What I Really Want

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)

What I Really Want

As much as I love this chapter for its truth and brevity, every time I come back around to it, I always find it difficult to know what to add, in the way of commentary, to it.

As I read it, again and again, I think to myself, “Isn’t this obvious?” Yet, the powers that be either don’t know, or they don’t care.

There are actually people in power who think taxes aren’t too high already. And, they will insist, as they push to penalize producers, even more, that they are doing it for the benefit of the most disadvantaged among us. And, many people actually believe them. Beware those who say the rich aren’t paying their fair share. The so-called rich won’t be the ones bearing the brunt of whatever scheme they have cooked up to make them pay their fair share.

Whatever that is.

I am going to go off the reservation a little bit here, and just come right out with it. Everything our leaders come up with to “help” us is designed, solely, to enrich the ruling class. The parasites among us. The leeches. Tax policies have always been designed to penalize producers, and enrich the parasites. And, you know who gets hurt the most? It is always the most disadvantaged among us. They are the ones who will be going hungry. Yet, I actually hear people that I otherwise believe are good-hearted people complaining about these very people gaming the system. Really? You want to know who is really gaming the system? It ain’t the poor and disadvantaged.

Don’t let them blind you with class envy. Don’t fall for the rhetoric which is designed to have us pointing fingers at each other. It isn’t the poor and disadvantaged that are the parasites. And, it isn’t the producers, either. Please understand this. The ruling class doesn’t produce anything. Except for misery for anyone who isn’t them. They are the parasites.

And, then there is how all too intrusive the government is, in every aspect of our lives. They distract us with all sorts of cheap thrills. Sports. Entertainment. The corporate media is very good at empowering the powers that be. I am actually looking forward to the new Oliver Stone movie “Snowden”. I have always been skeptical of Mr. Stone’s work in the past. But, I am hearing very good things about this one. The people need to know the truth. They need to know why it is they have lost their spirit. Edward Snowden is a unique individual. Maybe one of only a small handful that come along once in a generation. May his sacrifices not be in vain.

What do I want? What do I really want? I want our leaders to act for the people’s benefit. That shouldn’t be such a great thing. I don’t want them to just say they will. Or, to insist that they are. For they most assuredly are not. If they were, they would trust us, and leave us alone.

Of All the Things We Must Not Try to Control

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)

Of All the Things We Must Not Try to Control

There is that word, realize, again. He said it a couple chapters ago, when talking about our need to heal ourselves of all knowing. First “realize” that you are sick; then you can move toward health. Now, we need to “realize” that all things change.

This is another one of those things we all presume we all know, already. Of course, we know all things change, right? But, realizing is a very different kind of knowledge than presuming, as we have already begun to discover. For one thing, notice, he didn’t say realized. It isn’t in the past tense. It is ever in the present tense. To realize anything is spontaneous and intuitive. Realizing flows from the inner core of your being. It is intuitively knowing.

And, this is important, because realizing, as contrasted with presuming, actually has the power to make a difference in your life. If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. That means that until you realize that all things change, there will always be something you will try to hold on to.

Presuming is a disease, remember? Yeah, we need to be healed of all of that. But, oh to realize! There is where we tap into the real power of the Tao.

As long as we are holding on to something, we are fearing what the future might bring. And, fear of the future, just like the fear of anything, always brings about attempts at trying to control it.

Lao Tzu uses an interesting metaphor to illustrate this attempt at trying to control the future. He says, to do so is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. Handle those tools, and you are likely to cut your hand.

Of all the things we must not try to control, this one is, perhaps, the most important one. Not even the Tao attempts it. And, if we are in harmony with the Tao, we won’t, either.

I can already anticipate the question forming in your mind, right about now. How do I realize this? But, I can’t help you, there. There is no “how to” when it comes to realizing. Remember, it is spontaneous. It just happens. The proverbial “light bulb” goes on. It is a “Eureka!” moment. Suddenly, you know. It was so simple. It was always so simple. How silly that we didn’t see it, before. But, how could we have seen it?

How do we get there (setting it off into some unknown future), isn’t nearly as important as what are we going to do, now that we know.

You are going to let go of everything. All things change. Let them. Relax. Breathe. The future is no longer something I am interested in trying to control. This present moment is all there is. I am not even afraid of dying. I am powerful. There is nothing I can’t achieve.

All the Things We Can Do Without…

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)

All the Things We Can Do Without…

Having spent the last few chapters talking about the practice of not-knowing, as it relates to putting his teachings into practice, today, Lao Tzu begins talking about not-doing.

