It’s All In How It Flows

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold on to them.
Since it is merged with all things
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter, Lao Tzu devotes to talking about what it is that makes the Tao truly great. If you skipped reading the chapter and just came straight to the commentary, this is a spoiler. What makes the Tao truly great, is its humility. We were talking, in yesterday’s chapter, about knowing and mastering ourselves. Today’s chapter, has Lao Tzu offering the example of the Tao to show us how to know and master ourselves.

The great Tao flows everywhere. Nothing really new here. Lao Tzu has already told us the Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the Source of all things. But, then, he moves on to talking about how the Tao’s greatness is tempered by its humility. All things are born from it. Yes, he has told us this before, as well. But, look at that next line. Yet, it doesn’t create them. That always threw me for a loop, whenever I would read this chapter. The Tao, being the Great Mother, gives birth to infinite worlds, but it doesn’t “create” them?

What does Lao Tzu mean? I have finally come to realize that to create involves something a whole lot more personal. It is more “hands-on”. And, I think, Lao Tzu is describing a more impersonal action on the part of the Tao. All things are born from it, but it is something almost incidental. It is just the way it is. The Tao isn’t controlling. It doesn’t use force, or try to dominate events. It just flows. And, everything either goes with that flow, or tries to go against the flow. Obviously, things would go so much better for us, if we would only learn to go with that flow. Swimming against the current, wears you out over time. But, the Tao will never make you swim with the current.

This “humility” becomes more clear as we continue to read the chapter. Flowing becomes pouring. The Tao pours itself into its work. Yet, it makes no claim. It just does what it does, and it does it with all its might; there is a deliberateness in pouring, which isn’t evident in flowing. But even so, it doesn’t demand any credit for its work. It simply does its work, and then moves on. There is still a lot of flowing to do.

It nourishes infinite worlds. That is good, since it gave birth to them. Yet, it doesn’t hold on to them. In other words, the Tao merely continues on its way, infinite worlds are nourished by it; but, they can either go with the flow of the Tao, or struggle against that current.

Because the Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, the Tao is merged with all things. It is hidden in all of our hearts. Remember, yesterday, when Lao Tzu said the Tao is too small to be perceived? It is hidden. We all have something of the Tao inside of us, flowing through us. But, it doesn’t put on a big show. There is no pomp and circumstance. The Tao doesn’t make any great speeches, or share its itinerary. It just goes about its business, quietly, behind the scenes. See, how humble it is!

But wait! What is this? All things vanish into it, and it alone endures. Wasn’t it just yesterday, when Lao Tzu promised us we can endure forever? Should I be fearing death, once again? But, just hold on there. Lao Tzu also exhorted us to know when to stop, so we can avoid danger. Then, he said, all things end in the Tao, as rivers flow into the sea.

There is that flowing again. Are we going to go with the flow, or not? Are we really going to endure forever? But, what does that mean, if all things are going to vanish into the Tao, like rivers vanish into the sea, and nothing, but the Tao, endures?

I could take the easy way out here. It is tempting. I could say, this just has to do with the greatness of the mystery of the Tao. And, the Tao isn’t even aware of its greatness, so how can we expect to understand it?

I could. But I won’t. Because Lao Tzu provides answers for us in the metaphors he has been using for the Tao. All of that flowing. Rivers flowing into the sea. That is a lot of water. And, water is a favorite metaphor, of Lao Tzu’s, for the Tao. And, he tells us to be like water, too.

So, I start imagining myself as the smallest unit of water, a molecule of water, flowing for a time in a river. Even though I am surrounded by lots of other molecules of water, have I lost my own identity? Nope. I am still that molecule of water. My presence, along with a lot of other molecules of water, doesn’t change that.

Then, after some time, the river ends in the sea. And, little ol’ me, a molecule of water, “vanishes” into the sea. All you can see is a vast ocean of water. The sea is all that endures. But, wait. What about little ol’ me? Guess what? I still endure, as one molecule of water. Along with all the other molecules of water, having returned to our common Source.

