Especially In The Midst Of Great Pain

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)

What is the appeal of philosophical Taoism? That seems like a legitimate question.

The Tao isn’t something that we experience with our senses. That much is certain. Your eyes can afford you all the beauty of nature surrounding you. But you will never find the Tao by looking for it. Your ears know how to appreciate the delightful sounds of music. But if you listen for the Tao, there is nothing to hear. With our noses we can take in all the aroma of good cooking. But we can’t sniff out the Tao. And that good cooking that we have been smelling, tastes as wonderful as our noses hinted at. Meanwhile, words that point to the Tao, seem monotonous and without flavor. So what is the appeal? Well, it sure isn’t to our senses.

And yet, and yet, Lao Tzu says the Tao is something that can be perceived. When we are centered in the Tao, we can perceive the universal harmony. To me it is like something that you will never perceive by trying to perceive it. The Tao kind of sneaks up on you. You realize it when you aren’t expecting to. Maybe only when you aren’t expecting to.

You are just going about your day, just like any other day. But today is different from any other day. And you can’t quite put your finger on what exactly it is that makes today different. You just know that it all makes sense to you. Though your senses might be telling you a completely different thing.

I know when I am centered in the Tao. And I know when I have strayed from the center of the Tao. It isn’t that the world looks, or sounds, or smells, or tastes, or feels any different. But when, in spite of the pain and suffering that I and others around me may be experiencing, I can perceive the universal harmony, and I have peace in my heart; then I know I am centered in the Tao.

It is then that I can put the Tao to good use. It is then that the appeal of philosophical Taoism makes perfect sense to me. In perfect harmony with the Tao, I can use the Tao to see, truly see, the way things are. I can use the Tao to relieve the pain and suffering of all those around me.

There is a lot of pain and suffering. And that is the appeal of philosophical Taoism to me. Because as we use it, we find it to be inexhaustible.

Greatness Is To Be Found In Humility

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)

It is tempting to read through this chapter quickly, and say, “Well, all of this is just fine; but what does it have to do with me?” I continue to remind myself that Lao Tzu wrote this for me. He is giving me lessons that I need to be learning along the way.

So while he seems to be talking about the Tao, I know that he is telling me, “Given this, how will you then live your life?”

He says the Tao is great. But he also tells us how it is that the Tao is great. And this, my friends, is a lesson of supreme importance for us today.

I remember when I first read through this chapter, I thought it sounded kind of pantheist. But now as I read through these lines I can’t help but think this isn’t like any god we have ever heard of before.

The great Tao flows everywhere. Okay, so far so good. The Tao is always on the move. But it isn’t ever not everywhere.

And while all things are born from it, it doesn’t create them. Now that is something I wasn’t expecting. It isn’t claiming to be the Creator? It gives birth to all things; but makes no claim of supremacy over them. We owe it nothing in return? No worship, or adoration, or allegiance? Very interesting.

It doesn’t make any claim for itself. No matter how much it pours itself into its work. This goes back to it flowing everywhere. The flowing and the pouring are the same thing. The Tao is certainly hard at work. But it really makes no claim? Because, that seems to leave all of us, how shall I put it, free?

It nourishes infinite worlds, yet it doesn’t hold onto them. Giving birth to all things isn’t enough. All things require nourishing as well. Yet… That is a big yet. Yet, it leaves us be.

And now we get to the kicker. Having flowed everywhere, having given birth to all things, having nourished infinite worlds, it is thoroughly merged with all things, and hidden in their hearts. Where is this great Tao? It is everywhere, in everything; but so merged with all things that we can’t perceive it. That, my friends, is why it can be called humble. And that humility is everything.

For you see, all things vanish into it; and it alone endures. Therefore, it can also be called great.

Because the Tao is everything and everywhere, the Tao is great. Because the Tao makes no claim to greatness, and instead, seeks the lowliest of places, it is humble. The Tao is so humble that it isn’t even aware of its greatness. That is what makes it truly great.

And that, my friends is the lesson to be learned. Because, like I said at the very beginning, this isn’t really about the Tao, at all. It is about each one of us, vanishing in the Tao. We, too, can be great without being aware of our greatness. And that comes about as we go about everything we do in that same spirit of humility.

