The Lies We Like To Tell Ourselves

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We were talking, yesterday, about the so-called powerful men and women. These are people that have some measure of intelligence and strength. Why? Because they have knowledge of and mastery over others. They certainly wouldn’t have attained their lofty positions, otherwise. The populist anti-establishment messages from within the establishment, from Bernie Sanders on the so-called left, and Donald Trump on the so-called right, attest to the extent of their knowledge of and mastery over a whole lot of other people. We are being played. Just like we have always been played by powerful men and women. Some of us, of course, have awakened to this reality. I’d like to think that is because we knew when to stop, in order to avoid danger.

But today’s chapter isn’t about powerful men and women. People who were content to only know and master others, but never realizing their need to know and master themselves. Today’s chapter isn’t about them, it is about us; people who knew when to stop. You can only gain so much intelligence from your knowledge of others. You can only gain so much strength from your mastery of others. If you want to tap into true wisdom and true power, you need to learn how to tap into the infinite Source.

And that only happens as we come to know ourselves. And, then going on to mastering ourselves.

“Know Thyself.” Whole volumes could be written on these two words. And, in fact, they have been. That quote, often attributed to Socrates, is the cornerstone of western philosophy. And since, Lao Tzu said the same thing, I think it is safe to say, eastern philosophy, as well.

I am not going to take the time to try and recall everything that has been written and said about the need to know your self. I think my readers are already knowledgeable enough about its rich history. And with Google as our friend, we have little excuse, not to further educate ourselves. I do recall a couple questions posed to a certain Greek philosopher by the name of Thales. He was asked, “What is the most difficult thing?” to which he replied, “To know thyself.” And when he was then asked, “What is the easiest thing?” he said, “To give advice.”

Knowing yourself is both very important and very hard to accomplish. It is important because you can’t tap into the true wisdom without knowing yourself, first. And, it is important because you can’t begin to master yourself, thus tapping into the true power, until you rightly know yourself. But why is it so difficult to accomplish? One reason is that we are content not to. Perhaps we are content with our knowledge of others. Like the powerful men and women I like to poke fun at. But even more than that, I think we simply prefer ignorance. We are willfully ignorant of ourselves. We delight in the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. I am not poking any fingers at anyone here. I am just as guilty as all of us. Quite frankly, it is difficult, because we make it difficult.

There are many lies we delight in telling ourselves about ourselves. But Lao Tzu only mentions two of them today.

The first lie is that we don’t have enough. If we knew ourselves, we would realize that we already have enough. And that knowledge would make us truly rich. You already have enough. But you won’t realize that, until you stop lying to yourself about yourself. That is true wisdom. It solves a good deal of life’s problems, right there. As long as we think wrongly of ourselves, as long as we think we don’t have enough, we will never be content. And the whole purpose of living is being content. If you think your life should have some higher purpose than that, that is just another lie you are telling yourself. We must realize this! It is absolutely essential! We can’t begin to master ourselves, until we know this about ourselves. We already have enough.

Believing this lie about ourselves is almost excusable. After all, the powerful corporate establishment feeds us this lie everywhere we turn. It is how they have gained mastery over us. Like I said earlier, we are being played. And, we have become willing accomplices, because of our willful ignorance of the truth about ourselves. But, while the first lie is almost excusable, the second lie is a lot less so. For we should know better. Therefore, when we convince ourselves of the second lie, we are really being completely dishonest with ourselves. What is the second lie? That we can avoid death.

I can already hear you lying to yourself, right this moment. You are saying that you know you can’t avoid death. That you don’t lie to yourself about this. Look at the level of dishonesty we exhibit toward ourselves. Of course you know better. That is what makes this lie so dishonest, so insidious. Look, I am not going to try and convince you. You and you alone must examine yourself. You must know your self. But please, try and be honest in this self-examination. No excuses. And no more lies.

We want to avoid death. We want to believe we can avoid death. That is what makes the lie so delightful to us. But that is only all the more reason for us to know our selves. That is where the true wisdom is to be found. Knowing the truth about ourselves. Staying in the center of the circle. Embracing death with your whole heart.

What does that even mean? Notice that he didn’t say to embrace death with your mind. Popular culture, a thing controlled by the corporate establishment, would love for you to substitute an embracing of death culture for embracing death with your whole heart. Don’t make that mistake. What Lao Tzu is talking about gets to the heart of our problem. It is a heart problem. We need to embrace the death of self as self. That is what he means by embracing death. As long as we insist on seeing the self as self we will always seek to avoid death, while, perhaps, flirting with it. They don’t mind you flirting with it, as long as they can keep you convinced that you can avoid it. But we need to die to that. We need to see the world as self. Then we can truly live. That is where the true power is.

