This Is Robbery And Chaos

The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Why do people prefer the side paths, when the great way is so easy? There might be a variety of reasons; but I think the number one reason is that certain people do benefit when things are out of balance. Every one benefits when all things are in balance. But only a few benefit when things are out of balance; and that, at the expense of others. For those few who benefit, they want to keep things out of balance. It is a particular problem when those few are the ruling elite. Don’t look for them to willingly give up their control.

But that is why Lao Tzu warns us to be aware when things are out of balance. Be aware! Who has something to gain from the imbalance? They will oppose the Tao whenever they can. We need to stay centered in the Tao. That is the only way to pass through the storm safely, to the other side.

We need to be aware! So, what are the signs?

When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land; that is robbery and chaos. It isn’t in keeping with the Tao. If things were in balance, everyone would be prospering. Farmers wouldn’t be losing their land. Understand, the problem isn’t just that speculators are prospering. When things are in balance, everyone prospers. But when rich speculators are prospering while farmers are losing their land, things are out of balance. Be aware!

When government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures; that is robbery and chaos. It isn’t in keeping with the Tao. If things were in balance, governments wouldn’t be needing to defend themselves, they wouldn’t have any need for weapons, they would be serving the people. They would be finding cures, rather than treating symptoms. But government power is forever a fragile thing. The State must be defended at all costs. The people will be left to languish, while the State will prosper. Be aware when things are out of balance.

When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn; that is robbery and chaos. It isn’t in keeping with the Tao. Once again, friends, the problem isn’t just that the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible. Who am I to judge what is extravagant and irresponsible, anyway? The problem is that the poor have nowhere to turn. If things were in balance, opportunities would abound for all. No one would be turned away. I am not going to advocate having the government swoop in and confiscate the wealth of the upper class, promising to redistribute it to the poor. And I don’t think Lao Tzu would have suggested that, either. Quite frankly, theft is theft. Whether the rich are doing it to the poor. Or, the poor are doing it to the rich. And especially so, when it is the government pretending to act on the behalf of the poor. Since the War on Poverty began, decades ago, the rate of poverty has only grown; and the poor have had fewer places to turn, while the upper class has only grown more, well, extravagant and irresponsible. But, once again, I don’t care about extravagance and irresponsibility. I care that the poor have nowhere to turn. Things are out of balance. Be aware. Stay centered in the Tao.

The great way remains easy. We need to get off the side paths. Be aware when things are out of balance; and get yourself, once again, centered in the Tao.

This Is Practicing Eternity

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic with desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing into darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last few days I have been thinking about my upcoming birthday. On Wednesday, July 22nd, I will reach the age of 52. Because, I have long found numbers fascinating I thought about that number, 52, and recalled that there are 52 cards in a standard deck of cards. Oh, I thought, I will at last be playing with a full deck. Interestingly, enough, today’s chapter is number 52. So, that got me thinking of a worry that I sometimes have with my commentaries: That I have overplayed my hand. I was thinking about that after yesterday’s commentary.

You will recall that yesterday, I was wrestling with the notion of whether or not we really have a free will. Lao Tzu has talked a lot about our control issues, and said emphatically, that we need to get over our desire to be in control. If we want a life of ease and contentment, we must stop resisting the flow of the Tao. Then, I spent some time, yesterday, talking about whether the Tao taking us back to itself, meant we didn’t really have any say in the thing. Who or what is really in control, here? If my final destination isn’t up to me to decide, am I really free? I concluded, “Yes, you’re in control! Now, stop resisting!”

Did I overplay my hand? No, the more I have thought about it today, the more I am convinced that I understand Lao Tzu correctly. There are a whole host of things going on in the Universe that are forever beyond our control. But our willingness to go with the flow, to submit to our nature as expressions of the Tao, is solely our choice to make. We are free to choose.

