What It Means to Be Great

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)

What It Means to Be Great

Once again, we return to talking about the mysterious Tao, the mother of the universe. Flowing through all things, inside and outside, it returns to the origin of all things: Itself.

Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. Formless and perfect even before time and space were, before the universe was born. Flowing. Always flowing.

Is it any wonder, being in harmony with the Tao is called going with the flow? And so we all flow; the universe following the Tao, the earth following the universe, and all of humanity following the earth. Doing what comes naturally to us, having opened ourselves to the Tao.

Being great means going with the flow of the Tao.

The Way We Do the Things We Do

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

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

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

The Way We Do the Things We Do

I see today’s chapter as, more or less, an addendum to yesterday’s chapter; so, I hope you have been following along. Yesterday, Lao Tzu encouraged us to be like the forces of nature. In this way, we open ourselves to the Tao, and can trust our natural responses, everything falling into place. This was shown to be the way to be lived by the Tao, and truly being our true selves.

And, so we come to today’s chapter, where our actions are shown to be anything but natural:

Are we living our lives standing on tiptoe, always reaching for things just out of our reach?

Are we rushing ahead, trying to make things happen before their time?

Are we trying to shine our own light, because we obviously are not getting the recognition we so justly deserve?

Do we seek to define ourselves, instead of just being who we really are?

Is the will to power consuming us, so that we find ourselves powerless to be who we really are?

Do we cling to our work, never letting go of it, never letting it, or ourselves, be free?

If you want to create something that will endure, then you want to accord with the Tao: Just do your job, then let go.

When Everything Will Fall Into Place

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it blows, there is only wind.
When it rains, there is only rain.
When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

If you open yourself to the Tao,
you are at one with the Tao,
and you can embody it completely.
If you open yourself to insight,
you are at one with insight
and you can use it completely.
If you open yourself to loss,
you are at one with loss
and you can accept it completely.

Open yourself to the Tao.
Then trust your natural responses;
and everything will fall into place.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 23, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

When Everything Will Fall Into Place

In yesterday’s chapter, we were challenged to let ourselves be (imperfect), until we become (perfect). It is a matter of trusting the Tao, letting ourselves be lived by the Tao. But, just how do we do that? Lao Tzu answers that question in today’s chapter.

There is plenty we can learn by observing, and then being like, the forces of nature. In reality, nature shows us how to be like the Tao. Observe the wind as it blows, or the rain when it rains. Notice how these forces of nature express themselves. They express themselves fully, completely. Then, they keep quiet. When the clouds pass, the sun shines through.

Letting yourself be what you are, as imperfect as you are, completely, is how you open yourself to the Tao; so that it can do its perfecting work in you. By being like the forces of nature, like the wind and the rain, you are at one with the Tao, and can embody it completely. You want insight? Of course, you do! And, it is in this very way that you open yourself to insight, become one with insight, and can use it completely. Remember, that to be reborn, you must open yourself to loss, and be at one with that loss, to accept it completely.

When you do this, when you express your imperfect self completely, and then, and only then, keep quiet, you can trust your natural responses. Just do what comes naturally to you, and everything, everything, will fall into place. You are at one with the Tao, the way things are; and the spontaneous order which reigns in our natural world, will reign in your own life, perfectly.

Let Yourself Be, Until You Become

If you want to become whole,
let yourself be partial.
If you want to become straight,
let yourself be crooked.
If you want to become full,
let yourself be empty.
If you want to be reborn,
let yourself die.
If you want to be given everything,
give everything up.

The Master, by residing in the Tao,
sets an example for all beings.
Because he doesn’t display himself,
people can see his light.
Because he has nothing to prove,
people can trust his words.
Because he doesn’t know who he is,
people recognize themselves in him.
Because he has no goal in mind,
everything he does succeeds.

When the ancient Masters said,
‘If you want to be given everything,
give everything up,”
they weren’t using empty phrases.
Only in being lived by the Tao
can you be truly yourself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 22, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Let Yourself Be, Until You Become

What is the cause of our stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, the turmoil of beings Lao Tzu has told us to observe, while trusting our inner vision? Is it not that we are partial, yet want to become whole; we are crooked, yet want to become straight; we are empty, yet want to become full; we want to be reborn, while refusing to die; we want to be given everything, but aren’t willing to give everything up?