Reining Me Back In

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, Lao Tzu reins me back in. I have been so focused the last few days on what others are doing, or not doing. And knowing others is important. It is intelligent to know others. But Lao Tzu reminds me that is not enough. If I want to gain true wisdom, I need to know myself. That requires me to turn my gaze back on myself.

He says that it takes strength to master others. But if I want to attain true power, I need to master myself. Okay, Lao Tzu, I get it. We’re changing the focus from an outward one; which, while important, doesn’t give me a complete picture of what is going on in my world. I keep insisting that I am my own master. Well then, I better make sure I have me, under control.

And Lao Tzu has two very necessary things to keep me occupied in knowing and mastering myself.

First, I need to realize that I have enough. That is going to require a great deal of both self-knowledge and self-mastery. Because I can easily come up with a list of things that I think I am lacking right now. But that is only because I have been preoccupied with looking outwardly. Once I return my gaze inwardly, I begin to see that he is right.

I must not be distracted. There is a whole lot going on out there right now. And I am easily enticed to turn my attention elsewhere. Besides, when I spend time in introspection, especially after being focused outwardly for so long, I find the inward gaze a little unsettling. I need to calm down. The waters are so muddied. I need to wait for the mud to settle. Then I can see more clearly.

I know that I can’t begin to master myself as long as I don’t fully know myself. But as the mud settles, I can see that all that I require, I already have. It is then, that I come to the realization that I am truly rich.

The second thing is the truly hard one. Lao Tzu reminds me that all those times that he has been talking about staying in the center of the circle, he wasn’t wanting me looking at whether others are, or ever will. His words were always directed at me. It is me that needs to stay in the center of the circle.

And what is this? Embrace death with my whole heart? I have been so focused on just trying to live in this maddening world. But, and this, of course, presents us with yet another paradox; if I will embrace death with my whole heart, I will endure forever.

Remember, we have shifted our focus, our attention. Yes, we have been so focused on this maddening world. That focus has sapped a whole lot of our energy. After all, I want to postpone or avoid death. I fear it. Oh, I don’t fear it because I am worried about what is going to happen after I die. I fear it because I don’t like thinking about end of life issues that happen while I am still very much alive. But what does worrying, fretting, and fearing get me? Is it making the struggle to live any easier? Of course not.

And that is why Lao Tzu says that I need to stop that. Let go of the worry, the fretting, the fear. Instead, embrace the thing I worry, fret over, and fear. Embrace it, and it won’t bother me anymore. Death is coming for me. Oh Noes! No, that is no way to look at it. I want to live in this present moment. And living in this present moment requires something more of me. I need to know me, more intimately than I have ever cared to know myself. I need to master my fears. And not be a slave to them, any longer.

I can’t let the fear of death hold me back from living today and every day.

The Difference Between If And When

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)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu offers us an if and a when. I think those are two powerfully distinct words; because they offer the difference between dreams and reality. Let’s take a look at them one at a time.

The “if” comes first. This one is about hopes and dreams for a better world in which to live.

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.

So much is said in so few words. If they could, then look at the wonderful things that would transpire. Does it sound too good to be true? This utopian dream come true? Living in a paradise on Earth. Everyone living in peace in harmony. And the natural law written in everyone’s hearts. Who wouldn’t want to live like this?

Oh, that powerful men and women could stay centered in the Tao. Would that it were possible. But does Lao Tzu hold out much hope that powerful men and women would ever want this kind of world? Lao Tzu at the very beginning of this chapter gives us a hint at the problem for the powerful. He says the Tao can’t be perceived. It contains uncountable galaxies; yet it is smaller than an electron. Now Lao Tzu has spent a lot of time talking about this unperceivable Tao. And one thing he has talked about over and over is that the only way we can experience the Tao is from a position of humility. The powerful are far too lofty in their ivory towers to ever be able to perceive it, let alone center themselves in it.

People have spent lifetimes waiting on the powerful to do what is right. Many people keep holding out hope that the next election cycle will turn things around. If we just give the right people the power, they’ll fix things.

And oh the disappointment after each election, when the faces change but the policies remain the same. But I just know next election, things will be different….