Perhaps, you don’t much care to think of yourself as a molecule of water. You want to think of yourself as something so much greater than that. But that molecule of water is great, in and of itself. Without just one molecule of water, the sea wouldn’t be so vast.

Still, I know my little metaphor for how we all can endure forever, while nothing but the Tao endures, is only that, a metaphor. So, I will return to the true greatness of the mystery of the Tao. It isn’t even aware of its greatness, so how can we expect to understand it?

On Knowing and Mastering 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)

The first part of today’s chapter is something we all intuitively know is true. But, I think, it is quite telling, how little we value putting this truth into practice in our own lives. Think about it. All of the great contests we place such importance on, sporting contests, political contests, are measures of how much we know, and can master, others. They are about knowing and mastering your opponent, in a sporting contest. And, with political contests, they are about knowing and mastering, us. How I wish we could have leaders who valued knowing and mastering themselves, first and foremost. Then, it wouldn’t seem like such an impossibility for powerful men and women to get centered, and stay centered, in the Tao. That, of course, is job one, if you are going to stay in the center of the circle, and not be so quick to want to intervene and interfere, to try to control, and force issues.

Knowing and mastering ourselves! That, for eons, has been, considered to be, the first order of business. What was it Socrates said? “Know Thyself.” Yet, we don’t value that. What we value is our own intelligence and strength, our knowledge of others, our mastery over others.

So, what does knowing and mastering ourselves entail?

If you know yourself, truly know yourself, you realize you have enough. You realize just how truly rich you are. Show me someone who never has enough, who is always scrambling to get more, and I will say of that person, “There is someone who cannot be content.” How can they be? Being content is everything! Everything! But you can never be content, as long as you never have enough. As long as you don’t know yourself, that you have enough, true contentment will always elude you. How poor we are, when we could be truly rich!

To master yourself is to stay in the center of the circle. To not have the will to power pull you away from the center of the circle. To not intervene, interfere, try to control, or force issues. To let things go their own way. Lao Tzu says we need to embrace death with our whole heart. This isn’t some morbid fascination with death. This is overcoming our fear of death. Our fear that things won’t go our way, unless we meddle. Embrace it! If I die, I die; but, damn it, I won’t let go of the center of the circle.

This is the way of true wisdom, the way of true power. Socrates understood this. We remember him freely drinking a cup of hemlock. He knew he was going to die; and he embraced it. And, he still endures, to this day. If you can do these things, you, too, will endure forever.

Just Like Rivers Flow Into the Sea

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)

A few days ago, I came across a meme on my tumblr dashboard that just blew my mind. It had as its source the Institute of Physics, and may have originated on curiosity.com. It said, “An atom is about 99.999999999% empty space. If you removed the empty space from the atoms of all people, the entire human race could fit in the volume of a sugar cube.” Lao Tzu has had me fixated on empty spaces for quite some time now, and this little tidbit of information fascinates me. It is one of those things that just doesn’t seem possible. Yet, I believe it is true.

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by talking about the Tao in sub-atomic terms. “Smaller than an electron.” Stephen Mitchell, I believe, was using as a metaphor the smallest thing he knew, then existed. His translation was published in 1986. We have since been able to perceive even smaller things than an electron, but don’t let that take away from the magnitude of what Lao Tzu is saying, here. The Tao can’t be perceived. It is so small, we can’t perceive it. Yet, within it are contained uncountable galaxies. Thinking back to that earlier meme, that is a whole lot of empty space.

When you think on things like these, is it any wonder Lao Tzu marvels at the transformation which would occur in our world if only powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao? Don’t get too bogged down with the theological question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. I would rather think about the real world fantasy of what would transpire if powerful men could do, what for them, seems impossible. All things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace. The law would be written in our hearts.

Understand what Lao Tzu is saying to us, here. The reason why all things are not in harmony. The reason why the world is not a paradise. The reason why all people are not at peace. Why? Powerful men and women can’t remain centered in the Tao. No, instead, they insist on interfering, on intervening and trying to control things, on using force to get their way.

Which is why the second half of today’s chapter is so important. They don’t know when to stop; so it is incumbent on us, that we do.

