All posts by Chuck Gullion

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

What Sets Apart The Master From The Ordinary?

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)

Just yesterday, we were talking about being free of desire and content with our simple, everyday lives. Lao Tzu said that would happen all by itself, if only powerful men and women would center themselves in the Tao. The reason he puts the onus on them is because it is they who hinder this. Their will to power is always running counter to the Tao. Their program incites desires. If we are going to be free of desires, if we are going to learn to be content with our simple, everyday lives, the powerful won’t be of any help to us.

So, knowing that, it seems like a tall order, indeed. It has been a daily challenge for me for some time now. I think I am making headway. But, I still find myself not quite rid of desires. That is why I encourage myself every day with the idea that it isn’t the destination, but the journey. The journey is something I take one day at a time. Some days are triumphs. Some days there are setbacks. But I cannot be discouraged. I have the rest of my life for this journey.

And, anyway, just as Lao Tzu reminded us, yesterday, we shouldn’t be striving to do anything. The Tao doesn’t strive. It doesn’t do anything, at all. And it still accomplishes everything. I just want to be more and more like the Tao with each passing day.

Today, Lao Tzu separates the Master from the ordinary person. Remember, the Master is simply anyone who is in harmony with the Tao. The ordinary person doesn’t get what the Master is about. The Master is centered within the Tao. How does the Master accomplish this centering? Without trying. Without striving. Without effort. That sounds, well, nigh impossible. How do you accomplish anything without trying to? Without striving to be your very best? Without putting some effort into it?

The Master has got a secret. He has learned how to tap into true power. How? By not trying to be powerful. That is so simple, so profound, that the ordinary person is confounded by it. Oh, the ordinary person wants power. They keep reaching for it. But they never can get enough.

This is key, friends. It is realizing the way things are is the way things are. Anything that you are reaching for, you will never get enough of. Why? Because anything you have to reach for is only an illusion. True power isn’t something to be taken. That is why you won’t see the Master trying to take it. True power isn’t taken, it is given. And, it is given freely. But only to those who aren’t reaching for it. Trying to be powerful is never the way to attain true power. True power is something that powerful men and women will never have. All they have is the illusion of power. How do I know their power isn’t actually real? Because they never have enough. True power isn’t like that. It never leaves you wanting more. Just like the Tao, it is inexhaustible. You will never need more.

Like I said, this is a secret. But it is only a secret to those who have blinded their own eyes. The Master taps into this secret power by not doing anything at all. Yet, the Master leaves nothing undone. The Master’s actions are effortless. There is never any striving. That is what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. It is doing not-doing. Ordinary people can’t wrap their heads around this doing not-doing. They always must be doing something. They must always be busy, busy, busy. Always striving. Exhausting themselves with effort. And what does that get them? Well, look at the results. Look at all the things that are left undone. That is why the ordinary person is always complaining there are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Time is a constant concern, because they never have enough.

We encounter ordinary people in every profession. They are everywhere. Many of them are kind. And, because they are kind, they occupy themselves with doing kind things. But, no matter how many kind things they do, and believe me they do plenty of kind things, there are still plenty of things that remain undone. And, you will find many ordinary people who are quite motivated to be just. Everywhere they turn, they are working to accomplish justice. Yet, no matter how many works of justice they perform, many more are left to be done. They never can do enough. Is Lao Tzu telling us that we shouldn’t waste our time being kind or just? That there is something wrong with being kind or just? If we can’t possibly get everything done through our random acts of kindness or our many works for justice, should we just resign ourselves to the hopelessness of our cause?

Don’t give into hopelessness just yet. There is a better way. One that actually works. And, for those of us who are kind and just, what are our motives really? I like to think the best of people. I just always have wanted to believe the very best of people. So I want to believe that we are kind and seek justice because we want the world to be filled with kindness and justice. That is certainly a much better motive than simply to be seen as kind or just. There is a huge difference between wanting to make the world a better place for everyone, and wanting to put on a good show for everyone.