That isn’t easy, because we make it difficult. But the wisdom and power that are ours when we do, make it so much worth being honest with ourselves. It is the power to endure forever. Yes, even beyond death.

Why It Doesn’t Matter Much What Powerful Men And Women Do

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao can’t be perceived. How many times has Lao Tzu driven this point home? Your senses aren’t of any use to you in discovering it. Lao Tzu tries to point at it; but what is he pointing at, really? It is before time and space were. It is beyond is and is not. It isn’t a tangible something that we can use science to define and explain. And when science starts talking about intangibles, if scientists are being honest with us and themselves, the best answer is, “I don’t know.” How are we supposed to understand something that is “before” other things we don’t understand? Because it is “beyond” is and is not, how can I ever use “is” or “is not” in a sentence to tell of the Tao. This is the problem we have been dealing with since Lao Tzu began with chapter one. Oh, we know a lot more about time and space, now, than we did in Lao Tzu’s day. Or, at least we think we know a whole lot more. And I always chuckle to myself whenever I read Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the next line. “Smaller than an electron, it contains uncountable galaxies.” That was published back in 1986, I believe; yes, I remember when we thought the smallest thing was an electron. We know better now, but we always only know in part. Still, the point remains the same. How can something so small contain so much?

The short answer is that the Tao is something before and beyond anything we can ever imagine. And since it can’t be perceived, it seems to go without saying, powerful men and women aren’t very likely to center themselves in the Tao. Oh, but what if they could? And then, what if they could remain centered in it?

The reason I find this such an interesting question is because, isn’t this just what Lao Tzu has been telling us all to do? Center yourself in the Tao. Remain centered in it. That has been his message to us, all along. But today, he turns his gaze to just the powerful men and women, among us. Why does he do this? Why, indeed. Perhaps, it is because, if there is anyone that won’t be content to stay centered, who won’t give up trying to control, who won’t stop interfering with the way things are, it is powerful men and women. Powerful men and women will insist they want to be a force for good. But with their power they only make things bad. It isn’t by exercising power, but by restraining yourself, that harmony and balance result.

Leave it alone! That is the message. All things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be a peace, and the law would be written in their hearts.

But where does that leave powerful men and women? I was thinking of this today as I heard the news that the Fed won’t be raising interest rates just yet. The Fed is a perfect illustration of how powerful men and women can’t bring themselves not to manipulate. They have painted themselves into a corner, for years now. They are right between a rock and hard place, and my, oh my, how the squeeze is on. However they end up extricating themselves, you can bet we will all suffer.

That is why Lao Tzu’s words ring so true for me today. “When you have names and forms, know that they are provisional. When you have institutions, know where their functions should end. Knowing when to stop, you can avoid danger.”

We need to know when to stop. That is the only way to avoid danger. Somehow, I think we should have known sooner. And some dangers are now unavoidable. But that is a huge downer with which to end this post.

Instead, I am going to remember where it is that all things end. In the end, it doesn’t much matter what powerful men and women do. For the Tao is before and beyond them, and anything they can do. All things end in the Tao. The Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. Just like rivers flow into the sea, it all ends there.

The Tao is great. It follows only itself. Back to itself. But it can’t be perceived, how can we center ourselves in it? How can we stay centered in it? It is a very good thing that what we can’t perceive, can still carry us along in its current. We follow the Earth. The Earth follows the Universe. And the Universe follows the Tao. Just go with that flow.

Where I Use Words Like “Always” and “Never” Understanding Fully The Consequences

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking for days, now, about how our relationship with the Tao is determined by our relationship with the world around us. You need to see the world as your self. This is essential. How you view the world, whether you can accept it as it is, and, going along with that, accepting your self, just as you are, is essential. You can’t actually practice the one without practicing the other. And that is dependent on relying on the Tao. That is what we were talking about, yesterday. If you rely on the Tao you will believe in your self, you will be content with your self, and you will accept your self. And the result will be, the whole world will accept you.

But Lao Tzu said something else about relying on the Tao, yesterday. He was talking about how we relate to the world around us, of course. Because that is what it is all about. But he was specifically talking about relying on the Tao in governing people. He said “Whoever relies on the Tao…doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms.” Using force goes against the current of the Tao. If you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t resort to the use of force. That is when he brought up an elementary physics lesson. It is a law of the Tao. “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

I promised, yesterday, that we were going to talk more about violence, today. And we shall. But before I do, I just want to say, one more time, every time you choose force, violence, you are going against the flow of the Tao. Whether or not you see the world as your self, what you do to others you do to your self. It always rebounds in that way.

Today, Lao Tzu talks about weapons. He identifies them as tools of violence and fear. Because of what Lao Tzu has said in the past about fear (it is a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self) and violence (it goes against the current of the Tao, and always rebounds on the one that commits the violence), it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that Lao Tzu has very strict rules to live by in their use.