If all we had was this if, we would probably continue our hoping and waiting and forever being disappointed. But thankfully, Lao Tzu doesn’t just offer us an if in this chapter.

He also offers us a when. I said right at the beginning that I think the difference between if and when is the same as the difference between dreams and reality. There is nothing wrong with dreaming. But there is a time for a reality check. There is a time to know the difference between if and when. And when “when” is now.

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.

Knowing when is of the utmost importance. The first important thing that we need to know about when is that when we have names and forms, they are only provisional. Provisional means they provide or serve only for the time being, or temporarily. Names and forms have a temporary function. But that word, temporary, is key. I fear that too long holding out for the if, we run the very real risk that we will miss the when. The temporariness of names and forms.

Now hold on just a minute, what does Lao Tzu mean by names and forms? I think he gives us a hint in his next “when” where he speaks of knowing when the functions of institutions should end. Though I have little idea what, in Lao Tzu’s day he was getting at, I think I am not too far off to conclude that names and forms like capitalism, socialism, communism, democracy, monarchy, etc., were all provisional. These served a temporary function. But we need to know when to say when. And institutions, like governments, have served particular functions; and I think they have outlived their usefulness.

No doubt some of you are squirming right now. Some of those isms are sacred to us. Perhaps we are not quite ready to give up on some of them. And are we really ready for anarchism? How will we know when “when” is now. Henry David Thoreau believed that when we were ready for it, we wouldn’t need a government any longer. And I think it is high time to be ready.

But why now? The State would have us fear the unknown. Fear chaos. I mean, who will build the roads? But let me tell you what Lao Tzu feared. Because I fear it too. We fear the danger in not knowing when. These names, forms, and institutions were only ever supposed to be temporary. Their functions were supposed to come to an end sometime. That has always been the way it would be. But if we buy into the lie that now is not the time; let us also remember that the very people that are telling us that, will always tell us that. Powerful men and women don’t want there to be an end. And they will never want there to be an end. We need to know when to say “Stop!” in order to avoid danger.

But what is the danger? I mean, can you at least tell me that? Sure. And here it is.

All things end in the Tao, as rivers flow into the sea. All things are going to come to an end. If you knew that you were running toward a dead end, wouldn’t you like signs pointing out the danger ahead? And wouldn’t you pay attention to those signs? Because that word, dead, isn’t temporary. When we know that all rivers flow into the sea; and we are just lazily going along with the flow of the current; wouldn’t we want to know where the river ends and the sea begins?

The truth is, I don’t know exactly what lies at the end of the road. But I would much rather be prepared for a dead stop, than to not see the end until I go splat. And like it or not, all these names, forms, and institutions are going to come to an end. Oh, I don’t know an exact date. I don’t know how much further down the river we can go. But we better be making plans for the inevitable. Now.

Where Are The Decent To Be Found?

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 the highest value.
If you 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)

Given the news today (as I am typing this up), that our Nobel Peace Prize winning, Anti-War President Barack Obama has announced that once again we are bombing the Hell out of Iraq, I think today’s chapter is once again, timely.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how the use of force is a failure to rely on the Tao. He specifically warned that for every force there is a counterforce; and, that violence always rebounds upon itself. He was framing all of that in the context of being content with yourself and with the world.

Today, Lao Tzu continues where he left off with another beautifully written chapter. This time he targets weapons; which, he says, are the tools of violence and fear. I couldn’t agree more with Lao Tzu. All decent people detest them and will avoid using them except in direst necessity. And in those rare moments when direst necessity requires it of them, they use them with the utmost restraint.

Peace should be our highest value. I know that many scoff at that idea. Many can come up with all sorts of reasons to justify war. They’ll even use euphemisms to call war something else than what it is, so they can then smile in the camera and try to justify how still deserving they are of Nobel Peace Prizes. But your euphemisms can’t mask the truth, Mr. President. If you were a decent man you wouldn’t be dropping bombs on Iraq. You wouldn’t be using drones to target individuals without due process. And you wouldn’t call the innocents killed, just collateral damage. If you were a decent man you wouldn’t be fomenting war all over the globe. So, given your actions, I have no choice but to conclude that you are far from a decent man.