It is me, and no other, who is holding me back from becoming my true self. Stop looking outside yourself for the culprit. Look inside yourself, and you will see. A little introspection is good. But we must be willing to look further than just the surface. We must plunge beneath the depths to discover the Tao inside of us; which, alone, has the power to transform us from what we are, to what we can become.

The turmoil is a direct result of our struggle to not be what we are. I don’t want to be partial. I don’t want to be crooked. I don’t want to be empty. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to give everything up. And, so we go on being partial, being crooked, being empty, and dieing; while trying to hold on to everything, and seeing it all slipping from our grasp.

Stop resisting being what you are. I can’t begin to describe how liberating this was, and is, for me. To let myself be partial, to let myself be crooked, to let myself be empty, to let myself die; to give everything, and I do mean everything, up. This, my friends, is freedom. I have become whole, straight, full; I am reborn, and truly myself, because I have given everything up, and keep giving everything up, letting myself be lived by the Tao.

I am not setting myself up on some pedestal, presuming I am an example for all beings. Far from it. Too often I catch myself making a show of myself. Or, setting about to prove something. Or, trying to define myself. Or setting goals, and letting the achievement of those goals be my aim. Often, and ironically, it is in trying to be like the Tao that I most often fail. So I stop, and ask myself, “What is it you are doing? Why do you continue to hold on to the need to control? Stop trying to force things. Let it go. Let all of it go.”

People will see your light, when you give up trying to display yourself. People will trust your words, when they see you have nothing to prove. People will recognize themselves in you, when you stop trying to know yourself. And, when you have no goal in mind, everything you do will succeed.

I have seen the truth, realized it in my own life; though not as consistently as I know has to be possible. How do I know this? Because I have looked deep within myself. Beyond is and is not. To the Tao. And I have seen that when I trust the Tao, all things are possible.

I am not perfect. But, now that I have allowed myself to be imperfect, perfect is what I will become. When will this be? Will it be next week, next month, next year? I am not setting goals. What will be will be, until I become.

On Letting Go, and Letting the Tao

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her her radiance.

The Tao is ungraspable.
How can her mind be at one with it?
Because she doesn’t cling to ideas.

The Tao is dark and unfathomable.
How can it make her radiant?
Because she lets it.

Since before time and space were,
the Tao is.
It is beyond is and is not.
How do I know this is true?
I look inside myself and see.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 21, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

On Letting Go, and Letting the Tao

The subject of the last several chapters has been our vital need to remember the lost and forgotten Tao. To dispense with all pretense, throw away all substitutes for the Tao, and reside in the center of the circle. To be disinterested, unaffected, impervious to the turmoil going on outside of the circle. To just drink from the Great Mother’s breasts. How do we do it?

Well, how does the Master do it? Lao Tzu keeps offering up the Master as our example. And, I am afraid, we can all too often put the Master on some pedestal, an ideal unachievable by us mere mortals. But who is the Master, after all? Just some man or woman who is wise beyond, or perhaps in spite of, their years. The Master is only anyone who practices what Lao Tzu has described for us as the supreme virtue, being like water, being like the Tao.

The Master, in today’s chapter, is said to be able to keep their mind always at one with the Tao. And, that is what gives them their radiance.

But, how can my mind be at one with something that is ungraspable? How can something dark and unfathomable make me radiant?

What sets the Master apart from all the rest of us, though this “apartness” isn’t taking up residence on a pedestal, is they don’t cling to ideas. They don’t try to grasp what is ungraspable. We talked, over the course of the last few days, about just a few of the ideas we have clung to, in an attempt to get along in this world. Ideas like holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. And, what does Lao Tzu tell us to do with these ideas? Throw them away. Throw them all away.

Yet, we still cling to them. I know I still find my own self clinging to them. But, it is time my friends. It is time to let go.

There is so much power in that word “let”. If we will let it, the Tao will make us radiant, too. Are you seeing what is holding us back, yet? It isn’t that the Master is some superhuman. The Master is just as much human as the rest of us. The Master has simply let go. And let’s the Tao.