And yesterday, I said that there are consequences which naturally follow based on our free choice. Freedom to choose wrongly always comes with consequences. But I never did list those consequences; partly, because we should already be familiar with them. We experience them first hand, all around us. Things like disease, famine, pestilence, premature death, war… This isn’t an exhaustive list, by any means. But I think I could summarize better, as Lao Tzu does today. What are the consequences of resisting the Tao? Sorrow. A troubled heart.

If we want freedom from sorrow, if we want our troubled hearts to find peace, Lao Tzu lays out for us the path we should be taking. It begins and ends with the Tao.

That mysterious Tao that Lao Tzu keeps bringing us back to. The Tao is our beginning and our end. All things issue from it; all things return to it. If we are are suffering somewhere in between, we need to find our origin. And to do that we simply need to trace back the manifestations.

What are the manifestations? We talked about that yesterday. We are! We are all children of the Tao. To recognize the children is to find the mother. That is the path to freedom from sorrow.

Why are we suffering in the here and now? We have talked a lot about that, too. We are resisting being children of the Tao.

The reason there is sorrow is because we see ourselves as separate from the Tao and all of its manifestations, our fellow beings. We have lost touch with who we are. We see ourselves as separate from the Tao and all beings in the Universe. We see ourselves as separate from our fellow humans on the planet. We even see ourselves as separate from other individuals living together with us in our own homes and communities. In our own minds, we are separate, alone. It is just me. And all the rest is them, separate. It is a very lonely place to be. No wonder we have such great sorrow. No wonder there isn’t any peace in our hearts.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked a lot about how the Tao takes care of us from beginning to end. Just like a mother with her children. After giving birth to all beings, it nourishes us, it maintains us, it cares for us, it comforts us, it protects us, it takes us back to itself. But we don’t sense that, do we? We don’t feel mothered, at all. What we feel is our sense of aloneness, our separateness. We look around, and all we see is darkness. We need to get back to Mother. That is the only way to be free of sorrow.

And, the way back to Mother, is through recognizing her children, realizing all beings are children of the Tao. We can only begin to trace back the manifestations after first realizing we are all children. What has caused us such confusion and sorrow is that we have closed our minds in judgment and have trafficked in desires. That is why our hearts are troubled.

We have closed our minds in judgment. And that judgment has been against our fellow children. We are all brothers and sisters. But we don’t treat each other like brothers and sisters. We need to keep our minds from judging. With all the talk about not resisting, it is good to remember there are things that we should be resisting. We should be resisting judging.

And we have trafficked in desires. We have allowed ourselves to be led by our senses. And, when all around us there is only darkness, it is foolish to still insist on being led by our senses. That we need to resist, as well. It is the only way for our hearts to find peace.

The way I have been talking about darkness, you might think darkness is a bad thing. But, it is only a bad thing if you are relying on your senses. I like how Lao Tzu talks about the interplay between darkness and light. If we want clarity, we need to see into the darkness. Darkness need not be your enemy. Maybe it is time to say, “Hello, darkness, my old friend.” Yield to the darkness instead of being afraid of it. Knowing how to yield is strength, not weakness. See into the darkness. Use your own light. Return to the Source of light. Find clarity. This is practicing eternity.

Yes, You’re In Control! Now, Stop Resisting!

Every being in the universe
is an expression of the Tao.
Its springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a physical body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings,
nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them, protects them,
takes them back to itself,
creating without possessing,
acting without expecting,
guiding without interfering.
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu confronted us with the inevitability of death. He told us that the only way to be free to live is to know that we are going to die. We tend to stumble through our lives, giving only mental assent to our inevitable death. But that doesn’t cut it. Not if we are going to truly live in the moment. We need to be free.

Today’s chapter is also about freedom to live. Now, we have left our fear of death, behind. Now, we can begin to see our purpose for living, in the here and now, this present moment.

So many people today struggle with a life seemingly without meaning, without purpose. What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is the purpose? Today, Lao Tzu takes a good look at these questions and offers us answers.

Every being in the Universe is an expression of the Tao. Each of us are manifestations of the Tao. That is life’s meaning. That is life’s purpose.