Even so, as much as I want to make the world a better place for everyone, I also know that we have already been warned about trying to improve the world. Lao Tzu says the world is sacred. We need to be careful. Our efforts to improve it, may be interfering with the Tao. That is how things got messed up in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that we have a hopeless situation, either. We can, and should, be a pattern for how we want our world to be. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being a pattern. Notice, that isn’t doing; it is being. Just like the Master doesn’t do anything. The Master is a pattern. And, all things do get done.

Oh, but just look at the moral person over there. They can see all that is wrong in the world and they know just how to fix things. So, they start applying their fixes; and, when no one responds, in other words, things don’t happen just like they wanted them to, they reveal their true nature: They roll up their sleeves and use force to accomplish their objectives. How very ordinary they are. They can’t get anywhere by reaching, so they turn to the use of force. True power never apples force. It never has to. Because unlike the illusion of power, it has nothing to prove. And, when the facade starts to crumble, more and more force is brought to bear.

This was a long chapter; so much was said, and my commentary is going long, as well. How do I bring this to a close? The Tao is everything. That is why it does nothing. When the Tao is lost, which means our connectedness to everything is lost, we seemingly can’t get away with doing nothing. That is why we start substituting other things for the missing Tao. We’ll try goodness. But goodness can be lost, too. So, we substitute morality. Because, if people can’t be good, naturally, we can always force them to be good. So, what happens when morality is lost? Then, all that is left is ritual. The Tao has been lost. Goodness has been lost. Even morality is lost. Goodness isn’t something that comes naturally to us, anymore. We aren’t even being forced to be good, anymore. But, we can put on a good show. That is what ritual is. A good show. An act. It is only the husk of the real thing, true faith. That, my friends, is the chaos that we are living today.

Everyone fears chaos. At least they fear the imaginary kind of chaos. But they seem quite satisfied with the very real chaos that they are living. I tell people there is a better way. But they are so filled with fears of the imaginary, they won’t turn their backs on what they have brought on themselves. Ordinary people can’t see beyond the surface, to the depths. They concern themselves with the flower, instead of the fruit. It is time, my friends. It is time to let go of desires, to have no will of your own. It is time to dwell in reality and let go of all illusions. You can be imagining far better things.

What The Powerful Will Never Do For You

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)

Yesterday, we were talking about the subtle perception of the way things are. The workings of the Tao are always a mystery to us. It never does do anything. Yet, while we can’t perceive its workings, we can perceive the results. Through it all things are done.

It is the its profound subtlety that confounds powerful men and women. The whole world can be transformed all by itself, in its natural rhythms. That is the way of the Tao, the way things are. Centering ourselves in the Tao means letting go of our need for control; and no longer interfering with the natural rhythms of our world.

So, as I am constantly being reminded that the 2016 presidential campaign is well underway in the United States, the trillion dollar question is, “Can powerful men and women do this? Can they center themselves in the Tao? Just imagine it. Powerful men and women forgoing their need to control, no longer interfering with the natural rhythms of our world.

Scores of the powerful are going to announce their intentions to run for the highest office in the free world. They are going to tell us exactly what they think we want to hear. And about half the voting population are probably going to fall for the lies. And no matter who gets elected, things are going to go on much the same way they have been. That is good news for those that can’t wait for the next campaign. Not such good news for the rest of us.

That last paragraph surely outs me as skeptical that powerful men and women are ever going to center themselves in the Tao. Instead of asking the question, “Can they?” I think a more important question is, “Why would we ever expect them to?” Powerful men and women have their own agenda. And that runs counter to the Tao. They are consumed by their own will to power. The danger with asking, “Can they?”, is that it holds out some glimmer of hope that if we just get the right people in power, then things will change. That is what political campaigns are all about. Whether they are offering the phantom of hope or fear, it is all just phantoms. Far removed is the reality of the corrupting influence of power. The Tao operates on an entirely different plane. When you are relying on power, you aren’t relying on the Tao.

Power doesn’t make it easier to rely on the Tao. It makes it harder. So, while Lao Tzu makes grand promises about how things would be if the powerful could or even would, the reality is that it doesn’t have to be up to them. We can not and should not be reliant on the whims of the powerful. Each new election only offers us the same old hopes and fears. And everything remains the same. Stop waiting on others to do it. You have everything you need complete in you. That is the Tao in you. Center yourself in that reality. Let go of all desires, one desire at a time, until you are free of all desires. That is the path to true contentment. A contentment with your own simple, everyday life. In harmony with the way things are.