Because they are tools of violence, all decent people detest them. Talk about a litmus test for decency. That is pretty strong. Not some, but all decent people detest weapons. Why do they detest them? Because they are tools of violence.

Violence is never the right solution to any problem. Like we keep saying, it goes against the current of the Tao. It is a choice made out of not relying on the Tao. And weapons, to the extent they are used as tools of violence, should be detested.

But detesting them doesn’t preclude using them. Lao Tzu has more to say about weapons and their use.

Because weapons are also the tools of fear, a decent person will avoid them except in direst necessity. We’re still talking about a litmus test for decency, here. A decent person will avoid them except… All decent people detest them always. A decent person avoids them except… They aren’t the first resort of decent people. And they probably aren’t the second or third or fourth resort, either.

They are a last resort. The direst necessity must compel them. And even then, only with the utmost restraint. That is the level of loathing and avoidance that guides the decent person in their use of weapons. I detest weapons. They are tools of violence. I avoid them, unless absolutely necessary. They are tools of fear. That is Lao Tzu’s litmus test of human decency.

He is still talking about human decency when he says, “Peace is his highest value.” Is Lao Tzu a pacifist? I always employ the term pacifist to refer to someone who would never resort to violence. So, Lao Tzu wouldn’t qualify. He sees reasons to resort to the use of weapons, for instance. But only as a last resort. Peace is his highest value doesn’t mean peace at whatever cost. But peace being his highest value does mean a whole lot. A decent person, certainly, couldn’t be content with the peace being shattered. But he understands that sometimes it is. And you can be sure it wasn’t shattered by someone for whom peace was their highest value. Decent people don’t shatter the peace. But decent people do come along to pick up the broken pieces, and work to put it back together again.

I am anti-war. Does that mean I am opposed to all war? Actually, it just about does. While I wouldn’t be opposed to a war based on direst necessity, and one waged with the utmost restraint, I don’t know of a war that has been waged, that fits into that category. If anyone can come up with a war which wasn’t a war of aggression, a war where both sides weren’t aggressors, please inform me of it. I am all for self-defense. But every attack on the sovereignty of my own country, was provoked by my own country. I am simply not buying the self-defense argument for any war we have ever engaged in.

Decent people don’t treat their enemies as demons, but fellow human beings. You can be sure, every time we have ever gone to war with anyone, it was either preceded by, or accompanied by dehumanizing of the enemy.

A decent person would never wish a fellow human being personal harm. That is why war propaganda exists. To deceive otherwise decent people into getting on board with the war.

That is why I don’t support our war efforts. And never will. I neither rejoice in our victories, nor celebrate our losses. I am torn here. To a certain extent, I wish that our losses would serve as a deterrent to the expansion of empire and war. That people would wake up and say, “No more!” But it shouldn’t just be our “brave” men and women going down in defeat that should move us. Our enemies are our fellow human beings. They are just like us. No matter the lies of the military industrial complex.

War is slaughter! Make no mistake about it. Both sides’ armies are merely pawns to be slaughtered. How could I rejoice in this game of chess? How could I delight in it? It is a slaughter. Decent people enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if they were attending a funeral. Wars aren’t fought like that anymore, if they ever were. Maybe that is because decent people don’t go to the wars we wage. Hey troops, did you just read that? There is your litmus test for decency. Walk away now!

Accept Your Self

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

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

In today’s chapter, we are talking, once again, about our relationship as individual selves with the world. For the last couple of days we have been talking about your self accepting the world. Since you are to see the world as your self, today, he talks about accepting your self. Whether or not we accept the world and ourselves is a measure of how much we are relying on the Tao.

If we are relying on the Tao, we won’t try to force issues. This applies to every aspect of our lives. But today, Lao Tzu speaks of it as it relates to the art of governing. Governing just means how we relate with others. Do we trust others? Or do we not trust them? If we don’t trust them, we will want to establish lots of ways to try and control them. What kind of government you have, indicates the level of trust you have for others. The less you trust, the more repressive the government will be. Lao Tzu was, perhaps, the first libertarian. He wants us to trust each other. Whether or not others are trustworthy. He likens it to relying on the Tao. Trust people. Rely on the Tao. Don’t try to force issues. And for goodness’ sake, don’t try to defeat your enemies by force of arms.

To further explain himself, he uses an elementary physics lesson to drive home his point. For every force there is a counter force. This is why we shouldn’t try to apply force. Violence, even with the best of intentions, always rebounds upon one’s self. The violent are inevitably met with violence. Just make sure you are not the one meeting the violent with violence. Oh, but they started it… I was just coming to someone’s defense… What? Am I just supposed to let bullies get away with being a bully?… What is Lao Tzu really expecting of us, here?

I expect this will be misunderstood. So, if that is the case, please message me, so I can try to better explain myself.

