Some Final Words, Intangible Wealth

True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 81, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Just a few chapters back, Lao Tzu said, “True words seem paradoxical.” Today, he adds that they aren’t eloquent, either. That is something of a paradox, as well. Eloquent words may fool us; but they aren’t true. They are spoken by those who feel some need to prove their point. But, Lao Tzu insists that only shows their lack of wisdom. If they were truly wise, they wouldn’t need to prove their point. I understand Lao Tzu’s point here. At least, I think I do. But I do still find myself, not being very wise, and thinking I have something to prove. I think those of us in the liberty movement always feel, at least a little, like we have our work cut out for us, trying to educate people. All the power and resources of the establishment are arrayed against us. What seems like it should be common sense is all too uncommon. That what Lao Tzu has had to teach, while seeming paradoxical, has also seemed nothing short of common sense, to me, is another thing that drew me to philosophical Taoism.

One more time, Lao Tzu uses the example of the Master to show us how to be content. He says the Master has no possessions. I don’t think he means that the Master is living in a kind of voluntary poverty. What he is referring to is an attitude. How is the Master able to be content? By choosing to be so. No matter his outward circumstances. It doesn’t matter how much money he has. It doesn’t matter how many things he owns. He has everything he needs. Because he has determined that whatever he has, is everything he needs. Whether that is nothing, or many things, or something somewhere in between. His possessions don’t define him, or his ability to be happy. What satisfies him is doing for others. I think most of us feel our happiest when we have done something for someone else. There wasn’t anything in it for us. No gain to be had. Except, of course, our increase in satisfaction, in happiness, in contentedness, with our own lives.

The Master understands that the more he does for others, the more he gives to others, the wealthier he is. I think we could learn a lot from the Master, today. We tend to measure wealth in a whole other way. But the happiest people I know, and this includes myself, aren’t the ones with the biggest bank accounts, or the most possessions. It is those of us that seemingly have the least to give. And yet, we get more wealthy the more we give. Wealth, for the purposes of being content is not the tangible thing that we have been led to believe it has to be. But, if you want to be content with your life, you need to start realizing the wealth in the intangibles of life.

To be content with your simple and ordinary life is to be nourished by the Tao. The Tao never forces. It behaves very much as a mother with her children. The Tao won’t make you take its nourishment. But it is always right there, gently nudging you with its breasts, saying “Here, drink your fill.” This is also how the Master leads and guides us. It is so very different from the domination we have come to expect from those who want to force their will on us. We have so much we can learn from the Master. About the art of leading, and about the art of living. Will we let the Master be our guide?

Today’s is the final chapter. Honestly, I haven’t kept track of how many times I have cycled through these 81 chapters. I did the math, and it appears to be something like 12 or 13 times, now. But, that hardly seems possible; and I am not finished, yet. I still have so much wealth to gain from taking these chapters daily and adding my commentary to each one. I will begin again, tomorrow, with chapter one. For my newer followers that should give each of you the opportunity to begin the journey with me, again, from the beginning.

What Lao Tzu Taught Me: The Art Of True Contentment

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

This is chapter 80 of 81 chapters in the “Tao Te Ching.” I have been cycling through Lao Tzu’s book on the art of living, taking a chapter each day, for about three years now. I didn’t have any idea that I would still be doing this now, when I first got started with it. I also had no idea how much I would gain in the process. It has been a daily meditation for me, thinking through each chapter and adding my own commentary each day. When I first started reading through the Tao Te Ching, what stood out to me was how much I agreed with Lao Tzu on everything he had to say about the art of governing. But that wasn’t any life-changing revelation. He was only saying things with which I had long been in 100% agreement. Much like what Henry David Thoreau had to say, “That government is best which governs least,” Lao Tzu tells would be leaders to trust people and leave them alone. But what has been life-changing for me, is all that Lao Tzu had to say about being content with a simple and ordinary life. This is what he wanted leaders to demonstrate for people. This is the purpose of leaders: to be an example. Show people how to be content with their simple and ordinary lives. It is the exact opposite of what our so-called leaders do. But Lao Tzu didn’t hold out a lot of hope that powerful men and women would ever humble themselves to the point of being true leaders. Ultimately, we need to learn the lessons for ourselves. As I have been taking a chapter each day, my own life has been transformed. Thoreau said, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Somehow, my own journey was not quite as “deliberate” and the only journal I have to show for myself has been my daily postings from the Tao Te Ching. I am not living out in the woods by a pond. And, I continue to avail myself of all sorts of modern conveniences. But I have learned one very profound lesson. And that is how to be content with my simple and ordinary life. I had my simple life somewhat thrust on me a little over three years ago. I took a few weeks to come to terms with it. And then I embraced it. It hasn’t always been easy. But my regrets are not about the last three years. My regrets all stem from the many years before, when I was so far away from true contentment.

