Preexisting Conditions? No Worries. You’re Covered.

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

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

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

Yesterday, we talked about losing our sense of awe. That sense of awe, I identified as the eternal reality, the Tao. The Master’s solution when the people lose touch with the Tao was to take a step back. That might not seem like much of a solution. Our mindset is for us to do something. And taking a step back seems like a pretty passive approach.

So today, Lao Tzu explains why it is that passive approach is just what the doctor ordered. He talks about the Tao. Talk about passive. It is always at ease. It overcomes without competing. It answers without saying a word. It arrives without being summoned, and accomplishes without a plan. That is passive.

It is almost as if Lao Tzu is telling each of us, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or, “Chill, dude!” The Tao is certainly always chilling. The Tao is always at ease. We need to be more like the leisurely Tao.

These are supposed to be comforting words to those who have lost their way. So why do we get in a panic when we have lost our way? Turning to some external authority that doesn’t know its way either.

We need to relax. We need to chill out. The Tao has the whole universe covered with its net. No matter how lost you are feeling right about now. No matter how dark it has been. The Tao has got you covered. And nothing, not you, not anybody, not anything, is ever going to slip through those meshes.

Time To Take A Step Back

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

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

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

A couple of days ago I entitled my blog post, No More Obfuscating. I was referring to my own tendency to want to change the obvious meaning of words to something more palatable to my readers. As Lao Tzu said yesterday, you have to realize you are sick before you can move toward health. I recognized I wasn’t serving my readers by obfuscating. Lao Tzu may use mysterious language a lot, at least to our Western mindset, but he always makes very clear what he is saying. And he is blunt, sometimes more blunt than my delicate sensitivities would like. So, I tend to want to soften the blow. But I need to stop doing that.

So today, when Lao Tzu comes on strong. I am not going to pull his punches. The whole emphasis of the Tao Te Ching is that there is an eternal reality; which Lao Tzu, for lack of a better word, refers to as the Tao. Often, perhaps because we find them more palatable, we prefer side paths to that eternal reality. Or maybe, we simply lose our way.

When people lose their sense of awe, and that sense of awe is our connection with the eternal reality, people turn to religion. This is where my delicate sensitivities kick in. For I don’t want to offend my family and friends who are religious. But, I also realize that I am not serving them by obfuscating. So, instead of obfuscating, I ask that those of you whose delicate sensitivities are injured by what Lao Tzu has to say, take a step back and wonder why exactly that is.

It might help to understand that Lao Tzu tends to write the same thing in two different ways together to make his point. First he says, “When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion.” Then he says, “When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority.” Okay, no obfuscating here, but I find I can work with the second sentence better. Yet, they mean the same thing.

When we have lost our way, when our connection to the Tao, the eternal reality, is lost, we start doubting ourselves. As well we might. It really makes perfect sense. When we no longer believe that we can trust ourselves, we begin to depend on some authority. That authority could be religion. Or it could be the government. It could be any variety of authority. But the root cause of our state of dependence is that we have lost touch with the eternal reality. The Tao is inside each of us. We need to be trusting ourselves. Our inward intuition. But having lost that connection, we start putting our trust in something external to ourselves.

That is the problem that Lao Tzu is addressing in today’s chapter. Lao Tzu understands human nature. He understands our tendency to “panic” when we lose our way. That is why he brings in the Master to show how best to deal with the situation.

And how does the Master deal with it? By taking a step back. This is such simple advice that I think we often fail to consider how very helpful it would be. If, instead of stopping and taking a step back, thus getting our bearings, we forge on ahead, we only get more desperate. People are easily confused. No one likes admitting it. But it is, nevertheless, true. We get confused, easily. Taking a step back is the first and right move, if we are going to ward off confusion.

Next, let us remember what Lao Tzu said a couple chapters ago, his teachings are easy to understand and to put into practice; but our intellect can’t grasp them, and trying to put them into practice is a sure way to fail. The Master teaches without a teaching, thus there is nothing you have to learn.

Like Lao Tzu said yesterday, we don’t need some external authority, we can be our own physician. Physician, heal yourself.

It Is Time To Be Your Own Physician

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First, realize that you are sick;
Then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus, she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

One of the things that Lao Tzu keeps coming back to is our need to not-know. Today, Lao Tzu calls not-knowing the only true knowledge. But what exactly is not-knowing? Is Lao Tzu wanting us all to be ignorant? Is ignorance really bliss? If not-knowing is true knowledge, then ignorance can’t be what Lao Tzu is really promoting.

