Plowshares, or Swords?

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through fear will always be safe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about the way things are versus the way things seem to be. In today’s chapter we have the stark difference between a country which is in harmony with the Tao (that would be harmony with the way things are) and a country that is going counter to the Tao (that would be the one that is succumbing to the illusion, the way things seem to be).

The greatest illusion of them all is the phantom of fear. The greatest wrong of them all is preparing to defend yourself because you have been spooked by a phantom. The greatest misfortune of them all is to consider your fellow human beings, who are your brothers and sisters, your enemies. Fear is a powerful motivator, indeed.

I want my country to be in harmony with the Tao. I read a very nice article today about all the reasons to be optimistic. I like being infused with optimism. Sometimes, even I, look at the way things seem to be, and I too, despair. Optimism is good. And there really are plenty of reasons to be optimistic. But sometimes, they are hard to see.

Still, Lao Tzu wrote this chapter, to infuse us with a sense of purpose. And, I think we need to be optimistic about our purpose.

What can one individual do, in the face of a whole country that is going counter to the Tao? Lao Tzu tells us that whoever can see through fear will always be safe.

That is about the best news that you are going to get all day. I am a whoever and so are you. Each individual out there reading this blog post today, and a whole lot of individuals that will never read it, are whoevers. And each one of us can see through the phantom of fear. It is really all an illusion. You, too, can be safe. Just as I am safe.

See through the fear. See it for what it really is. And, accept the eternal reality for what it is. The illusions that have been propping up the State for ever so long are being exposed for the frauds they are. The State is both economically and intellectually unsustainable. See beyond the illusion. See that reality. And make it a reality. Stop helping the State prop itself up via illusions. Let it come crashing down.

If you want your country to be in harmony with the Tao, don’t wait for the powerful to make it so. We don’t have that long. Make it a reality in your own life. That is your purpose. Be optimistic. You can do this. Plowshares, or Swords? You get the reality you make.

Reality Isn’t What It Appears To Be

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True eloquence seems to stutter.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

As I am writing up my commentary on today’s chapter, Veteran’s Day is not yet over. Can I just say how much I hate Veteran’s Day? It is perhaps the one day of the year that I can never wait to be over and done with. I can’t stand the worship and adoration that we pour out on our Veterans. I don’t despise our Veterans. Please don’t misunderstand me. I just think if we truly wanted to honor our Veterans we would ensure that their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, ad infinitum, never again became Veterans. It is no honor to Veterans that we glorify their “sacrifices” for our “freedom” while instigating perpetual wars to create all further wars.

That rant is over. And, I am getting to the commentary, I promise. But one further thing totally unrelated to Veteran’s Day. This whole Net Neutrality thing. And, President Obama’s impressive speech insisting that we treat the internet the way we used to treat Ma Bell. I am all for Net Neutrality. But asking for the government to make it happen will likely be the death of the Internet. The problem isn’t with too little government oversight. The problem is, and always has been, government cartelizing whole industries. If these “powerful” corporations hadn’t been enabled to be “powerful” via the heavy hand of government regulation which the corporations had a heavy hand in crafting for their purposes, we wouldn’t be having this issue today. We need a free market. We don’t have a free market. We have never had a free market. But we need a free market. We need unfettered competition. That is what we need. And that demands the end of the FCC and every other government bureaucracy that impedes innovation and competition. When I think about how much further we would be as far as technology is concerned, if not for the interference of the State, I just want to scream. You think we have come such a long way in the last 40 years? We have taken baby steps, when we could have been taking actual giant leaps. And if President Obama gets what he wants, the baby won’t be walking anymore. It will be crawling.