Watch how it all happens. Every being springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free. Every being takes on some physical body. Every being lets circumstances complete it. Wait! Did I read that correctly? Every being lets circumstances complete it? What about us, human beings? Yes! Even us human beings. Circumstances complete us. Whether we let it happen or resist it happening. Every other being in the Universe doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with letting it happen. We, humans, do sometimes resist.

But that goes against our nature. Every other being in the Universe acts according to its nature. It is the nature of every being in the Universe to spontaneously honor the Tao. We do that when we spring into existence and let circumstances complete us. Only us, humans, seem to have the power to resist that. And resist, we sometimes do. I think it comes down to that freedom thing. We are free to “let” and free to “resist.”

Because humans are one of the four great powers, we do have a lot of freedom. And I want to emphasize that freedom, because freedom always comes with consequences. We will get to the consequences, shortly. For now, let’s make sure we understand just how free we are.

I mentioned in my commentary on an earlier chapter that we have been wrestling with this notion of whether or not we have free will, for ages. Are our lives, our destinies, determined by something or someone outside of ourselves? Or, are we really free to choose for ourselves?

This is what Lao Tzu has to say about it in today’s chapter: Behold the Tao. If there is anything that is controlling us, the Tao must be it. So what does the Tao actually do? It gives birth to all beings. It nourishes them. It maintains them. It cares for them It comforts them. It protects them. It takes them back to itself. As I read through this list I find it describing a loving and nurturing relationship. The Tao loves us. And, because we are expressions of the Tao, love is in our very nature.

Okay, we know we are loved, yes. But that doesn’t answer the question of whether it is the Tao, or us, who are in control. We have all seen or heard of examples of love which can be quite manipulative. Many of us have experienced it first hand. So, is the Tao manipulating us? Because if we are being manipulated, then we aren’t really free.

But let’s continue talking about this Tao. I left off with the Tao taking us back to itself. That was the first hint that maybe we are not so in control. What if I don’t want to go back to the Tao? What then? Is the Tao going to force the issue?

Lao Tzu explains, the Tao creates without possessing, acts without expecting, guides without interfering. That doesn’t sound like controlling to me. Yet, the Tao does take us back to itself, in the end. And I wonder if we have any say in that.

I remember reading a book some years ago, “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis. It just happens to be my favorite of his works. It is an allegory about Heaven and Hell and our choice on where we will end up. There was a bus ride that took people from Hell to Heaven. Many took issue with Lewis because they took his descriptions of Heaven and Hell, too literally. Why, Heaven isn’t anything like that! And, Hell isn’t anything like that, either. As if anyone has any first-hand knowledge of those places. But Lewis wasn’t describing life after death. He was describing life in the here and now. I don’t have the book in front of me, so I am going on memory; but, as I recall, Lewis’ conclusion was that when we get to our final destination, we will find we have always been there.

Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about Heaven and Hell; because my views on the existence of Heaven and Hell have changed very greatly since I read that book. I did think that the notion that eternity is merely an extension of our present existence quite interesting. It had a profound impact on my thinking at the time. I don’t have to agree or disagree with Lewis today, to appreciate the thought that it provoked in me.

But that does lead me back to the Tao, our final destination. Perhaps that is why we fear death so much. We resist death because we resist living. There is a natural order to the Universe. There is an ebb and a flow to all of nature. I said we have a whole lot of freedom. And I added, with freedom, there always comes consequences.

We aren’t talking about choosing between Heaven and Hell, here. We are talking about letting circumstances complete us, or resisting that. We are, each of us, expressions of the Tao. That is what gives our life meaning. That is our purpose. Are we free to resist that? Certainly! But as long as we do, we won’t have that life of ease that Lao Tzu keeps going on and on about. In “The Great Divorce” some of the visitors to Heaven encountered blades of grass that literally felt like blades on their bare feet. They resisted to the end.

Concerning our final destination, the Tao, I would certainly like to think that I won’t still be resisting when I arrive.

