A peace that is there, regardless of the pain and suffering that is going on around them. That peace is inexhaustible.

Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about this; but he renames it. Now, he calls it the subtle perception of the way things are. Because I am always getting new followers, this gives me an opportunity to explain what Lao Tzu means by “the way things are”. Often, we mistakenly think the way things are is what is going on in the world around us. What do we see all around us? There is joy. I wanted to start off with something positive, because there is a whole lot of positive things going on in our world. Lots of joy. But, there is also pain and suffering. To some extent, all the negative things help us to appreciate all the blessings we experience. But for some, it seems like all there is, is pain and suffering. I am thinking of the countless wars, the refugees, the poverty, the hunger. I am so blessed, I don’t experience all those horrible things, first hand.

Perhaps, because I don’t experience all those negative things, I have no business talking of them. And, I probably wouldn’t, if I wasn’t residing in a country whose government is so directly and indirectly responsible for a lot of the negative things going on in the world. I am not suggesting the U.S. government is solely responsible for all the pain and suffering in the world. So, please don’t misunderstand. But, I do think that taking advantage of my right to free speech, is a good way to point out the misdeeds of this government.

But all of that is talking about things that are external to myself. And all of that, both the joy, and the suffering, are not the way things are. At least, not “the way things are” that Lao Tzu is talking about. When Lao Tzu talks about the way things are, he is referring to the eternal reality before and beyond all of the joy and sorrow we experience in our world.

So, what is the relationship of the way things are with the way things seem to be? They are coexisting simultaneously. But how do they relate to each other? That is an interesting question. Because it relates to how we can experience peace in our own hearts, even in the midst of great pain.

The way things are is before and beyond the way things seem to be. The one is eternal, while the other is temporal. The one is infinite, while the other is finite. The way things seem to be is a direct consequence of how we accept the way things are. If we were centered in the Tao, the world would be a paradise.

If you don’t like what you see in the world around you, be assured, the problem isn’t out there, it is inside of your self, and countless other selves. The world is your self. That is how Lao Tzu is wanting us to see things. All other beings are an extension of our selves. Take care of your self, and the world will take care of itself.

That is important for us to understand; because as we look around at our world, and we perceive pain, suffering, and misery, we naturally want to do some shrinking of that. Or better yet, let’s just get rid of it, entirely. I say “naturally” because I do believe we, humans, have an innate desire to improve on the way things seem to be. Many are convinced that if we just were to get the right people in power, then we could start to shrink, or get rid of all the awful things that are occurring. That is a compelling desire. I get it. But, sadly, it isn’t based in reality. That just isn’t the way things are.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us the way things are. And the sooner we accept this, the better it will be. If you want to shrink something, you simply can’t set about to try and shrink it. If you want to get rid of something, you can’t simply set about to try and get rid of it. There are laws at work here. Universal laws. It is the law of yin and yang, which governs our Universe. If you want to shrink something, you must first allow it to expand. Expansion always precedes contraction. If you want to get rid of something, you must first allow it to flourish.

Well, I don’t like that, not one little bit. But, I don’t have to like it. It is the way things are. When I try to interfere with that, I only make things that much worse. I can’t just take something, without first allowing it to be given. This is the way things are, the eternal reality before and beyond the way things seem to be. Stay in the center of the circle. Don’t interfere. Let things come and go. Only shape events as they come. Not before. And not after.

Putting this into practice, when all around you people are clamoring that something must be done, isn’t exactly easy. Because you have to adopt a certain disinterest in what is going on around you. I don’t know any other way not to go mad. That disinterest is your path to find that peace in your heart we were talking about yesterday. You can’t let what is going on around you, move you.

No, you need to wait for your mud to settle. Wait for the right action to arise all by itself. You know what overcomes the hard. And it isn’t more hard. You know what overcome the fast. And it isn’t more fast. You are going to have to be soft and slow, to overcome the hard and fast. And when people around you, especially your friends and family, are complaining about your disinterest, your indifference to their pain and suffering, you are going to have to be content to let your workings remain a mystery. They won’t be, but you have to be. Just show people the results.