We truly make this much harder than it actually is. We keep waiting on the powerful to do it. But they will never do it. All they desire is to maintain their power. And, even after we have let go of waiting for the right people to get into power, we still think there is something that we must do. Something, surely, must have to be done. But, Lao Tzu points us in an entirely different direction. Instead of moving toward action, Lao Tzu points us toward inaction. What do you mean? Do we do nothing? But if we do nothing, how is anything ever going to get done? Well, how does the Tao accomplish all things without doing a thing? That is a mystery, my friends. All I can show you is the results. All things do get done. Just, minus the striving, the efforts. Doing not-doing. Inactive action. It is effortless action. Stop your striving. Give up your need to control. Let go of all your desires. Only when there is no desire, will your heart be at peace.

The Mystery Which Is The Subtle Perception

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)

We have been devoting the last few days to perceptions. Trying to perceive the imperceptible Tao. Discovering our senses are not going to be of any value to us in our pursuit of the Tao. And, finally, finding peace in our hearts; once we perceive the universal harmony. Today, once again Lao Tzu is back on perceptions. The subtle perception of the way things are. That word, subtle, is important. There is probably nothing more subtle than the way things are. Subtle just means that it is so slight as to be difficult to detect or describe. Yes, that is always the problem we have when trying to describe the mystery of the Tao. That is what we have been talking about for days now. The Tao will always be imperceptible to us. Words pointing to it seem monotonous and without flavor.

Still, Lao Tzu insists that there is something to perceive. Yesterday, he described it as the universal harmony. Today, he is talking about the very same thing. The way things are is universal harmony. We only need to perceive it. But it is so very subtle. That is why he helps us to perceive it, using, what else, yin and yang, to describe it for us. Shrinking and expanding. Getting rid of something and allowing it to flourish. Taking and giving. These aren’t opposites. They are complements, if we can only perceive that.

The way things are is the way of nature. It is all of nature’s laws. And it is cyclical. Just like day follows night, taking follows giving. I am going to admit something that isn’t going to come as a huge shock to anyone. I can be very impatient. When I want to shrink something. I want it shrunk right now. I don’t want to wait. And, I certainly don’t want to first allow it to expand. And the very idea that I will gladly stand by and wait for something I want to be rid of to flourish, first, is anathema to me.

Yet, I am learning. I am beginning to understand my need to give up my need to control. I am beginning to let the Tao’s mysterious workings remain a mystery to me; and content myself with simply seeing the results. We all know that the soft overcomes the hard and the slow overcomes the fast. We all know it; because we have all seen the results over and over again. There is simply no denying it. Yet, why it is that this is the way things are? That remains a mystery.

I like a good mystery. But generally, I like to see how it all comes out in the end. Sometimes, I am left dissatisfied with the results. I feel that need to force a more satisfying conclusion into being. But that isn’t how things work. My impatience, notwithstanding, nature’s way is the best way. Though most of its mysteries remain, well, a mystery. And that is how we should be in our own workings. If we want to be like the Tao, our workings need to be a mystery as well. What does this mean? What are we really trying to prove? Is what we are doing designed to impress someone? If we work with nature, rather than resisting it, our workings will largely be a mystery. Let that be the case. Don’t worry about it. Just do your work and then step back. The Tao will manifest itself.

Perceiving 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)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks of danger and great pain. But he doesn’t spend a whole lot of time speaking of such things. Oh, they exist. They always exist. But Lao Tzu shows us a way to find peace in our hearts, even in their midst. How is this peace to be found?

It is in centering ourselves in the Tao, that we can go wherever we wish, without danger. And we have been talking about that centering for some days now. How do we do it? The Tao is imperceptible. How can we begin to center ourselves in it?

To assist us, Lao Tzu explains why it is that the Tao is imperceptible to us. It is because the Tao isn’t like music to our ears. Or, the smell of good cooking. Those things are delightful to us. They make us stop and enjoy them. But the Tao isn’t like that. You can’t perceive the Tao like that. Words that point to it offer nothing to our senses. It is tasteless. When you look or listen for it, there is nothing there. That is the very definition of imperceptible.