Okay, enough ranting. That was me sinking in despair. The chapter quote, today, helps me rise back to the surface. It reminds me that things are never what they seem to be. Yesterday, we were talking about being content with what we have and rejoicing in the way things are. And Lao Tzu said to us, “When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” I said that word “realize” means “to make it a reality”. And I think that was a very good thing of me to say. *pats myself on back

But then we have the news of the last 2 days, with the “Regulator In Chief” wanting to cripple the internet, and our “Worship of Veteran’s” Day, I just thought it would be helpful to talk about how we might go about “realizing” or “making it real.”

First off, for all my friends out there that are getting ready to message me to tell me that President Obama’s intentions aren’t to cripple the internet, I just want to say that the streets of Hell are paved with good intentions. So, unless you are wanting to live there, your good intentions matter not at all. Personally, I’d prefer not to live in Hell on Earth. No matter how well the roads are paved.

Okay, seriously, rant over.

The way things seem to be. That is the illusion that deceives you and me, daily. It is the reason that we think something is lacking. It is the reason that true perfection seems imperfect. It is the reason that true fullness seems empty. It is the reason that true straightness seems crooked, that true wisdom seems foolish, and that true eloquence seems to stutter. That is what we are up against. It is hard, when the illusion is so very plain for us to see, to see beyond it. To see that I am perfectly myself, already. And, to be fully present.

So, how do we do it? How do we get to that place of being fully present and perfectly ourselves. If we don’t want to be bamboozled by the illusion any longer, we simply must accept the reality that we have already arrived. We can’t go on with this mindset that we are in the process of becoming. That it is just around the corner. Not there yet, but soon. No, we have to accept the reality that we are who and what we are, right now. If that seems imperfect or empty, crooked, foolish, or, I don’t know, like I was stuttering, sorry. Reality isn’t what it appears to be.

That is why the Master allows things to happen. And can shape events as they come. She simply steps out of the way and lets the Tao speak for itself. If you are looking for the magic wand that you can wave and make it all happen. There it was. I just waved it.

 

Rejoice! The Whole World Belongs To You.

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness; which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After my rant yesterday, I think today’s chapter is just what I needed to read. It helps me to put things into further perspective.

What Lao Tzu is doing with these rhetorical questions, as with all of his rhetorical questions, is to get us to see clearly that the way things seem to be is all an illusion. That there is an eternal reality in which we need to center ourselves. Yes, this is the same message that he keeps repeating throughout the Tao Te Ching, but even though I have been cycling through these chapters daily for years now, I still need this. So, I hope you, my readers, see the benefit as well.

With the illusion, we are made to believe that chasing after fame and integrity, money and happiness, success and failure, is all there is in life. But when you see the illusion for what it is, you realize what is actually important, what is of actual value, and how destructive the illusion actually is. We don’t have to choose between fame and integrity. Money doesn’t buy happiness. And the illusory ladder of success that prompts us to hope for success while fearing failure is all a great distraction from the art of living.

If we want to experience true fulfillment, we must let go of trying to find it in others. If we want to experience true happiness with who we are, we need to give up this idea that it all depends on just so much money. Others are going to disappoint you. That is always going to be the case. You can’t depend on them. You can depend on yourself. And, you will never have enough money. The more you get, the more you will want. I know this is true. But it is only in choosing to live my life free of the desire for acceptance from others, and the desire for money, that I have found true contentment.

We simply must be content with what we have. You can’t say, well, tomorrow I will be content. By next week, next month, or next year, it will happen. Or, once I have saved up enough for retirement, then I can be content. Today, you can be content. Today, is the only day you can be content. Be content with today. Right now, with who you are and what you already have.

Lao Tzu tells us to rejoice in the way things are. That is the eternal reality. The way things are. Not the way things seem to be. Or, the way things may yet be. But, the way things are today. Rejoice! Realize there is nothing lacking. I have said it before and I will say it again. That word “realize” means “make it a reality”. You have the power in yourself to make it a reality that there is nothing lacking in your life. And, the whole world belongs to you. This is a transformed life. It is your life. Make it so.

Don’t Do It. Don’t Even Speak Of It.