And once again, the peace has been shattered. Oh, whatever do I mean? I don’t think there has been a moment of peace in my lifetime. The United States government doesn’t want peace. It wants war. It has been that way for many decades now. And it expects us to be content. But how can we be content? Without peace, there can be no true contentment. Our enemies are not demons. They are all fellow human beings, just like ourselves. How could we possibly wish our fellow human beings personal harm?

And, war is Hell. The ruling elite, that sacrifice our young men and women in endless and needless war, know this. That is why they insulate themselves from the consequences of this Hell that they wreak on the Earth. Millions have been slaughtered. And we award medals and build statues for the ones who slaughter the most. How could I ever take delight in the senseless slaughter? How could I ever rejoice in the kind of victory that the tools of violence and fear brings about?

Still, Lao Tzu recognized a circumstance he called direst necessity. It is a very rare thing, indeed. If I combed through the history of the United States government, I don’t think I would find one instance of it. There are those that would suggest that we were attacked at Pearl Harbor; and that right there was a real justification for war. Hmmmmmm. Well, maybe. But I am also well aware that we provoked that attack to give us the necessary justification to enter a conflict in which we had no business, and the American public was dead set against. And, after that, all sorts of civil liberties were sacrificed (Japanese internment, anyone?).

But just because I am having a hard time coming up with an example of direst necessity, doesn’t mean that such a thing, though rare, couldn’t exist. And if, or when, it ever happens, we should use our tools of violence and fear, gravely; with sorrow and great compassion, like we were attending the funeral of a loved one. I don’t think going on the late night talk show circuit and joking about it, quite fits the mood.

The reason that I have been having such a difficult time coming up with what direst necessity really is, is because I have been looking for it in all the wrong places. Only decent people know when direst necessity comes. And I won’t find any decent people in the United States government. Not throughout its history.

But decent people understand it. And they are ready for it when it comes. No, they don’t delight in it. But they are ready. I am talking about one of the most basic of human rights, the right of self-defense. Decent people never initiate force or violence on their fellow human beings. But when they have been aggressed against, it is their sacred and somber duty to defend their own lives, the lives of their loved ones, and their own personal property.

But I warn all you fellow decent people out there, indecent people (the State, and its apologists) will call you ugly names, like terrorist. They will defame your name. They will speak all manner of evil against you, saying you are the indecent ones. They will put you on their special watch lists, keeping an eye on your every move and listening in on your most private communications. They will convince many that you are to be feared. And it is all a big lie.

For you are the only ones that can be trusted to wield tools of violence and fear. You are the only ones that truly detest them. You are the only ones that will try to avoid them. You are the only ones that will show the utmost restraint. Only you understand your enemies are not demons, but human beings like yourselves. You alone wish them no harm. You alone don’t rejoice in victory, nor delight in the slaughter of fellow human beings. Peace is truly your highest value. And how can you be content when the peace has been shattered?

Indeed, we cannot.

Oh Noes! He’s Talking About Anarchism Again.

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 oneself.

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 need other’s approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

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

I have been talking about anarchism the last couple of days, and then Lao Tzu brings up the importance of relying on the Tao to govern. For some of my newer followers I wanted to use today’s chapter to talk a little bit more about anarchism and what governing has to do with it.

First off, when I refer to myself as libertariantaoist, I think I am being a little redundant. But redundant or not, I use it for a very special reason. I am trying to show just how much my political and personal philosophy are intertwined. And, I don’t think a lot of people know just how much libertarian thinking and philosophical Taoism go hand in hand. I am attempting to attract libertarians to philosophical Taoism and philosophical Taoists to libertarian thinking.

But if I am an anarchist, how does governing even come into it? I am glad you asked. First off, I don’t think anarchists are opposed to all governing. But you do need to define what you mean by governing. If you mean a system that is set up where a few, the powerful ruling elite, make all the rules; and we are all subject to them simply because we were born within particular geographical political boundaries; and we can’t really opt out; then yes, I think anarchists would be opposed to this “arrangement.”

So what kind of government can an anarchist support? First off, anarchists are quite fond of self-government. That would seem to be a given. But I don’t just want to try to speak for all anarchists. I want to speak for myself, you all are free to agree or disagree with my ideal form of government.