But there is something that can be perceived. No, not the Tao. But, you can perceive the universal harmony. That is a manifestation of the Tao. That, we can perceive. Though it, too, is something that is beyond our sensory perception.

Lao Tzu promises you can perceive it, even in the midst of great pain. Though I don’t believe that translates to “you can only perceive it in the midst of great pain.” I believe, too, that it can be perceived in the midst of the greatest joy. But those are just two extremes. And I don’t want to suggest that it can only be perceived in the extremes. Our lives are filled, not just with ups and down, but plenty of plateaus as well. And, you can perceive the universal harmony there, as well.

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, you can perceive the universal harmony; if, you will make way for it to reveal itself to you. That is that vanishing in the Tao we were talking about yesterday. When you stop seeing yourself as separate, and see the whole world as yourself; then, you have vanished and the Tao is revealed.

Just A Molecule Of Water

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)

Today’s chapter reads like an ode to the Tao, as Lao Tzu sings its praises. He has talked many times before of its greatness and its humility. Also, comparing it with water has been a recurring theme. But this isn’t just an ode to the Tao. Really, it is a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying in yesterday’s chapter. It is about centering ourselves in the Tao and embracing our own death. It is about getting to know and master ourselves, in relation with the Tao.

We are to be like the Tao. Just like the Tao is like water, we need to be like water. The words that Lao Tzu uses to describe the Tao speak a lot of its greatness and its humility. Water is an apt metaphor for that greatness and humility. But we have talked already about its greatness and humility. What really stands out to me, as I read through today’s chapter, is the effortlessness of it all.

Everything the Tao accomplishes, it does so effortlessly. If we are to be like the Tao, it is that effortlessness that we really need to put into practice. It flows everywhere, effortlessly. It merges with all things, effortlessly. And, all things vanish into it, effortlessly. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. That would seem to require great effort. After all, we fear that death is final. That we are going to lose ourselves in that death. Never to be seen or heard from again. Isn’t that what vanishing means?

So, we resist the very notion of vanishing. Which is why it is so difficult to embrace our own deaths. We let hopes and fears muddle our thinking. We have already talked before about what hopes and fears are. Just phantoms that arise because we are thinking of ourselves. We certainly won’t vanish as long as we entertain those notions. But what does resisting get us? The way things are is the way things are. Yes, I will continue to maintain this truth. We just don’t get it. Perhaps we don’t want to get it. We don’t understand; and we fear what we don’t understand.

But, the whole point of the Tao Te Ching is to teach us the virtue of the way things are. We need to recognize our fear of vanishing as the phantom it is. All things end in the Tao. That is the way things are. Vanishing (death) is part of it. We have built up layer after layer of illusion in the hope that we can endure. That is what we embrace. That is how we have been conditioned to act in the world. But reality has a way of coming in, like a flood, and washing away all our carefully crafted illusions. This can bring dismay.

But, all those illusions must go. Displaced by reality. The sooner we realize this, the better for us all. Let the Tao merge inside you, as it merges inside all things. Let your self vanish in the Tao, as all things vanish in the Tao. Until nothing but the Tao endures.

Is this the end? Death seems like that. So final. But, just look around you. Look at nature. Pick up on all the natural rhythms of the circle of life around you. Is death really final? All things vanish. But just wait. There they are back again. It is all cyclical. And the circle continues. Will you stay in the center?

We keep coming back to being like water. Lao Tzu keeps talking about all rivers flowing into the sea. What does it mean to be a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Do we lose our identification as we vanish into that vast ocean? No, we are more than just a part of the ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. Yes, we are surrounded by other molecules of water. But that ocean would not be complete without each and every one of us.

You Can Endure This

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)

Comparatively speaking, it is easy to know and master others. What is difficult is knowing and mastering ourselves. But then, there is all the difference in the world between intelligence and strength, and true wisdom and true power. If we want this life of ease that Lao Tzu keeps talking about, it is truth, reality, that we are after; and no amount of intelligence and strength is going to help.

