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.

Being Like 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 onto 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, Lao Tzu gives us an ode to the great Tao. The Tao is, as we have said many times before, ubiquitous and liquid. It is like water. It is both humble and great. But this isn’t just an ode to the Tao. What Lao Tzu is doing with today’s chapter is continuing what he was talking about yesterday, with centering ourselves in the Tao and embracing our own death. It is about getting to know our true selves, by knowing the great Tao. At least, to the extent that is possible. Remember, we can’t really begin truly mastering our own selves until we have first come to truly know our selves.

So, the Tao is like water. And Lao Tzu has told us to be like water. It flows everywhere. All things are born from it. It pours itself into its work. It nourishes infinite worlds. It is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. All things vanish into it and it it alone endures.

I could spend a lot of time talking about the humility of the Tao. That is certainly an attribute of water. And there is plenty that can be said about the greatness of the Tao. And, of water. But, what really stands out to me, as I read today’s chapter, is the effortlessness of it all.

It flows everywhere, effortlessly. And we, too, should effortlessly let it flow in and through us. It merges with all things effortlessly. And, all things vanish into it, effortlessly. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. We fear that death is final. That we lose ourselves there. Never to be seen or heard from again. That is what vanishing really means. Isn’t it?

And we resist the very notion of vanishing. Which is why we don’t embrace our own deaths. But, why is that? I think it is only because we have a very limited understanding of the way things are. We simply don’t understand it. And we fear what we don’t understand.

What Lao Tzu is doing with the Tao Te Ching is teaching us that the way things are is the way things are. That may seem very elementary. And it is. But it is also something that gives us a whole lot of trouble. Of course the way things are is the way things are. Why do we even need to be told this? Because we act in this world as if things aren’t the way they are. We act like they are somehow different. We embrace an illusion that we have created. And then reality comes in, like a flood, shattering our carefully crafted illusions, and we are dismayed.

Let go of the illusions. 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 does seem like that. But, look around you. Look at nature and pick up on all the natural rhythms of the circle of life around you. Is death final? I can’t look at it that way anymore.

What does it mean to be like a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Do we really lose our identification? No, we are more than just part of that ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. And yet, that ocean would not be complete without our inclusion.

Knowing And Mastering Your Self

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)

Today’s chapter is all about self-knowledge and self-mastery. And what is the difference between intelligence and true wisdom, strength and true power. What we are after is truth, what is real. And we aren’t go settle for anything less than that.

And that begins with realizing truth about ourselves. Most of us are content to spend all our lives believing an illusion about ourselves. I am not talking about what we want others to think they know about us. I am talking about what we think we know about ourselves. We have a surface knowledge of the truth. It is very superficial. And often, about as far removed from the truth as we can fool ourselves into believing. That illusion, we have figured out. Or, at least, we hope we do. It certainly makes mastering ourselves easier. But that mastery is all a mirage. Because we really can’t begin to truly master ourselves until we truly know ourselves.

But how? How do we begin to peel away the facade? How do I get to know the real me? The first thing that Lao Tzu tells us in this chapter is to realize that you have enough. This isn’t as easy, or as hard, as it sounds. It is what it is. I don’t think you can just wake up one day and decide, “Damn it, I have enough!” It would be nice if it was that easy, but alas, it isn’t. At least, it wasn’t that way for me. Realizing is a process. You come to realize truth, that is only revealed, as you peel away layers of falsehood. Peeling away may sound like a painful process. That is good, if you think that. Because you might as well know. Those layers of falsehood are like layers of skin. Not dead skin that just flakes away, either. No, these layers of falsehood are very much alive to you. And you need to slice away at it, going always deeper, deeper. Okay, that sounds incredibly hard. And yet, I dared to suggest it isn’t as hard as it sounds. The reason it isn’t as hard as it sounds is that we are talking about falsehoods here. We aren’t talking about truth. It probably will be painful. Because we have been quite content to live this charade. But it isn’t going to be as hard, or as painful, as it lets on. Best advice I can give you: Don’t listen to the protestations that are going to rise up in defense of keeping you covered in layers of falsehood.