How To Perceive The Universal Harmony

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it, there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.
When you use it, it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

That is a pretty grand promise, right there, at the beginning of today’s chapter. If you are centered in the Tao you can go wherever you wish, without danger. That word, danger, keeps popping up. It is probably a good idea to understand what Lao Tzu is meaning here. Back in chapter 29, Lao Tzu said there is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger. He said, then, we need to see things as they are, without trying to control them. We need to let them go their own way, and reside at the center of the circle. That is being centered in the Tao. Then, in chapter 32, Lao Tzu said, if we know when to stop, we can avoid danger. It was in that chapter, Lao Tzu reiterated that the Tao is not something which can be perceived. Now, here, in chapter 35, Lao Tzu, once again, enjoins us to be centered in the Tao. Then, we can go wherever we wish, without danger.

Clearly, danger is something that can be avoided. And, the times we find ourselves in danger, rather than being safe, have little to do with where we may go. Avoiding danger isn’t a matter of avoiding the places where there is danger. For, if we are centered in the Tao, we can go wherever we wish, without danger. So, if our surroundings are not what determines whether or not we are in danger, what does? This is important for us to understand; because sometimes, when we are centered in the Tao, we will find ourselves in pretty dangerous situations. You can even be experiencing great pain and suffering. Lao Tzu isn’t making any grand promises about freedom from pain and suffering. He is promising that even when you are in the midst of pain and suffering, you can be free of danger.

It is a matter of perceiving the universal harmony; that is, the reality, before and beyond, our present circumstances.

Perceiving the universal harmony, these are words that point to the Tao. But we have already said that the Tao is not something that can be perceived. In other words, our senses are of no use to us in perceiving the Tao. And, words that point to the Tao, like “perceiving the universal harmony”, because they point to something that is imperceptible to our senses, will seem monotonous and without flavor to us.

How delightful it would be if it could be like music or the smell of good cooking. That would make people stop and enjoy. But, of course, it isn’t like that, at all. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

How, then, can we perceive the universal harmony, and be free of danger? Our senses tell us what is happening on the outside of us, and all around us. But, as we said yesterday, this is a matter of the heart. You have to look within your own heart to find the universal harmony. And, of course, we are not talking about your physical heart. Your heart, in this context, is the core of your being. That is where the Tao is. And, that is where the universal harmony may be perceived. The one who is centered in the Tao perceives the universal harmony by finding peace in her heart. This isn’t a peace based on outward circumstances. This is a peace that you have in your heart, in spite of any pain and suffering you may be experiencing. That requires focusing within, instead of without. As long as we are focusing on our suffering, our pain, we will never find peace. But, when we turn our focus away from what is going on around us, and to what is going on inside of us; when we use the Tao centered in the core of our being, we will find it is inexhaustible.

That is what Lao Tzu meant by knowing when to stop, to avoid danger. Stop focusing on your outward circumstances; there, there is danger. Focus, instead, on what is happening in the core of your being. There, there is safety.

Why Resistance Isn’t Futile

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about how to know and master ourselves. It means we have to stop lying to ourselves, that we don’t have enough and that we can, somehow, avoid death. Knowing and mastering ourselves means we realize we have enough, which makes us truly rich; and, we stay in the center of the circle, embracing the death of our selves as self, with our whole heart. To do this is to endure forever.

Today’s chapter, an ode to the great and humble Tao, shows us how this “death” is accomplished. It shouldn’t be any surprise that it requires no effort on our part. Stay in the center of the circle. Don’t resist the Tao, as it accomplishes everything in us. That is it, in a nutshell. But, perhaps, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at what Lao Tzu actually says in today’s chapter.

“The great Tao flows everywhere.” This has been a constant theme for Lao Tzu. Like water, the Tao flows. “It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the Source.” What do you have to do for the Tao to flow through you? Just like with every other being, nothing is required of you. The Tao flows through you, whether or not you are aware of it. That we pretty much go about our lives, unaware of the flow of the Tao doesn’t change the reality that the Tao is flowing through you.

The Tao is called the great Mother. Why? Because all things are born from it. It is the Source. Because the Tao flows, it pours itself into its work (us). It nourishes infinite worlds (including us).

But here is where it gets interesting. The Tao gives birth to all things; yet, it doesn’t create them. It makes no claim to having created us. A Creator would. But the Tao does not. It makes no claim on the work it accomplishes. Though it is solely responsible for giving birth to us and nourishing us, it doesn’t hold on to any of us. We are free! This is important for us to understand. You can’t know your self, unless you know you are free. And you can’t master your self, unless you are free to be your own master.

