How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes

True words aren’t eloquent;
eloquent words aren’t true.
Wise men don’t need to prove their point;
men who need to prove their point aren’t wise.

The Master has no possessions.
The more he does for others,
the happier he is.
The more he gives to others,
the wealthier he is.

The Tao nourishes by not forcing.
By not dominating, the Master leads.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 81, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How Deep the Rabbit Hole Goes

Well, here we are, at the end of another cycle through the Tao Te Ching. I have been doing this every day for over four years now. I think that makes at least eighteen times we have gone from beginning to end. And, I am not about to stop now.

Here, I kind of picture Lao Tzu as Morpheus from the Matrix movie. All he is offering is the truth. The reality, or way things are, behind the way things seem to be. It hasn’t been eloquent. And, he has never tried to prove his point. He simply has put the truth out there. You get to choose, red pill or blue? You know which pill I swallowed. And, honestly, I have been quite surprised by just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

It continues to go on and on. Through paradox after paradox.

Having no possessions; yet, the more we do for others, the happier we are; the more we give to others, the wealthier we are.

The Tao just goes on nourishing us; and always, it is by not forcing us. And so, we follow that example. We lead, by not dominating.

I said, I am not about to stop going through the Tao Te Ching, one chapter at a time. But, I am going to change things up just a bit. I have been doing this, day in and day out, every day, through sickness and in health, for over four years. And, I have decided I need to schedule in some days off, with this next cycle through. So, I have decided to take weekends off from my daily blogging. And, since this last chapter just happens to come on a Friday, this weekend will be my first opportunity for days off. Therefore, don’t look for the cycle to begin again, with fresh new commentary on chapter one, until Monday. I will post commentaries on chapters one through five, successive days through Friday of next week. Then, take another Saturday and Sunday off, before posting chapter six the following Monday. I will continue that schedule until we get to the last chapter, again.

I want to thank all my followers. On Tumblr, I have surpassed 1500 of you (well beyond my wildest expectations). I also have a few who simply find me on my wordpress site at libertariantaoist.com. Then, there are my friends and family on Facebook (over 300 of you). And, even a few of you on Twitter. I love you all! I welcome your questions, your comments, even the occasional anonymous hate (it makes me laugh). Keep those cards and letters coming. I am forever grateful for all of you.

Being Governed Wisely

If a country is governed wisely,
its inhabitants will be content.
They enjoy the labor of their hands
and don’t waste time inventing
labor-saving machines.
Since they dearly love their homes,
they aren’t interested in travel.
There may be a few wagons and boats,
but these don’t go anywhere.
There may be an arsenal of weapons,
but nobody ever uses them.
People enjoy their food,
take pleasure in being with their families,
spend weekends working in their gardens,
delight in the doings of the neighborhood.
And even though the next country is so close
that people can hear its roosters crowing
and its dogs barking,
they are content to die of old age
without ever having gone to see it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 80, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Being Governed Wisely

For something close to thirty-eight years, I have been fascinated with Hobbits, and the Shire (where they lived); since, I was introduced to them in my Freshman, High School, English class, when I got to read Tolkien’s, “The Hobbit”, for the first time. I loved it! Sure, I enjoyed the adventure Bilbo Baggins got pulled into; but, it was the rather ordinary life of a hobbit in the Shire, which most intrigued me. A life of contentment, which would make any ordinary hobbit, never wish for an adventure, an escape from the gloriously mundane. But, of course, Bilbo Baggins wasn’t just any ordinary hobbit. That he wasn’t ordinary, certainly made for some excellent story-telling. And, it allowed Tolkien to pursue a rather libertarian theme, especially in his follow-up epic work, “The Lord of the Rings”; which, Tolkien promised me, would tell me more about these wonderful creatures, called Hobbits, and their beloved Shire. I ate up “The Lord of the Rings”, as well. I have read these stories countless times. I read them to my own children. I am hooked.

