It Is Older Than God

The Tao is like a well:
Used but never used up.
It is like the eternal void:
Filled with infinite possibilities.

It is hidden, but always present.
I don’t know who gave birth to it.
It is older than God.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 4, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Here we are, already to chapter four, and Lao Tzu hasn’t really told us much yet about the Tao. It is almost like he is following his own advice from chapter one. “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.”

But, of course, he has already told us a lot. We know it is eternal. We know it is a mystery. We know it has manifestations. So, he hasn’t been entirely elusive. What he has been talking about is how the Tao is manifest in our universe. Not so much what the Tao is, as what it is about. And, what it is about is bringing about balance and harmony; order, if you will, in what would otherwise be a chaotic universe.

Today, Lao Tzu begins describing the mystery. He is going to point at it with his finger, and if we don’t get distracted by his finger, we might just see what he is pointing at. Today, he begins using similes and metaphors and riddles to tell us about the Tao. He says it is like a well. It is there to be used, but is never used up. I like that imagery. Then he says, it is like the eternal void. When I think of a void I think of a vast open space, a vacuum, all empty inside. How can the Tao be like a well which can’t be used up; and, like a void which should be empty?

I said yesterday, that we are going to encounter paradox, over and over again, on our journey through the Tao Te Ching. The paradox yesterday was that naming things is both the origin of all particular things and not an accurate representation of what is eternal. That is a clue to how to interpret what Lao Tzu is saying to us today. He didn’t say the Tao is a well. He said it is like a well. It isn’t finite. It is infinite. It is meant to be used. But it can never be used up. He didn’t say it is the eternal void. He said it is like the eternal void. And, in the case of the Tao, this “eternal void” is filled, with infinite possibilities.

Lao Tzu kept this chapter brief and I am wanting to keep things brief today, too. I simply don’t need to try to say everything that I have to say about this today. I have 81 chapters worth of days to do this.

With that said, Lao Tzu does have some closing words for us for today. The Tao is hidden. Yet, it is always present. What does he mean by that? I think he is merely pointing out that it is us that have put the blinders on. It is hidden in plain sight. Why can’t we see it? Back in chapter one, Lao Tzu told us what our problem is. Caught in desire we can only see its manifestations. But, once we are free from desire, then we will realize the mystery.

And, then Lao Tzu tells us a joke. He has already said that the Tao is eternal. But there is one more thing that Lao Tzu wants to make clear. And, he uses humor to do it. The way he has been describing the Tao is using the same kind of language and imagery which is often used to describe a deity. But the Tao is not God. That is why he says, “I don’t know who gave birth to it. It is older than God.”

In talking about the Tao, Lao Tzu is imagining a Universe, and a Principle governing that Universe, which is older than God. That governing Principle, he calls the Tao. Continue with me on this journey and we will learn more and more about how the Universe works. And, as an extra added bonus, you, and you alone, get to decide where, or if, God fits into the picture.

When You Tip The Scales, The Scales Get Tipped On You

If you over esteem great men,
people become powerless.
If you over value possessions,
people begin to steal.

The Master leads
by emptying people’s minds
and filling their cores,
by weakening their ambition
and toughening their resolve.

He helps people
lose everything they know,
everything they desire,
and creates confusion
in those who think they know.

Practice not-doing,
and everything
will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 3, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about naming in the context of ascribing a particular value to things. We may esteem something as beautiful or good; but, the Tao is always there to provide the needed balance. Today, Lao Tzu warns us about over esteeming great men and over valuing possessions.

The key word here is that word, over. It is excess that Lao Tzu is concerned about. Great men and women are to be esteemed. Lao Tzu will have plenty to say about what makes a person great. He highly esteems them. But, we mustn’t over esteem them. Because when we do that, we end up creating a situation where others become powerless.

The same can be said for over valuing possessions. Things have value to us. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have them. But we mustn’t put too high a value on them, because where there is excess there is going to be a need for balancing. When possessions have too high a value placed on them, people will begin to steal.

Lao Tzu is not justifying stealing. Stealing is wrong. But, Lao Tzu is saying that we can, and often do, create situations where the outcome is not what we expected; though we should have expected it. Call it the law of unintended consequences, if you like.

This comes back to the yin and yang that we were talking about yesterday. We may not always like the way the Universe operates, the way things are. But, we best understand that the way things are is the way things are; and, learn how to work with it, rather than trying to work against it.