What Are You Holding On To?

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter may seem a bit morbid, with Lao Tzu talking about the inevitability of death. But I like to see it in a little more positive light. Sure, the Master knows he is going to die. And, he is ready for it. But death isn’t really what today’s chapter is all about.

Though it does involve a kind of death to give yourself up to whatever the moment brings. Giving yourself up does mean surrendering your self. Like in yesterday’s chapter, the Master has no mind of his own. He has surrendered that to the Tao. He is able to work with the minds of the people. He is prepared for anything, even death. Whatever the moment brings. But it isn’t about death. It is about what it means to truly live.

It is about living in the moment. The present moment. Not thinking about yesterday. Not thinking about tomorrow. Just surrendering yourself to this present moment. There is nothing left to hold on to. Not yesterday’s problems. Not tomorrow’s worries. Just today. Just now. The past and the future are all just illusions. They are either gone or may never happen.

And when you truly have surrendered, then all the resistances that your body otherwise has, are gone as well. You are free to live. Free at last.

You no longer have to think about your actions. They just flow naturally, from the core of your being. We talked about this a few chapters ago. About being in the zone. Wei Wu Wei, the practice of doing not-doing. All your actions are now effortless.

Because you know that you are going to die (you do know that, right?), you are now free to hold nothing back from living. Of course, it is important that we know we are going to die. Not just think we know. But really know. Because as long as our bodies are offering up resistances, as long as our minds are still filled with illusions, we can’t begin to truly live.

It is those illusions and those resistances which ever hold us back from living, truly living. And we have a whole lot of living still to do. There is work to be done before we can sleep. But we need to surrender to the inevitable. We need to be ready for death; just like we are ready for sleep after a good day’s work.

What is it you have been holding on to? Let it go, and live.

Every Day Is Mother’s Day! Thanks, Mom!

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, Lao Tzu invokes the Master as our example of virtue, the Te in Tao Te Ching. Do you understand her? Most people don’t. They think she is out of her mind. Her mind is like space, like way out there. I mean, just look at her. She doesn’t act like so many other people do, with her own agenda, a mind of her own. No, she works with the mind of the people. What does Lao Tzu mean by that?

Perhaps a couple of examples will help. Most of us have no problem with being good to people who are good to us. Likewise, it isn’t difficult to trust people who have demonstrated their trustworthiness. When we fail to be good to those who are good, and to trust those who are trustworthy, we demonstrate that we aren’t very good or trustworthy, ourselves. It really is the minimum that is required of us as humans, isn’t it?

But the Master goes above and beyond. Demonstrating virtue for us. For it isn’t everyone that can be good to someone who isn’t good. And as for trusting someone who isn’t trustworthy? Well, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. To trust people who can’t be trusted? That is just setting myself up for being taken advantage of. Right?

But wait. What if it isn’t about how it is going to affect me? What have I really accomplished by merely being good to those who are good? Anyone can do that? In fact, anyone should be doing that. But it takes an extraordinary person to be good to someone who isn’t good. That would be a virtue. That would be true goodness.

And, about that trust thing. You know, trusting people that you know can be trusted. To Lao Tzu that isn’t really trust at all. Because trust is a bit more significant than knowing people aren’t going to let you down. True trust means trusting those who aren’t worthy of your trust. Is the Master really setting herself up to be taken advantage of? Or, at the very least, very disappointed?

I don’t think so. And here is why? She knows they can’t be trusted. She isn’t going into this blind. She knows what she can expect. And when you expect people to disappoint you, can it really be a disappointment when they do?

But true trust goes even deeper than this. Ultimately, it isn’t about whether people are good and trustworthy or not so good and not so trustworthy. Ultimately, it comes down to whether or not you trust the Tao. People are going to be good or not. People are going to be trustworthy or not. But the Tao ever remains the same.