This Tao which is before time and space were, and beyond is and is not. You will know this is true, when you look inside yourself. And you will experience the reality of it, truly realize it, when you put it into practice in your own life.

We will have much more to say about the power unleashed in our lives by letting go, and letting the Tao. But, that is all we have time for today. So, come back tomorrow.

Ah, Serenity!

Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?
How ridiculous!

Other people are excited,
as though they were at a parade.
I alone don’t care.
I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.

Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about.
Like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.

Other people are bright.
I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp.
I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose.
I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimless as the wind.

I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Ah, Serenity!

Taken out of its context, this chapter is baffling. And for the longest time, it sure baffled me. But, I hope you aren’t reading today’s chapter out of its context. I don’t want you to be baffled by it. Its context is what Lao Tzu has been talking about in the preceding chapters. About how we have been stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, in turmoil. About the precariousness of our position, when we are trying to navigate a ladder promising success, but inevitably also offering the possibility of failure. And, why it is better to stand with both our feet on the ground, where we can always keep our balance. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu told us to dispense with all pretense, to throw away all substitutes for the forgotten Tao, and to stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu shows us the view from the center of the circle, while letting all things take their course. It is a very personal view. The most personal chapter in the Tao Te Ching. It can be lonely in the center of the circle. You may feel very much alone. And, Lao Tzu is empathizing with us, here.

“Stop thinking, and end your problems.” How many times I have had this very conversation with myself over the course of my own life. “What difference between yes and no? What difference between success and failure? Must you value what others value, avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous!”

Staying in the center of the circle, and letting all things take their own course is a great challenge. Just look outside of the circle and you will see all the confusion, all the sorrow, all the turmoil, but it takes on a completely different tone.

“Other people are excited, as though they were at a parade.” And, you feel very much alone. “I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. Like an infant before it can smile.”

Oh how the thoughts are flooding your mind. Hence, the injunction Lao Tzu began today’s chapter with, to stop thinking and end your problems. But we just can’t stop thinking these thoughts.

“Other people have what they need. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about. Like someone without a home. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.”

Actually, our minds are far from empty. That is our problem.

But, don’t hold back from thinking these thoughts. Let them come. Let them go. Your mind will empty, your heart will know peace.

“Other people are bright. I alone am dark. Other people are sharp. I alone am dull. Other people have a purpose. I alone don’t know. I drift like a wave on the ocean. I blow as aimless as the wind.”

There it is. Drifting, blowing. Seemingly without an anchor. But we know better. We know what controls the waves on the sea, and the wind. They have a master.

“I am different from ordinary people.” Don’t misunderstand Lao Tzu, here. This isn’t uttered out of the ego’s conceit. The ego has been taken out of the equation. “Like a wave on the ocean, as aimless as the wind” is letting all things take their own course, the course of the Tao.

Dare to be different! Dare to stay in the center of the circle, when everyone and everything outside the circle is clamoring for you to be interested in them. Be disinterested! Be unaffected! Return to the Source. Drink from the Great Mother’s breasts. Ah, serenity!

How to Right the Ship

Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.

If these three aren’t enough,
just stay in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 19, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How to Right the Ship

Yesterday’s chapter chronicled the downward spiral, which has taken place, because we have forgotten the Tao. I described us as a great ship without a rudder. And a ship, though it be great, without a rudder is soon sunk. I think that describes our present circumstances, perfectly. We are stumbling about in confusion and sorrow. And, it isn’t just because of what we are being offered as our choice for US President. That is only a symptom of the greater problem. We are rudderless, we don’t realize our common Source. We go about our lives in turmoil. And, Lao Tzu’s prescription, for what ails us, almost seems absurd.

Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace. How? How? I, like Lao Tzu did, write to individuals, not groups of people, and certainly not people in power. And, it is to individuals I look, to transform their own world, one individual at a time. Through realizing our common Source, through contemplating our return to that common Source. That, Lao Tzu promises each of us, is the path to serenity. But, it is a path wrought with many obstacles.

The obstacles, we have wrought, must be discarded. They must be thrown away, as the poor substitutes for the forgotten Tao they are. Holiness and wisdom. Morality and justice. Industry and profit. Each of them a sacred cow we may loathe to part with. But desperate times call for drastic measures, as the saying goes.