The “ifs” of the previous part of the chapter have now become “whens”. What might be possible, but isn’t very probable, becomes something we can know for certain.

Way back in chapter one, Lao Tzu talked about naming as the origin of all particular things. Today, he tells us the names, and even the forms of things, are only provisional. They serve for the time being; but they were never intended to be anything but temporary. The same can be said for our various institutions. We need to know when their functions should end.

If we know when to stop, we can avoid danger. All things are going to come to an end. Even, and especially, our reliance on powerful men and women. All things end in the Tao. Just like rivers flow into the sea.

Time To Get Real

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)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu began by offering us an elementary physics lesson to explain the violence inherent in trying to force issues. Our present leaders, and those in line to come after them, don’t rely on the Tao in governing us. Instead they rely on force, violence, to accomplish their ends. The end always justifies whatever means they wish to employ. It takes a wise and virtuous person to realize, it doesn’t matter how good your end is, if you don’t rely on the Tao for your means.

After our physics lesson, Lao Tzu then delved into the psychology behind those who always resort to the use of force. It comes down to over compensation. If they believed in themselves, if they were content with themselves, if they accepted themselves, they wouldn’t try to control things. They wouldn’t need to.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins by talking about the tools of violence and fear, the tools our rulers employ. And, then, he gives us a litmus test for decency.

All decent people detest weapons. They are used as tools of violence. All decent people avoid weapons, except in the direst necessity. They are the tools of fear.

Decency requires of us, the utmost restraint when we are compelled to use weapons. Peace should be our highest value. It is not possible for the decent to be content, when the peace has been shattered.

Is Lao Tzu some kind of pacifist? I wouldn’t characterize him in this way. I would call him a realist. He sees things as they are. Peace is his highest value. Make no mistake about that. But, when the peace has been shattered, he may be compelled to use weapons. Yet, only with the utmost restraint.

A realist understands their enemies are not demons, but fellow human beings. This flies in the face of the propaganda we are constantly being fed by the ruling elite. They want us to dehumanize the enemy. They want us to believe this manufactured “evil” wishes us “personal” harm. And, it is only right, we should wish them personal harm, as well. But, a realist, a decent person, sees things as they actually are, and not the way those, who wish to mislead us, would have us see things.

Decency requires of us that we not rejoice in victory. This is why I won’t be waving any flags to commemorate our shallow victories in war. How could I rejoice in victory, and delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children?

Lao Tzu is a decent person, a realist, who, compelled to take up arms, enters a battle gravely. With sorrow. With great compassion. A realist understands what that battle is, what all battles are. Once you start seeing the world as your self, that all your “enemies” are your brothers and sisters, you understand you are attending your own funeral. We drape flags over caskets which return from battles. But, as Howard Zinn put so eloquently, there is no flag large enough to cover our shame.

I said there was going to be a litmus test for decency in today’s chapter; and, there it is. A decent person feels shame, because of the innocents, who have been massacred in our name. It takes someone who is truly indecent to make jokes about it. Which is why, when people start talking about standards of indecency, I don’t much care to talk about all the superficial ways people try to use to measure it. Lao Tzu was a realist; and, so am I. It is time we all got real.

Forcing Issues Is Not The Way

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)

Today’s commentary will be something of an addendum to yesterday’s commentary on the “great bathroom controversy”. I have friends who have said to me, “Even if we may agree with you, that transgendered individuals should be able to go to the bathroom which corresponds to their gender, regardless what their biological sex may be, what the Obama administration has done, in challenging the North Carolina law, and the guidelines for all public schools to follow with regard to their own transgender students, is an egregious overreach by the Executive branch of the Federal government. The President doesn’t have this power!” I am going to ignore, for the time being, that these same friends have not complained at all, in the past, when President Obama exceeded his Constitutional powers in waging wars without Congressional approval, his many drone kills, including of American citizens. I will cut, right to the chase. I have never lauded President Obama as an example of someone who relies on the Tao in governing. And, I absolutely agree, every time he tries to force issues, or defeat enemies by force of arms, he runs smack dab into one of the basic and elementary laws of physics. For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.