Not-knowing isn’t actually remaining in a state of ignorance. It is coming out of a state of ignorance. Lao Tzu illustrates this using a metaphor that kind of sounds like the beginning of a 12-step plan. Not-knowing isn’t the opposite of knowing, at all. It is presuming to know which Lao Tzu is concerned with. That is the disease. And not-knowing, or coming to realize that we don’t really know what we presume to know, is the cure.

But, as long as we continue to remain in our state of ignorance. As long as we presume that we know, we are sorely afflicted. Lao Tzu tells us that first you have to realize that you are sick. That is not-knowing. We will remain in this state of ignorance until we realize that we are sick. But then, and only then, we can move toward health.

Once someone realizes that they are sick, that is when they start looking for the services of a physician. The majority of us don’t have money to spend on physicians when we think there is nothing wrong with us. But we do now realize that we are sick. Now what? Lao Tzu says that the Master is her own physician. This is good news for those of us that also don’t have money to spend on physicians when we know we aren’t well. And what is that the good physician does? Heal yourself of all knowing. That is the path to wholeness.

By ridding yourself of all presumption, through the practice of not-knowing, you make yourself whole.

No More Obfuscating

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me, look inside your heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How soon I forget these things… I want to talk more about what Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday. How thinking our enemies are evil will result in destroying our three greatest treasures. And, how to avoid that very thing by knowing how to yield. The reason I want to talk more about it is because only after that post went from my queue to the dashboard did I remember something that Lao Tzu had said back in chapter 60.

This is important because I was having a very difficult time yesterday with dealing with the problem of evil. Lao Tzu kept telling us that the problem wasn’t with evil; it was with our thinking. And while I tried to accept that, I still kept thinking that evil was something that really had to be dealt with. There is a reason that those videos of people getting beheaded is so powerful. Our enemies want us to think that they are evil.

That is how they win. If we think they are evil, then our greatest treasures are destroyed. That is what they want. And that is what Lao Tzu is warning us about. This, of course, ties in with today’s chapter; just in case you were thinking I was just going to skip what Lao Tzu was saying today.

Lao Tzu’s teachings are both easy to understand and to put into practice. But our intellect can’t grasp them and trying to put them into practice is not how to put them into practice. I am going to talk about this more, but first I want to look back again at what Lao Tzu said in chapter 60 concerning the problem of evil.

Please forgive me this indulgence on my part. If I had remembered this yesterday, I would have dealt with it better then, and wouldn’t have to do this today. In chapter 60, Lao Tzu told us exactly how to deal with the problem of evil. He said if we give evil nothing to oppose, it won’t have anything to oppose. This is about yielding. Which I should have said yesterday, but tried to dance around because I forgot. See, Lao Tzu’s teachings are too simple for our intellect to grasp. And too easy to put into practice. I tried. How I tried. When will I learn?

Or maybe I am just obfuscating. I knew yesterday that I was getting into murky waters when I tried to manipulate the word “yield” to mean what I wanted it to mean, rather than what Lao Tzu actually intended for it to mean. When dealing with evil, Lao Tzu means just what he says when he says to yield to it. And I don’t like it. So, I try to make it more palatable. But he isn’t really going to let me get away with that.

I fear that yielding to the enemy, especially one that seems evil, is giving up ground that I dare not give up. But Lao Tzu counters that it is better to retreat a yard than to advance an inch. We are concerned with the evil that is external to us. While, Lao Tzu is concerned with the evil that we allow to grow in our own hearts.

Lao Tzu sums it up quite well in the conclusion of today’s chapter. He has said that his teachings are older than the world, so how can we grasp their meaning? But, if you really want to know, you will find the answers in your own heart.

Knowing How To Yield

The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus, you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two days ago, Lao Tzu was teaching us about what he considered our three greatest treasures. If you have already forgotten them, don’t worry, we will list them again today. Yesterday, he was talking about how to embody the virtue of non-competition. One of the examples he used to illustrate it, was how the best general enters the mind of his enemy. Today, he continues what he has been talking about the last few days, now talking wars and rumors of wars.