Lao Tzu was talking about the reality that we really have enough. The falsehood is that we don’t. We need more. Always more. We never have enough. That is, by the way, how to see the falsehood for what it is. All the screams that say that you don’t have enough are a lie. That is what needs to be peeled away. Okay, short of skinning ourselves alive, what exactly is the practical advice here? It is actually very simple. You need to discover for yourself how little is enough. And that means simplifying your life. Cutting it down to bare bones. Oh, you think you are already subsisting right now? I just bet you are lying to yourself. I say that because I know how good I have been at lying to myself. There is a real art to that. And the longer you do it, for me that lasted for decades, the more of a master you are at it. And, just so you know. I am not through yet. I know I am still lying to myself. I am still a work in progress. Like I said, it is a process.

This is huge! I mean, seriously, this isn’t something that anyone is going to accomplish in just a little while. But it is going to be so worth it. We are talking about true riches here. I have been on this journey for only a short time. I’d say about two and a half years now. And, I know, I still have a very long way to go. However, this much is clear to me. I am beginning to have my eyes opened to how truly rich I am. Now, I know some of you are wondering why we can’t see how much is enough, instead of how little. And, that is really quite easy to answer. Because there is no such thing as enough when you are accumulating. I bet the richest person alive is not just living out the rest of their days, content to just live on that. No, they want more. And, you will too. You will always want more. I know I do. But I am learning how little is enough. And there is a limit to that. No, I haven’t reached that limit yet. But there is a limit.

The next thing to do, is something to be doing at the same time. We aren’t doing things one at a time here, we are doing them both at once. And that is, staying in the center of the circle and embracing death with your whole heart. Now, what does Lao Tzu mean by this? I am still young. I am not even close to being ready for death, let alone embracing it.

But embracing death is not wishing for it. The Tao is at the center of the circle. And, the Tao is carrying us through the circle of life. From birth, growth, maturity, death, decay, rebirth, new growth… You see, when you look at it that way, it really throws our mindset, which puts death at the end, out in the dung heap. Death isn’t the end. It is really kind of, sort of, in the center. No, death isn’t at the end. It isn’t the end for us. We can embrace death, knowing that we go on and on and on, enduring forever.

And, we really know this. We just don’t care to think of things this way. But you have existed since the very beginning in the Tao. And, you will continue to exist in the Tao forever and always. “No!” We protest. “The conscious me is going to cease to exist when I die. My body is going to rot in a grave, or it is going to be cremated. And my soul? Well, we have only faith to rely on, when it comes to the eternal destination of the soul.” Look, I don’t want to challenge your faith. But I do want to assure you that just because you don’t know anything really about the nothing that you are going to return to, the very nothing that you came out of, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to have a very real existence in that nothing. Just like you have a very real existence in that nothing right now.

And we need to embrace that. We continue to believe in the illusion that we are separate. When the reality is that we are all connected. We are all one. And we are all the whole. That is the way it has always been. That is the way it is now. And, that is the way it will always be. Death seems final, only because we think of ourselves as separate beings. Once you realize that you are not separate from the whole, once you realize that you contain the whole Universe inside of you, then you come to realize that you will go on forever.


Why Size Doesn’t Matter

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 danger.

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

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

A couple of chapters ago, I said that our rulers are compensating for something. Today, we are going to begin by talking about why it is that size doesn’t matter. It all has to do with that “if” and that “when.”

The Tao is small, smaller than an electron. That is pretty small. It is, in fact, so small that it can’t be perceived. So, yes, we have pretty much established that the Tao is quite small. But size doesn’t matter. Oh, I guess it matters if you are trying to perceive it. But, when you consider that it contains uncountable galaxies, then its size doesn’t matter, after all.

But, if our rulers could perceive it – no, it would take more than perceiving, it would take centering themselves in it, and remaining centered in it – then all things would be in harmony. That is, after all, what they claim to be after with all their power. They make all kinds of promises. Promises of harmony. Promises of peace. They promise us a paradise.

And Lao Tzu, too, makes promises. If it were possible for the powerful to be in harmony with the imperceptible Tao, then the whole world would become a paradise. But, for our rulers, size does matter, after all. They can’t perceive the uncountable galaxies that the Tao contains. They are too distracted with how very small it is. And, if you can’t perceive it, you can’t center yourself in it. You can’t become it.