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I tried tackling the very mysterious, as we took a look at a creation myth story from the Tao Te Ching. Today, I think my job is a whole lot easier. Today, we are talking ,once again, about the value of non-action.

Lao Tzu begins by talking about the eternal reality. He says that the gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. And, that which has no substance enters where there is no space. But how does this show the value of non-action?

I am glad you asked. Wu-wei, which is the principle of non-action, is fundamental to Taoism. Often the best solution is not to act at all. Or when action is needed, to do as little as possible. I like to think of the Tao as the Invisible Hand of the free market. Because I am a free market anarchist, I am opposed to interfering with that invisible hand. Most things in the world correct themselves, given time. But we get impatient, don’t we? We get in a hurry. The Tao will take too long. But, when we interfere, we only make things worse.

The “powerful”, in particular, like to interfere. It is their modus operandi. Their excuse for being needed. And they are empowered by us going along with their hare-brained schemes. Far from ever actually solving problems they only make greater problems; and, then they will insist that gives them all the more reason to interfere more. “We just didn’t do enough.”

When the Tao is interfered with, it is like trying to overcome the hardest thing by being harder. Trying to force something of substance where there is no space. Nature’s way is self-evidently the best approach to handling difficulties. When you encounter something that is hard, be gentle. That is stepping around the difficulty. There are examples of this throughout nature. We just don’t take the time, or make the effort, to learn the lessons that nature is teaching us. Nature doesn’t act. It just is. Trying to force your way into a space that is already full, makes no sense at all. So, why do it?

I know that the first time I heard of this principle of non-action, that I thought it was speaking of passivity, or surrender. But, I came to realize that was just the way things appeared. The way things seem to be. The eternal reality is something far different. People with power need excuses to wield power. If there aren’t ready excuses, they’ll manufacture some. But non-action isn’t passivity or surrender. What it is, is the patience to wait for the outcome. The Tao has everything under control. The Universe only seems to be chaotic and without order. That is the illusion. But the reality is that we do live in an ordered Universe, governed by universal laws. When things are chaotic, it is only because we have been interfering with the natural order. Left to itself, the Tao always balances things out. Which is all well and good, if you want things to be balanced out. But what if you want imbalance? What if you thrive on disparity?

I have come to realize that there are always going to be some people who will never want to leave things to the Tao, because it upsets their apple cart. In a free market, the Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what is not enough. That is the reality of a free market. In spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary from vested interests that will have you believe that only by interfering with that invisible hand can we make sure that the rich don’t just get richer while the poor get poorer. The reality is and always has been that it is because of interference that imbalance and disparity is the norm. Even now, many will insist that things would only be much worse if we truly had a free market. “The problem isn’t that we over-regulate, the problem is that we regulate too little.” And even those politicians that cry out for deregulation are still not wanting to have a free market. They just want to tweak a little here and there, and leave the government still firmly entrenched in the market.

But I will continue to insist that non-action, having the patience to wait for the outcome, is the only way to truly foster peace, harmony, and happiness. We simply must trust that the Tao has things under control; and is governing the Universe towards harmony. I don’t think I can stress this too much. Problems we perceive as demanding our attention are often merely phases on the way to a good outcome, and in no need of our meddling. The law of unintended consequences comes to mind right here. How can we be sure that we are contributing to a solution when we don’t even know what would happen if we left things alone? Good intentions, my own Dad always was telling me, may pave the streets of Hell, but, they are a poor measure of whether you did your job right.

I know that someone right now is thinking of all sorts of situations where we need to take action, and quickly. Like, for instance, to save lives, or to avoid a disaster. I am not going to deny this. But I am wary of these excuses, since the powers that be will always use excuses like these to justify everything that they do. They become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Ultimately, we humans have a tendency to regard ourselves a bit too highly. It is nothing short of hubris for us to think that nothing would happen, at least nothing good, without our intervention. And that hubris, pride, will likely be our undoing.