Beyond self-government, which is really the pillar on which all good government must stand. Speaking for myself, as an anarchist, I would be in support of any community government (be it a community based on geographical boundaries or virtual ones) if the said government had unanimous consent of the governed. Rule by a simple majority or even a super majority would not be satisfactory. I want the ability to opt out. Only unanimous consent works.

That is bound to get me hate mail. After all, the very idea that I would let one lone individual (me) keep the entire community from wreaking havoc on my sovereignty to govern myself. If you think that is unthinkable, then come, let’s reason together.

Okay, now to the actual chapter. Lao Tzu tells us that when we rely on the Tao in governing we won’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. Does that sound like any government that has ever existed on planet Earth? It seems to me that through the course of history, governments have been all about forcing issues and defeating enemies by force of arms. Might makes right!

And through the course of history, we have found this natural law at work: For every force there is a counter force. If we were relying on the Tao, it wouldn’t have come to this. But just because we haven’t been relying on the Tao, doesn’t mean that the laws of nature no longer apply. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon oneself.

We don’t really need to resort to violence. Oh, certain individuals and groups of individuals love to create situations where they feel like they have been backed up against a wall and now they have no other recourse than to be violent. But, it didn’t have to be that way.

If we rely on the Tao, and this goes, not just for governing, but for whatever we are doing in our lives, there will simply be things that we will come to understand. One of those things, is that the universe is forever beyond our control. As we come to understand this, we will stop trying to dominate events. We will understand that is going against the current of the Tao.

But how do we get there? Because, I am not stupid. I know that the way things appear to be is far from ideal. Still, the Tao keeps doing its thing. Unmoved by the march of humanity going against its current.

Well, here are some thoughts. We can start by believing in ourselves. When we truly believe in ourselves we won’t feel the need to try and convince others how right we are and how wrong everybody else is. Next, be content with yourself. When you are content with yourself you won’t need anyone else’s approval. And finally, accept yourself. Now this would seem to just follow naturally once you have believing in, and being content with, yourself, mastered. And really, it should come just that naturally. When you accept yourself, the whole world will accept you. When we are at odds with ourselves, the whole world will seem to be at odds with us.

It, of course, is about going with the flow of the Tao; rather than trying to swim against that current. I am not talking about going along to get along. No, far from it. I can believe in myself, be content with myself, and accept myself, and still be opposed to a system set up to deny me sovereignty over my own self-government. But, if I am relying on the Tao, and, I believe in, am content with, and accept, myself, I am rather assured that the whole world will believe in, be content with, and accept, me.

Residing At The Center Of The Circle

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 a 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)

I hope that you enjoyed my little look, yesterday, at both yin and yang and how they interact together to create order out of the chaos. Today, I want to expand on that, and take a little bit closer look at the center of the circle, which is where Lao Tzu says the Master always resides.

Lao Tzu begins with the question on the mind and heart of every one who has ever hoped and dreamed of making this world a better and brighter place in which to live. Do we want to improve the world? Well, of course we do. We want to be good stewards of this world upon which we spend such a small fraction of time, when compared to all of eternity. We want to make it a better and brighter place for the generations to come. And we certainly want to make it a better and brighter place than previous generations have left it.

But just as our hopes are rising, Lao Tzu dashes them. “I don’t think it can be done.”

Lao Tzu has some explaining to do. What does he mean, it can’t be done?

Good news. Lao Tzu doesn’t just leave us hanging. He does some explaining.

He says the world is sacred. Let that sink in for just a moment. The world is sacred. When he says that, what he is saying is that the way things are is the way things are. When we refuse to accept that, when we try to tamper with it, we are going to ruin what is sacred. What should be sacrosanct. You simply can’t improve on it. It is already perfect. Or have we forgotten what we have been learning so far in the Tao Te Ching? You can’t treat the world like it is an object. When you treat it like it is an object you are going to lose it.

So much of the problems with the world that we are so gung ho on changing, on trying to control, are not a problem with the way things are, in the first place. They are the result of tampering. With trying to control.