It does seem appropriate that Lao Tzu would expand on what he said about generals yesterday. Let’s just not forget what he has said before. Lao Tzu is wanting us to embody the virtue of non-competition, and to be careful to guard our three greatest treasures: Simplicity in actions and thoughts. Patience with friends and enemies. And, compassionate toward ourselves.

He says of the generals that they have a saying. This saying is the embodiment of the virtue of non-competition. Remember, the best generals are able to enter the mind of their enemy. They say that it is better to wait and see, than to make the first move. It is better to retreat a yard, than to advance an inch.

As I was reading this “saying” today, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the warmongers all over the world are really taking the time to try to enter their enemies’ minds. We can see and hear the drumbeats of war. They are beating loud and strong. And with a persistence that seems like anything but waiting and seeing. No one seems to want to wait and see anymore. They want to act and fast. Rushing in, and I worry are setting us all up for great misfortune.

What Lao Tzu is trying to show us today is a way for us to go forward without advancing. There is a way to push back without using weapons.

I already know that those who profit from war are going to dismiss Lao Tzu’s sayings as idealistic pacifism. My blog isn’t really addressed to those who profit from war. It is to the other 99 percent of us. The ones that are actually called upon to make the sacrifices for the war profiteers.

I see Lao Tzu, a lonely man, standing on a mountain crying out to anyone with the guts to listen to him: “There is no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy.”

Will we listen? What is underestimating our enemy? And, how can we avoid it?

Lao Tzu says that underestimating our enemies is thinking they are evil. I can already hear the naysayers. “But they are beheading people! If that isn’t evil, then I don’t know what evil is.” Yes, I understand. Our “enemies” have released some videos that appear to show some beheadings. Our media has gone into a frenzy to make sure that just about everyone is all stirred up and ready to do something. And this has all served the interests of those who have been beating the drums of war for many years now. How easily the people are manipulated.

But I want to hold on for just a moment here and take a look at what Lao Tzu has said, again. Lao Tzu didn’t say that the greatest misfortune is having enemies who are evil. The greatest misfortune is thinking that they are evil. When you think your enemies are evil you are underestimating them. There is a difference. You may think it is too subtle to matter, but you might just be wrong. Don’t underestimate Lao Tzu’s understanding of human nature. And don’t underestimate your enemies. When you underestimate your enemies you destroy your three greatest treasures. And, this is more important than all the supposed evil you may find in the world.

When we fail to enter the mind of our enemy, we underestimate them. We think they are one thing, and consider no other possibilities. You may think the videos we have seen, reveal their minds quite enough. But don’t underestimate how our “friends”, who profit from warmongering, might be manipulating us into thinking the way we are thinking about our “enemies”, either.

But Lao Tzu isn’t concerned with any of that. He is wanting us to guard our three greatest treasures. That is what should be our top priority. And it shouldn’t matter how much we are being manipulated into war. If our three treasures are destroyed, we become the enemy.

When two great forces oppose each other, the victory won’t go to the one who fails to know the mind of their enemy. It won’t go to the one who underestimates their enemy. It will go to the one who knows how to yield. That is how we safeguard our treasures. By yielding. Not yielding to evil. No, that is not what I am saying at all.

Yielding is not just about staying back and letting others go on ahead. It is also producing a bountiful harvest of good. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Are we keeping it simple, or making things complicated? Are we being patient with both our friends and our enemies? And maybe most importantly, are we being compassionate with ourselves? Compassion means valuing our three greatest treasures above all else.

The Virtue Of Non-Competition

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best.
The best general enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman serves the communal good.
The best leader follows the will of the people.

All of them embody the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this, they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, Lao Tzu talks about the virtue of non-competition. At first, as I was reading through the chapter I thought this was some new thing that he was talking about. But then I thought back a couple of chapters earlier when he was talking about the Master who is the embodiment of humility in governing (leading) the people. He said of her that she competes with no one and no one can compete with her. That is the context that I want to keep in mind as I talk about the virtue of non-competition today.

It always seems to me that Lao Tzu comes at things in a completely different way from the prevailing wisdom. That is what sets philosophical Taoism apart. Today he is talking about being the very best you can be. And he says you do it by embodying the virtue of non-competition. That immediately seems strange to me. Does it to you, as well? Isn’t it in competition that we find who is the very best?