Why was I not content? Why are you not content? Because I am a libertarian and an anarchist, to boot, it is easy for me to point the finger of blame at our so-called leaders. After all, Lao Tzu does say, right here, in today’s chapter, “If a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content.” But let’s not forget what he said in yesterday’s chapter. “If you blame someone else, there is no end to the blame.” My failure, a little over three years ago, was an opportunity. Sure, there were others at which I could point the finger of blame. But I knew in my own heart, that wasn’t going to get me anywhere. I needed to see it for the opportunity it was. And, go for it. I have never been more happy, more content than where I am with my life, today.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu paints an idyllic picture of contentment with a simple and ordinary life. Reading these lines always conjures up images of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Shire. I figure most of my readers are already quite familiar with what life in the Shire was like, so I won’t go into the details. I just know that I would be very content to be a hobbit, living in the Shire. I love my little garden. I love smoking my pipe. And, I love my beer dark. You can even get it in pints rather than half-pints if you are one of the big people.

But I am not a hobbit. And I don’t live in the Shire. Yet, I have found a way to be content with my own simple and ordinary life. And some of you might not conjure up images of the Shire when you are thinking of what it would take for you to be content. I just imagine some of you, when reading through Lao Tzu’s lines, on enjoying the labor of their hands and not wasting time inventing labor-saving machines, and loving their homes so much they aren’t interested in travel, are coming up with all kinds of objections. What is wrong with labor-saving machines? And, what is so wrong about loving to travel? But let’s not miss the forest for the trees, my friends. The question isn’t what is wrong with these things; the question is, why aren’t you content?

Do you enjoy your food? Do you take pleasure in being with your family? If not, why not? I am not making light of your dilemma. Believe me. It is horrible to live a life of discontent. I know. I lived one.

Too many, I am afraid, are going to read through these lines and think the people that Lao Tzu is describing cannot really be content; because they cannot imagine themselves being content living that way. But hold on there. You are projecting. The reality is that these people are very content, and you can be too. That doesn’t mean that you have to live like this. That isn’t the point. Lao Tzu isn’t telling us how we all need to live; and, we better be content to live this way, too. He is telling us to be content with a simple and ordinary life; and, you are free to choose for yourself what a simple and ordinary life is for you.

For me, that meant determining just how little I needed. I have discovered through trial and error, that I already have everything I need. That is also something Lao Tzu has been telling us, all along. I don’t want to leave anyone with a false impression; by world standards, I am far from impoverished. I have plenty to eat. I have a roof over my head. I have clothing. I did learn how to let go of desires. Because I don’t have everything I might want to have. But I do have everything I need. Actually more. And I am content. That is the thing that Lao Tzu has taught me. How to be content, not with some others’ simple and ordinary life, but with my own.

With Two Sides To A Contract, Opportunities Abound In Failure

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

It kind of snuck up on me this time around; but I realized, just last night, that we are coming to the end of our latest cycle through the Tao Te Ching. Most of you, by now, are aware that I take a chapter each day and add my own commentary to it, posting each morning. After today, we only have two more chapters to go. But, I hope you all are as happy as I am, that we will be starting all over again, beginning with chapter one, with all new commentary, on Wednesday morning (7am, my time).

Today, Lao Tzu begins by telling us that opportunities abound when we fail. That is certainly a healthy way to go about dealing with failures; since we all do seem to fail quite often. And it is particularly good to keep in mind, as we are winding down our journey through the Tao Te Ching. Until we get the hang of what it means to go with the flow, and even after we think we know what we are doing, we still find ourselves making mistakes, even failing. It is good to know that the Tao is a refuge for us, when we fail. But it is even better, if we can see any failure as an opportunity.