Did you get that? It isn’t intelligence and strength that is required of you. All that intelligence and strength do for you is help you to know and master others. And sadly, most people are perfectly content with just that. But I think better of you, my friends. I don’t think you are content with that. I think you are after true riches. And that means knowing and mastering yourself.

Others. It’s us versus them. You are either with us or against us. When we use the tools of intelligence and strength we see ourselves as separate from others and others as separate from ourselves. But that isn’t the truth, reality. It is an illusion. When we see ourselves as separate from others we have deluded ourselves. We don’t know ourselves. And we can’t begin to master ourselves. Our intelligence and strength only serve to feed our delusions.

We want to truly know ourselves and truly master ourselves. That means we need to see past the delusion that we are separate from others. The reality that we seek is an understanding that we are all one in the Tao. It isn’t enough to mentally assent to this truth. We need to realize it. That is a process, not an event.

Realization is something that is revealed to you as you peel away the layers of falsehood. Throughout our lives we have built up these layers to convince ourselves, and others, that we are something very different from what we are. We have come to believe the lie. But truth will set you free.

Peeling away layers of falsehood. Sounds kind of painful, doesn’t it? It can be. We never think we are ready to be confronted with the truth about ourselves and others. Peeling away these layers is death. A death to the delusions we have long cherished. But the Tao is ever-present with us all along our way. You already have everything you need. You don’t need more intelligence, more strength, more money, more of anything. You have everything you need in the Tao.

So, stay in the center of the circle. Remember, it is in the center of the circle that you find the Tao. Stay there. And, embrace that peeling away of the layers, that death, with your whole heart. You can endure it. You will endure it. Forever.

Perceiving The Imperceptible

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)

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by hearkening back to what he said about the Tao at the beginning of the Tao Te Ching. What Stephen Mitchell translates as imperceptible, in the original is nameless. Lao Tzu is talking about the mystery that shrouds the eternal Tao. We can’t perceive it. It is without form and nameless. That doesn’t make it any less real. It just makes it all the more real. However, it is a warning to us that what we are dealing with is beyond anything our minds can conceive.

But, since the Tao is not something that we can perceive, it would seem to be impossible to center ourselves within it. I mean, Lao Tzu comes right out and tells us that if powerful men and women could, then all things would be in harmony. The next few lines delight our imaginations. The world, a paradise. All people, at peace. The law, written in our hearts. This is beginning to sound like something right out of the sacred texts of our major religions.

Yet, we can’t shake that warning at the beginning. We can’t perceive it. And, if we can’t perceive it, we can’t center ourselves in it. Paradise seems hopelessly lost to us.

Well, human ingenuity being what it is, we sure try. We set out to give what is formless and nameless both a form and a name. Who can resist this? Even Lao Tzu couldn’t help himself. He is the one who gave it the name, Tao. Though he did acknowledge that name was only provisional. It is nameless. But I have to call it something. How can you begin to understand something until you apply some name to it? And, of course, Lao Tzu insists that what he is really talking about is the manifestations of the Tao, not the Tao itself.

While this doesn’t apply just to the Tao, today’s chapter is about the Tao. All our efforts to try and understand the mysteries of the Universe run up against this roadblock. The forms and names we come up with, they are only provisional. The institutions that we set up are always limited to a certain time. The danger isn’t in having forms and names and institutions. The danger is in not knowing when the time for such things is at an end.

I know, I know, this is a very difficult chapter. This imperceptible Tao that we are still trying to perceive has all the makings of driving us all insane. When does it end? And, if we can’t perceive it, no matter how great our efforts, then why keep talking about it?

When does it end? It ends in the Tao. And that, my friends, is much better news than we might yet perceive. You can’t center yourself in it. But, the Tao can center you in it. Just like all rivers flow into the sea. All things end in the Tao.

So, what does any of this mean to me? Well, knowing that all things end in the Tao, I can simply be like water. Be like all rivers, flowing into the sea. That is my place in the grand scheme of things. I am like water in a river, flowing, ever-flowing into the sea. Uncountable galaxies are contained within the Tao. And that includes me.