The “if” seems pretty hopeless. We have talked about our desires for improving the world. Lao Tzu has warned us that the world is sacred. And, that which is sacred cannot be improved. Tampering with it only results in ruining it. That is what our rulers have been doing for generations now. Which brings us to the “when.”

Knowing “when” is the only way to avoid danger. Lao Tzu is talking about names and forms, and saying they are provisional. And, institutions, whose functions should end. Now, he doesn’t say specifically what these names, forms, and institutions are. And, I think trying to figure out what specifically he could be referring to is very much like peering at that tiny Tao, smaller than an electron; yet, we strain our eyes to perceive it.

What I want to concentrate on is the uncountable galaxies that it contains. And, that means going back to the very beginning chapter of the Tao Te Ching, where Lao Tzu first talked about the temporal and the eternal, the named and the nameless, that which has form and the formless. Back to the difference between the manifestations and the mystery. You may recall that we can’t perceive the mystery because we are caught in desire. That is why we can only see the manifestations. Names are temporary. So is form. Oh, they serve a purpose for a time. But we need to understand when their time is up. Oh, and institutions? Yes, there is a time for their functions to end as well.

This is what we are in danger of missing. Knowing when it is time to stop. And the powerful are not being helpful here. Even their name, the powerful, is not an eternal name. Which should be a clue to the danger. Can we avoid the danger? Because all things are going to come to an end. All things end in the Tao. Just like rivers come to an end where they flow into the sea. Can you perceive when? That moment when the river meets the sea?

The Shame Of Our Indecency

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 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)

Yesterday, we were talking about the art of governing. And, how relying on the Tao in governing means not trying to force issues or resorting to violence. Yesterday, the reasons given for not resorting to violence involved a simple law of physics. For every force there is a counter force. And violence, no matter how well intentioned it might be, always rebounds upon itself.

If reason isn’t enough to stay the hands of would be leaders, today, Lao Tzu appeals to our basic human decency as he targets the tools of violence and of fear, weapons.

He tells us that all, not most, or some, but all, decent men detest them. What can we make of this litmus test of human decency. I know plenty of people that have what I would call an almost love affair with the weapons in their arsenal. Is Lao Tzu saying this is indecent? That these cannot possibly be decent human beings?

Perhaps it would be helpful to narrow it down to one decent person. That is what Lao Tzu does. If we can get a good understanding of what makes one decent person, decent, then we can understand what it means to be indecent. Saying all decent men detest them isn’t enough. So, let’s take a look at one decent man. That one decent man understands that weapons are tools to be used to produce violence and fear.

Yesterday, we talked about the dangers of violence. And chapters ago, we talked about fear being a phantom, an illusion, that we create by thinking of ourselves as separate. Violence and fear being what they are, how does our one decent man go about dealing with these tools?

He avoids them. At least he tries to avoid them. He only employs them in the direst necessity. And then, only with the utmost restraint. In other words, while weapons are tools of violence and fear, they do serve a useful purpose that transcends the violence and fear. There is a necessary use for them. But, only as a last resort. And, that would be self-defense.

Lao Tzu certainly is not a pacifist here. He doesn’t once tell us that no decent person ever uses weapons. That a decent person would never be compelled to use them. Or, that a decent person would avoid them, no matter what. No, a decent person understands the costs. They understand exactly what wielding weapons means. That is why they avoid them, if they can. That is why they only use them with the utmost restraint. That is why they hate that it has come to this. A decent person understands that for every force there is a counter force. And, they know that their intentions for using them, no matter how good they may be, don’t change the reality that violence always rebounds on itself. That is the cost that necessity has compelled upon them.

So, for those of you that want to turn this into something denying the right of self-defense, I think you were missing Lao Tzu’s point entirely. But, why would an individual so love his arsenal of weapons? In order to become a master at using them, one necessarily must get quite intimate in knowledge of them. No, we hope to never have to use them for what they are designed to be used for. But, if direst necessity calls, we best be prepared. You can’t pick up a weapon for the first time and expect things to go well for you. You need to acquire skills, in the hopes that your skills will never be put to the test.

But, Lao Tzu wasn’t talking about individuals defending themselves when he talked about decent men detesting weapons. He was continuing what he began yesterday; and still talking about our rulers. Those who are governing us. He is wondering if there are any decent men to be found among them.