So, why this long introduction? Because, today’s chapter, always reminds me of Tolkien’s works. What Lao Tzu is describing, as a country governed wisely, a country whose inhabitants are content, to me, seems just like being a hobbit, and living in the Shire, would be. And, not forgetting the libertarian theme of “The Lord of the Rings”, I think of the quote of Lord Acton’s, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That was the theme Tolkien explored, as Frodo and his faithful companions pursued their journey to Mt. Doom, to undo the power of the one ring.

Now, I readily acknowledge, this idyllic description may not be everyone’s description of what true contentment would look like. But, I would quickly counter, “If you are not content, and have never been content, how can you possibly know what true contentment would look like?” And, anyway, I don’t think it is Lao Tzu’s point, that contentment must look just this way. I think Lao Tzu’s point is that if a country is governed wisely, its inhabitants will be content. Period. In whatever condition they find themselves. Regardless of their outward circumstances. Even if, and for my part, especially if, your outward circumstances might be favorably compared to being a hobbit living in the Shire.

I guess my point with today’s chapter is “Why argue with Lao Tzu on what true contentment might look like?” Instead, I read through his description, over and over again, and I imagine what it would be like to be so content. So content that inventing labor-saving machines would be a waste of time. Wow! I happen to be quite fond of those. And, I feel like I would really have to enjoy the labor of my own hands quite a lot more, to not want to “waste my time” inventing labor-saving devices. I would have to dearly love my home to never be interested in traveling. To so enjoy my food, to take such pleasure in being with my family, to actually delight in the doings of my neighborhood, to live so close to the next country I can hear its roosters crowing and dogs barking, and yet be content to die of old age without ever having gone to see it. That, to me, sounds like contentment on a whole new level.

And, maybe, just maybe, if I don’t find myself quite that content, I might be so inclined as to go on a perilous journey, if that is what it is going to take, to destroy that one ring, which has so hampered my ability to be content.

Now, I get how tempting it would be to take the ring, and try to use its power for good. After all, with this ring, I could create a libertarian society for everyone, I could make everyone content to live in my dream Shire, like hobbits. I would insist that if the people weren’t content, it was their own damn fault. They should be content. They must be.

But, you all can be thankful. I, like every actual libertarian I know of, will be content with destroying the ring. Trusting you, and leaving you alone, to your own contentment. That is, you being governed wisely.

What if I Fail?

Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.

Therefore the Master
fulfills her own obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What if I Fail?

As we near the end of this cycle through the Tao Te Ching (after today, just two chapters to go), it is appropriate for Lao Tzu to bring up the very real possibility of failure. But, since the word “failure” is how he begins the chapter, perhaps it will be encouraging to review what he has said in previous chapters. He has called the Tao (the way things are) a treasure for those who are good, and a refuge for those who are bad, for those who make mistakes. Clearly, failure (making mistakes) doesn’t have to be a bad thing (in the end).

And, today, Lao Tzu calls it an opportunity, putting it solidly in the category of a good thing (in the end). However, it shouldn’t be considered an opportunity to start pointing the finger of blame at someone else. Once you start down that road, you will find there is no end to the blame.

So, what is the opportunity in failure? Keeping in mind the Tao is your refuge, now is the time to do what you need to do, in order to fulfill whatever your obligations may be. And that means correcting your own mistakes, without demanding a thing of any others.

How does that play out in practice?

What Lao Tzu is describing in today’s chapter, with its fulfilling of obligations, and making no demand on others, are two sides of a legal contract. There is the side which lists your own obligations, and there is the side which lists the other party’s obligations.

Failure is an opportunity! It isn’t an excuse. Lao Tzu is only speaking to the individual who has their own obligations to fulfill. No matter what mistakes have been made, take responsibility for them, trust the Tao is your refuge, and do whatever it takes to correct those mistakes, and fulfill your side of the contract. Period.

Don’t start saying, “But, what about them?” Because, it isn’t about them, it is about you.

Now, of course, there is another side to the contract. The other party does have obligations to fulfill. What if the failure is on their part?

