Have You Lost Your Spirit?

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is probably my all-time favorite chapter. It really puts the libertarian in libertariantaoist for me. With only eighty-one chapters in the Tao Te Ching, and this being chapter seventy-five, Lao Tzu is getting in some of his last lessons on the art of governing. It isn’t like he hasn’t said these things many times before. You, would-be leaders, say you want to act for the people’s benefit. But, talk is meaningless, when you don’t act for the people’s benefit. For, if you did, Lao Tzu insists, you would trust them; and leave them alone.

I am in the midst of a debate with myself, over whether I like the fact, none of the candidates running for U.S. President can be taken seriously; or, whether I should be concerned, none of the candidates running for U.S. president can be taken seriously. It is so easy to lampoon them all. Every last one of them. Yet, I know there are people who are taking this very seriously. And, they think I should be, too. But, I can’t. I just can’t.

The circus had only two rings for so long; until Gary Johnson announced his candidacy. And, on the same day he announced his intention to run, he also announced his desire to ban the wearing of a certain Muslim woman’s attire. This, from the candidate who promised he was going to be a spokesperson for individual liberty.

Now, I know, the very next day he admitted his error. And, kudos to him, for realizing his mistake, admitting it, and correcting it. But, it certainly wasn’t the best of ways to kick off a campaign. And, it just highlighted, for me, the circus has three rings, now. Can we, really, take any of these candidates seriously? The gibberish that poured out of Sarah Palin’s mouth as she came out to endorse Trump as the “anti-establishment” candidate made me wonder, just how much crazy can be allowed on one stage.

I know some of you think Trump will be the most entertaining of possible choices for president. And, you are probably right. But, all of them, each and every one of them, is so bat-shit crazy, I just wonder how many bait and switches are going to be pulled off by the two most powerful parties before November 8th finally gets here. Who knows who will end up getting the nomination of either of those two parties?

I know of plenty of people who are feeling the Bern. But I understand enough about electoral politics to understand the electorate doesn’t choose who gets the nomination. I don’t think anyone fearful of Bernie’s democratic socialism has anything to fear. Hillary certainly has the advantage when it comes to electoral politics. The Democratic establishment is still solidly behind her. Why? I don’t understand. I think it is likely Republicans will retain control of Congress; and, I think a Hillary presidency would only be spent on endless impeachment hearings. That leads me to believe, at the last possible minute, someone else will be brought in to replace her.

The libertarian in me wonders, if a Hillary presidency wouldn’t be the best of outcomes. Government could actually grind to a halt. On the other hand, I would be interested in seeing any Republican get elected, even Trump, if I thought the Democrats could regain control of Congress, and actually offer anything more than token resistance to them.

That is the libertarian in me. Who would be happy to see less government intrusion in our lives, instead of more. But, who am I kidding? I can’t even kid myself. It doesn’t matter whether our would-be leaders are Democrats or Republicans, they don’t really understand, or care, when taxes are too high, people go hungry. They have interests of their own, not the people’s, and taxes are going to go up, up, up to enrich the political class, regardless who gets elected come November.

I think that is why I can’t bring myself to take the freak show seriously. We laugh at them, because it is our spirit’s very last defense. The government has been too intrusive for far too long, with no signs of ever letting up. All our leaders, and would-be leaders, only pay lip service to civil libertarians’ demands for some kind of break from all the intrusion. The people are losing, or have already lost, their spirit. And, maybe, that is a good thing, as well. Something is bound to eventually be the catalyst for real change. Still, I think we have a long way to go. How much worse can things get? We will soon find out. That revolution of unlearning our dependence on authority cannot come too soon for me. Even if THEY won’t trust us, we better learn to trust ourselves.

Nothing You Can’t Achieve

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Tao is always at ease. That was the good news Lao Tzu shared yesterday. Its net covers the whole Universe. Its meshes are wide enough, we are never constricted or stifled. We can grow, stretch our imaginations, and innovate, to our heart’s content. But, when we fail, that net won’t let a thing slip through. So, what is holding us back from living a life at ease in the Tao?

The answer to that question is the subject of today’s chapter. If I have said it once, I probably have said it hundreds of times. There is a world of difference between simply knowing something, and actually realizing the truth of it. Knowing, here, means presuming we know. Remember, presumption is a disease, and we need to be healed of all knowing. The Master has healed himself of all knowing, and shows us how to follow his example. But, realizing, now that is something entirely different. Because, when we realize something, it actually makes a real difference in how we live our lives.