Well, are there? The agents of the State seem to have a mindset which is to kill first, and ask questions only later. I have grown weary of reports of police officers fearing for their lives and shooting unarmed civilians. Come on, if there is a decent person among you. If your job is truly so stressful and dangerous. If you fear for your life, and you fear you won’t see your children grow up, then quit your job. Do the decent thing. Put down your weapons and walk away. There has to be a better line of work for you. One where you aren’t a constant danger to civilians.

And what of our elected officials? Our rulers? If there was a decent person among them, then peace would be their highest value. But, the peace has been shattered. And, it is our rulers that have done the shattering. Talk about indecency. They couldn’t be content with peace. They can only find contentment in war. Because it costs them nothing. They even manage to make a huge profit from it. That is why they manufacture enemies out of thin air. That is why they portray our enemies as demons instead of human beings, just like us.

Decent people could not wish personal harm on a fellow human being. There it really is in a nutshell. That is the whole point. That is what indecency is. Wishing personal harm on another human being. It is one thing to have an arsenal of weapons and to know how to use them in direst necessity. And, it is quite another to wish another human being personal harm.

Where is our human decency? How can we rejoice in victory? How can we delight in the slaughter of men? The decent among us can’t, and don’t.

We used to understand that battlefields were graveyards. We weren’t 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 that, that they were also places where the greatest acts of compassion were demonstrated. Now, we mock and laugh while we attend the funerals. That is our shame. The shame of our indecency.

They Are Compensating For Something

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 itself.

The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the Universe
is forever out of control,
and 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 seek others approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

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

For the longest time I treated my libertarian thinking as strictly political philosophy. Entirely separate from the rest of my life. It was something I thought about as elections took place. And then, I filed it away; since I wouldn’t be needing to pull it back out, dust it off, and use it again until the next election. I have considered myself a libertarian for as long as I have been familiar with the term (30+ years). But, I was very slow to grasp that personal and political philosophy are not separate things.

I always like it when we have a chapter like today’s chapter where Lao Tzu once again is talking about the art of governing. But just when I start to get all excited about being able to explain how Lao Tzu was the very first libertarian, I am reminded that there is a reason that I tag each chapter’s blog posts with #libertarian. And not just the ones where he is bringing up governing. The art of governing is not something separate from the art of living. The two are one and the same. Yes, Lao Tzu spends a great deal of time speaking directly to those who would be leaders among us. But his words for leaders are no different from the words he speaks to us all. And, would be leaders seem particularly adept at ignoring what Lao Tzu has to say.

Much of the time now, I think calling myself “libertariantaoist” is a bit redundant. Not because you can’t be a libertarian without being a taoist, nor because you can’t be a taoist without being a libertarian, but because for me, personally, I can no longer separate the one from the other. But, I am going to keep my url just the way it is, hoping to teach libertarians about philosophical taoism; and, philosophical taoists about libertarianism. I want to demonstrate that your personal and political philosophy can’t really be two separate things. That the one informs the other. And, it matters little which you think is doing the informing. I am a taoist because I am a libertarian; and, I am a libertarian because I am a taoist. What? You think it matters which came first?

Lao Tzu wants us all relying on the Tao. In everything that we do. That is what the art of living is all about. Relying on the Tao. Being in harmony with the way things are. It matters not whether you are a leader or a follower, you need to rely on the Tao. That makes your world a whole lot better place for you to live. But today, Lao Tzu does specifically address the art of governing. And the advice holds firm. All you leaders and would be leaders, you governors of men and women around the world, if you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t be trying to force issues. And, the very fact that you are so blatantly trying to force issues everywhere you turn, is all the evidence in the world that anyone should need to surmise that you aren’t relying on the Tao.

What is force? It is an attempt to control. Oh, how you like to be in control. You manufacture enemies by your use of force and then seek to defeat those enemies with more force. The force of arms. And everybody who isn’t you, knows what is going to come of this. It is very elementary physics that we have learned from an early age. Where were you when you should have been learning this? For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon itself. This is stuff our parents and teachers taught us when we were children dealing with others in the playground. What? Do you think you have outgrown the lessons of our childhood? That you are somehow more sophisticated than all that? That you are privy to some special knowledge that violates the laws of physics and gets away with the violation? Because, nothing could be further from the truth.