I don’t think Lao Tzu is opposing self-defense, or sticking up for the underdog who is being picked on by a bully. So, I hope you don’t misunderstand.

However, don’t miss the lesson he is trying to get across, either. We need to rely on the Tao. If we rely on the Tao, we won’t resort to violence. Self-defense doesn’t have to require violence. Violence always rebounds on the violent. Even if your violence has the best of intentions, know this, your violence will rebound on you. That is a universal law.

We are going to talk more about violence, tomorrow, when we talk about the tools of violence. For today, let’s just talk more about what it means to rely on the Tao.

And, who better to illustrate what it means to rely on the Tao, than the Master. The Master does his job and then stops. I could probably stop right there. Lao Tzu has already said this so many times before. This is what relying on the Tao is all about. You do your job and then you stop. Be satisfied, be content right there. Oh, if only we would! You see, the Master understands the Universe is forever out of control. What possible reason could he have for trying to control it? Because the Universe follows the Tao, trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao.

Why don’t we understand this? Perhaps we give mental assent to this truth, generally. But when it comes down to specifics, we want to meddle. We aren’t content to leave it alone. We simply aren’t relying on (trusting) the Tao to lead the Universe. Why don’t we understand this? Lao Tzu thinks it is tied to what we think of our selves. Whether or not you rely on the Tao is founded in how you see your self.

He says, the Master believes in himself. So, he doesn’t try to convince others. The Master is content with himself. Therefore, he doesn’t need others’ approval. Finally, the Master accepts himself. And guess what? The whole world accepts him.

There it is, my friends. That is what relying on the Tao is all about. It is all about how we view our selves. That affects our relationship with our world. And we have already said that it is only by following the world that we can follow the Tao. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said accept the world, just as it is. Don’t try to change it. Don’t try to improve on it. And now, today, he tells us to accept our selves, just the way we are. When we do that, the whole world accepts us, too.

The Most Sacred Of Places In Our Sacred World

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about how we as individual selves may relate to the world. We can receive it in our arms. We can be a pattern for it. And, we can accept it. Those are all powerful expressions of our relationship as individual selves with the world. If only we could be content with those three things. If only we would treat the world as the sacred place it is. Instead, we are not content. It seems we are always itching to try and improve it, to tamper with it. We treat it like an object.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us where that gets us. “The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you will ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.”

This is why it is so very important that we avail ourselves of the powerful relationship we as individual selves have with the world. Receive it in your arms. Nurture it. Be a pattern for it. Live your life like you want everyone else to live theirs. This doesn’t require any force or need to control. Trust people and leave them alone. Just be an example that they would want to follow. Your pattern is one of following the Tao. Accept the world. Just as it is. Don’t try and improve on it. Don’t try to change it.

Accepting the world has both passive and active elements to it. There is both yin and yang to it. But it should be effortless.

Sometimes you are going to be behind, when you would rather be ahead. There will be times when you need to rest, when you would prefer to be in motion. That is because there will be times when you are exhausted, after being vigorous. Being behind, needing to rest, being exhausted – these are all yin. If you don’t avail yourself of rest when you are exhausted, you will experience a time of danger. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be experiencing that time of being safe. But that means I need to be content being behind. The Master is content to stay behind. That is why she is ahead. Being ahead, being in motion, being vigorous – these are all yang. And there is a time to be all of those things, as well. What sets the Master apart, though any of us can be the Master, is that she is content to be yin when it is time to be yin. Therefore, when it is time to be yang, she is ready.

Do you see what she did there? She leads with yin. And is met with yang. She is at rest; she waits for her mud to settle. Thus, when it is time to be in motion, she is ready. If we are passive, the right time to be active will make itself clear to us. That isn’t to say we should ignore it, when it comes. We do that at our own peril. The time of danger isn’t just in being active when you should be passive. There is equal danger in being passive when it is time to be active. We can just as easily lag behind when we should be ahead. There is a time to be in motion; when continuing to be at rest is folly. Perhaps we are “playing it safe”. Or, at least that is what we think we are doing. We don’t want to leave our comfort zone, maybe. But the dangers we are trying to avoid by “playing it safe” are imagined ones. And the real danger is in not going with the flow. There is a time for being in danger. Sometimes, you need to leave behind your comfort zone.

We need to be like the Master, and see things as they are. Understand the times and the seasons. Watch how they turn. Don’t try to control them. Let them go their own way. Just reside at the center of the circle. That is the most sacred of places in our sacred world.

Use It However You Want

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how our relationship with the world is indicative of our relationship with the Tao. When we see the world as self, our connection with the Tao is what it what it should be. But when we see the self as self, our connection with the Tao is not what it should be. That is the eternal reality, the way things are. Humans are one of the four great powers. It is because we follow the Earth, which follows the Universe, which follows the Tao. It isn’t hard to pick up on the natural rhythms, the vibrations, of the Tao as it flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. To pick up on it, you merely have to observe yin and yang as they bring about balance and harmony, the emergent order.

Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about how the world and your self relate to each other. And once again, yin and yang are front and center. Three times, Lao Tzu says, know the yang, yet keep to the yin. Male, white, and personal are all yang. Female, black, and impersonal are all yin. Now, all we need to do is understand what Lao Tzu means by “know” and “keep to”. He doesn’t mean that we are to prefer one over the other. Yin isn’t good and yang bad. Or vice versa. Ultimately, they balance each other out. And that is what he means by saying, know the yang yet keep to the yin.

He begins by saying know the male, yet keep to female. The result will be, you receive the world in your arms. This is powerful imagery to me. Receiving the world in your arms like a little child. The union of male and female produces a little child. And, when you see the world as self, that little child you receive in your arms is your self. The Tao will never leave you. That is what the balancing of yin and yang produces in your life.

He tells us to know the white, yet keep to the black. When you let white and black balance out, you are a pattern for the world. There is a progression here, if we are paying attention. Knowing the male, yet keeping to the female meant receiving the world in your arms like a little child. Now, that we have that little child, what are we supposed to do with it? Well, what is the responsibility of parents? Be a pattern for that child. Don’t read more into this than what I intend. I don’t mean we are the parents of the world. I am merely using the metaphor of the world as little child. But, of course, the world is your self. So, you, too, are that little child. Be a pattern for it, and the Tao will be strong inside you and there will be nothing you can’t do. Do you see how your relationship with the Tao depends on the relationship of your self with the world? It is vital that you do.

You and the world are like a little child. You are a pattern for the world. But now, here is where it gets real interesting. He tells us to know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal. This just screams out to me, “Don’t take things so personally!” And what Lao Tzu is talking about is accepting things we can not change. We make things personal. And we won’t let go. We then have desires to interfere, well up within us. We simply must accept the world, just as it is. Oh, we can hold it in our arms, we can be a pattern for it. But beyond that, it is time to accept the world, just as it is. Then, the Tao will be luminous inside you and you will return to your primal self.

You will return to your primal self. What does he mean by that? Remembering that you are to see the world as your self, Lao Tzu explains how the world is formed. There is a lesson here for all of our selves. The world is formed from the void, like utensils are formed from a block of wood. The Master knows the utensils; in other words, the Master knows the way the world is. Yet, the Master keeps to the block; continuing the analogy, that means the Master keeps to the void. Yes, this is yang and yin, again. Your primal self is your connection with the eternal void. That connection with the Source, with the Origin, puts you in a position to use all things. I liken it to being on the event horizon of a black hole. You are there, right there, where you can use whatever comes your way.

Use it however you want.

Realize This Great Secret And You Won’t Get Lost

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked a lot about traveling. He said our travels (our every movement) is light. But, if we want to avoid flitting about like fools, we need to be rooted in something heavy, the unmoved. That, he called our home. Not a physical house, but our selves. We must never lose touch with who we are. If we don’t want to be blown to and fro, we need to stay serenely in ourselves, no matter how splendid the views. If we let restlessness move us we will lose touch with who we are.

Yesterday’s emphasis was on the heavy. But, yin and yang, being what they are, you just had to know he would be talking about light, today. We understand the importance of the heavy. Now, we will see the importance of embodying the light.

So, what does he mean by embodying the light?

To explain himself, he uses three metaphors to describe humans. The first, a good traveler, makes sense, since our context from yesterday involved traveling. We are all travelers in this life. Our every movement is traveling. But some of us may not think we are very good artists or very good scientists. And some, no doubt, think you couldn’t be both at the same time. Of course, art and science, just like travels, yesterday, have other connotations than we may at first realize. I find myself thinking of the Tao Te Ching, as the art of living. Living is an art. So, in that context, you and I are very much artists. Likewise, what is science, if it isn’t observing the world around us and seeing what makes the world go round? We are all observers of the natural order, seeing the ebb and flow, and going with it. In that sense, we are all scientists, as well.

So, we are all travelers, artists, and scientists. But, it is embodying the light that makes us good travelers, artists, and scientists. But, I still haven’t answered the question, “What does he mean by embodying the light?”

Remember, yesterday, when he said to never lose touch with who you are? It is because we have lost touch with who we are that we flit about like fools. Never lose touch with your self. Remember, also, not to see the self as self. Instead, see the world as self. I and the world, are one. That is who we are.

Realizing that, embodying the light means being available to all people and not rejecting anyone. It means being ready to use all situations and not wasting anything.

How does a good traveler do this? In order to embody the light, a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. Those fixed plans and your intent make you unavailable to people. You’ll have to reject some. Situations will arise that you won’t be ready for. There will be lots of waste. We can be good travelers. But we can also be bad travelers.