Still, for all my ranting today, Lao Tzu doesn’t just talk about the value of non-action. He also talks about teaching without words. Oops! Maybe I should have been paying more attention. Why do we talk so much? Because we are always feeling the need to explain our actions. We have to defend our actions, because if we had only avoided those actions in the first place, they wouldn’t be needing defending.

This is all so obviously not the way of the Master, who teaches without words. How does the Master accomplish this? Seriously, I need to know. And, here it is. Because the Master performs without actions. By letting the Tao do its work, there is nothing that needs to be said. You can see the results without any explanation necessary.

A One And A Two And A Three

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness,
realizing he is one with the whole Universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Chapter 42 in the Tao Te Ching is another creation myth. The last time I wrote about this chapter, I was not feeling like trying to go into what is the One and the Two and the Three. I wanted to make it as easy as one, two, three. And it really is that simple. But, I didn’t think I could make it as simple as it was. Still, I had a friend point out to me that I should not be reluctant to discuss these elements of the creation myth. For they point to something that it is important to understand about the Tao, and the art of living in our world. So, today, I decided to tackle it for my readers.

I am looking first at where Lao Tzu says: “The Tao gives birth to One.” And I immediately accept that the One is a reference to the Tao. So, the Tao gives birth to the Tao. Can that be right? It comes back to understanding the being and non-being that Lao Tzu has referred to before. Since “all things are born of being” and “being is born of non-being” I begin to understand how it can be that the Tao gives birth to the Tao. Let’s take a look at a snippet from another Taoist text, this one by another founder of Taoism, Chuang Tzu. He says: “At the beginning, there is Nothing. No existence. No names. Where One rises up, there is One but it doesn’t have a form yet.” This, to me, speaks of non-being. An aspect of the Tao. Non-being is nothing. This is the way it was at the beginning. There was no existence. No names. Just nothing. But nothing rises up. Or, non-being. That is the initial One. Formless and nameless. Still, it is the Tao.

Non-being gives birth to being. Now we have two. This is yin and yang. Still, this duality is One in unity. There is the Tao that gives and the Tao that receives. It has both of those aspects working together simultaneously. There isn’t one without the other.

The Two gives birth to Three. Now it gets a bit tricky. What is this Three? I believe it is a third aspect or element of the one Tao. We have non-being. We have being. And the third aspect is energy. The life force. Yin and yang combine, and like the splitting of an atom, produces energy.

These three elements, or aspects, of the Tao give birth to all things. Call it a big bang if you like. Make of it whatever you want. Use it, if it helps you to understand. And let it go, if it doesn’t.

Now, what does Lao Tzu mean by these next lines: “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. When male and female combine all things achieve harmony.” Once again, we are having a reference to yin and yang. How is it that the life cycle continues. All things need to combine yin and yang, female and male, to achieve harmony.

But what do the next lines have to do with any of this? “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole Universe.” Yesterday, we were talking about extraordinary and ordinary individuals. Actually, the translation used the words superior and average. But it means the same thing. What makes the Master extraordinary is his willingness to embrace his solitude, his aloneness. It is in doing this that he realizes (or makes reality) that he is one with the whole Universe. We are all one with the Tao. The Tao is nothing and everything. And in the Tao we are nothing and everything. Ordinary men can’t tolerate being alone. They hate solitude. But, it is in solitude that we come to realize that we are not alone. We are not separate beings. We only appear to be separate beings. We are all one with the Tao.

Go Ahead And Laugh

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus, it is said:
The path into the light seems dark.
The path forward seems to go back.
The direct path seems long.
True power seems weak.
True purity seems tarnished.
True steadfastness seems changeable.
True clarity seems obscure.
The greatest art seems unsophisticated.
The greatest love seems indifferent.
The greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet, it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Look all around you and you’ll see it. The way things seem to be. The path into the light? It seems dark. The path forward? It seems to go back. The direct path? It seems long. That is what is confronting us today and everyday of our journey. The way things seem to be keep us from following the right path. The one that is the eternal reality.

