When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.
When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.
When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.
When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about the need to trust. Trust matters. It matters that leaders trust the people they are wanting to lead. It matters that nobody trusts anybody anymore. When we don’t trust, we make the people we don’t trust, untrustworthy. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trust matters because it is tied into our relationship with the Tao.
Why don’t we trust? It isn’t because people are untrustworthy. People being untrustworthy is merely the effect of our lack of trust. We have this tendency to confuse cause and effect. We want to pin our lack of trust on other people. But the root cause is within each of us. We don’t trust, because we have forgotten the Tao.
It is all about our relationship with the Tao. Do we trust the Tao? Do we trust in the way things are? When we forget the Tao, trust is the root cause. Lawyers, especially, but others as well, make a great deal of money off our lack of trust. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We need to remember the Tao. We need to renew our trust in the Tao, and by extension, in all beings the Tao flows through. Trusting is harmony with the Tao. Trust is a manifestation of harmony with the Tao. To not trust all beings is to not trust the Tao. A lack of trust means living your life in denial of the way things are.
Today, Lao Tzu addresses the downward spiral that takes place after the great Tao is forgotten. And it is all about the vacuum that is created when we no longer trust. Vacuums suck. And where there is a vacuum, plenty of things are going to rush to fill that vacuum.
The first things that Lao Tzu says fill that vacuum, created by forgetting the Tao, are goodness and piety. Now you might wonder what exactly is so wrong about goodness and piety?
Goodness and piety don’t sound that bad, do they? But here is the problem: They are not natural. They don’t flow naturally from trust in the Tao and the way things are. They don’t flow from a trust of all beings. They are contrived. And so, run counter to the Tao. They aren’t based on trust. They are based on a lack of trust. They are duties. They are what is required of you. The law says we must be good and pious. This goodness and piety are what is expected of you, not something that flows naturally from the core of your being. They are born out of a sense of duty.
The best way to explain how goodness and piety are contrived duties is to explain how forgetting the Tao affects individuals, families, and the whole country.
Lao Tzu talks about individuals first. He refers to the lack of trust as the decline of the body’s intelligence. What does he mean by body’s intelligence? I think what he means is an individual’s natural connection with the Tao. That is our body’s intelligence. It is our intuition. How, as we are in harmony with the Tao, we just naturally go with the flow, doing what comes naturally. What comes naturally is effortless. And, it is good. You can trust that it is going to be good and right.
But, forgetting the Tao affects individuals in a dramatic way. Things that used to come easily to us, that just flowed naturally from the core of our beings, don’t any more. We are in decline. Our intuition just isn’t what it used to be anymore. Once again, that creates a vacuum. And vacuums suck. In to fill that vacuum, come cleverness and knowledge. I don’t think I need to tell you that the problem with cleverness and knowledge is the same as the problem with goodness and piety. They don’t flow naturally out of the core of our beings. That natural intuition has been forgotten. Now we have poor substitutes to try and fulfill our sense of duty to be good and pious. For the individual, that requires cleverness and knowledge. The only thing that is wrong with this picture is that it is all contrived. We, as individuals, need to remember the great Tao. That is the way to gain back our natural connection with the Tao. Our body’s intelligence. Our intuition. Cleverness and knowledge are simply not up to the challenge.
So, forgetting the Tao affects individuals. But it affects families too. All those individuals in the family trying to make do with their cleverness and knowledge. It creates tension. Is it any wonder that there is no peace in the family? Family is important. It always has been; and it always will be. Peace in families is a beautiful thing. It is the natural thing. Parents and children working together in love, naturally. It doesn’t get any better than that. But the great Tao has been forgotten. And what once came naturally, now has to be done out of a sense of duty. Nobody is clever enough for this task. You don’t and, indeed, can’t know enough to fill the vacuum. The peace and harmony of the familial home has been lost. Filial piety begins, in an attempt to fill the vacuum.
Filial piety is not going to be a familiar term to many of my readers; so I will explain what is meant by this term. Like the goodness and piety that Lao Tzu first talked of, it is born out of a sense of duty. The duty of husbands and wives to each other. The duties of parents to their children. The duties of children to their parents. Things that once flowed, and should flow, naturally, are now contrived. They don’t happen effortlessly, as they could, if we remembered the Tao. No, it is work! We now talk of obligations. Nobody trusts anybody. Husbands and wives aren’t trusted. Parents aren’t trusted. Children aren’t trusted. Siblings aren’t trusted. Nobody is trusted. We actually have to resort to lawyers! Lawyers! To deal with the lack of peace in families.
I am sure that my distaste for lawyers has not been missed here. But you have to understand that I went through this family crisis of trust for myself. I was aghast that lawyers made so much money over matters that should have and could have been dealt with by simply trusting.
That happened over a dozen years ago, long before I encountered Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching. My kids and I survived the ordeal. And I am thankful for how things worked out in the end. But, to be honest, it was an end, not worked out by the lawyers, but by the three of us, over the course of many years, rebuilding trust.
So, it doesn’t just affect individuals and families, it affects the whole country, when the great Tao is forgotten. Remember, that goodness and piety that we are trying to manufacture with our cleverness and knowledge, our filial piety? By the time it reaches the magnitude of the whole country we are talking about total chaos. And the State thrives on chaos.
Individuals and families that are intuitively going with the flow of the Tao are never a good thing for the health of the State. The State thrives on the chaos of individuals and families at war with themselves and each other. War is the health of the State. The vacuum that is created in the country by the great Tao being forgotten gives birth to patriotism.
In my country, we just had yet another excuse to show our sense of duty to our country, our patriotism, by celebrating yet another contrived “holiday” Flag Day, this past Sunday. But I am not big on patriotism. I feel no sense of duty to my country, that manufactures enemies all over the globe. I don’t and won’t pledge allegiance to that flag. The very idea of dying for my country and honoring those who have, makes no sense to me. Wars make a select few very rich, indeed. But at what cost? It isn’t a cost that the billionaires profiting from it, bear. But they seek to keep me, and you, all of us, in line, by telling us it is our patriotic duty to support unending wars.
I am not buying it. And neither should you. Instead, we need, we desperately need, to remember the great Tao. It is the only way to bring an end to this chaos. To return peace to our families. To once again have our body’s intelligence in harmony with the way things are. Effortlessly going with the flow. In everything we do.