The Master demonstrates true goodness and true trust by not differentiating between persons. And instead, wholly relying on the Tao. People may not understand her. They may even think she is out of her mind. But they know she is a virtuous woman. She has demonstrated that quite definitively for them. Her virtue sets her apart from all others. That is why they will look to her and wait. Perhaps, for some, they just wonder what this crazy person is going to do next. Some people really like circus freaks. But I think there are those of us that see something more than a circus freak here.

Lao Tzu has referred to the Tao as the great Mother. And the Master demonstrates that virtue as well. She treats us all like her own children. And all I have to say to that is, “Thanks, Mom!”

Not A Trivial Pursuit

In the pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was describing the almost inverse relationship between knowledge and understanding. When you are looking outside yourself, the more you know, the less you understand. This isn’t a matter of being anti-knowledge. It is only recognizing that there is a big difference between knowledge and understanding. Lao Tzu wants us to practice knowing not-knowing. It may seem counter-intuitive, this knowing that we don’t know; because, when we know that we don’t know, won’t we be inclined to want to know more?

Lao Tzu addresses that very problem with today’s chapter. In the pursuit of knowledge, every day something has to be added. That word, pursuit, is very telling. It is a chase. And notice, that pursuit is ever on-going. Every day something more has to be added to your acquired knowledge. You never do quite attain enough. The practice of the Tao is very different. Oh, it starts out like it is an ever on-going thing as well. But notice that it does have an end. Every day something is dropped. Less and less do you need to force things. Until, finally, you arrive at non-action.

Here, Lao Tzu is expressing just how related the practice of knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing are. It isn’t a pursuit, a chase, after things that are lacking. There is nothing lacking. We only need to let go of our need to force things, to be in control, of our desire to interfere. And this practice doesn’t involve one huge dump. No, we let go of just a little something every day. Here a little, there a little. It would be too great a task to expect us to give up our need to be in control in one day. No, we do things nature’s way. The slow overcomes the fast. The soft overcomes the hard. Slow and steady gets the job done. We will, finally, arrive at non-action. That is the practice of doing not-doing, Wei Wu Wei. Just take things one day at a time. So, don’t despise small beginnings. Just keep letting go until there is nothing left to let go. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. That is the way of the Tao. That is the practice of the Tao.

Being as what we are after is understanding, Lao Tzu explains the only way that true mastery can be gained. We have to get to the place in our lives where we just let all things go their own way. As long as we continue to nurture our need to force things, to be in control, to interfere with the Tao, we can never gain true mastery, aka understanding. So, let it go!

An Hour Without Power

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is about opening your heart to the world and seeing the essence of the Tao. In Lao Tzu’s day, it would have seemed impossible to know much about what was happening in the world if you didn’t go look out your window, first, to see what kind of traveling clothes you should be wearing; and then opening your door and venturing out to gain knowledge. You certainly couldn’t turn on the radio or the television, or start surfing the internet to gain knowledge. And while there is certainly nothing wrong with availing ourselves of the opportunities which abound to gain knowledge, Lao Tzu is much less concerned with how much knowledge we may gain, and much more concerned with whether or not we have accrued any more understanding. Sure, there is knowledge to be gained by looking out our windows and opening our doors, by turning on our radios or televisions, by surfing the internet; but what have we really gained if the more we know, the less we understand?

I heard on the radio recently that Pluto is actually larger than we had once thought it to be. The verdict is still out on whether the 10 year trek across our solar system will add anything to our understanding of the dwarf planet. And as for our own world, the one that people insist is getting smaller all of the time, and that thanks to all our modern technologies, I think it is a fair question whether we understand more or less.

Now don’t misunderstand me here. I am certainly not anti-technology. Or anti-knowledge. I am standing here, typing away on my computer. I have the world at my fingertips with access to high speed internet. And, when I got home from tutoring today, just moments before a major storm blew in taking out my power for an hour, I spent that hour in the dark, with no external link to knowledge about the outside world. And it grieves me to admit that I wasn’t prepared to just sit still for that hour; and contemplate how I can open my heart to the world without access to my internet. Oh, I don’t like it, not one little bit, when I can’t avail myself of all of the modern conveniences.