But, let’s just be clear, here. Obama isn’t the first president who has “stretched” the limits of his power, while governing. And, he certainly won’t be the last. By the time the next president gets done, and this will be true regardless of whether we are talking of another President Clinton, or a President Trump, what Obama has done will seem quite tame in comparison. That, to me, is something which should concern us all, greatly. And, while I agree that Obama regularly goes beyond what a president should be allowed to do, our Congress, and our Supreme Court, continue to allow it. So much for checks and balances. Of course, there is this: What should be the role of the Federal government? One legitimate role is to protect our liberties from State governments who have overreached in their own way. The North Carolina law should be challenged. It is a curtailment of freedom for certain individuals, marking them as second-class citizens. And, the guidelines for all public schools are, for now, just guidelines. If you are really concerned, perhaps, you might contact your own representative in Washington D.C., and see if you can get them off their butt, and working on your behalf.

However, don’t let that last paragraph convince you I am unreservedly supportive of Obama’s handling of this, or any situation. As I have said before, I want leaders who will rely on the Tao in governing. I want leaders who won’t try to force issues, or defeat enemies by force of arms. I want wise and virtuous leaders who do their job, and then stop.

When you understand the universe is forever out of control, you won’t try to dominate events. You will understand that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. Just do your job, and then take a step back. Let things go their own way. Don’t try to control them. Don’t interfere. Don’t intervene. Just stay in the center of the circle.

And, why are their bullies anyway? What is it that makes the violent choose violence?

If they believed in themselves, they wouldn’t try to convince others. If they were content with themselves, they wouldn’t need others’ approval. If they accepted themselves, the whole world would accept them.

Violence isn’t just not the Way. It is the anti-Way. It is running in direct opposition to the Way. For the last couple of chapters we have been talking about accepting the world, just as it is. Today’s chapter, ends up being about how to live in such a way, the world accepts us. And, we come to find out, the world will accept us, if only we will accept ourselves.

Tomorrow’s chapter will delve a little deeper into the psychology of violence; but, on a more positive note, it will delve into the psychology of decency. If we are to choose one, over the other, let us arm ourselves with the tools of decency, rather than the tools of violence.

Do You Know What Time It Is?

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)

I know a whole lot of people who think the whole world is “going to Hell in a hand basket”. I try not to laugh too much about this, because I understand it is only through ignorance, they have allowed fear to work them into a frenzy. They don’t seem to realize every generation, before them, had the same fears. But, that is not to say there aren’t some legitimate causes of concern for our world, today. It is just that these aren’t necessarily the ones that have so many of my friends “up in arms”. The latest “crisis of faith” in our world appears to be revolving around the issue of bathrooms, and exactly who should be using which ones.

I am just going to speak my own mind on this. Why not? It’s my blog.

I have transgender friends. When I went to college, over thirty years ago, I met and became friends with a whole lot of people. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, at least three of them were transgender. Thirty some odd years ago was a very long time, when you are talking about transgender issues. I knew two trans men, who I believed were women. And one trans woman who I believed was a man. In college, they kept their gender identity pretty close to themselves. There was not a lot of understanding in our world, then, about such things. Even those who were suffering from gender dysphoria, didn’t understand it fully. And, I didn’t even find out about the term gender dysphoria until the last few years. I am blessed to have a current, young friend, about half my age, with whom I have been able to have intimate dialog, about their own gender dysphoria. They have educated me quite a bit.

I will say this: Being trans isn’t about not wanting to be the gender you were born. It is about not having your gender correspond with the genitalia you came equipped with. And, there are real reasons, biological ones, which I won’t try to go into, here, why some individuals have a different gender than their genitalia suggests. For some, it might be correct to say, the genitalia with which they were born was a birth defect. I don’t mean to be offensive to anyone, but a lot of strange things can happen during a person’s development in their mother’s womb. We understand this with regard to other birth defects. We don’t seem to be nearly as understanding, with this.

It isn’t a play for attention. It isn’t a choice. It is a fact of life. And, that is why, I wish boys could be allowed to go to boys’ restrooms, and girls could be allowed to go to girls’ restrooms, without bathroom nazis checking to make sure they have the proper equipment.