And, these only seem extreme. They seem extreme because we have been lulled into thinking this is just the way things are. Don’t rock the boat. Just make the most of things. How very different the actual way things are! How very necessary our realizing our common Source, and returning to it!

Our systems of holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit, aren’t making us a bit happier, or good; quite the opposite, they make us miserable and bad. Throw them away! Throw them all away, and we will be a hundred times happier; and people, the very people our leaders should trust, will do the right thing. There won’t be any thieves.

The real question isn’t whether this is too extreme, but whether it will be enough. Beware of those who will offer new substitutes in the place of the Tao, new versions of the same things which brought us nothing but confusion and sorrow, turmoil. Just stay in the center of the circle; and, let all things take their course.

A Great Ship, Without a Rudder, Is Soon Sunk

When the great Tao is forgotten,
goodness and piety appear.

When the body’s intelligence declines,
cleverness and knowledge step forth.

When there is no peace in the family,
filial piety begins.

When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 18, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A Great Ship, Without a Rudder, Is Soon Sunk

This is a time of great confusion and sorrow. Lao Tzu talked of it two chapters ago, saying, “If you don’t realize the Source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow.” And, he talked about it in yesterday’s chapter, when he said to our leaders (and would-be leaders), “If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.” The great Tao has been forgotten. Our leaders don’t know of it. And, neither do we. We have become like a great ship without a rudder. Today’s chapter highlights the downward spiral, that has taken place to get us where we are today.

First, goodness and piety appeared. Robert Brookes, in his translation, calls it morality and righteousness. And he says, there is only a need for these because the Tao has been forgotten. If only we remembered. Remembered our common Source. That would mean serenity. But, alas, that has been lost.

In individuals, cleverness and knowledge stepped forth. Why? Because the body’s own intelligence, its intuitive and spontaneous responsiveness to the Tao within, declined.

There is no longer peace, no longer harmony, in families. And, as a result, filial piety, a moral duty, has taken its place. Fathers and mothers are chided for not fulfilling their moral duties to their children. Children are chided for not fulfilling their moral duties to their parents. Husbands and wives are chided for not fulfilling their moral duties to each other.

The whole country has fallen into chaos, the whole world is in disorder. Thus, we hear cries for patriotism. “What? How dare you not stand for the national anthem! Where is your patriotism? America, love it or leave it!” (If you aren’t a resident of the United States, feel free to substitute your own country, here. I have a feeling it is much the same anywhere in the world, today).

This is how far we have sunk, having forgotten the great Tao. All we have left is pretense. For that is what all these substitutes for the Tao are. Just pretense. Just a show.

Today’s chapter leaves us sunk. But, in tomorrow’s chapter Lao Tzu will begin to tell us how to rise back up.

To Trust or Not to Trust

When the Master governs,
the people are hardly aware that he exists.
Next best is a leader who is loved.
Next, one who is feared.
The worst is one who is despised.

If you don’t trust the people,
you make them untrustworthy.

The Master doesn’t talk, he acts.
When his work is done, the people say,
‘Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves!’

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 17, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

To Trust or Not to Trust

All day, yesterday, I took a break from posting anything about the US Presidential election. And, what a welcome break it was. It had been a request from a friend on Facebook. Not that just I take a break from it for a day, but that everyone would. I would actually gladly continue my moratorium on posting anything about the election indefinitely, but for one slight problem. And, I have to blame Lao Tzu for it. Well, to be fair, it is just the timing of this chapter, coming when it does, and not Lao Tzu personally that puts me in this quandary. Can I do this chapter justice without talking about the election directly?

As always, I continue to wish the Master was governing. Why, if someone even remotely like the Master was governing, people would hardly be aware they even existed. For the Master doesn’t talk, doesn’t make a great show. The Master simply acts. But, take note of this, this simple action, this simple work, when the Master is done, and still not taking any credit for it, the people are amazed. Not at the Master, mind you. But at themselves. “We did it all by ourselves!”

I really hope you understand the significance of this. This is governing in harmony with the Tao. It is governing based on trusting people. They don’t have to be told what to do. The Master leads; not by being a lord over people, but by simply serving as an example; and trusting people will find their own way. The people are amazed! And, why shouldn’t we be? When has there ever been such a leader as this? One that lets us do the work, all by ourselves. No whips. No chains. No badgering. We are trusted.