That is what the Master is all about. At one with the way things are. In harmony with how the Universe operates. Now, I said yesterday that the Master is a strange one. What I meant by that is that she, or he, is often going to be doing things that seem strange to us. We are looking at things in a completely different way. All I can ask is that you give the Master a chance to show you why her strange ways do work.

Lao Tzu will have lots of explaining to do. He can begin with explaining what he means when he says that the Master leads by emptying the people’s minds and filling their cores. And, what is with that weakening their ambition; while, at the same time, toughening their resolve?

The nice thing is that if we let Lao Tzu finish what he is saying, instead of interrupting him with my objections, like I just did, Lao Tzu does explain exactly what he means. Remember, we have been talking about the problem of over esteeming and over valuing. The people have become powerless. And, they have begun to steal. What is the Master leader going to do in this situation?

He, or she, is going to help the people to lose everything they think they know. I know I am taking liberties here. I added a couple words. But I have the benefit of having read to the end of the Tao Te Ching many times before. I know that is what Lao Tzu means here. The people have become powerless because they “know” that they are powerless.

The Master also helps the people to lose everything they desire. Ultimately, the reason the people have begun to steal is they desire things that are over valued. The Master is dealing with the problem of desire.

Where things get confusing is that we think we know better. We think that we can “fix” things without doing it the Master’s way. The Master wants to empty minds of all that presumption. The Master is about weakening ambition. We like to think that ambition is a good thing, and complain about a lack of ambition. But, the Master sees ambition as being the problem. And, where ambition is a problem, resolve is the solution.

I always look at the difference between the two as the difference between something that is focused on outward circumstances vs. something that focuses on who we are on the inside. When the Master is working on filling people’s cores he is talking about toughening their resolve on the inside. We want to change outward circumstances. The Master wants to get to the heart of the matter.

And, then Lao Tzu really confuses us. “Practice not-doing…everything will fall into place.” I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this today. Because we are going to be returning to it again and again in the days and weeks ahead. And, this post has already gotten long. But, the practice of wu-wei, which is here translated not-doing, would be better translated, effortless action. That is better, because not-doing sounds like, well, not doing. And that isn’t what wu-wei is. Effortless action is going with the flow, being in harmony with the way things are, and working with the Tao instead of at odds with it. When we do that, everything will fall into place.

The Origin Of All Particular Things

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.

Therefore, the Master acts
without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has, but doesn’t possess;
she acts, but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

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

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu told us that the eternally real is unnameable. That was immediately after he named the Tao. We could then decide that Lao Tzu was just messing with us. But, I don’t think he was just messing with us. I think he was introducing us to the first paradox. We will encounter a lot of them on our journey. But, here is the first.

Because anything that can be told about the Tao is not the eternal Tao, and any name that can be named is not the eternal Name, it would seem pointless to talk about it at all. And ascribing a name to anything would, likewise, seem an exercise in futility. But that is the paradox. Because naming is the origin of all particular things. It simply must be done. Do you see the paradox? If only the unnameable is the eternally real, why would we want to even begin naming? The paradox occurs because the way things are is not the way things seem to be.

Today’s chapter is all about naming particular things. It is no surprise to me that creation myths tend to include some naming ceremony. The creation myth from my own childhood is found in the book of Genesis, where Adam names all the animals; and, whatever name he gives them is the name they get stuck with. We have a naming ceremony in today’s chapter, as well. But, it isn’t about animals.

Still, just like animals, they do come in pairs. Here is our introduction to yin and yang. Being and non-being. In the past, I have made the mistake of referring to these as opposites. You name one thing, you get its opposite, too. Oh, be careful little tongue what you speak. But, like I said, calling them opposites was a mistake. They aren’t opposites. They are complements. Not to be confused with compliments.

What is a complement? It is something that completes something else, or makes it better. This is important for us to understand, because we tend to think of beautiful and ugly, or good and bad, as opposites. They are not. Like yin and yang, female and male, dark and light, negative and positive, passive and active, closed and open… they sometimes seem to be opposites, but what they really are are complements of each other. They complete each other. One is not complete without the other. You can’t have one without the other.

If we see some things as yin, then other things must be yang. And, we really must not be confused on this point. Yin is not good and yang, bad. What would be bad is if there was not balance. Yin and yang create each other. They support each other. They define each other. They depend on each other. They follow each other. That is what Lao Tzu is meaning when he talks of being and non-being, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, before and after.