What do we need to realize, that we don’t? We need to realize that all things change. That disease of presumption gets us in trouble right here. We say we know that all things change. But, is that knowledge making any real difference in our lives? If we realized it, there would be nothing we would try to hold on to. But, there are still all sorts of things we try to hold on to. And, that just proves, we only think we know. We live out our lives still expecting, and even counting on, things remaining the same. That is why we hold on to things. We must move past knowing, to realizing. Then, we will be able to let go of all things.

Lao Tzu has covered this so many times before. I could easily presume you already know this. But, on the off chance you haven’t realized it, yet, I will say it one more time. You need to practice knowing without knowing. Stop relying so much on what your mind is telling you, and start listening to that still small voice of intuition, which arises spontaneously, from the core of your being. That is true knowledge. That is realizing. That is life-changing.

I said, it is intuitive and spontaneous. And, that means it is a matter of living in the present moment, instead of living in the past, resting on the laurels of our vast accumulation of knowledge. We can’t allow ourselves to be dogged by our past, no matter how large the shadow of our past failures may loom. We can’t let the past hold us back, from living in this present moment. So, let it go!

Living in the present moment isn’t only hampered by our past, though. It might be our focus on tomorrow, its hopes, its fears, which prevent us from living in the present moment. The question I asked in the opening paragraph of my commentary, today, was “What is holding us back from living a life at ease in the Tao?” Often, we postpone happiness to some future time. “Once I get more money, or more of this or that; then, I can, and will, be happy.” That is what we tell ourselves. Today is not the day. It must wait. And so it is, that precious present moments keep slipping by, without us ever enjoying them, really enjoying them.

But, if I had to name the biggest culprit, the one that most robs us of realizing true contentment, true ease, in this life, it would be, we are afraid of dying. It is this fear, more than any other, which we must let go of; for, if we can, if we will, there is nothing we won’t be able to achieve.

Let’s talk just a little of our fear of dying, since it is such a big deal. Lao Tzu has talked about it often enough; yet, we still don’t realize, that is what is holding us back. But, both our minds and our bodies give it away, when we don’t let go. We keep holding on and holding out. We are fooling ourselves, thinking we can control the future. Here, is where Lao Tzu offers another one of his very apt metaphors. It is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. We are fooling ourselves, and playing the part of a fool, when we try handling the master carpenter’s tools. That only means, the chances are, we will end up cutting our hands.

And, those are much better chances than winning the lottery, my friends. Let go of those tools, let go of that fear, and free yourself to live at ease in the Tao, truly content with the way things are, right here, right now. Let go of what you are holding on to; and, there is nothing you can’t achieve.

A Different Kind Of Safety Net

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

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

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

Yesterday, Lao Tzu began addressing a great problem we face in our world. When people no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority. I said, there will always be those who want to exploit this weakness, those with the will to power. I said, what we need is a revolution of unlearning. Unlearning our dependence on authority, and once again, learning we can rely on ourselves. The Master shows us the way, by taking a step back and teaching without teaching. In this way, people won’t be confused, because there is nothing new to learn. We only have to remember, what we once knew intuitively, we can trust ourselves.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu gives us very good news. If we trust ourselves, even when we fail, the Tao’s net covers the whole universe, and doesn’t let a thing slip through. This is very good news, because those who have been exploiting our weakness, have long sought to convince us, we need their social safety net. It doesn’t matter which political party they claim to represent, it is now a given, anyone even mentioning the remote possibility that spending on some government program won’t increase by as much as another would like, is a heartless bastard, who wants nothing more than to see people starving and homeless. So-called liberals and so-called conservatives wage a false battle, while so-called moderates work to ensure the status quo will remain untouched.

The dirty little secret which no one dares to share is, before governments began to be relied upon, we somehow managed to get along surprisingly well. That history has been revised. You won’t find it in any State-approved history textbooks. Every advance in the people’s welfare over the past hundred or so years has been in spite of, not because of, the State. When anyone dares to point out our current social safety nets have little to show for the billions (or is it trillions) of dollars spent on them, we are always assured, by the powers that be, it is only because we aren’t spending enough. But the truth is, we lack imagination, when it comes to knowing just how much further along we would be, in eliminating hunger and poverty in our world, if it weren’t for the State’s war on it.