Lao Tzu closed yesterday’s chapter with the words, “True words seem paradoxical.” It was easy to find the truth behind the paradox, yesterday: The soft overcomes the hard. The gentle overcomes the rigid. If you really want to be people’s greatest help, give up trying to help them. But the truth behind the paradox is still very apparent in today’s chapter. Failure is an opportunity. How often do we fail to see it as an opportunity; and instead, start pointing the finger of blame at someone else? Once we start going down that particular road, there is no end to the blame.

But Lao Tzu has a particular reason for saying that failure is an opportunity; and, if we are going to be like water, serene, even in the midst of sorrow, today’s chapter offers us a valuable lesson.

What Lao Tzu is talking about, today, is contractual obligations. From ancient times, humans have relied on contracts to conduct business with each other. With every contract between two parties there are always two sides to the agreement. One side deals with the obligations of one party, and the other side deals with the obligations of the other party. When Lao Tzu tells us to see failure as an opportunity, he has both sides of obligations in mind. We will take these sides one at a time.

The first side is your own obligations. You have entered into a contract with another party. You have a list of things that you have obligated yourself to do. The contract is hard and rigid. And, in some way, you have experienced a failure. Right here, is where we might be inclined to start blaming someone else; but Lao Tzu has already warned us not to follow that path. Instead, he tells us to treat it as an opportunity. And this is where he uses the example of the Master, to show us the way. It isn’t time to start pointing the finger of blame. It is time to do whatever you need to do; to correct your own mistakes, and to fulfill your own obligations. Failure is an opportunity; not to get out of your contractual obligations, but to demonstrate, in spectacular fashion, that you are a man or woman of your word. Your failure isn’t the final word. It is an opportunity. It affords you the opportunity to prove yourself worthy of people’s trust. After all, you didn’t let failure stop you, nosirree. You buckled down and did what you had to do, in this moment of crisis. You lived up to your contractual obligations. Instead of pointing the finger of blame, you made it into an opportunity to shine.

That seems straightforward enough. We really weren’t expecting Lao Tzu to encourage us to try and weasel our way out of our obligations. But then there is the other side of the contract. And that involves the other party’s obligations. What about them? What kind of opportunity do I have, when they fail? We already know what we need to do if it was us. But it isn’t us. It is them.

What are you going to do? How are you going to act? If you respond to the hard and rigid, the contract, by being hard and inflexible, you just missed out on a wonderful opportunity. Instead, Lao Tzu tells us to be soft and yielding. Demand nothing of the other party.

What? Demand nothing of the other party? But, but, they owe me! How dare they! If they were me, I wouldn’t be weaseling out of my obligations; but now you are telling me that I shouldn’t be demanding anything of them?

Now that we are almost through with the Tao Te Ching, it might be a good thing to remember exactly what Lao Tzu has been teaching us, all along. We need to give up our need to control. We need to let go of all desires. We need to be simple in our thoughts and actions, patient with friends and enemies, and compassionate toward ourselves. Let’s not destroy these three greatest treasures, and become an enemy, ourselves. We need to be like water. And, we need to trust the Tao. As it acts in the world, the Tao is like the bending of a bow. Excess and deficiency always get leveled out. Will you let the Tao balance the ledger? Or, will you be hard and inflexible? Remember that the Master is good to both those who are good and those who are not. That is true goodness. The Master trusts both those who are trustworthy and those who are not. That is true trust.

True words seem paradoxical. But are they, really? Failure is an opportunity. It is an opportunity for you to prove that the Tao is alive and well in you.

Water, Water, What’s With All This Water?

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Because we have been talking about being soft and yielding to be a disciple of life, you just had to know that Lao Tzu would return to his favorite metaphor, water. He always comes back to water. It is something with which we are all familiar. The human body is made up mostly of water, anywhere from 50 to 65 percent, in adults; and 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. Obviously water is important to us. And it is a great metaphor for what we need to be like. Interestingly, I just found out that human infants are made up of even more water, 75 to 80 percent. Does that have anything to do with why they are another favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s? Perhaps, it is easier to be like water, the more water you have in you.