When we think of them as opposites, we think of them as being in conflict. What Lao Tzu is wanting us to do is to embrace them as complements of each other. Welcome the balance. People may wish to argue whether what Lao Tzu is talking about is subjective or objective. For instance, people have long argued whether or not there is an objective standard for beauty. Is beauty merely in the eye of the beholder? And, my question is, why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be both?

The same goes for good and bad. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about good and evil here. He isn’t saying that for there to be good in the world there has to be evil. He will help us address the problem of evil, later. But today’s good and bad is an entirely different thing. He is saying that for someone to see something as good, like, you are good at something, there must be a way to be bad at that something. There wouldn’t be any way to measure it, objectively or subjectively, otherwise.

Those last two paragraphs are going to hopefully spawn messages in my inbox. As long as humans have had the mental capacity to think about these issues, people have been arguing about them. For now, let’s move on to the rest of today’s chapter. Lao Tzu introduces us to the Master, today, for the first time. She’s a mysterious one, that one is. And, she will be reappearing throughout the Tao Te Ching to help us to flesh out what Lao Tzu is teaching us.

Today, she is helping us to understand the concept of being and non-being complementing each other. He says that she acts without doing anything. That is yin and yang in perfect balance. She teaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come. Things disappear and she lets them go. I see it as a dance. She doesn’t interfere with the Tao. She merely lets nature take its course. She has, without possessing. She acts, without expectations. She does her work and then forgets about it. When Lao Tzu says she forgets about it, he isn’t talking about some short term memory problem. She forgets about it like when a mafia don says “forget about it.” You best forget about it. Because all the fussing and fuming and stressing and worrying are never going to help you. Just forget about it. And, you know what? It lasts forever.

Let’s Start At The Very Beginning

The Tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same Source.
This Source is called Darkness.

Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.

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

And, so we begin anew. For many of my followers this may be a little old hat. I go through the eighty-one chapters, one chapter at a time, each day. I don’t even know how many times I have been doing this. But, for some of you, I know, this is the first time that you are looking at chapter one with me. To all of you, I say, welcome to my journey. I have a special bond with Lao Tzu, which has been forged over the course of many cycles of moons and seasons. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert on philosophical Taoism. I think of myself only as an apprentice; with Lao Tzu as the Master. But, I am learning so very much. And I hope to share a little of what I am learning along the way. Join me as a fellow apprentice, and find where this journey will take us.

Let’s get the rules out of the way first. Actually, I can only think of one rule. I don’t have any problem with reblogs. I know some of you like to reblog just the quote without my commentary. That is also no problem. The only thing that I ask is that you give Stephen Mitchell the proper recognition as the translator of Lao Tzu’s work. There are a bazillion different translations of the Tao Te Ching. Yes, I counted them all. But Stephen Mitchell’s is my favorite one, by far. I don’t know Stephen; but, I appreciate his work on translating, almost as much as I appreciate Lao Tzu for originally writing it. He deserves to be cited for his work. Oh, and if you don’t mind mentioning that you got it from me, I wouldn’t mind a little promotion, either.

Okay, with that out of the way, where to begin… Today, Lao Tzu introduces the Tao. He begins with a warning that anything that can be told about it isn’t actually it. This is just Lao Tzu saying, what I am talking about is infinite and eternal. My words are finite and temporal. I can point at it. I can use metaphors to give you an approximation of what it is. But the real, eternal Tao is shrouded in mystery. You can’t really know it. Even the name which I give it, the Tao, is just a name that I am giving it. The name isn’t important. It isn’t the eternal name.

But, maybe I already need to back up. What is this thing that Lao Tzu is ascribing with the name the Tao? It could be translated as the Way, or the Path. I like to think of it as the way things are. What gives order and balance to the Universe which we inhabit. It is the Source from which everything springs into existence. I will often refer to it as the Natural Law. And, even the Invisible Hand. But all of these are just manifestations of what the Tao is. They aren’t the eternal Tao.

Because we immediately have problems when we start to talk about the Tao. We have to differentiate between the mystery, which is the eternal Tao; and, the manifestations of the Tao in the Universe. The mystery is what we can only hint at. Lao Tzu tells us that is because we are caught in desire. Free from desire, we can realize the mystery. Caught in desire, we can only see its manifestations.

Don’t let that discourage you. Whether we are talking about mystery or manifestations, they arise from the same Source. Today is only day one of the eighty-one day journey ahead of us. Most of the time we will only be able to see the manifestations. And, that will have to be okay. Why? Because those manifestations do reveal to us a whole lot about ourselves and the Universe in which we find ourselves. Along the way we will have plenty of opportunities to peer into the Darkness within darkness. And, that is good, too. Because that is the gateway to all understanding.