But, of course, Lao Tzu would just shake his head at me. And taking his bony finger, he would point at my heart, not my head; and say, “It’s in there, silly.” If I want to see the essence of the Tao, I need to look no farther than within my own heart.

It isn’t knowledge for the sake of knowledge that we seek, it is understanding. And to gain understanding we need not go far from home. I think Lao Tzu would argue that the farther we go, the less we will know. Which is why the Master is such an excellent example for us. Arriving without leaving. Seeing the light without looking. Achieving without doing a thing.

There is a reason why Lao Tzu keeps telling us to practice knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. It is because I constantly need reminding. I didn’t care for that hour without power this afternoon. But maybe, just maybe, I understand a little more than what I did before.

There Is None Greater

When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities.

There is no greater illusion than fear,
no greater wrong than preparing to defend yourself,
no greater misfortune than having an enemy.

Whoever can see through all fear
will always be safe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 46, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What did Lao Tzu, some 2500 years ago, know of factories? Oh, good, you were paying attention. In the original, Lao Tzu spoke of horses being used to plow fields or being bred for war. Plowshares or swords, was the way many of the ancients spoke of the difference between peace and war. In the 20th century, when I took my economic classes, it was a choice between guns and butter. So, even though Stephen Mitchell took some liberties with making his more modern translation, the point remains the same: There is a world of difference between a country in harmony with the Tao and a country which goes counter to the Tao.

And that difference is fear. Our “elected” officials want us to be afraid, very, very afraid. They want us to fall for the illusion that we need them to protect us. And the world teeters on the brink of global economic collapse. Why? Because we aren’t living in harmony with the Tao. I am not trying to scare you. Far be it from me to use the illusion of fear to try and persuade you of my good intent. I will leave that to the warmongers, who manufacture enemies on the right and on the left.

We must see through all fear. It is all an illusion. There is none greater. And we must understand that those stockpiles of warheads are only enabling the greatest of wrongs. For there is no greater misfortune than having an enemy. Especially, when that enemy happens to be ourselves. No! We simply must see through all fear. See it for the illusion that it is. That is the only way to always be safe.

Allow, Shape, Then Step Out Of The Way

True perfection seems imperfect,
yet it is perfectly itself.
True fullness seems empty,
yet it is fully present.

True straightness seems crooked.
True wisdom seems foolish.
True art seems artless.

The Master allows things to happen.
She shapes events as they come.
She steps out of the way
and lets the Tao speak for itself.

-Lao Tzu- (Tao Te Ching, chapter 45, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the choices we make determining our destinies. Where is fulfillment and happiness to be found? Can we be content with what we have? Can we rejoice in the way things are? What is it going to take for us to realize there is nothing lacking?

Today, Lao Tzu brings us back to what is probably our greatest stumbling block. Things are not the way they appear to be. How can we rejoice in the way things are, when things appear to be so very wrong? Lao Tzu keeps insisting that things are perfect; but all we see around us is imperfection. Why is it that fullness seems empty? When straightness seems crooked and wisdom seems foolish and art seems artless, we can’t allow ourselves to be led by our senses.

And, we simply must not try and fix the mess we think the world is in. I know this sounds crazy; especially, coming from someone who spends a great deal of his time railing against the evils of the State. Don’t get me wrong, I want the world to be rid of the State, in all its forms, like no other. But do I think we can somehow hasten that day? If there is one hard lesson I learned from Lao Tzu, it was that if I want to shrink something, I must first allow it to expand; if I want to get rid of something, I must first allow it to flourish. This is the subtle perception of the way things are. The soft does overcome the hard. The slow does overcome the fast.

No matter how great our desire to control, we mustn’t give into that desire. The way things are is the way things are; and that is something in which we can and should rejoice. Therefore, I am passive. Not passive aggressive. Just passive. And disinterested. We need to be like the Master and allow things to happen. Don’t resist. Allow. Then, we can shape events as they come. We do our work; then we step back. Once we step out of the way, the Tao will speak for itself.