How does a good artist embody the light? To do this a good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants. The art of living is intuitive. You need to learn to be intuitive, and trust your intuition, letting it lead you, where it wants. When we aren’t led by our intuition, we won’t be available to all people. Some people will be rejected. And we won’t be ready for every situation which may arise. So many opportunities will be wasted. We can be good artists. But we can also be bad artists.

How does a good scientist embody the light? A good scientist has freed himself of concepts and keeps his mind open to what is. All good scientists know this is true. Every time you make an observation that doesn’t jive with the way you think things should be, that has to make you rethink the ways you are thinking things. Somewhere along the way you have messed up. Either your results are wrong, or your concepts were wrong. You can’t be bound by those concepts. You need to be free. Your mind must be open to what is, the eternal reality. We can be good scientists. But we can also be bad scientists. We can be rigid in our thinking, insisting that everything has to be just so, regardless what we observe to the contrary. But when we do that, people and ideas get rejected. Situations, that could have been a source of enlightenment, are wasted.

We can be good and we can be bad. This isn’t a discussion of good vs. evil. Bad, here, just means we aren’t good at what we are doing, whether it is traveling, art, or science. And that leads us to Lao Tzu’s point on why we need to embody the light. When Lao Tzu is talking of the good man and the bad man he is talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice, the teacher and the student.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job. If you are a good man, you can be sure that opportunities will abound, situations will arise, where bad men will be put in your path. The same is true if you are a bad man, in need of a good man. We need to embody the light to be available to all people. So we won’t have to reject anyone. We need to be ready to use all situations, and not waste anything.

We were worried yesterday about flitting about like fools. That is why we wanted to make sure we were rooted to the heavy. Never losing touch with who we are. But embodying the light is just as important. If you don’t understand this, you will get lost. And it won’t matter how intelligent you are. Sometimes the most intelligent get the most lost. Why? Because, often, the things we think we know keep us from realizing the great secret.

We need each other. That is the whole point of seeing the world as self rather than the self as self. We need each other. Good men need bad men; and, bad men need good men. Realize this great secret and you won’t get lost.

To Be A Fool, Or Not To Be A Fool

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu referred to humans as one of the four great powers. Today, he refers to us as lords. Like I said, yesterday, Lao Tzu thinks very highly of us, humans. It could be said that he thinks so highly of us, he sometimes scratches, or shakes, his head and wonders, “Why?” as in, “Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?” He has enough respect for us, that he confronts us when we are behaving like fools; and he sets us on a better course. That is what today’s chapter is about.

Once again, Lao Tzu brings us back to yin and yang. That is something we have been talking about since chapter two: Yin and yang create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, they follow each other.

We were talking, yesterday about how we humans follow the Earth, the Earth follows the Universe, the Universe follows the Tao, and the Tao follows only itself. That word, follow, is so important because it demonstrates our relationship with the Tao. We follow the Tao as it flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things.

And, yin and yang follow each other to bring about balance and harmony, order emerging out of chaos. Today’s yin and yang are the heavy and the light, the unmoved as the source of all movement.

To illustrate the relationship between yin and yang, the heavy and the light, the unmoved and all movement, Lao Tzu points, again, at the Master. He says the Master travels all day without leaving home. Home, here, is the heavy, the unmoved. While the Master’s travels are light, all movement.

Travels, here, are whatever you are doing throughout your day, whether near, or far away from home. That word, travels, doesn’t just mean you are on some long journey. Perhaps your travels are from your bed to your computer, or to the kitchen, or to the bathroom. Perhaps it is out your back door for a stroll in your garden. Perhaps it is to town. Or, to work. Or, perhaps it is on some journey far away from home, whether for business or pleasure. It doesn’t matter. Lao Tzu’s point is that travels are light. They are your every move.

The Master’s every move is rooted. Her light is rooted in something heavy, something that remains unmoved. Each and every day, that is her source. That is where she “stays” no matter how very far she may roam.

Home is the master’s root. It is where she stays. Home, here, isn’t referring to a physical house. To use a well-known cliché, home is where the heart is. Where her heart is, is herself. It is who she is. That is her root. It is the unmoved source of all her movement. No matter where her travels may take her, no matter how splendid the views, she stays serenely in herself. She never loses touch with who she is.

She is our example for how to live our lives, for how to stay serenely in ourselves, for how to never lose touch with our root, for how to never lose touch with who we are.

We humans are one of the four great powers. We have the power to choose our own destinies. We don’t have to sit idly by, while forces we are the lords and masters of, blow us every which way. “Letting” is a powerful force we have at our disposal. But there are some things we shouldn’t “let” happen. Like, letting ourselves be blown to and fro. Or, letting restlessness move us. Why should the lord of the country flit about like a fool?