We have lots to understand. Come join me. I post this at approximately 7 am central standard time each and every day. And, I always love to get messages from you with your thoughts and your questions. One final note: Some of my newer followers may be wondering what’s up with the “libertarian” in “libertariantaoist” Continue on with me and you will find that Lao Tzu was the original libertarian.

A Fitting Ending

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

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

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

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

I think this chapter is a fitting ending to the Tao Te Ching. And, I never know how to add anything to it. Will I try to be eloquent? Nope, that doesn’t seem like such a good idea. Do I think there is some further point to prove? Again, no, nothing to be gained by that.

Lao Tzu has that gift that I don’t have. He can say so much with so few words. And, today, I am really going to leave it at that.

Tomorrow is another day. For my newer followers, that means starting the cycle all over again with chapter one. The words that Lao Tzu will be saying remain the same. My commentary will hopefully reflect that I understand a little better, since the last time I went through this cycle. I look forward to sharing my journey with all of you.

What Is It Going To Take For You To Be Content?

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

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

We are nearing the end of another cycle through the Tao Te Ching. Throughout the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu has been telling would be leaders how to govern a country wisely. Today, he doesn’t tell us how. If we have been paying attention, we already know the how. But he does tell us what the consequences will be if a country is governed wisely. Its inhabitants will be content.

He has also devoted a lot of time to what it means to be content. Today’s chapter, with its idyllic picture of what Lao Tzu thinks true contentment looks like, encapsulates everything he has been saying all along.

I have always found this chapter fascinating. For me, it brings to mind Tolkien’s Shire. Simple hobbit folk content with their very ordinary lives. This is Lao Tzu’s picture of true contentment. And, it is mine as well. But, I never am quite satisfied with leaving it at that. We are all individuals. A hobbit’s life isn’t everyone’s ideal for being content. So, I always temper my own delight with one simple question to my readers. “What is it going to take for you to be content?”

I actually have two reasons for asking this question. First, I think that sometimes we can’t see the forest for all the trees. I just imagine that a whole lot of people are going to be reading through this chapter and getting bogged down with objections like, “What is wrong with labor-saving devices?” And, “What, I can’t love to travel?” Like I already said, it isn’t everyone’s idyllic picture of contentment. But, I do think you are missing Lao Tzu’s point.

The second reason I have for asking the question is that Lao Tzu has been very diligent all along about describing where true contentment is to be found. And it isn’t based on our outward circumstances. It comes from the inside. So, I am going to ask you all, once again, “What is it going to take for you to be content?”

In the midst of all these trees, there is bound to be a forest here, somewhere. I happen to love labor saving devices. My own life, along with countless millions of other lives are enriched by them. But, how might we be wasting our time inventing them? The question Lao Tzu is asking of us is, “Why aren’t you content?” And, there isn’t anything at all wrong with traveling. It is actually a shame I feel the need to affirm that. Because that isn’t the point. The point is, why don’t you dearly love your home? Why do you not find enjoyment in the food that you eat? Why don’t you take pleasure in your family? These, and other questions, are begging to be answered by you as you read through today’s chapter.

Because we know we are not content. And we aren’t quite sure what it is going to take for us to be content. And Lao Tzu just wants you to know if you are looking for contentment in outward circumstances, you aren’t going to find it there. No amount of labor-saving devices is going to change that. And no matter how far you roam from home, you won’t find it there, either.

It is tempting to just blame it on the government. After all, if a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. And, that is true. But, even that is something that we really can’t do much about. If having your country governed wisely is what it is going to take, you might never be content. No, I am going to go back to what Lao Tzu has been saying all along. True contentment is something you can only find deep inside yourself. Find it there. Keep it there.

See It As An Opportunity

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

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

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

Yesterday, I was musing on the impossibility of remaining serene if you have never been serene. I think I may have been a bit melodramatic. I can’t really say that I have never known serenity. Still, I don’t want to confuse something that is fleeting with something that is eternal. Real serenity isn’t something that merely comes and goes. If you are serene, you can remain serene.

The truth is that we, as humans, do screw up. And, we screw up a lot. Whether we are going to remain serene is going to be put to the test over and over again. And the real test is going to be how we handle failure.

The challenge before us is to see failure as an opportunity. And, not as an opportunity to be pointing the finger of blame at others. Once you start going down that road, warns Lao Tzu, there is no end to the blame.