What Use, Weapons?

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)

For the last few days we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth determines whether we are one with the Tao. Yesterday, we expanded our definition of the Earth to include not just the physical planet, but everything and every one contained within it. The whole world accepts you once you have learned to accept yourself.

Lao Tzu opened that chapter with a simple physics lesson, for every force there is a counter force. Violence, however well-intentioned it may be, always rebounds upon the one who is violent. That is a universal law. Which means it is one we ignore at our own peril. Still, Lao Tzu mentioned that universal law in a particular context. That of governing. He was instructing those who govern in the art of governing. You need to rely on the Tao, instead of relying on the use of force and violence.

Today, Lao Tzu expands on that theme of violence perpetrated by those who govern us. That is where weapons come in. Those are the tools of violence. And, to the extent they are used as tools of violence, all, not some or a few, decent people detest them. Here we have a litmus test for decency. Decency requires that you detest violence. Therefore, decency requires that you detest tools intended to inflict violence.

Now, before anyone starts getting any wrong ideas, let’s be clear that weapons may have other purposes than to inflict violence. It is only with respect to their use as tools of violence that they are to be detested.

Weapons are also the tools of fear. Fear is something that Lao Tzu has earlier identified as a phantom. It isn’t based in reality. This is why another litmus test of decency is found in one’s willingness to avoid fear-based use of weapons.

So, why have any weapons? That would seem the obvious question. After all, if weapons are going to be used as tools of violence and fear, and all decent people detest and avoid using them, why have them at all?

I, personally, would be more than happy to live in a world where there was no need for weapons, at all. But sadly, as ideal as that would be, that isn’t anymore based in reality than is fear. I could hope for it. And, who doesn’t hope for it? But, in the same chapter where Lao Tzu identified fear as a phantom, he said the same thing about hope. It isn’t based in reality either.

Here is the reality. While all decent people detest and avoid using weapons as tools of violence and fear, not everyone is decent. You can’t make all people decent. Sorry to drop that bombshell on you. But it is the truth. And, given that truth, it is for the best that decent people have weapons. That really wasn’t fair of me. I just offered the hope that we could limit the use of weapons to decent people. But, do I really need to tell you that hope isn’t based in reality either? Wouldn’t it be great if only decent people had access to weapons? Of course it would. But we are trying to be realistic here.

As much as I would like to live in a fantasy world, I live in this world. And in this world weapons can and should be used by decent people, not as tools of violence and fear, but in self-defense. Because, yes, there are plenty of not too decent people out there who are only too willing to use weapons as tools of violence and fear.

So let’s take a look at what Lao Tzu has to say about using weapons as tools of self-defense. What does self-defense mean? Still talking about decent people here, it means that weapons are going to be avoided except in the direst necessity. And, only with the utmost restraint.

I think it would be a mistake to classify Lao Tzu as a pacifist. If by pacifist, you mean someone that wouldn’t use a weapon even in the direst necessity. Then again, if by pacifist you mean someone for whom peace is his highest value, you have Lao Tzu, and me, pegged. Decent people can’t be content when the peace has been shattered. And that is something that goes both ways. We refuse to be the ones that shatter the peace. But, we also understand that others, who are not so decent, may wish to shatter the peace. That is what we are guarding against. The peace being shattered. Peace being our highest value, direst necessity does call decent people to arms.

But let’s not forget who it is that Lao Tzu has been addressing the last couple of days. It is those who are governing. And their definition of direst necessity has me thinking there isn’t a decent person among them. Utmost restraint is another one of those things that those who govern us seem to have in short supply.

We talked earlier about hope and fear being phantoms. But let’s be clear here. Our enemies are not demons, but human beings like ourselves. Our rulers like to whip up a whole lot of patriotic fury to get us to support our troops as they engage all over the world in making global capitalism profitable. But these enemies that are being manufactured out of thin air are not demons. They are our fellow humans. Each of them have their own hopes and fears, just like we do. We all have plenty of phantoms to deal with, we don’t need to be manufacturing demons.

Decent people do not wish their enemies personal harm. Decent people do not rejoice in victory over them. How could they? In what test of human decency is delighting in the slaughter of men, women, and children acceptable?