But you don’t let the truth get in your way. You are in a position of power. A position you craved from the first time you didn’t like being told “no” I am sure. And your so-called exalted position of power renders you immune to the laws that the rest of us must live with. You, and you alone, can control and dominate events. I would pity you if you weren’t wreaking such desolation in your wake.

And, how very different is the Master. This one relies on the Tao in everything that he does. He does his job and then stops. How very odd. To do your job and then stop. What? No grasping for something further? No, he does what he needs to do and then stops. And leaves the rest to the Tao. He understands. Something our faux leaders either can’t or won’t. He understands that the Universe is forever out of his control. This is the beginning of wisdom right here. Understanding first, that you can’t do anything about a whole lot of things.

He understands that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. The current of the Tao is an important concept for us to understand. We talk all the time about going with the flow. About wearing ourselves out trying to swim or paddle upstream. But, that metaphor doesn’t really convey what Lao Tzu is getting at with the current of the Tao. It is much more pervasive than trying to navigate a river. Sometimes, with a river, you very much need to get upstream. Going further downstream, even if it is going with the current is going to end with disaster.

It helps me to think of the Tao as being both ubiquitous and liquid. It is everywhere and comprises everyone and everything. You can’t escape it. Forget your hopes, your fears. They aren’t of any use to you. The current of the Tao is going to bring you through the cycle of life from the Source to the End (which incidentally, is a return to the Source). We have hopes and fears that make us resist that. Some have a will to power. They want to control, to dominate. But this simply cannot be. The way things are is the way things are.

So, what separates the Master from so many that aspire to govern us? It may come as a shock, but I think our so-called leaders, their rightful name is rulers, have a very little… Well let’s just say they are compensating for something. Okay, I am not really meaning some physical thing. I am talking about something a lot more internal than that. They don’t actually believe in themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t always be trying to convince others of how right they are. And even if they believe in themselves they are never content with themselves. Which is why they are always seeking others approval. They want the whole world to accept them. But don’t realize that because they can’t accept themselves no one can accept them.

I would despair if I thought that we were always only ever to have rulers like these. But I see something just round the next bend. I can’t fully describe it, it is still off a distance. But, it spells the end for our present system. And a chance to make things all right again. A return to the Source? Perhaps. But this advice from Lao Tzu is going to come in quite handy then, as it is now. Even if the so-called powers that be never change, their end draws near. Then, as now, we need to believe in ourselves. Be content with ourselves. And, accept ourselves; just the way the Tao has forged us.

It Isn’t A Place Just To Visit

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, we were comparing the world to a little child. Lao Tzu told us how to receive the world into our arms. He told us to be a pattern, or example, for it. But above all, he told us to accept it as it is. We, of course, see the world and think that we can improve on it. There is so much that we want to improve. But, Lao Tzu says it can’t be improved. It is sacred. If we tamper with it, we will invariably ruin it. It needs to be treated like a little child, rather than as an object, if we don’t want to lose it.

Understanding how to do this is understanding how yin and yang complement each other. We tend to want to favor one over the other. Generally, I think we favor yang over yin. But Lao Tzu has warned us 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 and the other bad.

What we must accept, if we are going to accept the world as it is, is accept that 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. Ours is not to question why it is one way, and not the other. Ours is but to accept that the way things are is the way things are. And, that change is always upon us.

There is a time for being ahead. Good. We like being ahead. Or, at least we think we do. But there is also a time for being behind. And, who is to say that being behind is not exactly what we should be, when we are? Everything in their time. Whether you are in motion, or at rest. Whether vigorous, or exhausted. There is even a time for being in danger. Though we may prefer to always be safe. In fact, we like being safe so much that we create the illusion that we are, even when we aren’t. That is a real danger.

We must be like the Master who sees things as they really are. And never tries to control them. She lets them go their own way. And, so should we. So much of what we see, that we perceive as wrong with the world, and very much in need of improving, is only seeing things in a state of flux. If you truly want to be the change you want to see in the world, then be a pattern for it. Be an example of how you want the world to be. That is residing at the center of the circle. It isn’t a place just to visit. It is a state of being. A place to reside.

Now, The Illuminating Kind Of Light

Know the male, yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white, yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world as it is,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to the block.
Thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Female and male. Black and White. Impersonal and personal. Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about how yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe. By understanding this, we can understand how to be lived by the Tao and interact as individuals in our world.