This right here is what separates the merely average from the truly great. Because blaming others is the easy way out. Or, so it seems to be. For that is all mere illusion. If we are to remain serene in the midst of failure, we need to keep it real. Do you have obligations to fulfill? Are there mistakes which you need to correct?

I have been in a downright funk the last few days. It has really affected me. Both emotionally and physically. If I am going to get out of this funk, I know exactly what I am going to have to do. I am going to have to turn and face the difficulty. I need to own up to the mistakes I have made. I still have obligations which I need to meet. And, there isn’t anyone else that I can expect is going to fix this for me. I need to do what I need to do and make no demands on anyone else.

I can do this.

You Can’t Remain Serene If You Never Were Serene

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

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

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

True words seem paradoxical.

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

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu called the soft and yielding, disciples of life. And, he referred to the hard and inflexible as disciples of death. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu encouraged us not to interfere with nature’s way. In today’s chapter, he is honing in on how nature deals with the hard and inflexible.

Everywhere we turn, it seems we meet with disciples of death. Lao Tzu wants us to choose life. To be soft and yielding like water. If we want to dissolve the hard and inflexible, nothing beats it. And, we know this.

Everyone knows that the soft overcomes the hard and the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows it, or gives mental assent to the truth of it; but, few seem to be able to put it into practice. How can I be like water? When I am butting up against something that is hard and inflexible, how can I put these teachings into practice and overcome the hard and rigid?

For the last week or so, I have been having this struggle. And, once again, I have been reminded how far from where I want to be, I am. The Master remains serene in the midst of sorrow. I have not mastered myself. I have not been serene. In the midst of sorrow, I have let evil enter my own heart. I haven’t been able to let go of my desire to help. And, I haven’t been of any real help to anyone that I have encountered.

Once again, I am encountering the paradox. The way things are vs. the way things seem to be. I want to help. And Lao Tzu gently tells me that to be the people’s greatest help, I must give up trying to help. Serenity, even in the midst of great suffering. Why do you elude me?

Oh, I know why. But that knowledge doesn’t help me. And, my stomach is tied up in knots. I must let go.

Like The Bending Of A Bow

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

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

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

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

Today’s chapter is another one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu is explaining the way of nature. It is a constant state of flux. The tide ebbs, and it flows. And through its ebbs and flows it always maintains a perfect balance. This is the course of nature. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Oh, things are quite different. It is readily apparent to all of our senses. The sameness I am referring to is not a static thing. The static changes. It is the dynamic which is always the same. The yin and yang of nature, that is the dynamic. This is how the Tao acts in the world. Lao Tzu gives us a perfect illustration of this when he invites us to picture the bending of a bow. He doesn’t tell us to picture us bending a bow. He doesn’t tell us to take hold of the bow and bend it. He simply says that if we want to see how the Tao acts in the world, it is like the bending of a bow.

I am really wanting to get this picture across, today. There is no human agency required in this bending of a bow. The top is bent downward. The bottom is bent up. The Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. The Tao is acting so that there is perfect balance. That is nature’s way.

But that isn’t human’s way. Humans want to take hold of that bow. They want to control the bending to their will and purpose. But the moment we do that, no matter how noble our purpose, we are going to end up going against the direction of the Tao. Why is that? Because the very act of taking hold of the bow is an act of defiance against nature’s way. We just want to help? Nature’s way is too slow?

And that is assuming that those taking hold of the bow really do have our best interests at heart. They seldom do. In reality, the reason people try to control, the reason they use force, is to protect their own power. We have seen this scenario played out throughout all of recorded history. They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

That last sentence deserves more attention. Because the obvious objection is going to be, “according to who?” This is the ongoing debate. And the powers that be love to pit us against each other, fighting with each other, instead of the ones manipulating the bow. Are we talking about the redistribution of wealth here? Certainly, we are. But Lao Tzu very clearly is not advocating a forced redistribution.

Notice the difference between the first two stanzas. It is subtle, yet powerful. As the Tao acts in the world it takes from WHAT is too much and gives to WHAT isn’t enough. There isn’t any WHO. Now look at what happens when humans act in the world. They take from THOSE WHO don’t have enough and give to THOSE WHO have far too much. We, humans, make it all about us. When it never was. And because we do, some benefit at the expense of the many.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Nature’s way is so very different. And, the results are very different. I am sure that some people are going to read this chapter and conclude that the many will benefit at the expense of the few. I think they are still clamoring to get ahold of that bow. If we just get the right people pulling, then we’ll get the results we want.