I want to pause here, before I go on with the rest of the chapter, just because it is so very important that we understand this. We can resist the Tao. In fact, we often do. If we weren’t free, we couldn’t resist it. Much of what we have been talking about, as we have been journeying through the Tao Te Ching, is Lao Tzu saying, “Don’t resist it.” Those would be just idle words, if we weren’t free to resist.

Okay, all of you free beings, yes, you can resist it. But your life will be so much better, if you don’t. Why do we resist, then? We resist, because of what we were talking about, yesterday. We resist, because we see the self as self; and, seeing the world as self, involves dying to the self as self. And death to us, seems like annihilation. “I” will be no more. But, is what it seems to be what it really is? The answer to this question is found in the rest of the chapter. Let’s read it carefully.

The Tao is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. Lao Tzu says, because of this it can be called humble. But don’t pass over the significance of this too quickly. The fact that the Tao is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts, points to exactly how the very next thing that he says does not end up being nihilistic.

All things vanish into it and it alone endures. There is that death that we were afraid of. I am going to vanish. There isn’t going to be anything left but the Tao. And yet, what has Lao Tzu been saying, all along. Being centered in the Tao is the only way to be truly your self. If you embrace death with your whole heart, YOU will endure forever. But wait, if I vanish into it and it alone endures, how do I endure?

It is the great philosophical question. And, it is what makes the Tao great. I think it is a matter of understanding what is meant by the death of self as self. We see examples of this all around us, but though we have eyes to see, we somehow miss this. Death isn’t the final chapter. The life cycle, which nature exhibits for us, demonstrates that death is only part of the cycle. The cycle endlessly repeats itself. The Tao is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. The Tao has vanished, too. Yet, it endures. We merge with the Tao and are hidden inside of it. Yet, we endure, too. It isn’t the self that dies. It is the self as self that dies. What emerges from death is your true self. The self that endures forever.

We don’t have to be aware of this. The Tao isn’t even aware of its greatness. Which makes Lao Tzu wax eloquent in his praise of it, “Thus, it is truly great.” But, if you are like me, you are probably wondering about our freedom to resist any of this. I know I said we are free to resist. But, this all seems to suggest that resistance is futile.

The best answer to that question is that there are a whole lot of things that we can and do resist that happen anyway. Does that mean resistance is futile? Wait, stop here. I do need to say that in spite of my insistence on using that “resistance is futile” line I am not referring to Star Trek and being assimilated in the Borg. I do not believe that is what Lao Tzu means, at all. I very much believe the self, your true self, endures this death.

But, is it futile to resist the knowledge about yourself that you already have enough, just because you, in reality, have enough? Is it futile to resist embracing the death of self as self, just because you are going to die to self, anyway? No! It isn’t futile. Because it matters. It matters, because it affects how you live your life, right here, right now. When you lie to yourself, telling yourself that you don’t have enough, you rob yourself of true contentment. When you resist embracing death with your whole heart, you cheat yourself out of fully living, of being your true self.

I am not going to lie about this. The Tao is our beginning, and it is our end. We really are, just along for the ride. That is the way things are. But we can make the ride a bumpy one. We can make ourselves miserable along the way. We are free to do so. But why do we?

The Lies We Like To Tell Ourselves

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We were talking, yesterday, about the so-called powerful men and women. These are people that have some measure of intelligence and strength. Why? Because they have knowledge of and mastery over others. They certainly wouldn’t have attained their lofty positions, otherwise. The populist anti-establishment messages from within the establishment, from Bernie Sanders on the so-called left, and Donald Trump on the so-called right, attest to the extent of their knowledge of and mastery over a whole lot of other people. We are being played. Just like we have always been played by powerful men and women. Some of us, of course, have awakened to this reality. I’d like to think that is because we knew when to stop, in order to avoid danger.

But today’s chapter isn’t about powerful men and women. People who were content to only know and master others, but never realizing their need to know and master themselves. Today’s chapter isn’t about them, it is about us; people who knew when to stop. You can only gain so much intelligence from your knowledge of others. You can only gain so much strength from your mastery of others. If you want to tap into true wisdom and true power, you need to learn how to tap into the infinite Source.

And that only happens as we come to know ourselves. And, then going on to mastering ourselves.

“Know Thyself.” Whole volumes could be written on these two words. And, in fact, they have been. That quote, often attributed to Socrates, is the cornerstone of western philosophy. And since, Lao Tzu said the same thing, I think it is safe to say, eastern philosophy, as well.