But as we read through the chapter we find that the embodiment of the virtue of non-competition doesn’t mean not competing. It isn’t about what we are doing. It is about who we are. What are our attitudes as we go about our daily lives?

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best. The best general enters the mind of his enemy. The best businessman serves the communal good. The best leader follows the will of the people.

Lao Tzu tells us that they embody the virtue of non-competition, not by not competing, but by doing it in the spirit of play. I think, for most of us, that being the best we can be at what we do would seem to be serious business. But Lao Tzu invites us to not take things quite so seriously. Compete in the spirit of play. Be like children. This is how to be in harmony with the Tao.

Let It Begin With Me

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
Simplicity, Patience, Compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In an earlier chapter Lao Tzu talked a bit about different reactions to philosophical Taoism. He said when superior people hear of the Tao, they immediately begin to embody it. The average person half believes it and half doubts it. And the fool? They laugh out loud. Lao Tzu was not bothered by the fool’s reaction. He simply said that if the fool didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao. I immediately thought of that as I was reading today’s chapter.

Some people are simply not going to “get” Lao Tzu’s teaching. To them, it is nonsense. Others call it lofty, but impractical. Honestly, I don’t know whether that reaction is much better than simply calling it nonsense. By dismissing it as idealistic and impractical, it is going to be hard for us to go on with dialogue.

And dialogue is what I want. I know I put out this monologue each and every day with each new installment from the Tao Te Ching. But I don’t want it to remain just monologue. What I am hoping for is to get my readers thinking. And responding. Oh, you don’t have to send me a message. That isn’t what I really mean by dialogue. What I want you to do is to look inside yourself; and see if this nonsense doesn’t make perfect sense. What I want is for you to put it into practice in your own life; and find that this loftiness has roots that go deep. If you do that, then I have achieved exactly what I have wanted to achieve.

Lao Tzu says that he has just three things to teach. He considers them so important that he calls them your three greatest treasures. These three treasures are simplicity, patience, and compassion. Because he places such a high value on each of them, I am going to take them one at a time.

First treasure, simplicity. What does Lao Tzu mean by simplicity? He wants us to be simple in our actions and in our thoughts. Lao Tzu understood it back in 400 B.C.E., and it is still true today; we expend a lot of time and energy trying to simplify. But our efforts only seem to make things for us more, rather than less, complex. But complexity is not going to help us along our journey, our return to the source of being. Complexity only serves to confound us. Lao Tzu has an interesting solution for us. Instead of trying to simplify, just be simple. Be simple in your actions. Don’t try to do something to make your actions more simple. Just be simple. Be simple in your thoughts. Don’t try to think how can I keep this simple. Just be simple. Perhaps I am making this too complicated. See how that is done? We are talking about returning to the source of being. Being. Not doing. Where things get complicated is in the doing. And in trying to explain it, I am making it complicated. But it isn’t complicated. It really is simple. Just be. Relax. Just be. Simple.

Second treasure, patience. Let’s keep this simple. We wouldn’t want to discard our first treasure while trying to reach for the next. Lao Tzu puts it simply. Be patient with both friend and foe. Let’s not complicate things by trying to figure out whether we should or should not be patient with our enemies as well as our friends. Lao Tzu is wanting us to accord with the way things are. We have talked at length about the way things are. This is the eternal reality. What is true, regardless of what our senses may tell us to the contrary. What is true, regardless of how convincing the illusion may seem to be. We want to be in accord with the way things are. And that requires that we have our treasure, patience. Patience with our friends who mean us well, and our enemies that mean us harm. Being in accord with the way things are means being patient with everyone, regardless of their intentions.

Third treasure, compassion. Lao Tzu has one goal when it comes to this third treasure. The reconciliation of all beings in the world. But, as is usually the case with Lao Tzu, he doesn’t go the direction we expect him to go, in order to achieve the goal. When we think of compassion we think of directing it outward toward others. That does sound noble, doesn’t it? And Lao Tzu is certainly thinking about others when he is talking about reconciliation. But he doesn’t want us directing our compassion outwards, at all. He wants us to be compassionate toward ourselves. What was he saying about nonsense, earlier? No, come back here, we are going to keep this simple. When we try to direct our compassion outwards, we start making things complicated. How exactly do I express compassion to others? What is compassionate to one is something else entirely to another. I wanted to bring about reconciliation and all I have managed to do is make a gigantic mess of things. Now, they aren’t even speaking to each other anymore. And before I interfered, they were getting along so well. Lao Tzu has very good reason for wanting us to direct our compassion inward, toward ourselves. He wants to keep it simple.

