The Tao is the center of the Universe.
The good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.
Honors can be bought with fine words.
Respect can be won with good deeds.
But the Tao is beyond all value;
and no one can achieve it.
Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead to teach him about the Tao.
Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek, you find; and,
when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
The last few days we have been talking a lot about the art of governing. Lao Tzu’s words have been directed mostly at those who want to be a great leader. His advice to those who want to lead? Trust the Tao. Center yourself in it. Let go of the desire to control. Practice self-restraint. Mind your own business instead of interfering in the affairs of others. Practice humility. This is sound advice I wish our rulers were taking. Lao Tzu’s foreign policy is the antithesis to the one our rulers have been engaging in for the last several generations. Along those lines, I posted an article by the always erudite, Sheldon Richman, yesterday. I hope you all read it. Non-intervention is something our rulers are loath to practice.
But, as much as Lao Tzu has been saying to would be leaders, we aren’t all intent on being leaders. There are plenty of us who would be content to be followers; if, we had leaders who were leading where we want to follow. Most of us just want to be left alone. We, too, can put our trust in the Tao. We can center ourselves in it. We, too, are very willing to mind our own business. Lao Tzu’s words speak to all of us. Even those who don’t want to follow any call to be leaders.
Sometimes, it is very easy for us to forget that leaders are supposed to be chosen. Unlike our rulers, who are self-appointed. Now, I understand that we have the illusion, presently, that our rulers are duly elected by us. That we chose them to lead us. There are sham elections, all over the globe, where supposedly democratic elections are held; resulting in the yahoos that claim to be running things. Many of us are beginning to see through this illusion. We understand that we aren’t being given any real choices. Our rulers are being “chosen” for us. Some of us, see even more clearly. These “chosen” people are but actors, playing their part. They provide the illusion of representative government, but they aren’t the real power behind the throne.
Still, leaders are supposed to be chosen. And, because our rulers were not chosen, but self-appointed, they don’t qualify as leaders. We have our work cut out for us. Our rulers are never going to voluntarily give up their usurped power. What can we do? Here is where Lao Tzu’s words to us are even more important.
Because the temptation is to do something. Don’t entertain, for even a moment, that Lao Tzu’s admonitions to practice not-doing, don’t apply to each and every one of us. We really need to trust the Tao. We really need to center ourselves in it. If ever there was a time to do that, it is when we see the whole world going to hell in a hand basket. We need to restrain ourselves. Especially now.
So it is, that Lao Tzu speaks to us today about the Tao, the center of the Universe. This is our center. The good man’s treasure. The bad man’s refuge. Now, when things only seem to be getting worse, rather than better, is when we need to cling to that hope. Treasure or refuge? I need both.
Lao Tzu tells us why the ancient Masters so esteemed the Tao. It is because the honors and respect that our rulers so crave all come with a price. And, we pay that price. They can dazzle us with their fine words. Or, the illusion of their good deeds. But when it comes to the Tao, there is no way to achieve it. It is beyond all value. Oh, to be one with the Tao. Because when you are, when you seek, you will find. Treasure, here I come. And, when you make a mistake? You are forgiven. That is quite the refuge. And, that is why everybody loves it.
Things are not going so well right now. We might begin to forget about the Tao. But I foresee a day when new leaders will be chosen. Not the kind of leaders we have been getting. But new ones. And when that day comes, I hope I live to see it, then is the time they will need our help. How will we help them? Not with our wealth or expertise. We only have so much of that. But, that price is nothing compared with the infinite value of the Tao. No, if we want to really help our new leaders, we need to be ready to teach them about the Tao. Today, we wait. Tomorrow, we teach.