But, once again, we are making it all about us. And it never was. Try a thought experiment, if you can. Imagine that there are no humans. Just for a moment. Now, picture that bending of a bow. Excess and deficiency are adjusted. There is perfect balance. Now, at who’s expense did this occur? At no one’s expense. Because there is no one. Nature is impersonal; just like that.

Now, you can stop imagining no humans. I am not really intending this post as a diatribe against humans. Not really. I love humans. I happen to love myself. I want us to evolve; because I don’t want us to become extinct. And, if we are going to evolve, we need to stop making it all about us. We need to let go of our need to be in control. Let the bow bend. Let the tide ebb and flow.

So, is that it? We aren’t supposed to do anything? Well, actually, Lao Tzu wasn’t finished with the chapter yet. And, there is something for us would be leaders to do. I am not talking about those with a will to power, here. We know what our rulers want to do.

To us would be leaders, that is those of us who want to serve as examples, here is our example, the Master. She can keep giving because there is no end to her wealth. Please don’t make that about money. Wealth is much more than a commodity of exchange. She acts without expectation. See where we are going with this? Can we act without expecting something in return? Can we act without expecting anything at all? Or, does it have to be about us? What is in it for me? She succeeds without taking credit. That is a tough one, because I believe in giving credit where credit is due. How very human of me. But, do we really need to take the credit for what is accomplished? Can’t success be compensation enough? Or, an even more radical thought, can success not involve recompense? There is no end to her wealth, what more does she think she needs? What does she need? She needs nothing. And, as if that wasn’t nearly enough, she doesn’t think that she is better than anyone else. That is the toughest one of them all, for me. It is the demon I have wrestled with for all of my life. And, for all my complaining about my own personal demon, I keep him so well groomed and fed. You’d think I plan to keep him around for many years to come.

One More Time, Sans The Sarcasm

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

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

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

I really have been less than gracious the last couple of days with my posts. I have been easily annoyed lately; and, I sometimes fail to temper what I want to say with the needed grace. I am not so much apologizing for what I said, as the tone with which I said it. The good news is that Lao Tzu is giving me one more shot at making my point sans the sarcasm.

Lao Tzu has been stressing the problem that we, as would be leaders, face in trying to guide people. People think they know the answers already. And, they don’t know that they don’t know. Yesterday, I even went so far as to say that Jonathan Gruber was right when he said that the American voter is stupid. That wasn’t very gracious of me; and, it wasn’t entirely accurate, either. The American voter isn’t actually stupid. There just aren’t any justifiable reasons to be as educated as you would have to be, to know everything you would have to know. But the powers that be, do treat us as if we are stupid. And, they are counting on our stupidity. Otherwise, all their power is exposed as the sham it is. If I really believed we were stupid, I couldn’t get away with agreeing with Lao Tzu that people can be trusted to find their own way.

Still, the presumption that we know, when we don’t, is a real problem. And, there are two diametrically opposed ways of dealing with that problem. Jonathan Gruber, and his ilk, see the problem, and wish to take advantage of the situation. “If the people really knew, we wouldn’t be able to get away with our obfuscation; but they don’t, so we can. Lao Tzu takes a different tack. He is training would be leaders, not to deceive or manipulate, but to guide. Yes, people can easily be misled, deceived, manipulated. But, real leaders can guide in such a way that people can easily find their own way.

We were talking a couple of chapters ago about letting go of things that we have been holding on to. We don’t like change. And, we resist it with every thing we’ve got. But Lao Tzu gently reminds us that if, instead of resisting, we let go of those things, we will ultimately find that there is nothing we can’t achieve.

He compared it to not being afraid of dying. The ultimate change. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks of life and death. Once again, he is encouraging us to let go.

I think the gist of what Lao Tzu is asking of us today is, “Are you going to be a disciple of life, or a disciple of death?” He returns to one of his favorite metaphors, that of the newborn. Remember how you started your life. You were born soft and supple. Plants were born that way too. Tender and pliant. We need to remember where we have come from and continue to be that same way: soft and yielding. That is being a disciple of life.

It should only be in death that we become stiff and hard, brittle and dry. The stiff and inflexible, those that won’t let go of all the things that are holding them back, are disciples of death. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us fearing death. But, he certainly doesn’t want us embracing it, while we can still be very much alive. It is the fear of death that holds us back. We won’t let go because of that fear. And that just hastens death’s onset. Let go, and live.