I am thinking about an old song that wasn’t so old when I was young. Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. Lao Tzu didn’t write that song. Though he may have been the inspiration for it. If you are going to live to see the reconciliation of all beings in the world, it will begin with you being compassionate toward yourself. We tend to be our own worst critic, our own worst enemy. But as long as we are at odds with who we are, the whole world is irreconcilable It starts with me. It begins now.

We Are Not Sheep!

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, we are going to continue to look at how the art of living informs the art of governing; and the art of governing informs the art of living. Lao Tzu begins with a metaphor which he uses to illustrate how humility is what gives you real power. We all understand the reason that streams flow into the sea. It is because the sea is lower. Streams don’t naturally flow uphill. And power doesn’t naturally flow uphill either.

We keep returning to this concept of the need for humility because it is probably the most important lesson of them all. Lao Tzu understood human nature. He isn’t asking for any of us to try to deny our nature. He is wanting us to understand our nature and work with that. People are not sheep, or cattle, or swine. Rulers tend to treat people as if that were the case. But that is to deny our nature.

Sometimes, those of us who describe ourselves as libertarians or anarchists, complain that people are behaving like sheep. But I hope that we all understand that we are not actually describing their real nature as humans. What we are really complaining about, is that they are not behaving according to their own nature.

For Lao Tzu the role of leaders is to “lead” the people back to their own nature. What they have always been. Their real nature as human beings. Sheep is a very disparaging term to use to refer to humans. Sheep are completely dependent on a shepherd. Left to their own devices, they can’t fend for themselves. They have to be led to green pastures. Sheep have been known to eat themselves right off a cliff. They need constant supervision. But we are not sheep!

Cattle and swine are herded. Our rulers tend to treat us with this herd mentality. Do cattle and swine like to be herded? No, they don’t like it at all. Sadly, for them, it is their unfortunate lot. But that isn’t the case for us humans. We don’t like being herded either. Because we are humans, when we are treated like cattle or swine, we feel oppressed and manipulated. There needs to be a better way of leading us.

Lao Tzu understands the nature of humans, and treats us all accordingly. Humility is the key to this understanding. I like that word humility because it comes from the same root as human. It is our nature. Some may balk at that. Pride seems to be a very human trait as well. But all pride is, is the absence of humility. Pride shouldn’t be, and doesn’t have to be, our defining trait. Humility can and should be.

But how? Well, what do you think produces pride? Since it is the absence of humility, why we become prideful is because we have failed to cultivate the seeds of humility. The art of living is the cultivation of what we are in our human nature. It is the cultivation of those seeds of humility, first and foremost.

This is true for each one of us; but it is especially true for anyone who wants to govern the people. You want to govern? Remember where the sea gets its power. That is where your power is to be found as well.

As Lao Tzu has said over and over again, the art of governing is not ruling. It is leading. And leading is serving. And serving means putting yourself below everyone else. You want to lead? You must first learn how to follow.

Now, Lao Tzu provides us with the picture of a leader. The Master. She is above the people; yet, no one feels oppressed. She goes ahead of the people; yet, no one feels manipulated. This is the art of governing. It is leading, by serving as an example, back to the way we have always been.

I want to be clear here. It would be a denial of our human nature to believe that we don’t have any need for leaders. When I hear people complaining about anarchy, that is one thing they fear. It would be a free for all. That is one of the reasons I don’t choose to use the word anarchy. I prefer anarchism because I want to make it clear that what we anarchists are opposed to is rulers. Not leaders. We don’t need or want rulers. But we do, and always will, need and want leaders. And nature has a way of producing real leaders, right when we need them.

Real leaders, are people for which the whole world are grateful. Why grateful? Because we need them. Real leaders compete with no one. This is important. Rulers are very competitive. They are always needing to figure out some way to be on top of everyone else. But real leaders don’t fight their way to the top. They get their power by staying below the people. No one can compete with a real leader. No one wants to.

The Proverbial Question Of Which Came First?

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate the people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people
the way back to their own nature.

-Lao Tzu-

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that for Lao Tzu the art of living and the art of governing were one. It took me awhile to figure that out. But coming to that realization transformed my life.