Okay, okay, I know you are wondering, what does this have to do with today’s chapter? I am glad you asked.

My point is, we all might think the world would be greatly improved if all boys were born with a penis, and all girls with a vagina. If only it was this simple. This black or white. This female or male. We want to improve the world. But, Lao Tzu tells us, I don’t think it can be done.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us what we can do for our world. Know the yang, yet keep to the yin. You can nurture the world. You can be a pattern, or example, for the world. And, you can accept the world, as it is.

And, quite frankly, we better accept the world as it is, because the world is sacred. It can’t be improved. Just as it is, it is perfect. We allow things to divide us. We are big on differences. Black or white. Female or male. Religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class. Did I miss anything? They all divide us. We let our differences divide us, when they should unite us. We are a diverse bunch; and that isn’t a bad thing. It is a good thing. The Tao flows through us all, inside and outside, and returns to our common Source.

When we try to control things, if we try to tamper with the world, we will ruin it. All that is presently wrong with the world is due to our tampering with it. We dare not treat it like an object, we will lose it. I think that is what has me so stirred up, as I am writing this commentary. How much we objectify other human beings.

Okay, okay, if we dare not tamper with things, if we dare not treat people as objects, what, then can we do?

Lao Tzu told us that, yesterday. But I will repeat it, once again. We should be in the business of nurturing our world. We should be a pattern, or example, for our world. We need to accept the world, just as it is.

And, today, Lao Tzu tells us how. Of course, it involves the timely use of yang and yin; just like he was talking about, in yesterday’s chapter.

There is a time for yang and a time for yin. A time for being ahead, and a time for being behind. A time for being in motion, and a time for being at rest. A time for being vigorous, and a time for being exhausted. A time for being safe, and a time for being in danger.

We need to be aware of what time it is. We need to go with the flow of the Tao. The Tao always has perfect timing.

Wise and virtuous people see things as they are. And, they don’t try to control them. They let things go their own way. And, always reside at the center of the circle.

Now, some might say, trans people should just accept the genitalia with which they were born. Don’t try to change things. Don’t try to improve on them. Isn’t that what Lao Tzu is saying? I think people who say things like this are missing Lao Tzu’s point. He wasn’t talking about wanting to improve yourself. He was talking about wanting to improve the world.

The truth is, in spite of the fact I have friends who are trans, and in spite of the fact that I have worked to educate myself about transgender issues, I, still, really, don’t have any idea what it is like to be a different gender than the one I was assigned at birth. So, instead of telling others what I think they should do with their own bodies, I think I will love them, and not try to control them. I will nurture them, and be a pattern for them; and, I will accept them. It is all I really can do. It is all, we all can really do.

Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will remind us of an elementary physics lesson. We will learn how to overcome the temptation to be violent.

How Do We Relate To This World?

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 the block;
thus she can use all things.

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

Two chapters ago, we learned about the importance of never losing touch with who we are. In yesterday’s chapter, we learned about the essence of being a good human. It is about being available to all people, and ready for every situation. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is going to further explain how we can relate to the world around us, by knowing “yang”, yet keeping to “yin”.

Three times he tells us to do this. First it is, “Know the male, yet keep to the female”. Male is a reference for yang and female is a reference to yin. Next, “Know the white, yet keep to the black”. White is yang, and black is yin. Finally, “Know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal”. Personal is yang, and impersonal is yin.”

This is about being in balance. Know the yang, yet keep to the yin. It is important to know the yang. But, we can get so caught up in it, we forget all about the yin. That is what Lao Tzu is wanting us to guard against. Our relationship with the world around us will only be enriched, if we will let ourselves be in balance.

When we know the male, yet keep to the female, we receive the world in our arms. If we receive the world, the Tao will never leave us, and we will be like little children. For me, receiving the world in our arms is about being in a position to nurture the world. Both you, and the world are like little children. And, you need both the spontaneous male, and the intuitive female to be like a little child, again.