Water is the perfect metaphor because the properties of water are exactly how we want to be. It nourishes all things, effortlessly. And, all our actions can be effortless, as well. It seeks out the low places. That makes it humble. I know that is anthropomorphic. But the point isn’t that water is trying to be humble. The point is that that is what water is, naturally. One way that we, as humans, can be like water, is to be humble. The sea gets its power by dwelling beneath the streams that run into it. Humans think the source of their power comes from them being above others. Lao Tzu insists that real power is to be found by placing ourselves beneath them.

And, water is soft and yielding. Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Fill up your bathtub with water and lower yourself into it. It doesn’t put up any resistances to you. As you lower yourself into it, it is soft and luxuriating, yielding to you; it simply rises, as your body displaces it. It feels nice, doesn’t it? But, if you stay in that bath long enough, your skin will start to wrinkle up. Much like the hard and inflexible rocks in a river, over time, water, while seemingly yielding to the rocks and going around them, also slowly eats away at them. Nothing can surpass water for its patience in dissolving the hard and inflexible.

Yes, yes! Everyone knows the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the rigid. We all know this is true. But only a few can put it into practice. And that, my friends, is the point of the metaphor. Oh, we could marvel for a good long time on the attributes of water. But, what we really need to be doing is realizing how we can put these truths into practice in our lives.

How does the Master do it? He is our example, after all. And, here, Lao Tzu talks about his ability to remain serene, even in the midst of sorrow. This won’t make a whole lot of sense to those who can’t accept the paradox.

Perhaps you have never realized before just how hard and inflexible sorrow can be. It can be implacable. It demands all of our attention. And if we don’t give it our complete attention, its demands become even more urgent. What does sorrow demand of us? Well, mostly, it demands that something be done. This is where people with the very best of intentions step in and try to help. Every fiber of your being may be crying out to you to come to the aid of the one suffering in sorrow. One of the lessons I learned, long ago, from my own father is that good intentions can be the most evil of things. He told me, many times, “the streets of Hell are paved with good intentions.” The Master understands this. He doesn’t let evil enter his heart. Remaining serene, seemingly indifferent, disinterested, he doesn’t offer up any help, at all. No good or bad intentions here, my friends. He has no intentions, at all. But, because he has given up helping, because he is disinterested and indifferent, because he remains serene, he is able to be people’s greatest help.

How is this possible? How can disinterest and indifference translate into being the greatest of help? That is the paradox. But that is the soft and yielding quality of water. Maybe the best thing you can do for yourself is to draw yourself a nice hot bath. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water.

Let The Bow Bend

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In the chapter two days ago, Lao Tzu explained that if those who govern us really wanted to act for the people’s benefit, they would trust us and leave us alone. I believe, very strongly, that the only government that is legitimate is one that has the unanimous consent of those it governs. And I won’t consent to any form of government that doesn’t trust us and leave us alone. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about going with the flow of the Tao as a matter of life and death. The only way to go with the flow is to be soft and yielding, hence a disciple of life. When we are stiff and inflexible we are disciples of death. Now, just in case anyone failed to see the connection between the last two chapters, we have today’s chapter where Lao Tzu shows just how they relate.

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter with something that is flexible, to show how the Tao acts in our world. It is like the bending of a bow. Notice that he doesn’t picture someone bending the bow. The bow bends of its own accord without our interference or assistance. The top is bent downward and the bottom is bent up. It is the perfect metaphor for how the Tao acts in our world to adjust excess and deficiency. This is how the Tao achieves balance and harmony in our Universe. It takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. Yin and yang, always in a state of flux, always returning to balance. It is all very impersonal; notice the “whats” here, what is too much and what isn’t enough. What Lao Tzu is describing is a universal law. Nowhere does it ask for our help or even our opinion. It merely asks us to let it happen, without interfering. Where the Tao finds excess and deficiency, it will adjust it, it always adjusts it. My favorite way of explaining the Tao is to simply say, it is the way things are. This is the way things are. This is how the whole Universe flows. This is why we need to be soft and yielding, rather than stiff and inflexible, in order to be truly content in our lives.