This is what Lao Tzu is trying to get us to understand when he says we simply must accept that the way things are is the way things are. That is why he insists that there is a time for being ahead and a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, and a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, and a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, and a time for being in danger.

What, you can’t accept that? You can’t accept that you can’t be in control at all times?

But how much better it would be for you to be like the Master. She sees things as they are; therefore, she doesn’t try to control them. She understands the way things are. She understands that there is a time for everything, and that everything will happen in its own time. Let things go their own way. Reside at the center of the circle. That is Lao Tzu’s prescription.

Now what does Lao Tzu mean by residing at the center of the circle?

Let me invite you once again to take a look at my tumblr icon that we were talking about yesterday. The circle represents everything. You have the familiar yin and yang symbol within the circle, and in the center of the circle is the letter A, for anarchism.

Of course, I was going to bring it back to this. The primal state. Anarchism. Where the Tao does the controlling. The invisible hand of the free market. And everything balances out perfectly, in harmony and unity. When we let the invisible hand work, free of our tampering, the Tao achieves everything that is needed, perfectly. And the sacred world that we live in cannot be improved upon.

Of Yin And Yang

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)

We have been talking a lot about yin and yang recently; but as I read through today’s chapter, I was thinking it has been a long while since I took a little bit of time to explain yin and yang. So today, I want to devote to that. Being as most of you, that are reading this blog post, are accessing it through my tumblr blog, I want to use my tumblr icon, or avatar, as a visual representation of what I want to talk about today.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to anarchei, a fellow blogger on tumblr, for designing my tumblr icon. I am extremely pleased with the patience and effort required to satisfy my humble blog’s needs. Thanks always, anarchei!

So, let’s begin by taking a look at that familiar yin yang symbol. It begins with a circle, which, like a Venn diagram, represents everything, Within the circle you find the familiar black and white shapes, representing yin and yang. They represent perfect balance, harmony, and unity. It is a picture of fluid energy. Of change and motion. It shows how opposites interact with each other to cause everything to happen.

The colors of the spectrum that you find around the perimeter of the circle and forming the A in the center are my way of expressing that all are represented within this circle; and the A, of course, represents Anarchism. While you certainly don’t have to be an anarchist to be a philosophical Taoist, and you don’t have to be a philosophical Taoist to be an anarchist – for me, anarchism and philosophical Taoism go hand in hand.

Now that we have my explanation of my icon out of the way, let’s dig further into what is meant by yin and yang. Yin and yang are the two fundamental principles of Chinese philosophy in general, and Taoism specifically. One of these fundamental principles, yin, is negative, dark, passive, cold, wet, and feminine; while the other, yang, is positive, bright, active, hot, dry, and masculine.

Now before I go any further I want to make sure that we understand that these two fundamental principles are not at odds. One is not better than the other. They are always in perfect balance. That is the way things are.

Because they are in a state of flux, things may appear to sometimes be out of balance. But don’t let appearances fool you. That is merely an illusion. The reality is that you can’t have one without the other. Both negative and positive, dark and bright, passive and active, cold and hot, wet and dry, feminine and masculine.

These all interact with each other in such a way that balance, harmony, and unity is always the natural state of things. It is the way things are. Yes, I know I am repeating myself. I often do that when I want to make sure the point is being taken.

I keep stressing that, because I often hear yin and yang described as a tug of war. And people want to pick sides. Positive is seen as good. While, negative is frowned upon. We are often afraid of the dark, when we aren’t complaining that the lights are too bright.  And it becomes a great competition, that even has masculine and feminine at war with each other.

This is not the way things are. I think Lao Tzu explains it best in today’s chapter; so let’s take a look at that.

Lao Tzu says to know the male, yet keep to the female. Know the white, yet keep to the black. Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. It is in embracing both the yin and yang, equally, that we receive the world in our arms; and we become a pattern for the world. It is all about accepting the world as it is. In that way, the Tao never leaves you; and it is strong and luminous inside of you. You become like a little child. There will be nothing you can’t do, as you return to your primal self.

What does he mean by returning to our primal selves? Primal speaks of origins. Originally, the world was formed from the void, just like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu wants us to know the utensils, yet never forget the block. That is how we can best use all things.