We have talked about this before, but for those new to my blog, not-doing doesn’t mean that nothing gets done. All things get done. But, they are done effortlessly, or with ease. Your actions flow from the core of your being. Spontaneously, and guided by your intuition. You are working with, rather than against, nature. You have probably heard it, before, as going with the flow. It is the practice of being in harmony with the Tao.

Doing without doing. Effortless action.

Pointing at the Tao (the way things are, in nature), Lao Tzu says, It is always at ease. It overcomes without competing, answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without a plan.

The key word in all of that is the word, without. It is amazing the things you can accomplish “without” trying. How much can you accomplish? All things.

It is when we are out of harmony with the Tao, when we are working, interfering, hindering, pushing, reaching, grasping, when we are trying to dominate, trying to control, trying to force things, that many things are left undone.

Don’t try to practice doing without doing. Instead, let yourself, and your every action, flow with the Tao.

Its net covers the whole universe. And, though its meshes are wide, not a thing slips through.

Have We Lost Our Sense of Awe?

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)

Have We Lost Our Sense of Awe?

Yes, we are still talking about the need to not-know, if we are going to put Lao Tzu’s teachings into practice. The question for today: “Have I lost my sense of awe?”

Little children have it. That sense of awe. Of wonder. They know that they don’t know. That is why they are constantly asking questions. Sadly, by the time they become older children, that sense of awe and wonder is something they have “grown out of”. I put that in quotes because I don’t think it is just a matter of growing up. I think it is largely the fault of the adults in their life, not nurturing that sense of awe and wonder. After all, it wasn’t nurtured in us, when we were growing up, either. And, we have lost it.

I say that, having raised two, now adult, children; and fully admitting, I didn’t do all that great a job nurturing it in them.

How do we nurture it in ourselves, and in the little ones in our care? How I wish I had understood this twenty some odd years ago. It begins with not answering all their questions by appealing to authority. We do tend to do this appealing to authority thing. When they ask why they should do such and such. We respond with, because I said so. There is some parental authority. As they get older, we may appeal to the law. Or, tradition or custom. But, it is always some authority. And, when it comes to philosophical questions, many appeal to religion, yet another authority.

Here, I would humbly suggest we seriously stop, and take a step back. Is it always important to know the answers to the questions they ask? Why not admit we don’t know, instead of presuming we do? Why not guide them to find the answers to their questions inside themselves, instead of outside.

Let me give you fair warning, though. You are in serious danger of raising children capable of free and critical thinking. They will end up being able to be independent thinkers and doers.

This is how the wise approach this nurturing of awe and wonder. It is teaching without teaching. No, it doesn’t lead to confusion. Just the opposite, actually. And, people will learn how to trust themselves.

Our Problem With Not-Knowing

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)

Our Problem With Not-Knowing

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues on with his theme from yesterday: We have a real problem with not-knowing, when it comes to putting his teachings into practice in our lives. Today, he calls presuming we know, a disease; and, something of which, we need to be healed. We need to be at a place where we know we don’t know, because only the practice of not-knowing is true knowledge. But, if we are going to move toward health, we must first realize we are sick.

That is a real bugaboo for us, since Lao Tzu seems to offer us little practical advice on how to realize we are sick. Why is that? I suppose it is because “realizing” isn’t something we can grasp with our intellect. As I suggested in yesterday’s chapter, it is something which arises from inside us. It is both intuitive and spontaneous. How can I help you realize you are sick? Especially, being as this sickness isn’t some physical ailment, with physical symptoms. All I can offer, in the way of advice, is for you to constantly ask yourself, “How do I know this thing I think I know is true? Am I only presuming it is?”

The wise are able to be their own physician. They constantly rely on their intuition, and act on it spontaneously. This is how to heal yourself of all knowing, and be truly whole.

Keeping Things Easy and Simple

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)

Keeping Things Easy and Simple

For the last three days, now, Lao Tzu has been talking about what he refers to as our three greatest treasures. They are simplicity, patience, and compassion. Be simple in actions and thoughts. Be patient with both friends and enemies. Be compassionate toward yourself. These are treasures because, through them, you return to the source of being, you accord with the way things are, and you reconcile all beings in the world. Lao Tzu warned us to guard these treasures; and, he told us how to guard them. He also told us how we can destroy them. We have been warned. The only question which remains, will we heed him?

In today’s chapter, he begins by saying, “My teachings are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. That is the way things are. So, why is it that the way things seem to be is people do not understand them, and we don’t put them into practice? If they are so “easy”, what is our problem?