What Lao Tzu teaches, is how to be content with the way things are. We need to be as flexible as that bow; letting the Tao adjust excess and deficiency in our own lives. When we are content with our simple and ordinary lives, we won’t be simple and ordinary. The Tao shapes us into whatever it wants us to be, and we become great and extraordinary in the process. But it has to start with accepting that the way things are, is the way things are. Don’t fight it. Don’t resist it. Just go with the flow.

Because I gain new followers every day, I want to be clear about what I mean when I say, the way things are is the way things are. I certainly don’t mean the status quo when I talk about the way things are. The status quo is a system that has been set up by the ruling elite, in opposition to the flow of the Tao. The status quo is maintained by people who are trying to be in control. Lao Tzu has maintained all along, that the Universe is forever out of our control. We simply cannot control it. We can go with the flow of it. And when we do that, all goes well. But when we fail to do that, when we insist on interfering, on trying to be in control, on using force to protect our power, then things go horribly wrong.

That is where we are today, with things gone horribly wrong. The ruling elite have been up to their shenanigans for eons. At least as far back as history records. Always going against the direction of the Tao. Lao Tzu saw it in his day; and it was already an ancient practice, then. Since Lao Tzu’s day, nothing has changed as far as the motives of the ruling elite are concerned. They will say that they are only acting for our benefit. But Lao Tzu has devoted chapter after chapter, admonishing leaders on how to be great. Learn to follow the Tao. Be like water, humble and yielding. If you really want to act for the people’s benefit, then trust the people you are governing, and leave them alone.

The consequences of not yielding to the way things are, are devastating. Notice what happens when we interfere, when we try to control things that are forever out of our control. That is when the impersonal balancing act of the Tao becomes personal. The “whats” become “whos.” The Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. But those who try to control, who use force to protect their power, going against the direction of the Tao, take from those who don’t have enough, and give to those who have far too much. They make it personal. Who gets to decide who has enough? Who has too much? Who has too little? The ruling elite, that’s who. And it matters little if the ruling elite changes every election. Because whoever the ruling elite are, always try to protect their power. Instead of excess and deficiency being adjusted like the bending of a bow, excess and deficiency only grows greater. It isn’t supposed to be this way. This isn’t how the Universe operates. It isn’t how the Tao acts in our world. And this folly cannot be sustained forever. When you are stiff and inflexible, you will be broken.

I wasn’t using hyperbole when I said this is a matter of life and death. We, humans, are either going to evolve, or become extinct. Life or death, that is the choice before us. This is where we need to take our cue from the Master. Remember, the Master isn’t some superhuman, an impossible ideal that we couldn’t possibly ever hope to achieve. The Master can be and should be, any of us. Any of us, that is, willing to evolve. To let the Tao do its thing. To go with the flow, without interfering, without trying to control. We need to be soft and yielding, flexible; that is how we evolve.

The Master can keep on giving because there is no end to her wealth. Please don’t limit that word “wealth” to something financial. I think Lao Tzu means so much more than that. There is no end to what the Master can give. That is why she can keep on giving. When you are going with the flow of the Tao, when you are flexible, soft and yielding, excess and deficiency is always being adjusted. Everything is brought into balance. There is harmony. Lao Tzu says the Master acts without expectation. Understand what he means by expectation, here. Expectation has to do with desires. The Master has let go of all desires. Thus, she is free of all expectations. She succeeds without taking any credit. Why doesn’t she take credit for her success? Because she credits the Tao. That is why she doesn’t think she is better than anyone else. Because she isn’t. No one is. We are all treated equally by the Tao.

That is the kind of equality that the Tao brings about. It is like the bending of a bow. But that isn’t the kind of equality that either gives anyone power over another, or helps anyone maintain their power over another. Thus, those who want to have power over others are never in keeping with the Tao.

How To Prevail In This Life

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After telling us, just a couple chapters ago, not to be afraid of death, in today’s chapter, he tells us to not be a disciple of death. It seems to me that those that fear death the most are the most inclined to take on the characteristics of death, prematurely. What we fear becomes our reality. While we shouldn’t fear death, because it keeps us from living life to its fullest, we really need to embrace what it means to be among the living. And that means remembering where it is we have come from.

Lao Tzu reminds us that we were born soft and supple. It is that way with all beings. Even plants are born tender and pliant. These are characteristics of new and burgeoning life. We need to remember our primal identity and continue to act like the living beings we are. To be soft and yielding is to be a disciple of life.