I am not going to take the time to try and recall everything that has been written and said about the need to know your self. I think my readers are already knowledgeable enough about its rich history. And with Google as our friend, we have little excuse, not to further educate ourselves. I do recall a couple questions posed to a certain Greek philosopher by the name of Thales. He was asked, “What is the most difficult thing?” to which he replied, “To know thyself.” And when he was then asked, “What is the easiest thing?” he said, “To give advice.”

Knowing yourself is both very important and very hard to accomplish. It is important because you can’t tap into the true wisdom without knowing yourself, first. And, it is important because you can’t begin to master yourself, thus tapping into the true power, until you rightly know yourself. But why is it so difficult to accomplish? One reason is that we are content not to. Perhaps we are content with our knowledge of others. Like the powerful men and women I like to poke fun at. But even more than that, I think we simply prefer ignorance. We are willfully ignorant of ourselves. We delight in the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. I am not poking any fingers at anyone here. I am just as guilty as all of us. Quite frankly, it is difficult, because we make it difficult.

There are many lies we delight in telling ourselves about ourselves. But Lao Tzu only mentions two of them today.

The first lie is that we don’t have enough. If we knew ourselves, we would realize that we already have enough. And that knowledge would make us truly rich. You already have enough. But you won’t realize that, until you stop lying to yourself about yourself. That is true wisdom. It solves a good deal of life’s problems, right there. As long as we think wrongly of ourselves, as long as we think we don’t have enough, we will never be content. And the whole purpose of living is being content. If you think your life should have some higher purpose than that, that is just another lie you are telling yourself. We must realize this! It is absolutely essential! We can’t begin to master ourselves, until we know this about ourselves. We already have enough.

Believing this lie about ourselves is almost excusable. After all, the powerful corporate establishment feeds us this lie everywhere we turn. It is how they have gained mastery over us. Like I said earlier, we are being played. And, we have become willing accomplices, because of our willful ignorance of the truth about ourselves. But, while the first lie is almost excusable, the second lie is a lot less so. For we should know better. Therefore, when we convince ourselves of the second lie, we are really being completely dishonest with ourselves. What is the second lie? That we can avoid death.

I can already hear you lying to yourself, right this moment. You are saying that you know you can’t avoid death. That you don’t lie to yourself about this. Look at the level of dishonesty we exhibit toward ourselves. Of course you know better. That is what makes this lie so dishonest, so insidious. Look, I am not going to try and convince you. You and you alone must examine yourself. You must know your self. But please, try and be honest in this self-examination. No excuses. And no more lies.

We want to avoid death. We want to believe we can avoid death. That is what makes the lie so delightful to us. But that is only all the more reason for us to know our selves. That is where the true wisdom is to be found. Knowing the truth about ourselves. Staying in the center of the circle. Embracing death with your whole heart.

What does that even mean? Notice that he didn’t say to embrace death with your mind. Popular culture, a thing controlled by the corporate establishment, would love for you to substitute an embracing of death culture for embracing death with your whole heart. Don’t make that mistake. What Lao Tzu is talking about gets to the heart of our problem. It is a heart problem. We need to embrace the death of self as self. That is what he means by embracing death. As long as we insist on seeing the self as self we will always seek to avoid death, while, perhaps, flirting with it. They don’t mind you flirting with it, as long as they can keep you convinced that you can avoid it. But we need to die to that. We need to see the world as self. Then we can truly live. That is where the true power is.

That isn’t easy, because we make it difficult. But the wisdom and power that are ours when we do, make it so much worth being honest with ourselves. It is the power to endure forever. Yes, even beyond death.

Why It Doesn’t Matter Much What Powerful Men And Women Do

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao can’t be perceived. How many times has Lao Tzu driven this point home? Your senses aren’t of any use to you in discovering it. Lao Tzu tries to point at it; but what is he pointing at, really? It is before time and space were. It is beyond is and is not. It isn’t a tangible something that we can use science to define and explain. And when science starts talking about intangibles, if scientists are being honest with us and themselves, the best answer is, “I don’t know.” How are we supposed to understand something that is “before” other things we don’t understand? Because it is “beyond” is and is not, how can I ever use “is” or “is not” in a sentence to tell of the Tao. This is the problem we have been dealing with since Lao Tzu began with chapter one. Oh, we know a lot more about time and space, now, than we did in Lao Tzu’s day. Or, at least we think we know a whole lot more. And I always chuckle to myself whenever I read Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the next line. “Smaller than an electron, it contains uncountable galaxies.” That was published back in 1986, I believe; yes, I remember when we thought the smallest thing was an electron. We know better now, but we always only know in part. Still, the point remains the same. How can something so small contain so much?