When we know the white, yet keep to the black, we are a pattern for the world. If we are a pattern for the world, the Tao will be strong inside us, and there will be nothing we can’t do. White and black are the way yang and yin are represented in the Tai Chi symbol. Being a pattern, or example, for the world is the single greatest thing we can all be for our world. No wonder it makes the Tao strong inside of us. No wonder Lao Tzu promises nothing will be impossible for us.

When we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal, we are accepting the world as it is. If we accept the world, the Tao will be luminous inside us, and we will return to our primal selves. This is so very important. Not taking things too personally. Lao Tzu has told us on a number of occasions, to do our work and then take a step back. Why do we need to take a step back? Because, when we get too close, too personal, our perspective gets out of order. We won’t accept the world as it is, if we aren’t able to maintain a proper distance, a step or two away from the situation. The Tao will be luminous inside us. That word “luminous” is an entirely different kind of light from what Lao Tzu has been talking about the last couple of chapters. The Tao never leaves us, it is strong inside us, and it is luminous inside us. This enables us to return to the way we were in the beginning. It is a return to our Source, to our primal selves.

Notice how Lao Tzu describes the formation of our world. It was formed from the void. That is, out of emptiness. He compares it to the way utensils are formed from a block of wood. A wise and virtuous person knows the utensils. They know what is to come out of that block of wood. Yet, they keep to the block. Thus, they can use all things.

Well, that is a good place to stop with this chapter. We have learned how to use both the yang, and the yin, inside of us to relate to the world. We have learned what we can be for the world. Both a nurturer, and a pattern, or example. We have learned how to accept the world as it is. Tomorrow, we will learn what we should never try to do with the world. We will find out there is a time for yang and a time for yin. This will enable us to reside at the center of the circle.

What is the Essence of Being a Good Human?

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)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu explores the complementary relationship between being good, and being bad. It is something, no doubt, a lot of us have never considered before.

Because I value today’s chapter as one of the more important ones (they are all important, but some just stand out more to me), my commentary will likely be longer than it has been on recent chapters. You can chalk that up to my own inability to say in few words, what I believe Lao Tzu is saying to us, today. I just don’t have Lao Tzu’s gift.

The reason I think today’s chapter is particularly important is because it boldly proclaims the answer to the question of why your life has meaning and purpose, wherever you happen to be along your journey. Now, Lao Tzu doesn’t come right out and say that. I had to read between the lines to understand what he was saying.

Remember, yesterday, when Lao Tzu was talking about the importance of not losing touch with our root, with who we are? He said the heavy is the root of the light. The unmoved is the source of all movement. After talking about the importance of the heavy (and yin and yang being what they are), today, Lao Tzu teaches us about what he calls embodying the light. Since the heavy is our connection to our Source, who we are, the light represents our connection to every other being, each other. That will all become clear in a moment. But, first, Lao Tzu wants us to focus on who and what we are.

He uses three different, and seemingly random, occupations to describe the sum total of what is the essence of being a human. Keep in mind, he has listed us, humans, as one of the four great powers. And, he wrote this Tao Te Ching, for us, humans, to read and learn from.

All human beings are fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. And, just to be clear, here, by travelers, artists, and scientists, he isn’t referring to whether or not we venture far and wide from our homes, or paint or sculpture or any other artistic skill, which the great “artists” have mastered, or whether we are members in one of the fields of science. We are all travelers, because we are always “on the move”, with places to go, and people to see. In all our travels, whether near or far, we will encounter other people, other beings, and situations and circumstances which are going to challenge us in our journey. And that word “challenge” is not intended to mean something negative. We are all artists, because living is an art. I have long thought of the Tao Te Ching as a manual on the art of living. We are all scientists, because we are all observers of the world around us, the people around us. There is so much to learn. And learn, by observing, we all do.

It stands to reason, that being, each one of us, fellow travelers, artists, and scientists, we may be good at these essences of what it means to be human, and we may be bad. It is a common misunderstanding about philosophical Taoism, that we shouldn’t see things as good or bad, beautiful or ugly. But, that isn’t what Lao Tzu was teaching, way back in chapter two, when he said, “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.”