I am so glad you asked. Because, right here, there is a real beauty to how the Tao acts in the world, adjusting excess and deficiency. If you have, indeed, fulfilled your obligations, your side of the contract, then the Tao is a treasure for you. Trust the Tao is your treasure. Don’t be making demands on the other party. Trust that the Tao will balance the ledgers. It always does, if we will just let it.

The Truth in the Paradox

Nothing in the world
is as soft and yielding as water.
Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
nothing can surpass it.

The soft overcomes the hard;
the gentle overcomes the rigid.
Everyone knows this is true,
but few can put it into practice.

Therefore the Master remains
serene in the midst of sorrow.
Evil cannot enter his heart.
Because he has given up helping,
he is people’s greatest help.

True words seem paradoxical.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Truth in the Paradox

For the last few days we have been talking about the importance of being soft and supple, yielding, and flexible. Lao Tzu has called it being a disciple of life, for it is the universal characteristic of the living. Yesterday, we talked about how the Tao acts in the world (in our universe). Here, we talked about elementary laws of physics. We have to obey those! Yet, those who use force to protect their power, who try to control, go against the direction of the Tao.

What can be done about the hard and inflexible, we all too often encounter, as we go about our living? The key, Lao Tzu tells us today is to put into practice being soft and gentle, to overcome the hard and rigid. He uses the metaphor of water to illustrate how it is done.

Be like water. That is what Bruce Lee told those who sought out his wisdom. So, how do we do this? Everyone knows how soft and yielding water is, but few seem to be capable of putting “being like water” into practice.

The Master shows us: Remain serene, even in the midst of sorrow. We have a whole ocean of water to demonstrate this. There is a reason the Pacific Ocean is named Pacific. No matter what the turmoil may be on its surface, its depths remain at peace. Be peaceful. Be serene. I like to think of it as being a thermostat rather than a thermometer. You set it, and you leave it alone. It doesn’t change based on your circumstances (based on the temperature). Those who have mastered the art of living, of being in harmony with the way things are (there is that thermostat), give no place to evil in their heart. They are able to be the people’s greatest help, simply because they have given up trying to help.

I can’t over-emphasize the importance of this. Who, among our leaders, doesn’t claim to want to help the people? Yet, paradoxically, if they really want to help the people, they need to give up trying to help them.

The Fault Doesn’t Lie with the Stars

As it acts in the world, the Tao
is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she is better
than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Fault Doesn’t Lie with the Stars

Of course, there are laws of physics involved; as it acts in the world (in our universe), the Tao is like the bending of a bow. Being in harmony with the Tao is simply going with the flow of the universe, following its laws. And, elementary laws of physics are involved in the bending of a bow. I was reminded of this, just recently, as I am giving myself a refresher course in physics, since I have added another student to my tutoring program. A student who needs help understanding physics. So, I was looking through her physics book, and there it was, a picture of a stretched bowstring on a bent bow. That bent bow has energy, so it is able to create change in itself and in the arrow. And the Tao, like a bent bow, is a catalyst for change, for spontaneous order, for perfect balance. The top is bent downward; the bottom is bent up. Excess and deficiency get adjusted, spontaneously, as it takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough.

Now, those who try to control, try to make physics work for them, too. They use force to protect their own power. But, not understanding elementary laws of physics regarding force, they go against the direction of the Tao. They take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

This, I think, is a perfect illustration of how the powerful operate in our world. The results (chaos and imbalance) are easy to see. They take what is impersonal, and make it personal. How else can they protect their power?

We need to follow the example of the Master, instead of the example of the powerful among us. We need to be soft, supple, yielding, flexible, like that bent bow. Like what Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday, being a disciple of life, rather than of death.

The Master, a wise and virtuous leader, can keep giving and giving because there is no end to their wealth. They act without expectation, succeed without taking credit (these are just more examples of the practice of the Tao: doing without doing, competing without competing). They don’t think they are better than anyone else (that is, knowing without knowing).