We are enamored with what is only illusion. What seems powerful? What seems pure? What seems steadfast? I understand how our thinking can get muddled. The way things seem to be is so very clear. Why can’t we trust what we see and hear? What we can smell and taste and feel seem so concrete. True power? It seems weak by comparison. True purity? It seems tarnished. And true steadfastness? It seems changeable.

The illusion has messed with us. Really messed with us. The greatest art seems unsophisticated. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish.

This is why Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by saying it takes a superior person to immediately begin to embody the Tao, when first they hear of it. It takes an extraordinary person to see beyond the illusion. Beyond the way things seem to be.

I wish I could say that I was one of those truly extraordinary persons. I first heard of the Tao many years ago. I was reading C.S. Lewis and he was talking about it. What he had to say intrigued me. It sparked an interest in me that lay dormant for many years. So, I certainly can’t say that I immediately began to embody it.

Perhaps, I just wasn’t ready yet. It took me many years before I actually thought again of the Tao and decided to actually try to find out more about it. I found copies of various translations of the Tao Te Ching. As I started reading through them, I found myself half believing and half doubting it. Yes, I was only average.

I guess I am thankful I didn’t respond like the foolish person. I never did laugh out loud. Not about the Tao, anyway. No, I just had that wrestling thing going on in my mind. The wrestling between what I believed and what I doubted. I think that is a perfectly normal reaction. I am thankful for the years of wrestling. Because, even though it took years of wrestling, I came out on top. That is when I laughed out loud. Because it was all so very simple. And I had missed it for so very long. Trying to make it a great deal more complicated than it ever had to be.

Why do we only half believe it? And why do we half doubt it? Because it is so simple. And yet, so very hard to see. I understand why the fool laughs. But I understand too, why the superior person is able to immediately embody it.

The fool laughs because the Tao is nowhere to be found. I get that. Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. The way things seem to be, make the fool laugh out loud. But that is okay. Go ahead, and laugh. If you didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The superior person is able to immediately embody it because they can see what the fool will never see. They can see beyond the way things seem to be. They can see what it is that nourishes and completes all things. They perceive the eternal reality behind it all.

Me? I just get glimpses of it. Just out of the corner of my mind’s eye. When and where I wasn’t even looking for it. And that is okay, too. For I am still being nourished and completed.

Return And Yielding, Being and Non-being

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Everytime we get back around to these four lines in the Tao Te Ching, nestled almost exactly half way through Lao Tzu’s guide to the art of living, I can’t help but think that the Tao is just like that. All of nature seems to be cyclical. Day follows night. Or is it, night follows day? I guess how you look at it depends on where you are in the cycle. We are always looking forward, forward. Waiting for the return. Last time we were on this chapter, it was Summer. Now, it is Autumn. As much as I enjoyed Summer, even then, I was looking forward to the return of the changing colors and temperatures, that symbolize the return of Autumn. Next time through, we will be in the midst of Winter. I am not quite ready for that return. I want to enjoy Autumn for just awhile longer. This evening, as I am writing this, we have a full moon. Yet another example of the cycles of nature.

So where does the Tao fit into all of this? The Tao is something of an unsung hero in the story. I say unsung, though I keep pointing at it, and singing its praises. Still, it is appropriate to point out that the Tao is doing its thing largely unnoticed and behind the scenes, behind everything that is going on in the Universe. But, while return is the movement of the Tao, and we can certainly point out all the examples of returning in the natural cycle, it is yielding that is the way of the Tao. What does Lao Tzu mean by yielding?