He wants us to know the yang, yet keep to the yin. That is how to receive the world in your arms, be a pattern for it, and come to accept the world as it really is. By doing this, the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

Interesting that word, luminous. I said, yesterday, when Lao Tzu was talking about embodying the light, that he wasn’t talking about the illuminating kind. He was talking about light as it relates to heavy. Today, we are looking for enlightenment. The luminous kind. And that happens as we allow yin and yang to complement each other.

It makes us like a little child. A favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s. He is talking about a return to to the innocence of a little child. By combining female and male, you get a little child.

There is nothing that little child can’t do. We are talking about potential here. All the potential in the Universe. All bound up in that little child. Lao Tzu is wanting us to return to our primal selves.

So, receive the world in our arms, like we would a little child. Be a pattern for the world. That is like being an example. Like how we would go about training that little child. And, finally, accept the world (that child) the way it is. This is how we go about returning to our primal selves. This is the path of enlightenment.

But let’s break this down just a little more. The world (that child) is formed from the void. Just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. That block of wood is another of Lao Tzu’s favorite metaphors. He has that block of wood representing the void. It is where we find our primal selves. What is that block of wood going to be for us. In its present state, it could be anything, anything at all. But in this case we have used it to form utensils. A block of wood and utensils. Just like female and male. Black and White. Impersonal and personal. Yin and yang. Know the utensils. Know how to use them. Yet, never forget they came from a block of wood. Always keep that before you. That block of wood. That is how we can use all things in this world. Whatever we encounter.

Not The Illuminating Kind of Light

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this,
you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is, of course, a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying yesterday about how to be a good traveler. What he said about traveling yesterday didn’t include the idea of being good or bad at it. But with today’s chapter we can see what he was talking about more clearly. I do hope you read yesterday’s post; but, in case you didn’t, I want to touch on some things that will help us to better understand what he is saying today.

He talked about the heavy being the root of the light and the unmoved being the source of all movement. These are important to understand if you want to be a good traveler. Yesterday, we were talking about always remaining serenely in yourself, rather than being blown to and fro. Today, Lao Tzu talks about how to embody the light. And, I think it is important to understand what Lao Tzu must mean by light here. He isn’t talking about light as in illumination. He is talking about light as opposed to being heavy.

There. I did it again. Words can be so frustrating to me. In trying to explain how heavy and light interact together, like yin and yang, I still find myself referring to them as opposing each other. And that is not really accurate at all. I don’t mean to convey opposites, so much as complements. Light needs heavy. Heavy needs light. You can’t have one without the other. So, if we want to embody the light we can’t ignore its root which is the heavy.

This is important for us to understand as we look at today’s chapter and we talk about another yin and yang, the concept of good and bad. But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin with looking at the hallmarks of the good traveler, artist, and scientist first.

Yesterday, seemed to be all about the traveler; and today, Lao Tzu continues with talking about that good traveler. The one who has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. I want to remind you, once again, that yesterday, Lao Tzu was spending his time talking about the importance of the heavy. He wants you anchored to home, where your heart is. The heavy, your anchor, your root, keeps you from being blown to and fro in your travels.

Today, we are onto talking about embodying the light. Just don’t forget the heavy. A good traveler isn’t blown to and fro in the wind; but, that anchor doesn’t keep him from embodying the light. In fact, it is because he doesn’t lose touch with who he is, that he is able to embody the light. A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. Letting your intuition lead you wherever it wants may seem very much like being blown to and fro in the wind. But, of course, reality is very different from appearances. This traveling artist, being good, isn’t letting go of his anchor. He isn’t being blown to and fro. He simply is going where his intuition leads him. In much the same way, a good scientist has freed himself of concepts. He keeps his mind open to what is. Concepts clutter and close the mind. A bad scientist can’t free himself from concepts of the way he thinks things should be. His mind isn’t open to the way things really are.

Traveler? Artist? Scientist? What is it that Lao Tzu is really saying to us today? He is differentiating between being good at something and being bad at it. For the Master, who is good at something, it is about embodying the light. And that means being available to everyone and rejecting none. It means being ready to use all situations you may encounter. And not to waste a thing. As a traveler. Or, an artist. Or, a scientist. You want to be a good one. I know you do.