Never before has the need been greater to unlearn our reliance on those who want us dependent on them. We need to remember we can trust ourselves. The State can’t deliver on its promises of a life of ease, but the Tao is always at ease. It overcomes without competing, answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without a plan. That is one huge net covering the whole universe.

Now, there will be those who will point out, “Oh, but, look at how wide its meshes are.” I am so glad you brought those wide meshes to our attention. Those meshes aren’t wide to allow us to slip through. They are wide to allow us to grow, to stretch our own imaginations, to realize just how much we can trust ourselves. Unlike the State’s safety net, which stifles innovation, and ensures that people will always be dependent on it, the Tao’s net allows us to rely on ourselves.

It Is Time For A Revolution Of Unlearning

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

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

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

Again and again, Lao Tzu has instructed would-be leaders to trust the people and leave them alone. But, what happens when the people no longer trust themselves? That is the subject of today’s chapter.

You will notice it as you familiarize yourself with the Tao Te Ching. Often, Lao Tzu will say the same thing twice, only using different words to convey his meaning. He does it in today’s chapter, when he begins, “When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion.” And, then, he follows with, “When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority.” Different words with the same meaning. “Lose their sense of awe” means “no longer trust themselves”; and, “turn to religion” means the same thing as “depend on authority”.

The problem is not looking inside yourself; and, instead looking outside yourself, for answers.

Have I mentioned before, I know I have, that philosophical Taoism is all about balance? Yin and yang bring balance and harmony to our, otherwise, beyond our control Universe. And balance is something very important to bring up today, after spending days talking about the need to know we don’t know. The disease of presuming to know is very real. But there is an equally real disease which seems to be taking “knowing we don’t know” to a whole new level. One, that is completely out of balance. When you no longer know you can trust yourself, and that your fellow human beings can, likewise, be trusted, you invite calamity upon yourself and your world. Things are way out of balance.

The political class has worked tirelessly, for as long as there has been a political class, to convince people to no longer trust themselves. They don’t want self-reliant people. They want people dependent on them. To the extent they have largely achieved their goals, let’s face it, we no longer trust ourselves or each other like we should, they are doing a bang up job of taking advantage of the situation.

This is the political climate, libertarians find ourselves in. It is why I advocate a revolution of unlearning. Unlearning our dependence on the political class. And, relearning trusting in ourselves.

The ruling class never waivers in taking advantage of our weakness. This is why Lao Tzu’s words to would-be leaders are so very important for us today. It is why we need leaders, like the Master. Leaders who wouldn’t exploit our weakness, and instead, take steps back, so people will no longer be confused.

They don’t offer some new teaching, so there is nothing new to learn. They step back and wait; now it is up to the people. Here is what I hope we will learn very quickly: “We don’t need to depend on some outside authority, we can depend on ourselves.”

…The More I Don’t Know I Know

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

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

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

Yesterday, we talked a good deal about not-knowing. Today, Lao Tzu has more to say about it. I keep getting new followers, so I will once again remind my readers, not-knowing is knowing we don’t know. It is not a state of ignorance. It isn’t proclaiming ignorance as some virtue. It is being humble enough to know that we don’t know. It is the essence of wisdom to realize that we don’t know. Lao Tzu calls it true knowledge. But, what I think he means is that you can’t very well come to know anything, if you think you already know. Not-knowing is the prescription which everyone needs, when they suffer from the disease known as “presumption”. Presumption is presuming we know. You don’t likely go to the doctor to get a prescription, unless you know you are sick. It is like a prerequisite. But, once you realize you are sick, you can move toward health.

Sometimes we need to go to see a physician. I am not knocking physicians, here. But the Master is her own physician. Self-diagnosis is often not a good idea. But, if you think you know, then you need to be healed of all that knowing. We need to move toward health until we are truly whole.

How do we do this? Good question, since I don’t know of any physicians who specialize in healing the disease of presumption. Perhaps, that is why the Master is her own physician. And, you can be, too.

You already made a huge step in the right direction, just by realizing you are sick. Well done! Now, to heal yourself of all knowing, let go of a little something each day. Every time you hear yourself saying, “I know, I know” or especially when you think it, stop yourself. Take a step back. And tell yourself, “No, I don’t.” Don’t beat yourself up over it. Be compassionate toward yourself. You are sick, remember. You are just needing to continue moving toward health. The more you know you don’t know, the more you don’t know you know. This is the process which takes you from being afflicted with presumption to being truly whole, having true knowledge.