The short answer is that the Tao is something before and beyond anything we can ever imagine. And since it can’t be perceived, it seems to go without saying, powerful men and women aren’t very likely to center themselves in the Tao. Oh, but what if they could? And then, what if they could remain centered in it?

The reason I find this such an interesting question is because, isn’t this just what Lao Tzu has been telling us all to do? Center yourself in the Tao. Remain centered in it. That has been his message to us, all along. But today, he turns his gaze to just the powerful men and women, among us. Why does he do this? Why, indeed. Perhaps, it is because, if there is anyone that won’t be content to stay centered, who won’t give up trying to control, who won’t stop interfering with the way things are, it is powerful men and women. Powerful men and women will insist they want to be a force for good. But with their power they only make things bad. It isn’t by exercising power, but by restraining yourself, that harmony and balance result.

Leave it alone! That is the message. All things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be a peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.

But where does that leave powerful men and women? I was thinking of this today as I heard the news that the Fed won’t be raising interest rates just yet. The Fed is a perfect illustration of how powerful men and women can’t bring themselves not to manipulate. They have painted themselves into a corner, for years now. They are right between a rock and hard place, and my, oh my, how the squeeze is on. However they end up extricating themselves, you can bet we will all suffer.

That is why Lao Tzu’s words ring so true for me today. “When you have names and forms, know that they are provisional. When you have institutions, know where their functions should end. Knowing when to stop, you can avoid danger.”

We need to know when to stop. That is the only way to avoid danger. Somehow, I think we should have known sooner. And some dangers are now unavoidable. But that is a huge downer with which to end this post.

Instead, I am going to remember where it is that all things end. In the end, it doesn’t much matter what powerful men and women do. For the Tao is before and beyond them, and anything they can do. All things end in the Tao. The Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. Just like rivers flow into the sea, it all ends there.

The Tao is great. It follows only itself. Back to itself. But it can’t be perceived, how can we center ourselves in it? How can we stay centered in it? It is a very good thing that what we can’t perceive, can still carry us along in its current. We follow the Earth. The Earth follows the Universe. And the Universe follows the Tao. Just go with that flow.

Where I Use Words Like “Always” and “Never” Understanding Fully The Consequences

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking for days, now, about how our relationship with the Tao is determined by our relationship with the world around us. You need to see the world as your self. This is essential. How you view the world, whether you can accept it as it is, and, going along with that, accepting your self, just as you are, is essential. You can’t actually practice the one without practicing the other. And that is dependent on relying on the Tao. That is what we were talking about, yesterday. If you rely on the Tao you will believe in your self, you will be content with your self, and you will accept your self. And the result will be, the whole world will accept you.

But Lao Tzu said something else about relying on the Tao, yesterday. He was talking about how we relate to the world around us, of course. Because that is what it is all about. But he was specifically talking about relying on the Tao in governing people. He said “Whoever relies on the Tao…doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms.” Using force goes against the current of the Tao. If you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t resort to the use of force. That is when he brought up an elementary physics lesson. It is a law of the Tao. “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

I promised, yesterday, that we were going to talk more about violence, today. And we shall. But before I do, I just want to say, one more time, every time you choose force, violence, you are going against the flow of the Tao. Whether or not you see the world as your self, what you do to others you do to your self. It always rebounds in that way.

Today, Lao Tzu talks about weapons. He identifies them as tools of violence and fear. Because of what Lao Tzu has said in the past about fear (it is a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self) and violence (it goes against the current of the Tao, and always rebounds on the one that commits the violence), it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Lao Tzu has very strict rules to live by in their use.

Because they are tools of violence, all decent people detest them. Talk about a litmus test for decency. That is pretty strong. Not some, but all decent people detest weapons. Why do they detest them? Because they are tools of violence.

Violence is never the right solution to any problem. Like we keep saying, it goes against the current of the Tao. It is a choice made out of not relying on the Tao. And weapons, to the extent they are used as tools of violence, should be detested.

But detesting them doesn’t preclude using them. Lao Tzu has more to say about weapons and their use.