We need to understand, that is the whole purpose of a bow, to follow the laws which govern our universe. The top is supposed to be bent downward. The bottom will correspondingly bend up. Why is there excess and deficiency? There certainly doesn’t have to be. But, Lao Tzu tells us why. And the fault doesn’t lie with the stars, my friends. Physics isn’t the problem. It is always the powerful, trying to protect their own power. Trying to control. Going against the direction of the Tao.

No Way to Live

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

No Way to Live

The living have one universal characteristic. I believe this is true of every being in the universe. How we are, when we are born; and how we are, when we are dead. We are born, soft and supple, tender and pliant. That is universally characteristic of life.

Now, if anyone wants to point out to me examples of living beings who aren’t born soft and supple, tender and pliant, I am ready to be corrected. Far be it from me to be stiff and inflexible, if I can be shown to be mistaken.

But, even if there are examples of living beings that don’t have that universal characteristic, though none come to my mind, the point Lao Tzu is making is figurative rather than literal, anyway.

To prevail in life you must remain soft and supple. The soft and yielding, Lao Tzu calls disciples of life.

If you are stiff and inflexible, you are a disciple of death; and, the death you no doubt fear, will probably arrive for you sooner, rather than later. But, even if it is delayed, by your practice of being hard and stiff, you will find yourself broken, again and again.

And, frankly, that is no way to live.

Could There Be a Spot for Donald Trump on Mount Rushmore?

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)

Could There Be a Spot for Donald Trump on Mount Rushmore?

I have been using Lao Tzu’s teachings on the art of governing to offer President-Elect Trump unsolicited advice. And, why not? He certainly has been getting plenty of unsolicited (and solicited) advice from many, who think Lao Tzu’s teachings are nonsense, or at least impractical. If I can provide some balance, then I will do so.

Most people in Washington (perhaps all of them) will insist all they want is to act for the people’s benefit. And, your campaign rhetoric, once someone delves through all its ugliness, suggests, you too want to act for the people’s benefit.

Good. Just be careful of those with good intentions. Not that my own intentions aren’t good. But, then again, I don’t wish to force my good intentions on you, or any others.

Lao Tzu says it so well in today’s chapter.

I know that those who wish taxes to be high, and higher, have good intentions. The same can probably be said for those who have pushed for the government to be ever more intrusive in our lives. But, even if their intentions are good, the results have been disastrous, for the very people they claim to want to benefit.

People aren’t going hungry, because without the government’s help they would go hungry. They are going hungry, because of those with good intentions, who have made our taxes higher and higher. The people have lost their spirit. A spirit which once made America great-and can make America great again. And, the fault lies, once again, with those who promise their intentions are good, as they intrude ever more and more in our lives.

But, I want to take you at your word. You really do want to act for the people’s benefit. You see, I give all people the benefit of the doubt, until they prove themselves…well, you get the point.

So, if you really do want to act for the people’s benefit, practice trusting us: Leave us alone.

Your advisers will probably unanimously, and in unison, scoff at this advice. Trust the people? Leave them alone? But, hey, I am just talking about what it will take to make America great again. You see, I have been something of a student of American history. I know what made us great. And, I know why we stopped being great. If you will do this, if you can do this, they will probably erect a great-a really great-monument to you. You could join George, Tom, Abe, and Teddy…

Why, Indeed?

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)

Why, Indeed?

Yesterday, we talked about the need to simply let things happen. If you want your birthright as children of the Tao, a life of ease, you need to realize the need to let things happen. Today, Lao Tzu says, we need to first realize that all things change.

Wait? Doesn’t everyone know this, already? I mean, who doesn’t know that all things change?

And, here we confront the very problem Lao Tzu has been talking about for chapters now. Knowing, without knowing. Presuming we know, when we really don’t. For, while we may think we know (that everyone knows), if we actually realized that all things change, there would be nothing we would try to hold on to.

And, let’s just be honest with each other, there is still plenty we try to hold on to.