To be stiff and hard, brittle and dry is to be dead. To be stiff and inflexible, even though you are still yet alive, is to be a disciple of death. Right here would be a good time to say that Lao Tzu isn’t talking about being physically stiff and inflexible or soft and yielding. He is speaking metaphorically of the rigidity with which we can choose to live our lives. If we want to be disciples of life, we need to be able to go with the flow of the Tao; letting things come and go as they will, shaping, and being shaped by, events as they happen. That is the kind of soft and yielding flexibility that Lao Tzu has in mind.

Just as surely as we know that what is physically hard and stiff can easily be broken, we should know that those who are hard and stiff in their living will be broken. If you want to prevail in this life, you need to be a disciple of life. You need to be soft and supple.

I Won’t Consent To Anything Short Of This

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Long before I discovered Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching and became a philosophical Taoist, I was introduced to the political philosophy known as libertarian. That happened way back in college, thirty plus years ago. It was Milton and Rose Friedman’s book “Free to Choose,” a book I was privileged enough to read my Sophomore year in college. Thanks to that book, and an econ professor that used a lot of material from the Cato Institute, by the time I finished college I was an “out of the closet” hard-core libertarian. It has been thirty years since I graduated from college, and I have never wavered from the convictions that I gained while in college. Thank you Professor Flanders!

Reading C.S. Lewis was my first introduction to the Tao. I have read so much of C.S. Lewis over the years, that I don’t remember exactly which book of his I was reading; this was probably twenty years ago, mind you; I think it was “Mere Christianity,” but my memory is not reliable enough to be sure of that. I remember finding what he had to say interesting at the time. It was something I put on the back burner and forgot about for the time being. But then, some years later I started getting somewhat disenchanted with what was passing for Christianity in these United States, and started looking into other philosophies. Not so much other religions, because I had really had about all I could take of religion. I remembered then, what I had put on the back burner before; and started looking into philosophical Taoism. I started reading various translations of the Tao Te Ching; before finally discovering Stephen Mitchell’s translation. And, of course, what really drew me to philosophical Taoism was all that Lao Tzu had to say on the art of governing.

Here was a man after my own heart. He sounded just like a libertarian. I would later find out that Murray Rothbard, among others, referred to Lao Tzu as the first libertarian. I can’t argue with that. What Lao Tzu wrote was, I think, revolutionary in his day. And it still is revolutionary, today. A disciple of Lao Tzu’s, Chuang Tzu, was, perhaps, the first anarchist, expanding on what Lao Tzu wrote, and carrying Lao Tzu’s teachings to, what I think, is their most logical conclusions.

I said all of that because today’s chapter, short and sweet as it is, is music to my ears. It doesn’t matter that I have read it hundreds of times before. And I don’t see how it could be different, though I read it hundreds of times again. This is my rule for governing. If you want my consent to govern me, you simply must follow Lao Tzu’s instructions on the art of governing.

And, of course, this is something that giving mere mental assent to, will never suffice. I want leaders to realize this is true. I want it to be so real to them, that they could never settle for anything less. People go hungry when taxes are too high. People may debate on what constitutes “too high;” but let there never be a debate on whether people go hungry when their hard-earned money is confiscated to enrich the ruling class. Because that is, as it has always been, the purpose of tax collection. Few are those (among the tax collectors) who will ever admit that that is the purpose of tax collection. But it is, nevertheless, true; just as it has always been true. They can say it is “for the children” or “for the poor” or “for ‘this or that’ program;” but inevitably, the children and the poor and anyone that the so-called program was supposed to help, will go hungry; while the ruling class grows ever more bloated. I could go through a huge list of examples of this; but instead, I will just point out that the one set of people who haven’t benefited from the so-called “war on poverty” are the ones that have been impoverished thanks to it. If you ever wonder why it is that people go hungry, in a world that has enough abundance to feed billions more, I would just like to point at the elephant in the room that everyone seems to be ignoring. Taxes are too high.

Taxes are too high. And that saps the spirit right out of people who are producers. The government is too intrusive. People aren’t free to enjoy all the fruits of their labor. And over time that just eats at you. It is a great disincentive. And I am not just talking about money here, when I am talking about taxes. I mean every way in which the government impedes people’s liberty. Yes, I am talking about taxes. But I am also talking about regulations over behavior between two or more consenting parties. What and how much can I produce? Who must I sell it to? Who must I buy it from? The list of questions could go on and on. But, hopefully, you get the point.