He wasn’t telling us not to value beautiful and good things. He was merely teaching the Way of our Universe. Because we see some things as beautiful and good, other things necessarily become ugly and bad. This is something we all need to be aware of, and learn how to deal with. But attempting to go through our lives without valuing anything, would not be very human. It isn’t valuing things which gets us into trouble, anyway. It is overvaluing them, that does. Yin and yang always seek to bring about balance.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu is most definitely distinguishing some ways of being human, as good. And, he is completely aware what that means. Other ways become bad. We are going to get into the complementary relationship between good and bad in a little bit. Right now, I also want to make sure everyone understands Lao Tzu isn’t passing some kind of moral judgment on those who are bad at the essence of being human. He isn’t talking about good and evil, here. This will also become clear as we go along.

Sorry, that was a long introduction.

Understanding we are all travelers, what does it mean to be good at it? A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. A bad one, then, would have fixed plans and be intent upon arriving. Don’t worry, we will be explaining why having no fixed plans and not being intent upon arriving makes you a good traveler. But, let’s get these other essences of what it means to be human listed, first.

Understanding we are all artists, what does it mean to be good at it? Good artists let their intuition lead them wherever it wants. Bad ones, then, would not be led by their own intuition. We will also explain why letting your intuition guide you wherever it wants is good. Just one more essence of what it means to be human.

Understanding we are all scientists, what does it mean to be good at it? Good scientists have freed themselves of concepts and keep their minds open to what is. Bad scientists, then, would not be observing their world with an open mind. They would be enslaved to their own preconceived ideas and concepts.

Now, let’s understand why these practices of good travelers, artists and scientists, are good. To help our understanding, Lao Tzu, once again, provides us with the example of the Master.

If we are wise and virtuous (that is another way of saying a good traveler, good artist, and good scientist), we will be available to all people and won’t reject anyone. We will be ready to use all situations and won’t waste anything. This is what he calls embodying the light. If, in our travels, we are bound by our fixed plans and intent upon arriving, if we aren’t being led by our intuition, if we haven’t freed ourselves of concepts and keep our minds closed, time and time again, opportunities for being available to people are going to pass us by. Situations which could have been unimaginably wonderful will be wasted.

Now, that is easy to understand. We have all been there and done that. Countless are the times I was too busy to help, too set in my ways, to take advantage of a situation. That isn’t intended to be a license to beat yourselves up over this. We have all been bad. It’s okay. But, now we know better. So, what do we do?

This is where Lao Tzu really explains the complementary relationship between the good and the bad. Understanding that because we see some things as good, other things become bad, we better understand how to use this situation. Are you “good” at these things? Good job! Now, understand what that means. It is your job to be a teacher, a mentor, the master, to an apprentice. An apprentice is one who isn’t good, right now. No, they are bad. They still have lots of learning to do. That is why they are in the role of apprentice. If you are good, be available, when someone who is bad comes along. And, if you are bad, be ready to accept the help of someone who is good at it.

This is what Lao Tzu calls the great secret. Understanding the complementary relationship between the good and the bad. We need each other! It doesn’t matter how intelligent you think you are, if you don’t understand this, you will get lost.

And, believe me, that is no fun to be, when you are traveling.

Tomorrow, Lao Tzu will use both yin and yang to explain our relationship to the world around us.

What Moves You?

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)

Today, Lao Tzu returns to the complementary relationship of yin and yang, non-being and being. We have been talking about this since way back in chapter two. “Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other.” You can’t have one, without the other. “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.” We will talk about the complementary relationship between the good and the bad, tomorrow. Today, Lao Tzu tells us the importance of the heavy as a complement to the light. And, the importance of the unmoved (non-being) as a complement to all movement.

You may remember, back in chapter fifteen, Lao Tzu asked us, “Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles, and the water is clear?” And, “Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?” We tend to be an impatient lot, we humans. It is a great reason for the turmoil we experience in our own lives.