The Importance Of Just One Word

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon 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)

What never ceases to amaze me is how I can read through a chapter, like today’s, over and over again for many moons now, and never once notice that word thus. This morning, when I read through the chapter again, it was like I was reading it for the first time.

And I hope that is a good thing. Having now noticed the thus, it completely changes my take on the entire chapter. Wow!

In the past, when I have read through the chapter I have thought Lao Tzu was just pulling out random vocations like traveler, artist, and scientist; and using those as a launching pad for a discussion of what constitutes good; and what to do if you are bad at something.

But that thus changes everything. Everything. So here goes.

Lao Tzu isn’t just pulling out random vocations to talk about. Whatever was I thinking? No, he is describing the Master. The Master is all of those things.

He is the best kind of traveler, having no fixed plans and not intent upon arriving. How many times have I talked about the journey we are on, and I missed that one?

The Master is also quite the artist, always letting his intuition lead him wherever it wants. The Master is in perfect harmony with the Tao, with himself, with the way things are. Yes, it is all about intuition.

And the Master is the consummate scientist, having freed himself of concepts, always keeping his mind open to what is.

Thus, because of all of that, the Master is available to all people. The Master doesn’t reject anyone. He is ready to use all situations. He doesn’t waste anything.

When your plans are fixed, or you are intent upon arriving, people are a distraction. They can be a nuisance. They are a disruption. They can totally mess up your plans. People wreak havoc on schedules.

If you aren’t being led by your intuition wherever it will take you, then changes in situations can really throw you for a loop. But when you are led by your intuition you find yourself at home no matter what your changing situations or circumstances may be.

And if you lock yourself into a particular concept or mindset, and can’t begin to see things for what they are – because that would completely upset your worldview – then you waste every precious moment afforded you. Time. Resources. People. All going to waste because you can’t think outside those preconceived notions.

I am sure glad the light bulb turned on this morning for me. I was walking along in darkness. Now, I understand a little better what Lao Tzu means by embodying the light.

We all want to embody the light and be good, like the Master. And we all have plenty still to learn on this journey. I hope no one needs reminding that when Lao Tzu compares good and bad that he is not passing moral judgments.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Lao Tzu is teaching us something that we really must understand, lest we get lost. It isn’t a matter of how intelligent any one is. If you are good at something you need to seek out a student to teach. If you are bad at something you need to seek out a teacher.

The great secret is knowing how to embody the light. When you embody the light, good teachers always have a job and bad men always can find a good teacher.

Stay centered. Stay balanced. Stay serene.

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)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu once again returns to the yin and yang; which represents the great balancing act of the Tao. So let’s take a quick look at just how yin and yang work together to achieve harmony.

He says the heavy is the root of the light and the unmoved is the source of all movement. What Lao Tzu seems to be saying is that we need an anchor. And we need to keep that anchor in mind as we read through the rest of the chapter.

How can the Master travel all day without leaving home? Well, if we hadn’t read the first two lines we might just think that it could mean that the Master doesn’t actually go anywhere. She does her traveling with her mind, perhaps? But I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu has in mind, at all.

Remember that anchor? This is just another example of yin and yang. The Master can travel all day without leaving home because she is anchored to home. This isn’t some dead weight that is keeping her from straying too far, or preventing her from enjoying herself. She is light as she travels, but she still has that root to keep her balanced.

The source of her movement is that unmovable anchor.

Remember yesterday, when Lao Tzu said that humanity is one of the four great powers? We humans are all lords of the country. And Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. It isn’t just that it is unbecoming, though it is; when we let ourselves be blown to and fro we lose touch with our root.

The balancing comes in understanding that there is a time to move. There is a time to be light. It is just important to keep that balance. Lao Tzu wouldn’t advise us to just sit at home all day and remain unmoving. That would be just as foolish as flitting about, being blown to and fro.

But what should, and what should not move us? The key, says Lao Tzu, is not to let restlessness be the source of our movement. The unmoved should be the source. And the unmoved, the source, is who we really are. Restlessness can cause us to lose touch with who we are.

For, as we go about our travels, there will be splendid views to enjoy. And enjoy them we should, as we stay serenely in ourselves.