The problem is that each of these intrusive restrictions have been sold to the masses as actions for the people’s benefit. Our “benevolent” governments have designed an elaborate and ever-expanding system of rewards and punishments designed to benefit people. Who can I hire to work for me and for what rate? Or, if I want to work for someone else, they are required by law to pay me a minimum rate? Really? Why am I not free to work for less? All of these restrictions, these regulations, that we will be told are for our benefit, end up harming the very ones they are promised to benefit. People go hungry. And they lose their spirit.

That is why I have this one rule for anyone that wants my consent before they can govern me. Screw all your rewards and punishments! If you want to act for my benefit, indeed, for anyone’s benefit, then trust us; and leave us alone. I won’t consent to anything short of this.

Que Sera Sera

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu used the example of the Tao to show us how to always be at ease in our lives. I take no small comfort in knowing that the Tao won’t let us slip through the meshes of its net. Today, we are talking, once again, about how to live a life of ease. And it begins with something we all must realize.

All things change. There may be nothing that we will more readily insist that we already know than this. Which is why I will repeat what I have been saying every chance I get. There is a huge difference between merely thinking we know something, and actually realizing it. We all readily give mental assent to the truth that all things change. But mere mental assent never seems to make any real difference in how we live our lives. If we continue to live our lives like things aren’t going to change, or, as if we can somehow control the future, then we won’t realize the life of ease that Lao Tzu keeps promoting.

There is only one way to live this life of ease. And that is to live in the present. Most of us spend a great deal of our energy on postponing our happiness and contentment to some unknown future time. Instead of living in this present moment, we are hoping that once we have set aside enough money, or gotten a few more things, then we can, and will, be happy. Of course, at the same time we are filled with hope about the future, we are also dogged by fear about what the future might bring. Having lived like that for years, I will tell all you young whippersnappers, that is no way to live. We postpone contentment because we just can’t bring ourselves to be content with right here and right now.

But all things change. And that future that fills you with hope and fear, is above your pay grade to do anything about. It is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. As Lao Tzu explains it, when you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

Leave those tools alone. And choose to be content with this present moment. It is the only moment you have any guarantee of having, anyway. We need to be content with our simple and ordinary lives. Instead of insisting you need something more, realize you already have everything you need to live right here and right now.

Those hopes and fears we keep having are just phantoms, anyway. They aren’t real. The only thing that is real is this present moment. I know that from one moment to the next all things are in a constant state of flux. They are going to change. I can’t hold on to anything. And if I really realized this, there would be nothing I would hold on to. Just let things come and go. The only reason this sounds easier said than done is because we make it harder than it really is. We keep holding on and holding out for something better. Shape events as they happen. We know we can’t do anything about the past. It is done. We know this. But somehow we think that the future is something we can do something about? But how can we, when we have no idea what the future will bring?

It is often said that the only things that are certain are death and taxes. Lao Tzu is actually going to be talking about taxes in tomorrow’s chapter. But today, he addresses the certainty of death.

And what does he say? That the fear of death is holding us back from living life to the fullest in this present moment. Death is certain. Sorry to burst any bubbles here. But let’s just face it. That is what we can all be sure that the future holds. For each and every one of us. We can and do fear this. And it holds us back. But Lao Tzu has a bold and seldom used method for dealing with our impending death. Put those tools down. You can’t control the future. So stop trying to control it. Stop hoping in it. Stop fearing it. Stop being afraid of dying. For, if you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve.

The Best Insurance Money Can’t Buy

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is very comforting to me. We have been talking about the only thing that Lao Tzu teaches: simplicity, patience, and compassion. If we will put these into practice in our lives, something that Lao Tzu insists is easy to do, we will have a life of ease. Now, you may be wondering exactly what is meant by a life of ease? And I would have to answer that it probably varies from person to person. Lao Tzu doesn’t give us specifics on what form our life of ease will take. But he does tell us how to live a life of ease.