 

The Choices We Make

Fame or integrity: which is more important?
Money or happiness: which is more valuable?
Success or failure: which is more destructive?

If you look to others for fulfillment,
you will never truly be fulfilled.
If your happiness depends on money,
you will never be happy with yourself.

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 44, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

One thing I think we humans have wrestled with, since we started walking on this Earth, is the question of whether or not we really have any say in our destiny. We want to believe we are the masters of our destiny; but there has always been this nagging doubt that someone, or something, else is in charge. We might call that God or Fate; but the question of free will is something that we always seem to be debating. With all of Lao Tzu’s teaching on the Tao, could there be answers here? Whether or not today’s chapter sheds any light on the question, I will leave to my readers.

Lao Tzu begins by asking us some rhetorical questions. If we want a life of fulfillment, these are good questions to be asking ourselves. What is it that you think is more important, fame or integrity? Which is more valuable, money or happiness? And the most interesting question of all, of success and failure, which is more destructive?

These are all interesting questions, actually; but the first two seem the easiest for us to answer. Unless, of course, we want to play games, and try to get away with having our cake and eating it too. But enough of games. If we really had to choose between fame and integrity, I think the majority of us would choose integrity. Fame just seems a fleeting thing, even if it were to last for a lifetime. Integrity, on the other hand, is something intended to last. And the same goes for the choice between money and happiness. Obviously, we would like to have both. And Lao Tzu isn’t saying we can’t have both. He just wants to know which we value more. And I think, once again, that the majority of us would rather die penniless and happy, than rich beyond our wildest imaginations yet unhappy.

But, there is more to these questions than this obvious choice. Why ask us to choose between fame and integrity? Because, if we look to others for fulfillment, we will never truly be fulfilled. And, why ask us to choose between money and happiness? Because, if our happiness depends on money, we will never be happy with ourselves.

What we really want out of life is true fulfillment and happiness. And, that can’t depend on others. Nor, can it ever be achieved based on how much we have in our bank accounts. This isn’t anything that we haven’t heard over and over again. But it does lead to the next rhetorical question, the one I find the most interesting of the three. Of success and failure, which is more destructive? We weren’t expecting that one. We were prepared for a nice fat fast ball right over the plate, and Lao Tzu threw us a curve ball. Which is more destructive? We swing and we miss.

But this isn’t the first time that Lao Tzu has talked about success and failure. He talked about it when he mentioned that illusory ladder with rungs that take us both up and down. As long as we are on that ladder, our position is shaky. It is only with both our feet on solid ground that we can maintain balance. It was in that chapter, that Lao Tzu first said that hope and fear were twin phantoms, arising because we are thinking of ourselves as separate from the whole.

For Lao Tzu, success and failure are equally destructive. Why? Because they have us climbing on that shadowy ladder; our feet, far from solid ground. Hoping for success and fearing failure are equally dangerous because they aren’t grounded in reality. What we need to do, what we really must do, if we really want to be truly fulfilled and happy, is to be content with what we already have. We need to rejoice in the way things are; rather than holding out for what they might be. Once we realize (there is that word realize again, that is important) that there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to us.

Can we be content? Can we rejoice in the way things are? I said earlier that so much of this is stuff we have heard over and over again throughout our lives. We know this! But what difference is that thinking we know, making in our lives? We must do more than know. Much like I said yesterday about being in the zone, the practice of Wei Wu Wei, doing not-doing, we need to know that we don’t know. That is another important tenet of philosophical Taoism: The practice of knowing not-knowing. When you know that you don’t know, then you can begin to realize the truth. The truth is that there is nothing lacking. As long as you are ever reaching for more, you will never have enough. But when you realize you already have everything, when you are truly content, then the whole world belongs to you.

Which brings us back to what I was saying at the very beginning of today’s commentary. Do we or don’t we have free will? Are our lives, our destinies, ruled by someone or something else? It seems to me, we have a choice to make.