You know, we used to understand that battlefields were graveyards. We weren’t so insulated from the reality of war like we are today, with all of our high tech gadgetry. We used to understand that battles were places of great sorrow. And, it was because of our previous understanding that the greatest acts of compassion were demonstrated on those battlefields. Now, we have replaced compassion and sorrow with mocking and laughter. That is our shame. And, it is indecent.

Are You Ready To Stop Being A Pawn?

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)

We have been talking about how being one with the Tao depends on our relationship with the Earth. Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us that the world is sacred and can’t be improved. He said that treating it like an object is only going to result in losing it. I said, parenthetically, that this doesn’t just go for the Earth, this goes for all beings. Treating anything or anyone as an object is only going to mess things up. We aren’t objects to be exploited. We are all subjects. We are all subject to the natural laws of the Universe, the Tao.

I want to be clear on this point. Lao Tzu talks over and over again about the Tao being the way things are. That we need to accept that the way things are is the way things are. And every time I write those words I have this nagging suspicion that somebody somewhere is going to think that Lao Tzu is telling us that the status quo is something we should just accept.

That is not at all what Lao Tzu is teaching. The Tao is not the status quo. The status quo is a system set up in opposition to the Tao. It should be opposed wherever possible. That isn’t easy. It is a powerful system backed by powerful men and women who want nothing to do with the Tao. All they want is to maintain their power.

When Lao Tzu talks about the way things are, he is talking about the natural laws that govern the Universe and everything in it. The Tao doesn’t rule like some dictator. You can go against the current of the Tao. You might even thrive for a time going against the current of the Tao. But in the end, we reap what we sow. What Lao Tzu is ultimately offering us is a life of ease. That is the reward, and I am not meaning a heavenly one, that is the result of a life lived relying on the Tao.

I give a whole lot of grief to those that are trying to maintain the status quo, our rulers and their sycophants. But little ol’ me doesn’t give anywhere near the grief that they give to all of us residing on planet Earth, simply because powerful men and women refuse to rely on the Tao in governing us.

There is no clearer picture of the line that separates those that rely on the Tao from those that don’t, in today’s chapter. The chapter begins with an elementary physics lesson. The kind of lesson that we were all taught as children while playing with others. This isn’t rocket science. It is what every boy and every girl has been taught for many generations. Sadly, too many have either failed to learn the lesson or have forgotten it.

To rely on the Tao is to never try to force issues. To rely on the Tao is to never defeat enemies by force of arms. Using force is a big no-no. Why? Because for every force there is a counter force. Everyone knows this is true. It is a law. That means that violence, the go-to measure being inflicted by powerful men and women everywhere, will inevitably rebound on them. That doesn’t stop them. Because it isn’t them on the front lines. They aren’t the ones that are shedding the blood. They aren’t the ones that are losing arms, legs, and lives. They aren’t the ones that come home from war with shattered minds. For now, they have their pawns to inflict the harm and reap the devastation.

I have no delusions that the words that I post are going to influence the powerful to amend their ways. My ambitions are much more humble. I just hope to influence a few people not to be pawns anymore.

So, how do we go about no longer being a pawn? If you are looking for something specific here, I’d say that the answers are as varied as there are people on the Earth. I am not going to tell you what you specifically should do to avoid being a pawn used to maintain the status quo. But Lao Tzu does have some solid instructions on how to go about relying on the Tao, instead of being a pawn.

So, getting off the chessboard… First off, you have work to do. We all do. The only question is, will we be satisfied to do our job and then stop? What does he mean, stop? This is certainly something that we need to understand.

Do you understand that the universe is forever out of control; and, that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao? Until you understand this, you won’t stop. Do you believe so little in yourself that you just have to try to convince others of your worth? You need to believe in yourself. You can’t begin to rely on the Tao until you learn to believe in yourself. You don’t need others’ approval. Oh, you may think you do. But that isn’t relying on the Tao. You need to be content with yourself. This is important. Getting off the chessboard is going to appear a very lonely thing. If you haven’t learned to be content with yourself, it is going to be very difficult for you.