Our problem, as Lao Tzu explains, is that we try to grasp their meaning with our intellect, and we try, through our own efforts, to put them into practice. To Lao Tzu, this is a prescription for failure. As he says, these are ancient teachings. And, we are ruled by the affairs of the day.

The practice of the Tao is not-knowing and not-doing. No wonder our intellect and our efforts are to no avail!

Let’s make sure we do understand this. It is easy, not difficult. It is simple, not complicated. But our efforts make it difficult and complicated. Hence, Lao Tzu’s oft-repeated admonition: Do your work; then stop, and take a step back. Stop making it difficult. Stop making it complicated. Don’t try to understand these teachings. Don’t try to be simple, patient, and compassionate.

You can know without knowing. It is relying on your intuition to direct you. And, you can do without doing. It is the spontaneous effortless action that flows from the core of your being, just like your intuition does. And, it all happens quite naturally – if we will let it. Hence the easy and simple aspects of putting it into practice.

If you want to go the easy and simple way, you must look within, and trust, your heart.

Knowing 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)

Knowing How to Yield

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about how to guard and preserve simplicity, patience, and compassion, our three greatest treasures. In today’s chapter, he warns us against destroying them. For that, he returns to talking about generals. Yesterday, he talked about the best generals entering the minds of their opponents. Today, we hear what these generals have to say.

Is this how generals think today? I don’t know. Maybe the best generals do. Maybe we don’t have anyone like the best generals of Lao Tzu’s day, today. I have no military expertise, so I really can’t say. But, I suspect the civilians we “elect” to direct our best generals are responsible for the folly which is US imperialism and hegemony, and not our generals. And, I just have to say, I would like to have Lao Tzu’s best generals, and their sayings, be what drives foreign policy. For, it is better to wait and see, than make the first move. It is better to retreat a yard, than advance even an inch.

This is the practice of being in harmony with the Tao. It is competing without competing. By practicing this, you go forward without advancing, and push back without using weapons. It is the practice of yielding.

By entering the mind of your enemy you will never underestimate them. This saves us from the greatest of misfortunes. Why is underestimating your enemy the greatest misfortune? It is because thinking your enemy is evil destroys your three greatest treasures. You become your own worst enemy.

I am thinking, right now, of the West’s underestimating of Putin in Russia, Assad in Syria, and all the regimes we have “changed” or sought to “change” over the years. And, I won’t even begin to list off all the people we have put on watch lists, or targeted for drone strikes. We have a long history of underestimating the enemy. Is it any wonder our three greatest treasures have been destroyed?

For they have been, my friends, they have. Where are simplicity, patience, and compassion to be found in Washington DC? Please pardon me for not speaking of foreign capitols, of which I am wholly ignorant. Still, I suspect they are much the same as Washington; though, hopefully, a bit more humble.

My point in all this is actually quite simple. We need to return to nurturing our three greatest treasures. And, for Lao Tzu, that comes down to how we define victory. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory doesn’t go to the biggest, or the baddest. It goes to the one who knows how to yield.

Be the Best You Can Be, Be Like Children

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)

Be the Best You Can Be, Be Like Children

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu introduced the practice of competing without competing, speaking directly to would-be leaders. He said if you compete with no one, no one can compete with you. Yesterday, he boiled down his teachings to just three things: Simplicity, Patience, and Compassion. And, insisting they are our three greatest treasures, he told us to guard them well. In today’s chapter, he returns to talking about the virtue of non-competition. If we want to guard and preserve our three greatest treasures, we must learn how to practice competing without competing.

Yes, Lao Tzu is still speaking to would-be leaders. But these would-be leaders are to be found in all walks of life, not just within the political realm. If you embody the virtue of non-competition, you will be the best you can be.

Take, for example, the best athlete. They want to win, obviously. Why else are they competing, but to win? But, the best athletes always want something more than just to win. They want their opponents to be at their best.

Or, the best general. The best ones are able to enter the mind of their enemies.

The best businesspersons are the ones who serve the good of their community.

The best leaders follow the will of the people. This is something Lao Tzu said of leaders two chapters ago. If you want to govern the people, place yourself below them. If you want to lead the people, learn how to follow them.

This virtue of non-competition doesn’t mean you don’t love to compete. Of course, you love to compete. It is fun. The virtue of competing without competing is that you do it in the spirit of play, like children.

Children, as you have no doubt gathered, are a go to metaphor for Lao Tzu to demonstrate harmony with the Tao in action. Children love to play. And, they love to compete, as long as it isn’t spoiled for them by adults with their great expectations.