I know, I know, I need to make this a little more clear. Okay, then, how about this: The knowing we are afflicted with is an affliction of our minds. What we are doing, as we move toward health, is relying less and less on what our mind “knows”, and more and more on what we know in the core of our being. True knowledge is both spontaneous and intuitive. It is spontaneous because it flows naturally without any effort on our own part. It just happens. It is intuitive because it isn’t based on what our mind knows. In fact, our minds tend to want to discount it. How many times have you known something in your gut, but then your mind started arguing with you? Yes, that is exactly what we are up against. Expect resistance from your mind. Just, don’t let it stop you from moving all the way to health.

The More I Know I Don’t Know…

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

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

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

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

A few chapters back, Lao Tzu distilled all his teachings down to just three things, three treasures: Be simple in your actions and thoughts. Be patient with your friends and enemies. And, be compassionate toward yourself. Today, he explains exactly why it is we never seem to grasp their meaning, and wind up failing to put them into practice.

It isn’t that they are difficult to understand, or difficult to put into practice. On the contrary, he says they are easy. But our intellect will never grasp them. These teachings are older than the world. How can we grasp their meaning? How much easier it would be, if we would only begin, by accepting this simple premise. Instead, we try and we fail; so, we keep trying and trying to put them into practice, and we still fail.

It is exactly our efforts at trying to grasp their meaning, and to put them into practice, which guarantees our continued failure. We see these teachings, and we “know” it should be easy. Be simple in your actions and thoughts. Be patient with both friends and enemies. Be compassionate toward yourself. Of course, it is easy! So it is, that our minds start trying to figure out just how to be simple, how to be patient, how to be compassionate… How? But didn’t you just agree it should be easy? Could it be that instead of helping me, my mind is not my ally, here?

I have said it before. I often find my mind wandering. I notice it, and coax it back from its wandering. What am I talking about? My mind got involved, because it wants to solve a problem. A problem? Isn’t that making it all quite complicated. But it should be quite easy. It is something grasped intuitively and spontaneously. And that rules out your mind’s involvement in the process.

I am going to propose this theory: Every “Eureka!” moment you have ever had, every spontaneous, intuitive epiphany, happened apart from anything your mind was working on. Probably, in spite of whatever your mind was working on. I am not discounting your mind’s great calculating ability. I have no doubt that every great invention, or scientific breakthrough, took place concurrently with a whole lot of mental activity. No, I don’t mean to discount any of that. But the intellect, alone, is not up to the task of grasping the meaning of many things. The intellect, for instance can only grasp what it can know why it knows. That is one of the reasons we have to constantly be adding new information to our minds. It can only know what it knows and why it knows.

But, there is something greater inside each of us than our intellect. That is why Lao Tzu points us inside, to our hearts, if we want to know him. And he doesn’t mean that organ pumping blood, when he refers to your heart. He is talking about that something deep within the core of your being, out of which springs spontaneous intuition. It is from there the “Eureka!” comes.

Lao Tzu has talked of this before. In answering the question, “How do I know this is true?”, he said, “I look inside myself.” We understand something intuitively, when we answer the question, “How do you know?”, with “I don’t know, I just do.”

I hope we haven’t completely given up on this natural ability, because we live in a scientific age. Spontaneous intuition is so very important to us, because it doesn’t know, it just does. Relying on what we know, instead of knowing we don’t know, is a root to all our problems. This is why I will continue to point out, “the more we know we don’t know, the more we don’t know we know”. You won’t grasp that with your intellect, either. So don’t try.

Be The One Who Knows How To Yield

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

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

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

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

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

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu said his teaching can be distilled down into, what he called, our three greatest treasures: Be simple in your actions and your thoughts. Be patient with both your friends and your enemies. And, be compassionate toward yourself. I talked a lot in that chapter about my own “enemies”, agents of the State. Being patient with them sounds like a tall order. But I promised myself, what might be very difficult to do is something I CAN be. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu started helping to show me the way, when he talked about the virtue of competing without competing, being like children at play. Today, he really must have been thinking of my difficulty, when he says there is no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy. And, by underestimating your enemy, he means thinking that he is evil. Ouch!