And that brings us to how the good and bad complement each other. Yes, they are yin and yang as well. I think it goes without saying that we are not talking about good and evil here. This isn’t about moral judgments.

Far from it. We are talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice. The teacher and the student. In your travels you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and a variety of people. Many are going to be much better at some things than you are. And, many times, you are going to be better at some things than other people you will encounter along your way.

Lao Tzu wants us to embody the light in order to be available to everyone that we encounter. What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Every master (or teacher) needs an apprentice (or student). And where would the apprentice (or student) be, without the master (or teacher)? Sometimes I find myself being one and sometimes I am the other. That all depends on the situation and the people I encounter. I have found it so in my own life that whenever I was particularly bad at something, someone that was good at it came along. How fortuitous! I also believe that I have fortuitously come along to help out when someone else has been particularly bad at something I was good at.

That is how yin and yang works. The ebb and flow of nature’s way. But that just shows how important it really is that we aren’t bound by fixed plans and concepts. That we aren’t so intent on arriving that we aren’t available to help, or be helped. It takes a mind that is open to the way things really are. That means being attuned to our intuition and going where it leads us.

This may be one of the most important things for you to know. Lao Tzu calls it the great secret. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost, he says.

Home Is Where Your Heart Is

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus, the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu identified humans as one of the four great powers. Thus, we are great. At the same time, he made us subordinate to the Earth in greatness. I think this provides us with a healthy balance with which to understand how we should act in our world. We are truly great. But, we should temper our greatness with a healthy respect of the Earth. We should always be following it. Its natural rhythms. The Earth isn’t ours to exploit. It is far greater than us. We depend on its richness and goodness for our very survival. Too often, I think we forget that. Or, lose sight of it. And that is our great folly.

Today, Lao Tzu continues to refer to our greatness. He says we are all lords of the country. And how should we behave in a way that is fitting for lords? It begins with balance. Thus, he uses the familiar imagery of yin and yang to show us the way. The heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement. Heavy and light. The unmoved and movement. How these interact is how we are to interact in the Earth that is our home.

We have a root, an anchor. Not to weigh us down, but to allow us to thrive, even amid the greatest storms. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. Being blown to and fro. He doesn’t want us to lose touch with our root. With our home. It is thus that the Master is able to travel all day, enjoying all the splendid views. She never loses touch with her root, with home. Thus, she is able always, even in the midst of great chaos, to stay serenely in herself.

What moves you? What do you allow to move you? Is it restlessness? That is the danger. Being blown about by every wind that comes along. How foolish. If you let restlessness move you, I know what the danger is. It is that we lose touch with who we are.

Point to any problem we are facing in our world today and I can point at people who lost touch with who they are. We know it. We know it when we say things like, “It wasn’t always this way. When did things go so horribly wrong?”

I can’t do anything for the myriad that have lost their way. That have lost touch with who they are. But I can do this. I can return, myself, to who I have always been. I can be serene, even in the midst of all the chaos. I won’t let go of my root, my anchor. And, don’t you, either.

Back At The Very Beginning. Who Is Following Who.

There was something formless and perfect,
before the Universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary.
Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the Universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside,
and returns to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The Universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the Earth.
Earth follows the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, once again, Lao Tzu takes us back to the very beginning. Back before humans. Back before the Earth. Back before the Universe was born. To the Source of Everything. To that which is without form; and yet, it is perfect. It is serene; even in the midst of chaos. It is empty; yet, it contains all things. It is solitary; yet, it is never alone. It is itself unchanging; yet, it is the great bringer of change. It is infinite and inexhaustible. It is eternally present in and around you. It is the Great Mother of the Universe. It is nameless; and, for lack of a name, we call it the Tao.

The Tao is ubiquitous and liquid. It is ever flowing through all things. Always on the move, both inside and outside. Always returning to itself.

There are but four great powers. The Tao is great. The Universe is great. The Earth is great. And humanity is great. These four great powers are listed from greatest to least.

Humanity, being the lowest, follows the Earth. The Earth, being subordinate to the Universe, follows the Universe. The Universe, being the highest creation of the Tao, follows the Tao. The Tao, being itself, follows only itself.