So, to sum things up, be like children; learn to love to play, again. Then, you will be in harmony with the Tao. And, those three treasures, Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday, will be preserved.

Just Three Things

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)

Just Three Things

Nonsense? Lofty, but impractical? Those of us who are libertarians certainly hear that about our political philosophy all the time. Take heart, fellow libertarians, Lao Tzu heard it, too, in his day; concerning his libertarianism, philosophical Taoism. And, his words today strike a chord with me. “If they would just look inside themselves, this nonsense would make perfect sense. And, if they would put this into practice in their own lives, they would find its loftiness is supported by deep roots.”

Three things, just three things to teach. And, when you see them, you will understand exactly why they are so easily dismissed. But, if you look inside yourself, and put them into practice, they will be your three greatest treasures.

Be simple in your actions and your thoughts. Yes, simplicity. We all think we know the value of simplicity, but most think it is just too hard to put it into practice in their lives. “The world is just too complicated. My life is just too complicated. Sure, I would like to live more simply, but I just can’t. I would have to sacrifice too much.” Hey, I hear you, I happen to like my internet, and my computer, and my smart phone. I like all the modern conveniences. I don’t want to give them up. But, is being simple in action and thought really about giving up these things we have come to so dearly love? It honestly doesn’t have to be. All simplicity really is, is returning to the source of being. And, you can do that, without giving up any of your modern conveniences. I know, because I have. It really was simply a matter of looking inside myself, and putting it into practice. Don’t let what you think you know, talk yourself out of the blessings of simplicity.

Be patient with both friends and enemies. “Well, this is obviously nonsense. I mean, I don’t have too much trouble with being patient with my friends, usually. Of course, even the most patient person has to have their limits. And, well, some of my friends I can only tolerate in small doses. But, be patient with enemies, too? That is asking way too much. Pretty lofty goal, there, Lao Tzu, I just don’t think it can be done.” Yet, Lao Tzu insists it is the only way to accord with the way things are. Patience, the mother of all virtues. And, all the more virtuous, when practiced with your enemies, as well as your friends. Once again, once I stopped looking outside of myself, at others, and judging them as either friend or foe; once I started looking inside myself, and saw my connection to every being in the Universe through the Tao; then I realized how very fortunate I truly am. Those who I thought were enemies, were merely human, just like me. They have the same hopes and fears. They want the same things. And, we all need to be more patient with each other. Once I started down that line of thought, I found being patient with others a whole lot simpler than I had ever imagined it could be.

Be compassionate toward yourself. When I first read this, I breathed a sigh of relief, Whew! Being compassionate with myself should be a piece of cake. But, then I got this sneaking suspicion that I was being tricked, somehow. Shouldn’t I be compassionate toward others? Shouldn’t I be putting others ahead of me? And I started to feel a little guilty. Because I know I put me, myself, and I, in that order, ahead of everyone else, all of the time. “We” are like my first priority.

And, then I started taking inventory of all the things I think and say out loud to myself. And, I started beating myself up. Until, I suddenly realized, “Wait, what was it, again, Lao Tzu was saying about being compassionate toward myself?” I realized, if I wanted to reconcile all beings in the world, it has to begin with “us”. Me, myself, and I is where I have to start with the compassion. Because “we” can only give what “we” have first been given.

Lao Tzu is right that these three teachings – simplicity, patience, and compassion – are our greatest treasures. So, guard them well.

The Kind of Leader No One Can Compete With

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)

The Kind of Leader No One Can Compete With

Lao Tzu keeps returning to the need for humility in governing. Why? Because the art of governing, in harmony with the Tao, requires it. The practice of humility is being in harmony with the Tao. And, in today’s chapter, once again, Lao Tzu is using the now familiar metaphor of the sea, to show the source of its power is its humility.

In an earlier chapter he said, “When a country obtains great power, it becomes like the sea: all streams run downward into it.” Today, he reverses the order of the wording: “All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are.”

But, he isn’t talking about countries now. He is talking about individual leaders. “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.”

Here, we have the yin and yang relationship between below and above, and following and being ahead. A wise and virtuous leader can be above the people, without anyone feeling oppressed. They can go ahead of the people, without anyone feeling manipulated.

I don’t need to point out how very different it would be for us to have leaders who weren’t oppressing and manipulating us. It is so unlike anything we have ever had before. And, it should go without saying, the whole world would be grateful for the kind of leaders Lao Tzu is describing.

No one can compete with this kind of leader, because this kind of leader competes with no one.