Because weapons are also the tools of fear, a decent person will avoid them except in direst necessity. We’re still talking about a litmus test for decency, here. A decent person will avoid them except… All decent people detest them always. A decent person avoids them except… They aren’t the first resort of decent people. And they probably aren’t the second or third or fourth resort, either.

They are a last resort. The direst necessity must compel them. And even then, only with the utmost restraint. That is the level of loathing and avoidance that guides the decent person in their use of weapons. I detest weapons. They are tools of violence. I avoid them, unless absolutely necessary. They are tools of fear. That is Lao Tzu’s litmus test of human decency.

He is still talking about human decency when he says, “Peace is his highest value.” Is Lao Tzu a pacifist? I always employ the term pacifist to refer to someone who would never resort to violence. So, Lao Tzu wouldn’t qualify. He sees reasons to resort to the use of weapons, for instance. But only as a last resort. Peace is his highest value doesn’t mean peace at whatever cost. But peace being his highest value does mean a whole lot. A decent person, certainly, couldn’t be content with the peace being shattered. But he understands that sometimes it is. And you can be sure it wasn’t shattered by someone for whom peace was their highest value. Decent people don’t shatter the peace. But decent people do come along to pick up the broken pieces, and work to put it back together again.

I am anti-war. Does that mean I am opposed to all war? Actually, it just about does. While I wouldn’t be opposed to a war based on direst necessity, and one waged with the utmost restraint, I don’t know of a war that has been waged, that fits into that category. If anyone can come up with a war which wasn’t a war of aggression, a war where both sides weren’t aggressors, please inform me of it. I am all for self-defense. But every attack on the sovereignty of my own country, was provoked by my own country. I am simply not buying the self-defense argument for any war we have ever engaged in.

Decent people don’t treat their enemies as demons, but fellow human beings. You can be sure, every time we have ever gone to war with anyone, it was either preceded by, or accompanied by dehumanizing of the enemy.

A decent person would never wish a fellow human being personal harm. That is why war propaganda exists. To deceive otherwise decent people into getting on board with the war.

That is why I don’t support our war efforts. And never will. I neither rejoice in our victories, nor celebrate our losses. I am torn here. To a certain extent, I wish that our losses would serve as a deterrent to the expansion of empire and war. That people would wake up and say, “No more!” But it shouldn’t just be our “brave” men and women going down in defeat that should move us. Our enemies are our fellow human beings. They are just like us. No matter the lies of the military industrial complex.

War is slaughter! Make no mistake about it. Both sides’ armies are merely pawns to be slaughtered. How could I rejoice in this game of chess? How could I delight in it? It is a slaughter. Decent people enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if they were attending a funeral. Wars aren’t fought like that anymore, if they ever were. Maybe that is because decent people don’t go to the wars we wage. Hey troops, did you just read that? There is your litmus test for decency. Walk away now!

Accept Your Self

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, we are talking, once again, about our relationship as individual selves with the world. For the last couple of days we have been talking about your self accepting the world. Since you are to see the world as your self, today, he talks about accepting your self. Whether or not we accept the world and ourselves is a measure of how much we are relying on the Tao.

If we are relying on the Tao, we won’t try to force issues. This applies to every aspect of our lives. But today, Lao Tzu speaks of it as it relates to the art of governing. Governing just means how we relate with others. Do we trust others? Or do we not trust them? If we don’t trust them, we will want to establish lots of ways to try and control them. What kind of government you have, indicates the level of trust you have for others. The less you trust, the more repressive the government will be. Lao Tzu was, perhaps, the first libertarian. He wants us to trust each other. Whether or not others are trustworthy. He likens it to relying on the Tao. Trust people. Rely on the Tao. Don’t try to force issues. And for goodness’ sake, don’t try to defeat your enemies by force of arms.

To further explain himself, he uses an elementary physics lesson to drive home his point. For every force there is a counter force. This is why we shouldn’t try to apply force. Violence, even with the best of intentions, always rebounds upon one’s self. The violent are inevitably met with violence. Just make sure you are not the one meeting the violent with violence. Oh, but they started it… I was just coming to someone’s defense… What? Am I just supposed to let bullies get away with being a bully?… What is Lao Tzu really expecting of us, here?

I expect this will be misunderstood. So, if that is the case, please message me, so I can try to better explain myself.

I don’t think Lao Tzu is opposing self-defense, or sticking up for the underdog who is being picked on by a bully. So, I hope you don’t misunderstand.