This has Lao Tzu talking about generals again. Remember, yesterday, he talked about the best generals entering the minds of their enemies. Today, he talks about the things that generals say about their enemies.

“Rather than make the first move it is better to wait and see. Rather than advance an inch it is better to retreat a yard.” I can’t think of a better way of expressing the importance of embodying patience.

And patience, while I know it is a virtue, and one of our three greatest treasures, is hard for me to muster, when I think about various agents of the State. I don’t think I have been subtle in expressing my desire that the State be abolished. I want current agents of the State to all be former agents of the State, who are now earning an honest living. Patience, I keep reminding myself, patience. The generals have some good advice, here. If I am patient, I will find myself “going forward without advancing,” and “pushing back without using weapons.”

The danger, in not being patient, is we run the risk of destroying our three treasures, and becoming an enemy ourselves. That is exactly what will happen if we underestimate the enemy, if we think that they are evil.

But the State is evil! You won’t get any argument from me there. But, here, I remind myself to separate out its agents, who are still our fellow human beings. And, I also recall what Lao Tzu has said, before, of how to deal with the problem of evil. Don’t provoke it! Don’t give it anything to oppose! I remind myself that war is the health of the State. If I want to see the abolition of the State, I best not help to empower it more. This going forward without advancing and pushing back without using weapons is starting to sound more and more promising.

We, who champion liberty are at a crossroads. It seems we are always at a crossroads. Opposition to liberty may seem, at times, to be at an all time high; yet, people seem to be more receptive to the message of liberty than ever before. I think the State knows its days are numbered; and some of its agents are just looking for any excuse to make their last stand. But, there is one thing I know, thanks to Lao Tzu’s solid advice: “When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one who knows how to yield.”

This Is What Harmony With The Tao Looks Like

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

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

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

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu introduced the virtue of non-competition, when he said of the Master, “Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” I promised, then, we would cover this in more detail in upcoming chapters; and, here we are. As with the practices of not-doing and not-knowing, it is best to call it not-competing competing, or competing without competing, because all who embody this virtue do love to compete. They just do it in the spirit of play, like children do; so, they are in harmony with the Tao.

I like the sounds of that, being in harmony with the Tao; so, let’s delve a little deeper into what it means to be in harmony with the Tao through the practice of competing without competing.

What if I told you, it is when we are in harmony with the Tao, we are at our very best? That is certainly how Lao Tzu sees the way things are. He describes four different “occupations” and describes what being your best at these four really are.

He begins with the best athlete, who likewise wants their opponent at their best. It is a different way to look at things than, perhaps, we have become accustomed. Generally, we think of the best athlete as the one who has won the most medals or trophies, the most contests. But, Lao Tzu measures the best in a very different way. It really isn’t whether you win or lose, it is about how you play the game. Sure, we have heard something like this before many a time. But I think we tend to pass it off as an excuse for being a good sport when we lose. We want to be winners, and maybe we don’t think it really applies to us. But the best athlete really wants to congratulate their opponent, regardless the outcome of the contest, on being their best. Win or lose, if you felt your opponent didn’t really give it their all, something was really lacking in the contest.

Next comes the best general, who enters the mind of their enemy. War is a high-stakes game. I doubt any general really wants their opponent at their best. Lives are at stake here, unlike a friendly game between athletes. Still, Lao Tzu insists, even with generals, the best do it in the spirit of play, as if they were children. So, I think to myself, how exactly do children act with those who are their enemies? Here playground battles come to my mind. I am not thinking of playing a game of “Cowboys and Indians”, here. Is it even called that any more? I am thinking of conflicts, real conflicts which arise between peers. The best general wants to try to understand how their enemy thinks. Can this conflict be avoided? That bully on the playground, how can I better understand what sets them off? The best general, understand, is not the bully. But they may be dealing with a bully. Lao Tzu thinks military strategy is important enough we will be talking more about it tomorrow, so I won’t say more about the best general today.

What criteria would you use to describe the best businessman? Is it the one who makes the most money? Or, has the most customers? Perhaps, they have driven all their competition out of business? Unsurprisingly, really, Lao Tzu doesn’t consider any of those as marks of the best businessman. For Lao Tzu, it is the one who serves the communal good. In other words, they understand, what is best for the whole community is best for me. They are in it, not just to make lots of money, though that is quite a reward, but to serve their community. It is one of the reasons I have always had a soft spot in my heart for little mom and pop operations in local communities. My own parents had a small business in a small town. I know just how much my parents wanted the very best for the community they served. These franchise “box stores” might donate lots of money to local charities; but there just isn’t anything like a hometown boy or girl, who has grown up in their local community, wanting to give back to their community.