I think that yielding has both a yin and a yang aspect to it. Much like returning does. You can’t return if you never depart. And yielding speaks to me of both giving and receiving. The Tao lets all the credit go to nature. But the Tao is what is really responsible for all the abundance that nature produces. I read somewhere of leading by opening doors you want people to walk through, rather than closing doors you don’t want them to walk through. That sounds like the Tao to me. Nothing is forced. That is the way of the Tao.

And then we have being and non-being. This is more yin and yang. The interplay between the two is what makes the Universe, and everything in it, happen. All things are born of the one. But the one is born of the other. We could spend a lifetime contemplating non-being; and many people have. Yet, never do more than scratch the surface. It is a mystery. And I am okay with that. The mysterious Tao. I like contemplating it. But I don’t dwell on it too long. I am content to be. And I am content to accept that my being is because of non-being. Though I don’t even know what that means.

Two Alternate Realities: Pick One.

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way things are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel,
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last few days we have pondered the possibility of transforming the world into a paradise. Lao Tzu has said both, that if powerful men and women could center themselves, and remain centered, in the Tao that the world would transform itself; and, that we can’t improve the world, it is sacred, and it can’t be improved upon. These two statements aren’t really that hard to reconcile. What Lao Tzu is saying is that if we want the world to be a paradise, we need to let the Tao do the transforming it. Powerful men and women think that by tampering with the natural order they can make improvements. If only they let the Tao do its thing, the world would transform itself into a far better place.

Today, Lao Tzu offers us two different possible realities. The one, in harmony with the Tao. And, the other, when humans insist on interfering with the Tao. We know which reality we are experiencing currently. The only question is, can we ever expect the other?

Lao Tzu’s vision is for individuals living in community with each other. Individuals choosing to live in harmony with the Tao. We, who will view the parts with compassion, because we understand the whole. Making our constant practice humility. And, instead of seeking to glitter like a jewel, being content to let ourselves be shaped by the Tao, as rugged and common as stone.

This is an especially important message now that another election is over (in the U.S.). As the euphoria begins to wear off, and people begin to see that elections never change anything (that is, until the next election, when they once again think that this time things will change), we need to reach out to our fellow individuals living with us in community, and work together to transform our own world by centering ourselves in the Tao.

Are You Willing To Have No Will Of Your Own?

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)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that the Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. Today, he says that the Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. This is something to keep in mind when we are always facing the temptation to do something.

We have been talking about what can be done about the pain and suffering we find in our world. Lao Tzu has promised time and time again that if the powerful could center themselves in the Tao, and remain centered, the world would transform itself into a paradise.

I said yesterday that I don’t think we should wait for the powerful to get their act together. But, can we really transform the world, ourselves?

Today’s chapter is concerned with what can happen all by itself. If we will just let it.

Lao Tzu tells us that the Master doesn’t try to be powerful. This puts him in stark contrast with ordinary men. Ordinary men are always reaching for more power. And, they never have enough. The Master understands the eternal reality. By not trying to be powerful he is truly powerful.

An ordinary man is always doing things. Busy, busy, busy. But sadly he always leaves many more to be done. And, once again, the Master understands the eternal reality. By doing nothing, he leaves nothing undone.

I know this all sounds quite mysterious. How do I expect you to put this into practice? Well, when I say do nothing, I really mean do nothing. When I say, don’t try to be powerful, I really mean don’t try to be powerful.

The art of living is really all about not doing. And, if we are going to fail, it is right here where we will. If we aren’t content to be. And, instead insist on finding something to do. That is what separates the Master from the ordinary man. The paradox comes in when you consider that the Master is content to be merely ordinary. And that is what makes him extraordinary.

But, oh! How great is the temptation to do something. We have things to shrink or get rid of entirely. There is a whole lot of pain and suffering in the world. And Lao Tzu tells us that regardless how subtle our perception of it might be, we need to understand and accept the way things are is the way things are. Some things we want to shrink we will first need to let expand. Some things we want to get rid of we will first need to let flourish.