However, don’t miss the lesson he is trying to get across, either. We need to rely on the Tao. If we rely on the Tao, we won’t resort to violence. Self-defense doesn’t have to require violence. Violence always rebounds on the violent. Even if your violence has the best of intentions, know this, your violence will rebound on you. That is a universal law.

We are going to talk more about violence, tomorrow, when we talk about the tools of violence. For today, let’s just talk more about what it means to rely on the Tao.

And, who better to illustrate what it means to rely on the Tao, than the Master. The Master does his job and then stops. I could probably stop right there. Lao Tzu has already said this so many times before. This is what relying on the Tao is all about. You do your job and then you stop. Be satisfied, be content right there. Oh, if only we would! You see, the Master understands the Universe is forever out of control. What possible reason could he have for trying to control it? Because the Universe follows the Tao, trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.

Why don’t we understand this? Perhaps we give mental assent to this truth, generally. But when it comes down to specifics, we want to meddle. We aren’t content to leave it alone. We simply aren’t relying on (trusting) the Tao to lead the Universe. Why don’t we understand this? Lao Tzu thinks it is tied to what we think of our selves. Whether or not you rely on the Tao is founded in how you see your self.

He says, the Master believes in himself. So, he doesn’t try to convince others. The Master is content with himself. Therefore, he doesn’t need others’ approval. Finally, the Master accepts himself. And guess what? The whole world accepts him.

There it is, my friends. That is what relying on the Tao is all about. It is all about how we view our selves. That affects our relationship with our world. And we have already said that it is only by following the world that we can follow the Tao. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said accept the world, just as it is. Don’t try to change it. Don’t try to improve on it. And now, today, he tells us to accept our selves, just the way we are. When we do that, the whole world accepts us, too.

The Most Sacred Of Places In Our Sacred World

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about how we as individual selves may relate to the world. We can receive it in our arms. We can be a pattern for it. And, we can accept it. Those are all powerful expressions of our relationship as individual selves with the world. If only we could be content with those three things. If only we would treat the world as the sacred place it is. Instead, we are not content. It seems we are always itching to try and improve it, to tamper with it. We treat it like an object.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us where that gets us. “The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you will ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.”

This is why it is so very important that we avail ourselves of the powerful relationship we as individual selves have with the world. Receive it in your arms. Nurture it. Be a pattern for it. Live your life like you want everyone else to live theirs. This doesn’t require any force or need to control. Trust people and leave them alone. Just be an example that they would want to follow. Your pattern is one of following the Tao. Accept the world. Just as it is. Don’t try and improve on it. Don’t try to change it.

Accepting the world has both passive and active elements to it. There is both yin and yang to it. But it should be effortless.

Sometimes you are going to be behind, when you would rather be ahead. There will be times when you need to rest, when you would prefer to be in motion. That is because there will be times when you are exhausted, after being vigorous. Being behind, needing to rest, being exhausted – these are all yin. If you don’t avail yourself of rest when you are exhausted, you will experience a time of danger. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be experiencing that time of being safe. But that means I need to be content being behind. The Master is content to stay behind. That is why she is ahead. Being ahead, being in motion, being vigorous – these are all yang. And there is a time to be all of those things, as well. What sets the Master apart, though any of us can be the Master, is that she is content to be yin when it is time to be yin. Therefore, when it is time to be yang, she is ready.

Do you see what she did there? She leads with yin. And is met with yang. She is at rest; she waits for her mud to settle. Thus, when it is time to be in motion, she is ready. If we are passive, the right time to be active will make itself clear to us. That isn’t to say we should ignore it, when it comes. We do that at our own peril. The time of danger isn’t just in being active when you should be passive. There is equal danger in being passive when it is time to be active. We can just as easily lag behind when we should be ahead. There is a time to be in motion; when continuing to be at rest is folly. Perhaps we are “playing it safe”. Or, at least that is what we think we are doing. We don’t want to leave our comfort zone, maybe. But the dangers we are trying to avoid by “playing it safe” are imagined ones. And the real danger is in not going with the flow. There is a time for being in danger. Sometimes, you need to leave behind your comfort zone.

We need to be like the Master, and see things as they are. Understand the times and the seasons. Watch how they turn. Don’t try to control them. Let them go their own way. Just reside at the center of the circle. That is the most sacred of places in our sacred world.