But no matter how impatient we may be, in practice, Lao Tzu still has a tremendous amount of patience with, and respect for, us humans. In yesterday’s chapter, he listed us as one of the four great powers in our Universe. Sure, we are not as great as the Earth, which we follow. Nor, the Universe, which the Earth follows. And, certainly not the Tao, which the Universe follows. Don’t even get me started on the Tao, which follows only itself. But, still, we are one of the four great powers. Pretty amazing, really. And all the more reason for Lao Tzu to wonder out loud, “Why should the lord of the country (that’s us) flit about like a fool?” Why, indeed?

The reason is we have let ourselves be blown to and fro, until we have lost touch with our root. Too much yang, too little yin. These need to balance themselves out. We need to let them. As Lao Tzu puts it, “The heavy is the root of the light.”

A wise and virtuous person is able to travel all day without ever leaving home. Don’t let this metaphor confuse you. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about a physical home, here. He is talking about remaining connected to our Source. No matter how splendid the views may be, we must always stay serenely in ourselves.

If we let restlessness move us, we lose touch with who we are. This is where patience comes in. Do we have the patience to wait, to remain unmoving. That “unmovement” has to be the source of all our movement. Otherwise, we flit about like fools. We lose touch with our root. With who we are.

Don’t be restless! Wait for it. Wait for it. You have all of infinity and eternity, bound up in this present moment. The right action will arise, all by itself. You will “know” when the time is right. Trust your intuition. Trust your inner vision. Then, move!

For those who are wondering, I am feeling a bit better today. I think it is safe to say, I am on the mend. Though I still have an infinite amount of snot in my nose. Tomorrow, Lao Tzu reveals the great secret about the good and the bad. Don’t miss it!

No, I Am Not On Meds

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)

I don’t know how long it has been since I have mentioned this, but I also like sitting out in my back yard at night. The turmoil of beings still goes on at night, though it is more subdued, more quiet. At least it is in my neck of the woods. And, honestly, I am not paying near as much attention to what is going on around me, as above me, anyway. I like gazing up at the stars, and the planets, in the sky above me. I don’t fancy myself to be an amateur astronomer; I don’t even own a telescope. But, I do like looking up into the void, the almost empty sky, looking at the bright dots, and thinking of how many light years were traveled for that light to get to me. When I consider distance in light years, I begin to get an idea of infinity. It just so happens, this sinus infection, which I am trying to let take its own course, is also producing an infinite amount of snot. Do I really need this? How many different ways of contemplating infinity do there have to be? Please don’t answer that. I am afraid the answer is going to be an infinite number of ways.

But back to that night sky. Another thing that I am doing, while looking up at those tiny points of light, is imagining what came before the Universe was born. Lao Tzu tells us there was something formless and perfect, then. Serene, empty, solitary, unchanging, infinite (there is that word again), eternally present. Of course, we know what he is describing. He has used these descriptors quite a lot in all the chapters leading up to this one. He says it is the mother of the Universe. The Great Mother. For lack of any better name, he calls it the Tao.

What exactly does the Tao do? It flows. It flows through all things. Inside all things. Outside all things. And, then, it returns to the origin of all things. The Tao, being the Great Mother, is the origin of all things. It literally flows through all things, and always returns back to itself. Wait, was that the proper way to use “literally”? I maybe should go back and delete that word. Looks superfluous to me. Or is it redundant? This sinus infection has me not thinking quite straight when it comes to vocabulary.

Lao Tzu understands my problem. And, no, it is not that I am on Meds. His little one and two word descriptors for the Tao, show just how challenging it is to try to describe the Tao. Formless and perfect? That has to be an oxymoron. Wait! Did I get that one right?

If you are reading any of this I have decided to just continue to go with the flow, and not stop my typing to check whether I got any of my vocabulary right.

The whole point of this is to say the Tao is great! But, don’t stop there. The Universe is great, too. And the Earth, don’t forget about the Earth. It is also great. And, then you have us humans. Even, we, are great. These are the four great powers.

But what makes them all so great?

Humans are great because we follow the Earth. The Earth is great because it follows the Universe. The Universe is great because it follows the Tao. Ah, the Tao. What is it again that makes the Tao great? It doesn’t have anything greater to follow, so it follows only itself.

I kept things light today. But tomorrow, Lao Tzu will talk about the benefits of the heavy.