Behold, the kind man. He sees that there is work to be done. Lots of pain and suffering. And, because he is kind, he does something. Yet, something remains undone. Am I saying there is anything wrong with kindness? Should I offer some kind of reward to the kind man for at least doing something? Perhaps, you think that, if not for the kind man, nothing would have been done. But that isn’t how the Universe works.

Behold, the just man. He steps up and sees the pain and suffering. And, being a just man, sees the injustice of it all. So, he does something. Yet, and very sadly, he leaves many things to be done.

Kindness couldn’t get it all done. Justice couldn’t get it all done. I wonder what morality will accomplish.

Behold, the moral man. He does something. And, when no one responds, he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

I get the distinct impression that Lao Tzu doesn’t think too kindly of your moral persuasion. This is what he has to say. You can tell that the Tao has been lost. Because goodness has been put in its place. And, you can tell that goodness has been lost. Because morality has been put in its place. And, you can tell that morality has been lost, because all that is left is the husk of true faith, which is, ritual. And that, my friends, is the beginning of chaos.

This is why I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to let go of all illusions and dwell in reality.

Kindness and justice and morality are all illusions. And poor substitutes for the real thing. They always leave something undone. And when things don’t go their way, they will act out aggressively, reaching for more and more and more power. Their appetite is insatiable.

The Master understands these things. That is why he concerns himself with the depths and not the surface, with the fruit and not the flower.

The question is, are you willing to have no will of your own?

Transform Your Own World

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)

Right from the beginning chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu identified our problem. It is that we are caught in desire. He has been leading us along a path to freedom from desires, the only place where all things are at peace.

If today’s chapter sounded vaguely familiar to you, it is because it wasn’t that long ago, chapter 32, where Lao Tzu was saying much the same thing about powerful men and women. Then, he said 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.

But with today’s chapter, Lao Tzu’s wording is subtly shifted. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about remaining centered in the Tao today. He doubts the powerful could center themselves in the Tao, in the first place. This, of course, makes perfect sense; when you consider that the Tao is imperceptible. The powerful, just like the rest of us, are caught in desires. They want what they want. Just like the rest of us want what we want. And the Tao remains imperceptible. And no one is content.

So, the question on my mind today is: Is it hopeless, then? Today, is election day. There are still lots of people holding out hope even given that their only choice in the election is between tweedleDummer and tweedledummeR. People have been doing this for what seems like forever. Lots of anti-incumbent sentiment. There always is. Though that never seems to include their own incumbent. Why else would incumbents almost always get re-elected? And I have heard a lot of discontent with the powerful men and women who are supposedly running our country. But few seem to understand that you are never going to achieve different results when you keep doing the same things over and over again.

Nevertheless, I am voting today. I actually have a choice in my own 8th Congressional District in Missouri. We have an independent running. I know Terry Hampton personally. I have known her for years. But I am not suffering from any delusions about the powerful men and women that supposedly run things in Washington D.C. I know they are bought and paid for. And I wasn’t buying. So I am not paying.

The truth is, I know too many people who steadfastly and fervently believe that Democrats are the lesser of the two evils. And I know too many people who steadfastly and fervently believe that Republicans are the lesser of the two evils. But I know too few people who steadfastly and fervently believe limiting our choice each election cycle to a choice between two evils, de-legitimizes our whole system of governance. Given that we aren’t being given any real choice, it is time to accept reality. We aren’t being governed. We are being ruled. And that makes it tough to be content.

And yet…and yet, the art of living as individuals in community with each other is still about being content. I am not holding out any hope for powerful men and women to get their act together. And thankfully, we don’t have to. I know where I came from and where I am going. I am freeing myself of dependence on an unsustainable system. I am letting go of desires, one desire at a time. I am learning to be content with my simple, everyday life, as I live my life in harmony with the way things are. And, that once elusive peace, isn’t so elusive anymore.

Friends, don’t wait for the powerful to make this world a better place. Transform it yourself.