What moves you? Is the unmoved your source for all movement? Or, is restlessness what moves you? Are you rooted? Or, are you blown to and fro? Don’t be a fool! Don’t lose touch with your root! Don’t lose touch with who you are!

How Everything Falls Into Place

There was something formless and perfect
before the universe was born.
It is serene. Empty.
Solitary. Unchanging.
Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the universe.
For lack of a better name,
I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside, and returns
to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the earth.
Earth follows the universe.
The universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Back in chapter twenty-one, we were talking about how ungraspable, dark, and unfathomable the Tao is. Lao Tzu said, “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not.” Today, he returns to talking about that “something” that is both before and beyond. How do you even begin to talk about “something” like that? How can something be without form and perfect? This oxymoron can only be explained by saying the Tao is beyond is and is not.

Lao Tzu goes way, way back in today’s chapter. Back to before space and time were. Back to before the Universe was born. There he points at what, for lack of a better name, he calls the Tao. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. These are all words, pregnant with meaning. And what else would we expect? The Tao is, after all, the Mother of the Universe.

None of those are new concepts for those of us that have been reading along in the Tao Te Ching. Lao Tzu has been describing the Tao, all along, using terms very much like these. Our concern is with how we can possibly be at one with it. And Lao Tzu has already confirmed it is impossible for us to do anything to make it happen. Impossible, save one very important thing. We can’t make it happen. But we can let it happen.

Letting it happen is a matter of realizing its flow through all things. As we realize how it flows inside and outside, always returning to the origin, we find we, too, are going with that flow. It isn’t a matter of exerting the right kind of effort to make that happen. It is a spontaneous and intuitive reality. When we are open to the Tao and trust our natural responses, everything just falls into place.

I call that “everything falling into place” the emergent order. It is the eternal reality, the way things are. And, today, Lao Tzu offers us just a glimpse at how it all flows.

He speaks of four great powers in descending order of greatness. Of course, he lists the Tao first. The Tao is the origin of all things. The Tao precedes them all. It has no beginning and no end. The Tao is the greatest of the great powers. Because the Tao precedes everything, it follows only itself.

The Tao gives birth to the Universe. How long has the Universe been around? I don’t know. It is very old. The only thing that precedes it is the Tao. The Universe follows the Tao; that is what makes it the second of the great powers.

Some time after the Universe was born, the Earth was formed. How long has the Earth been around? Once again, I don’t know. I just know it came after the Universe. Because it follows the Universe, the Earth is the third of the great powers.

Some time after the Earth was formed, along came humans. Trying to decide how long humans have been around, is just as challenging as trying to figure out the age of the Earth, or the age of the Universe. I saw in the news earlier this week, how a burial site was discovered in south Africa. Because the bones that have been discovered cannot be dated with any degree of accuracy, and given that these “humans” had brains a third of the size of modern humans – yet, they are thought to have been performing burial rites we have heretofore reserved for more modern species of humans, it throws into question a lot of our understanding of human evolution. This story fascinates me, because I think the whole question of what it means to be human is a fascinating one. I don’t doubt that as we continue to evolve, future “humans” will look back on today’s humans. and consider us primitive. Perhaps, too primitive to be called “human”. But maybe that whole discussion would be best saved for another platform. Lao Tzu has a very high opinion of us humans. He calls us one of the four great powers. Because we follow the Earth, we are the fourth greatest power.

I said this is Lao Tzu giving us a glimpse into how it all flows; how everything falls into place. I said that humans follow the Earth; and that is what makes us great. And that word “follow” doesn’t just mean “we came after” the Earth. Over and over again, Lao Tzu enjoins us to learn to follow the Tao. Yet, that would seem to be completely beyond anything we could ever do. The Tao is before and beyond; it is ungraspable, dark, and unfathomable. But Lao Tzu shows us how we are to follow the Tao. It is all about our relationship with the Earth. And the Earth’s relationship with the Universe. And the Universe’s relationship with the Tao. Our relationship with the Earth is our model for learning to follow the Tao, as we follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao.

That is how everything falls into place. We are one with the Earth, which is one with the Universe, which is one with the Tao. But, I don’t see this as some kind of top-down hierarchical relationship. We aren’t only able to follow the Tao in a second or third-hand way. The Tao isn’t some far off thing. It flows through all things, including ourselves. The Universe isn’t some far off thing. It is all around us. Saying we are great because we follow the Earth is merely an expression of our relationship with the Tao. We follow the Tao by following the Earth.

The Tao follows only itself. This isn’t just an expression of its preeminence. Notice how it does this. It does this by flowing through all things, inside and outside, as it returns to the origin of all things. How does the Universe follow the Tao? How does the Earth follow the Universe? How do we, humans, follow the Earth? We do so by going with that flow through all things, inside and outside, returning to the origin of all things.