Finally, Lao Tzu talks about the best leader, again. Chapter after chapter has been devoted to teaching would-be leaders in how to be great in the art of governing. And, once again, the refrain is the same. The best leader follows the will of the people.

They all love to compete! But competing for them, doesn’t mean destroying the competition. They embody the virtue of non-competition. That is, they are all leaders in their communities, who only want what is best for the communities they serve. Their opponents, enemies if you will, are fellow human beings. They play at competing, like children do. They want to part ways as friends. This is what harmony with the Tao looks like.

Where I Couldn’t Just Keep It To Today’s Chapter

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

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

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

I get three different kinds of responses to my blog. Most of you guys are very supportive. And, I really do appreciate it. With just 1500 or so people that can directly access my blog posts each day, I probably am not “famous” enough to really get anything resembling “hate” from my readers; and I am not complaining about that, either. Still, I do get the occasional response that makes me empathize just a bit with Lao Tzu in his opening of today’s chapter.

“Some say that my teaching is nonsense.” Yeah, I get that. Though those kinds of responses tend to be related more to “Sheldon Richman” articles I post once or twice a week, than my daily Tao Te Ching chapter commentaries. Sheldon doesn’t mince words; but I do tend to think he is “spot on” in his analysis of current events. I think most of those who think Lao Tzu’s teachings are nonsense aren’t taking the time to actually read those posts, anyway.

“Others call it lofty but impractical.” That is a response I get to both Sheldon Richman’s articles and my commentary on Lao Tzu’s teachings. They see some merit in them, but aren’t convinced it really applies to the world in which we live. It hasn’t been that long since I was in a conversation that went on for awhile, and still seemed to go nowhere. I can’t exactly say I am sorry about it, but when you want me to think of individuals, not as individuals, but as some kind of collective group, and judge them accordingly, I am just not going to go along with that. I am not going to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few. And, the same goes for any individuals out there. They could identify with any religion, any creed, any gender, any sexual identity, any race or ethnic background, and I am simply not going to lump all with one, or a few, who do evil things. Individuals, and individuals alone, need to be held accountable for the evil they perpetrate on others.

Of course, having stated that, I will admit there has been one group of people I do find myself treating differently, not as individuals, but as a group. That group of people would be agents of the State. An example of this would be comments I have made regarding all cops being bastards, or thugs. Some of you took issue with that. Was I being hypocritical? I must realize all cops aren’t responsible for the actions of a few bad ones. If I don’t expect all Muslims to take responsibility for the actions of a few, who claim to act in the name of their religion, how can I hold all cops accountable?

I think this is a reasonable question. And here is my reasonable answer. Exactly what power do Muslims have? From what I have gathered, Muslims have been the primary targets of terrorist organizations like ISIS, and al-qaeda. Muslims are fellow victims of violence. But then there are cops. Are cops terrorizing cops? Are cops their victims? No, when it comes to the “few” bad cops, no other agents of the State, not their fellow cops, not their supervisors, and not the district attorneys who end up defending them when they should be prosecuting them, ever hold the bad cops accountable for their actions. Instead, they rush to defend the bad cops, blaming the victims, and the victims’ families for their own transgressions. Bad cops get paid vacations and then promotions. But they are almost never held accountable for their actions. The State, which should be holding them accountable, won’t; so, I am compelled to lump them all together.

I apologize if the last two paragraphs seemed not to fit in with today’s chapter. I thought I had some explaining to do, so that is that. I won’t apologize for thinking all agents of the State are, by definition, bad. Now, back to the chapter.

But is it really nonsense? It isn’t to those of us who have looked inside ourselves. For us, for me, it makes perfect sense. But isn’t it, while lofty, quite impractical? These are the people I would really like to spend some good quality time with. They see the merit in what Lao Tzu is teaching, they just haven’t taken the time to put it into practice in their own lives. They don’t get it. They just don’t understand. And, I want to help. Please, feel free to message me with your questions, with your concerns. I love getting messages. Even if you think this is nothing but nonsense, I am happy to hear from you. For I am serious about wanting you to come to know what I have come to know, this loftiness has roots that go deep.