This is actually good advice for leaders in other areas besides government. Trade in that MBA for a course in the art of management from Lao Tzu. It would work wonders in your workers’ attitude, and their productivity.

As it is, we get a steady flow of leaders who are far off the mark of the Master. Some leaders have been loved. And, while that isn’t too bad, it still is a far cry from the ideal. Other leaders have been feared. My, how ugly things can get in a hurry. And, I am afraid I will just have to come out and say it. This election we can only expect the worst possible outcome: A leader who is despised.

How I wish it could be any other way. But, this is what comes of not trusting the people. You make them untrustworthy. The whole world is going to be much the worse for it. The Establishment doesn’t trust us. And, they will inevitably reap what they have sown: a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Where We Come From, Our Common Source

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the Source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kind-hearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Where We Come From, Our Common Source

How can I help you to realize where you come from? This, I believe with my whole heart, is the one impediment to our happiness, our being content and at ease in our own lives.

What we don’t realize is that each separate being in the Universe (that includes each of us; but it isn’t limited to just human beings) each returns to their common source. It is this returning to our common source which is serenity.

Since we don’t realize the Source, we stumble about in confusion and sorrow. I see it all around me. I see people, and it breaks my heart, I was like this, too. The turmoil of beings.

But, I promised I was going to talk about how we can realize where we come from. How we can realize our common Source. So, here it is.

It starts with your thoughts. It doesn’t really matter what you are thinking. Bet you weren’t expecting that. But, I am serious. You need to empty your mind of them all. Now, I know exactly what you are thinking: How am I supposed to do that? Stop right there. Don’t try to empty your mind of all thoughts. Don’t think, “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think.” That isn’t going to help. You are going to keep on thinking. Thoughts are going to come, and thoughts are going to go. Let them. Let them both come, and go. Just don’t try to not think them. And, for goodness’ sake, don’t hold on to them, either. Let them come and let them go. Trust me, your mind will empty. If you let it happen.

It really is simpler than you are thinking it is. I know it was simpler than I thought it would be. And as long as you are thinking on it, wondering about it, trying to figure out how it will all go down, well, your mind won’t empty. You have to let it go.

Right here is where some people might suggest you practice some kind of breathing exercise. Hey, if that works for you, I say go for it. Put on some new age ambient music. Light some incense. Breathe in slowly. Hold it. Now exhale slowly. Repeat. Believe me, I am not knocking this practice. But I found it to be much more simple. That is, after much failure trying. I won’t recount all my failures. But, I will say this, practice makes perfect. Don’t beat yourself up over failure, even repeated failures. Just let it go.

Now, let your heart be at peace. Yeah, right. How do I do that? Well, it might help to remember why your heart is troubled. Lao Tzu told us it has to do with that hollow pursuit on a ladder with phantom rungs of hopes and fears. When you think of the self as self, when you see yourself as separate, then phantom hopes and fears rear their ugly heads. That is why your heart is troubled. And what is the remedy? See the world as your self. This isn’t a competition. You and all beings are one.

Watch their turmoil, as they stumble in confusion and sorrow. They don’t realize our common Source. But don’t contemplate that. Watch it, yes. Observe it. But trust your inner vision. To let your heart be at peace, contemplate their return to the Source. See every being returning to the Source. As you realize where you come from, where we all come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king. Notice, he said “naturally”. This isn’t something you can force. And you shouldn’t try to force it. Simply contemplate our return to the Source. Serenity. You naturally become… Immersed in the wonder of the Tao.

This amuses me, because I was raised in the Christian religion. And believe me, when I say, there are whole schisms in the Church related to how people may properly be “baptized” into the Faith.

This is total immersion. Immersed in the wonder of the Tao. Now, you can deal with whatever life brings you. You realize the source of happiness, of contentment. And, it isn’t without. It is within.

When death comes, you are ready. Gee, what a morbid way to end the chapter. But wait, just think about that. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about a longing for death to come save you from the miseries of life. Lao Tzu is talking about a life so well-lived, that when death comes, you are ready. No regrets. No worries.