We’re going to take a look at today’s chapter in that context. Lao Tzu talks all the time about the ancient Masters. He certainly esteemed them. They informed his philosophy. He says today that they didn’t try to educate the people. Because they understood the problem wasn’t a lack of education. The problem was they already knew too much. Or more precisely, they thought they knew the answers already.

When you think you already know the answers, it will be difficult to guide you. The ancient Masters taught the people to not-know. This is that unlearning that I said we needed to be practicing. But, don’t mistake guiding for manipulating or controlling. They weren’t wanting to manipulate or control the people, Guiding was a very subtle practice. It wasn’t about manipulation or control.

In fact, Lao Tzu tells us it was just the opposite of that. When the people come to the realization that they don’t really know, and that is because they have learned to not-know, the people can find their own way.

That right there is how the art of governing is one with the art of living. The art of governing isn’t about control. It is about leading, guiding. And that is through being someone who is content to serve as an example. Of course this establishes the difference between rulers and leaders. But that isn’t all that Lao Tzu is trying to get across. The point of governing, of leading, of guiding, of serving as an example – is to show all the people the way back to their own nature.

The ancient Masters understood that people can find their own way; if only they aren’t confounded by their so-called knowledge. People don’t need to be forced to do the right thing. They can figure it out for themselves. All that is necessary is humility. The people need to be humble enough to come to the realization that they don’t really know. And the leaders need to be humble enough to be content to serve as an example, rather than needing to force some outcome.

This is why Lao Tzu says to those who want to learn how to govern, that cleverness and riches are not what is needed. Those actually are a hindrance. They will puff you up. Make you proud. And humility is what you need to be cultivating. The simplest pattern is the clearest. This is important whether you are just one of the people; or, you are wanting to be a leader of the people. Keep it simple. If you are going to serve as an example, you want a simple and clear pattern.

This simple and clear pattern is being content with an ordinary life. Once again, this does separate rulers from leaders. Rulers tend to be extravagant in their living. That doesn’t serve as an example to the people. Instead, it just enflames their desires. Leaders are a completely different breed from rulers. Leaders are content with an ordinary life. One that serves as an example to the people. Instead of enflaming desires, it calms them. And, people find their way back to their own nature.

Just like the proverbial question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? We need to understand how the art of living informs the art of governing and the art of governing informs the art of living.

Now, Where Was I? Oh Yes, Effortless Action…

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore, the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains calm at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing, thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Because today’s chapter is a continuation of the theme from yesterday’s chapter, and yesterday, I was writing a lot about my own personal transformation with regard to this theme, I am just going to continue today, where I left off yesterday.

Yesterday, I admitted that what first attracted me to philosophical Taoism was what Lao Tzu wrote about the art of governing. It was so very libertarian of him. And it really meshed with my own libertarian ideas on governing. If Lao Tzu hadn’t been such a libertarian, I probably never would have stuck it out long enough with the Tao Te Ching to ever finally begin to understand the art of living, which is the philosophy behind his art of governing. Lao Tzu helped me to understand that I am not helping myself by compartmentalizing things. Maybe others can get away with separating their personal and political philosophy. For Lao Tzu, it was all one.

As I read through the Tao Te Ching, over and over again, this became clear to me. That certainly helped me to let go of everything that was holding me back from going all the way with philosophical Taoism. Certainly, when I started my tumblr blog and used the url libertariantaoist, I was more libertarian than Taoist at the time. I was just trying to come up with something I thought was somewhat original. Something to differentiate myself, and yet, I also knew there was something to this Taoism that, though I didn’t quite know what it was yet, given time, I knew I would get it.

More than anything else this past couple of years, I can attribute taking a chapter each day and adding my commentary to it, has shaped me into the blogger I am right now. Lao Tzu, more than any other, led me to abandon all hope in taming Leviathan (the State) or trying to downsize it. My own anarchism is the practice of philosophical Taoism. Nothing more, nothing less. I know I still have a long way to go on this path. I certainly haven’t arrived at “Master” level. And, I may never. But I’ll just keep taking it one day at a time and see how the Tao shapes me.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was talking about the practice of effortless action. Acting without doing. Working without effort. And he told us how to go about that, practically speaking. He said, think of the small as large and to think of the few as many. By thinking that way we can confront the difficult while it is still easy. We break down great tasks into a series of small acts.