Today, he gives us the example of the Tao. The Tao is inside each and every one of us. It is the life force of every being in the Universe. In other words, when we rely on the Tao inside us, as our life force, the Tao lives through us, from the inside out. Because the Tao is always at ease, we can be always at ease. But how does that play out in our lives?

How is it that the Tao is always at ease? It overcomes without competing. We talked just a few short chapters ago about not-competing competing. That is to be like children at play. As far as children are concerned, it is always time to play. They can play all day; and they would prefer that we let them. We are the ones that place restrictions on their play time. We fill their lives with all sorts of programs. I know children that are pulled in every direction to do this and do that. Their fun is very scheduled. And you know what? It isn’t very fun for them. But what do they know? They are just children. We adults know better, right? We know what is good for them. We know that all these programs are going to enrich their lives. And we can get quite agitated when our children don’t want to get with our program for their lives. How dare they be so ungrateful!

But they are children. And, Lao Tzu, has a special place in his heart for children. Why? Because they know something that us adults have long ago forgotten. Children understand a life of ease. I will clue you in to what it looks like by telling you what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t adhere to a rigid schedule. It isn’t planned out. It isn’t goal-oriented. A life of ease is intuitive. Notice that the Tao answers without speaking a word. A life of ease is also spontaneous. The Tao arrives without being summoned. Finally, a life of ease goes with the flow. It doesn’t try to force things. It doesn’t interfere. You just let things come and go and shape events as they happen. Everything the Tao accomplishes, it accomplishes without a plan.

We really need to let our children be children. And, we need to return to being child-like, as well. That is what a life of ease is like.

But I began today’s commentary by saying that today’s chapter is comforting to me. And lest I forget, why it is I said that, here is why I find it comforting. It is because I screw up all of the time. And that could be very distressing to me. In fact, it has been. But Lao Tzu offers us some very good news, very comforting news, in today’s chapter. This Tao, that is always at ease, has a giant net that covers the whole Universe. That net encompasses me, and you, and every being in the Universe. When we mess up, as we are so inclined to do, the Tao has us covered. Yes, the meshes of the net are wide. Sometimes they seem so very wide that you might think that everything would slip through. Sometimes we think we have really royally done it this time. There is just no way to recover. But here is the comfort, my friends. The Tao doesn’t let a thing slip through. That’s the best insurance money can’t buy.

Where’s Your Sense Of Awe?

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, our predicament was a bad case of presumption. Presuming that we know is a disease; and we need to heal ourselves of all knowing. When we know that we don’t know, we are whole. And wholeness means we experience awe as we live our lives from the inside out. In other words, the Tao, inside us, lives through us. But there are other things that may ail us, besides thinking that we know, when we don’t. We can still lose our sense of connectedness with the Tao. That is the awe, I think, Lao Tzu is talking about in today’s chapter. When we lose our sense of awe, we begin to stop trusting ourselves. Our connectedness with the Tao, inside us, has been blocked. And things that we used to be able to do, with ease and intuitively, now become a chore. No longer able to rely on our own intuition, we start looking outside ourselves, to religion, or some other outside authority. And, we will start to become dependent on that outside authority.

That is Lao Tzu’s concern in today’s chapter. Remember, the Tao is still, very much inside each and every one of us. It hasn’t gone anywhere. And nothing is ailing it. It is our connectedness with it, that has been lost. But what is lost can be regained. Once your connectedness with the Tao has been restored, all will return to the way things should be.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Right now, Lao Tzu is concerned with our becoming dependent on authority. It is something that concerns the Master, as well. Because, even the Master, can be seen as an outside authority to be relied on, when we dare not rely on ourselves.

What the Master does here serves two functions. He doesn’t want the people to be depending on his authority, either. He wants to lead the people back to self-reliance; and that will mean helping them to regain their lost sense of awe. So, he takes a step back. This is so that people won’t be confused. And, it also teaches without teaching. What is it that we need to do when we have lost our connectedness with the Tao? We need to take a step back. Follow the example of the Master, here. Take a step back. Somewhere along the way, we got ahead of ourselves. We need to take a step back and assess the situation. Why have we grown dependent on some outside authority? What do they know, anyway? There isn’t anything new we need to learn. We just need to remember who and what we have always been. And, returning to our primal identity, we will have our sense of awe restored, once again.