It might be something like our indoctrination regarding what we are to believe and say about historical events. I posted an article on the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, and got grief from at least 3 individuals because apparently that wasn’t the day to be questioning the official State narrative. The author of said article, and I suppose, I by posting the article on my own blog, was “shitting on the memory of the over 2400 dead”.

But, I am going to practice what I preach, and let that one go.

And, anyway, when it comes to what we insist on holding on to, I think it is much more than just that. What are we trying to hold on to? Are we so afraid of dying? Because if we weren’t, there would be nothing we couldn’t achieve.

We actually act like we can control the future. Oh, we think we know better. But, our actions betray us. We hold on to that need to try to control. And, then we wonder, why is it, when we try to take the master carpenter’s place, and handle the master carpenter’s tools, we end up cutting our hand? Why, indeed?

 

Always at Ease

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)

Always at Ease

A life of ease, what we have grown up being programmed to believe will be the result of climbing the illusory ladder of success, is actually our birthright, as children of the Tao. We just have lots of unlearning (deprogramming) to do. That has been what our journey through the Tao Te Ching has been all about. It doesn’t require effort. It only requires “letting”, on our part, the practice of philosophical Taoism, aka, the practice of the Tao.

So, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu points at the Tao, and tells us how the Tao is always at ease. It overcomes without competing (no illusory ladders to climb), answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without having a plan. What? No plan? No set of goals, no 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year plan? You mean to tell me that the Tao just lets things happen?

Exactly.

Sound too easy? Maybe that is your head trying to interfere, and make it a whole lot more difficult than it ever needed to be. Why do we prefer those side paths, anyway?

All that is required of us is that we, like the Tao, let things happen. No interfering. No intervening. No trying to dominate. No trying to control. Let things happen! The Tao is always at ease, and we can be, too.

How do I know this is true? The Tao’s net covers the whole universe. And though its meshes are wide (allowing us perfect freedom), nothing (and that includes you and me), slips through.

Regaining Your 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)

Regaining Your Sense of Awe

What is your sense of awe, and have you lost it? That is the question in today’s chapter of the Tao Te Ching. To answer the question I look at the context, what has Lao Tzu been talking about? Because, if there is one thing I have learned about Lao Tzu’s teachings, he just keeps saying the same thing in different ways.

So, being as Lao Tzu has been talking about knowing without knowing, I think that is a good place to start. What is knowing without knowing, then?

There are two aspects to it. There is both a positive and a negative one. Yesterday, we talked about presuming we know, when we really don’t. Lao Tzu called that a disease, from which we must first realize we are suffering, to then move toward being truly whole.

But there is also a spontaneous and intuitive knowing, without knowing. This is knowledge which originates in the core of our being (our heart), and is not a knowledge we have in our heads. That, I believe, is what Lao Tzu is referring to, when he talks about our sense of awe.

To lose that, to lose our connection with the Tao inside us, is what results in us suffering from the disease of presuming we know, when we don’t. Here, the presuming is a head thing. Our heart is cut off. Because we have “forgotten” the Tao, we look to crutches, some outside authority.

Lao Tzu specifically mentions turning to religion as the crutch of authority. And, that has definitely been true for much of human history. But, science may have supplanted religion, for many, in our day.

Please don’t misunderstand me, here. This is neither anti-religion, nor anti-science. What it is is anti-outward authority. Lao Tzu wants us trusting ourselves. That is the whole point. As we said, yesterday, once we realize we are sick, we can heal ourselves. We don’t need to be depending on some outside authority.

Neither religion, nor science, has to be a crutch. If you are acting in accord with your spontaneous and intuitive knowing, without knowing, then whatever religion or science has to offer you, can be a very good thing. Lao Tzu wants our minds and our hearts to be open to what truly is.

But, when people lose their sense of awe, they are vulnerable. “Leaders”, motivated by the will to power, will try to step in and exploit that vulnerability. A wise and virtuous leader (the Master), on the contrary, will step back so people won’t be confused. They will “teach without teaching” (that is, they will be content to be an example), so people will have nothing to learn.

There is nothing to learn. There is only trusting yourself, again; regaining your sense of awe.