Today, he really does continue with this idea. If, as you were reading along, it sounded vaguely familiar to you, that may be because of the oft quoted “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” If you have a long journey before you, it can seem daunting. Lao Tzu’s advice is to remember to start at the beginning. And the ground beneath your feet is always the place to begin.

When I was laid off from my last job two and a half years ago, I knew I didn’t want to continue trying to earn a living, doing things I didn’t enjoy doing. I knew what I enjoyed. I had successfully home schooled my own children. I knew that one on one interaction with children was what I wanted to do. So, I decided to start my own tutoring business. I hit upon this idea in March, the same month that I was laid off, but it wasn’t until August that I had my very first student. I had to spend time planning. Thinking about how I was going to go about it. I tried to raise some venture capital. That proved unsuccessful. So, I ended up just doing it by the skin of my teeth with the meager means I had. I did some advertising until I didn’t have the money to invest in it any furtherr. That did result in the one student that I started with in August.

When Lao Tzu talks about a giant pine tree growing from a tiny sprout, what he is saying to me is don’t despise small beginnings. Given time, that sprout will grow. My first student was 3 years old at the time. 3 years old? I had never thought I would be working with someone so young? I was thinking I was going to be helping out moms and dads with their school age children who were having trouble getting difficult concepts, in math, especially. But this little girl’s mom and dad wanted their daughter to succeed and they wanted her to get an early and fast start. They asked if I could teach her how to use an abacus. Sure, I could. Right after I figured out how to use one myself.

Anyway, I set about to teach her counting numbers, letters, both how to write them and how to say them, then phonics. What sounds do all these letters make? It, of course helped that I had home-schooled my own children. I just hadn’t begun with them so early. That was the only difference.

I started out with just one hour a day, five days a week. The little girl turned four in December. We continued working. I won’t bore you with all the details. My time increased with her to two hours a day, and now 3 hours a day. We are working with the abacus. It is amazing! What a useful tool. She is five now, and I am doing first grade curriculum with her. I am enjoying myself.

I said all of that because what little I said about myself yesterday, kind of left things up in the air. Sure, I was going to do what I wanted to do; but what exactly was that? Now, you know.

Time to get back to today’s chapter.

Things that we already know; and yet, Lao Tzu feels the need to remind us, anyway. It is easy to nourish things that are already rooted. The best time to correct things is while the mistakes made are still recent. What is brittle is easily shattered. And, while something is still small, it can easily be scattered in the wind. Yes, we already know all these things. But, for whatever reason, we fail to apply them to our own lives.

If we just applied these truths to our lives, we could prevent trouble before it arises. We would plan and put things in order, beforehand. Don’t be discouraged by the length of the journey before you. And don’t despise small beginnings.

Are you seeing how Lao Tzu is helping us to do what it is that we do, effortlessly? If only we will listen. And let things take their course. Yes, that is the most important concept of all. Planning is good. But only planning that takes into consideration, and allows, letting things take their course.

This is where the central planners get it all wrong. They never seem capable of an appreciation for the law of unintended consequences, largely confuse cause and effect, and believe the end justifies the means.

This whole, not despising small beginnings and not being discouraged by the long journey is some serious business here. But letting things take their own course is how we keep grounded in reality. If we rush into action, we will fail. If we try to grasp things, we will lose them. If we try to force a project to completion, we can end up ruining what was almost ripe. Take a moment to reflect on that last sentence. It was almost ripe. If only we hadn’t rushed it. If only we had waited. If only we had let things take their own course.

All of that is the opposite of effortless action. It is a good thing that we have the example of the Master, who always takes action by letting things take their course. Take your cue from the pace of nature. Remain calm from beginning to end. Remember, if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Don’t let desires rob you of life’s simple pleasures. We have much more to unlearn than we have yet to learn.

Perhaps this all seems elementary to you. Maybe it is because I spend three hours a day working with a little girl through her school work. Or maybe it is because Lao Tzu believes that reminding us of what we already know will help us to remember what we have always been.

I have come to love the Tao. You could say that there is nothing else I care about. It speaks to me of spontaneous order emerging out of the chaos. And free people interacting peacefully and voluntarily.
That is what the Tao means to me. By centering myself in it, and being one with it, I can truly care for all things.