Finally, accepting that the way things are is the way things are, means accepting yourself. It means accepting the Tao in you. I am not going to make any grand promises that in no time at all you are going to be lauded with accolades by the powers that be. I think the best you can hope from them is that they won’t even notice you. But Lao Tzu offers something a whole lot better. This: The whole world, that sacred place that can’t be improved, will accept you. And that means everything. Everything. Because our relationship with the Earth is how we interact with the Tao. That life of ease that Lao Tzu keeps talking about. It all starts here.

A Sacred Place

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)

We have been talking about how important it is that we have a right relationship with the Earth, our world. Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us how to receive the world in our arms and be a pattern for it. He also talked about the importance of balancing yin and yang, knowing the personal, yet keeping to the impersonal; if, we are going to come to accept the world as it is. I promised, yesterday, that we were going to talk more about accepting the world as it is. If the Tao is going to be luminous inside of us, returning us to our primal selves, it is essential that we accept the world as it is.

Today, as promised, we are ready to tackle learning to accept that the way things are is the way things are. Too often, we see how things seem to be, and we want to improve on things. But Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter on this very note. Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done.

We have talked about this earlier. The Earth is one of the four great powers. Humans are another. But humans are subordinate to the Earth. We need to follow the Earth as the Earth follows the Universe as the Universe follows the Tao. That is how we are one with the way things are. We do well when we accept this natural order.

For Lao Tzu, the world is sacred. You simply cannot improve on it. Trying to improve it involves going against the natural order. It means not accepting the way things are. And that means tampering with it. It is our tampering with the natural order which ruins it. The world shouldn’t be treated as an object, but as a subject. Subject to the natural laws of the Universe. The Tao. When we treat it like an object, we lose. Parenthetically, this goes for all beings, including our fellow humans. Treating anything or anyone as an object is just going to mess everything up. We are all subjects. Subject to the natural laws of the Universe. The Tao.

Okay, that seems simple enough. But, how exactly do we go about accepting the world as it is? How do we set aside any notion that we can improve on the natural order? It should come as no surprise that it depends on our understanding of how yin and yang complement each other. Isn’t that what Lao Tzu has been going on and on about? We tend to favor one over the other. Generally, I think we favor yang over yin. But Lao Tzu has made it very clear that we can’t have one without the other. And, we shouldn’t cherish one over the other. They are not at odds. One isn’t superior to the other. One isn’t good, while the other is bad.

Accepting, then, is understanding that in the natural order of things, there is a time for everything. There is a time for yang to be in ascendancy. And, there is a time for yin to be in ascendancy. It is not for us to question why things are the way things are; except, insofar, as it helps us to accept that the way things are is the way things are. And, central to this understanding is knowing that things are in a constant state of flux. Change is the only constant.

There is a time for everything. That means there is a time for being ahead. But there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion and a time for being at rest. There is a time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger.

That last paragraph may have just been repeating back what Lao Tzu said in the chapter, but it is vitally important that we get this. When we go against the flow, when we tamper with the natural order, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, when we try to put things in motion that need to be at rest, when we keep pushing ourselves to be vigorous when we are already exhausted, we will find ourselves in danger, when we should have been safe. Oh, there is a time for being in danger. But we would do well to leave that to the Tao. Putting ourselves in danger when we could be safe? That goes against the Tao.

We need to be like the Master. She is our example. She sees things as they are. Not as we may want them to be. She doesn’t tamper, never trying to control. She just lets things go their own way. That is accepting that all things are subjects rather than objects. All things are subject to laws that we have absolutely no business tampering with. It is so far above our pay grade to be tampering with the Tao.

The world is a sacred place. That is where we reside. It is our home. The only home we have. Treating the world as the sacred place it is, is residing at the center of the circle. Lao Tzu has talked about staying in the center of the circle before. That is the most sacred place. It is while residing at the center of the circle that you let all things take their course. That is where the Tao is. That is where the Tao does nothing; yet through it, all things are done. That is where we all need to reside. As we venture out from the center of the circle, life starts getting chaotic. That is where the temptation to interfere with things starts to get strong. The center of the circle is a sacred place. It is there that you, too, can do nothing; while letting all things get done.