We are on chapter 67 which means we have been at this for the last 66 days, and all along Lao Tzu has had only three things to teach. That seems kind of hard to believe. Chapter after chapter has been devoted to teaching about the Tao. There have been instructions in the practice of doing without doing and knowing without knowing. There have been a lot of instructions to would-be leaders in the art of governing. Instructions, I might add, I dearly wish agents of the State would take to heart. Could all which Lao Tzu has said so far, really be encapsulated into just three things? Lao Tzu thinks so. He calls them our three greatest treasures.

Simplicity, patience, and compassion.

Be simple in actions and in thoughts. Stop making your life so complicated. It isn’t enough for our actions to be simple. Our thoughts need to be simple, too. Simplicity isn’t some new teaching. It is something which has been taught by multiple religions and philosophies for eons now. And our every attempt at “making” our lives more simple only seem to make them more complicated. What are we missing here? How difficult is it to practice simplicity? I don’t really know how to make it any clearer. It isn’t something to do. It is a way to be. It is simply going with the flow of the Tao. I do pay attention to my mind when it starts to wander. I gently coax it back from its wandering. Usually, all that takes is a change of scenery. I have found monotony breeds a desire to complicate things. So, whenever I have been sitting for too long, or doing something for too long, I take a break from that. I get moving. I move around my house, or out my backdoor to roam around my yard. That clears out my mind; and, stretching my legs is good for me, too. Don’t make things so complicated. Just be simple. It is the only way to return to the source of being, the Tao.

Be patient with both friends and enemies. Being patient with our friends might not seem too difficult a thing, but you’re telling me, I have to be patient with my enemies, as well? Yes, patience is that important. It is how to accord with the way things are. That means even though I consider all agents of the State to be my enemies, I have to be patient with them. What might be quite difficult to do, is much easier to be. I can be this.

Finally, be compassionate toward yourself. I just have to pause to say how thankful I am he didn’t say I had to be compassionate toward my enemies. But, before I get too excited, I read the next line. You reconcile all beings in the world. Being compassionate toward myself reconciles all beings in the world. Even my enemies? Yes, even my enemies. I suppose that makes this treasure, compassion, the greatest of the three greatest treasures.

We will need to be on guard the next few days to make sure we don’t end up destroying these treasures.

Leading By Following

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, when Lao Tzu instructed would-be leaders to avoid being clever or rich, it may have seemed hopelessly naive of him. After all, it seems like the only choices on offer of would-be leaders, all wholly rely on their own cleverness and riches to advance their own grab for power. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will address those who think his teaching is nonsense. Today, he has another conventional wisdom defying lesson for would-be leaders. It begins with a return to his favorite metaphor. “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”

Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, back in chapter 61, where Lao Tzu was comparing a country with great power to the sea. Streams were running downward into it, then. That was where Lao Tzu said humility means trusting in the Tao. And I wanted to make sure it was clear, while the sea represented a great country, the streams represented people. Something else Lao Tzu said in that chapter is, “A great nation is like a great man.” In other words, what was true of the nation is true of its leader(s). In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu makes it all the more clear to us, when he compares the sea with someone who wants to govern, and the streams to the people.

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

I said this is a conventional wisdom defying lesson because conventional wisdom teaches would-be leaders to put themselves above and ahead everybody else. No wonder they rely on their own cleverness and riches to advance themselves, and their agenda. But the sea offers valuable lessons for would-be leaders, if only they will humble themselves to learn those lessons. If you want an example of true power, the sea is unrivaled. But what is it which makes the sea so powerful? Why do all streams flow to it?

The Master gets it. She places herself below the people; and, they raise her above them. That way, no one feels oppressed. Because she has learned how to follow the people, they now look to her to show them the way. Leading by following, that is the way of the Tao. She can now go ahead of the people, and no one feels manipulated.

This is the kind of leadership for which the whole world would be grateful. I would think that kind of leadership would be in great demand; so, why is there so little supply of it? The gig must be rigged. That is the only explanation, I can come up with, for the shortage of supply to meet demand. There are competing forces at work, who profit from a rigged market.

So, what is the solution? Here, Lao Tzu introduces a new concept, which he will later return to, and explain more thoroughly. It is the practice of not-competing competing, or competing without competing. Put simply, no one can compete with the Master, because she competes with no one.