 

Just Do Your Job, Then Let Go

He who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
He who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
He who tries to shine
dims his own light.
He who defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his work
will create nothing that endures.

If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 24, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about being lived by the Tao. This doesn’t mean that self is sacrificed to some greater good, like the world, or the Tao. It means a completely different way of looking at your self. Instead of seeing yourself as separate, as alone, you see your oneness with all things. And, since we aren’t sacrificing the self, Lao Tzu wants us to express our selves, completely; this opens us to be lived by the Tao. This opening of ourselves to the Tao, opens us to both insight and loss. We may not care too much for the idea of being opened to loss, but we do need to accept it, completely. The only way to be given everything, is to give everything up. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that when we open ourselves to the Tao, we can trust our natural responses. This is how we cooperate with the emergent order, the eternal reality, the way things are. Everything falls into place, without any need for any system of control.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us how to be: Like the forces of nature. Natural. Today he contrasts that with how we, too often, are.

Why do we stand on tiptoe? Usually because we are reaching for something, just out of reach. Forget, just for a moment, about the reasons that the vertically-challenged have to stand on tiptoe to reach for a plate or a glass in a cupboard. That isn’t what Lao Tzu is talking about, here. It is a metaphor, duh. He is talking about standing on tiptoe on a somewhat perpetual basis; always reaching for things, just outside our grasp. Why are we reaching, grasping? If it is just outside our reach, then, perhaps, it would be for the best, we leave it alone. Wait for it. Or forget about it. You can’t stand on tiptoe and stand firm. How easy it is to be toppled from this unnatural position.

If we aren’t reaching and grasping for things, often, we will try to rush ahead. What is your hurry? Nature’s way is slow, but steady. Why are we so impatient? The same principle is involved as with standing on tiptoe. When we rush ahead, we get ahead of the Tao. What are we thinking? Why would we want to be anywhere, but in the right place at the right time with the Tao? It just isn’t natural. And we won’t go far.

There is such a difference between letting your light shine and trying to shine. When we are in accord with the Tao, all our doings will be effortless. There is no trying. Are we trying to out shine others? Is that what we are about? Is life some great, big competition to you? You have to outshine everybody else? How very sad for you. Because the more you try to shine, the dimmer your own light becomes.

This next one is a particular challenge for me. Defining myself. I say I eschew labels; but really, I have all sorts of self-ascribed labels for myself. All very well thought out and clever ones. But I get what Lao Tzu is saying, immediately. I think I know myself so well. And I pride myself on my clever labels. But the reality is, I don’t know what I think I know. I need to practice knowing not-knowing, here. Then, insight will arise naturally. Until then, I can’t know who I really am. Oh, I know, I know, we don’t want others labeling us. But why do we fear that? Why do we fear anything? Because we are thinking of the self as self. A big no-no. Forget about labels; or be content with letting the Tao define you, as you are lived by it.

So much of what Lao Tzu has to say in the Tao Te Ching, is to those who think they have, or aspire to have, power over others. And what does Lao Tzu have to say? Your so-called power is nothing, when you can’t even empower yourself. If you want to accord with the Tao, focus on your self, not on others. Leave other people alone. Don’t try to control them. Empower yourself, by being one with the Tao.

It cannot be said enough, philosophical Taoism is a very individualistic approach to living. It is all about your self. You focus on you. And let others take care of their selves. This isn’t being selfish. For we don’t see the self as self. We see the world as self. And that means we can truly care for all things. We just don’t do it by interfering, by trying to control. We accord with the Tao. We let the Tao work in and through each one of us, bringing balance and harmony.

There is work to be done. We have talked so much about doing not-doing; but I don’t want anyone to be confused about what that means. You have work to do. Yet, all your actions can and should be effortless. We are letting, instead of trying. Letting all things fall into place as we do what comes naturally. We can trust our natural responses; and there is work to be done.

But we must not cling to our work. Clinging is as unnatural as reaching and grasping. When we cling to our work, we end up creating nothing that endures. If you want to accord with the Tao, just do your job, and let go; of it, of everything. Trust the Tao.

I am saving this last little bit for last. I am sure we are all quite tired of hearing about the Kentucky county clerk. I promise not to be offended if you don’t care to read any further. I just think today’s chapter is timely and relevant. And this advice from Lao Tzu to just do your job, then let go, is even more timely and relevant for that Kentucky clerk. You don’t have to be a philosophical Taoist to take this advice to heart. I think you can even be a very conservative Christian. Why did she cling to her work, when she was faced with a choice of whether or not to be true to her religious convictions? What if she had simply done her job, and then let go, trusting her God to sort things out? Or, why not just leave her job, if she could no longer, in good conscience, do it? So very clingy. So very not in accord with the Tao.