Who Understands the Difference?

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Who Understands the Difference?

With today’s chapter, we finish off another week, and I think it is quite appropriate to end the week by highlighting the importance of moderation. Why we are so prone to extremes may always remain something of a mystery of me. And, even Lao Tzu’s teachings can be taken to an extreme, pretty much missing, by a long shot, the whole point of his teachings. As a case in point, I am drawn to quote from Red Pine’s translation, with its ensuing commentaries by sages from the last 20 centuries.

“The ancient masters of the Way

tried not to enlighten

but to keep people in the dark

what makes people hard to rule

is their knowledge

who rules the realm with knowledge

is the terror of the realm

who rules without knowledge

is the paragon of the realm

who understands the difference

is one who finds the key

knowing how to find the key

is what we call Dark Virtue

Dark Virtue goes deep

goes far

goes the other way

until it reaches perfect harmony”

WU CH’ENG says, “”To make the people more natural, the ancient sages did not try to make the people more knowledgeable but to make them less knowledgeable. This radical doctrine was later misused by the First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty, who burned all the books [in 213 B.C.] to make the people ignorant.”

Of course it would be a ruler who would take Lao Tzu’s teaching to an extreme. But this fool completely misunderstood Lao Tzu’s teachings. Lao Tzu wasn’t advocating keeping people ignorant. He was merely stating the obvious. The more we think we know, presuming, the more trouble we we will get into. The First Emperor of the Ch’in dynasty is a case in point. Chuang Tzu, who came along after Lao Tzu, didn’t take Lao Tzu’s teachings to an extreme, but to their natural conclusion, being, arguably, the first anarchist. Let’s take a look at what Chuang Tzu has to say about Lao Tzu’s teaching on not knowing.

CHUANG-TZU says, “When the knowledge of bows and arrows arose, the birds above were troubled. When the knowledge of hooks and nets proliferated, the fish below were disturbed. When the knowledge of snares and traps spread, the creatures of the wild were bewildered. When the knowledge of argument and disputation multiplied, the people were confused. Thus are the world’s troubles due to the love of knowledge” (Chuangtzu: 10:4).

Don’t fail to grasp Chuang Tzu’s conclusion. It isn’t knowledge, but the love of it, which is the cause of the world’s troubles. This reminds me of an often misquoted verse in the Bible. Though it is often said, money is the root of all evil, what the Bible actually says is that it is the love of it, which is the root of all kinds of evil. It is our love of external things, be they money, or as in the case of today’s chapter, knowledge which gets us into trouble. That love, and its requisite passion drives us to intervene where we never should have presumed to intervene. Non-intervention remains the best course of action. Hence the need for moderation in all things.

WANG PI says, “When you rouse the people with sophistry, treacherous thoughts arise. When you counter their deceptions with more sophistry, the people see through your tricks and avoid them. Thus, they become secretive and devious.”

Ah, now we are starting to get to the heart of the problem. Sophistry begets sophistry begets even more sophistry. It becomes an endless chain. Understand what sophistry is: Arguments which sound plausible, yet they are fallacious. Sound familiar? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

LIU CHUNG-P’ING says, “Those who rule without knowledge turn to Heaven. Those who rule with knowledge turn to Humankind. Those who turn to Heaven are in harmony. Those who are in harmony do only what requires no effort. Their government is lenient. Those who turn to Humankind force things. Those who force things become lost in the Great Inquisition. Hence, their people are dishonest.” Liu’s terminology here (says Red Pine) is indebted to Chuangtzu: 19.2 and Mencius: 4B.26.

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “‘Difference’ refers to ‘with knowledge’ and without knowledge.’ Once you know that knowledge spreads evil and lack of knowledge spreads virtue, you understand the key to cultivating the self and governing the realm. Once you understand the key, you share the same virtue as Heaven. And Heaven is dark. Those who possess Dark Virtue are so deep they can’t be fathomed, so distant they can’t be reached, and always do the opposite of others. They give to others, while others think only of themselves.”

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Because it is so deep, you can’t hear it or see it. Because it is so distant, you can’t talk about it or reach it. Dark Virtue differs from everything else. But it agrees with the Tao.

SU CH’E says, “What the sage values is virtue. What others value is knowledge. Virtue and knowledge are opposites. Knowledge is seldom harmonious, while virtue is always harmonious.”

LIN HSI-YI says, “‘Perfect harmony’ means whatever is natural.”

The only question which remains is who understands the difference, the difference between with knowledge and without knowledge, between knowledge and virtue, between extremes and moderation, between intervention and non-intervention.

How to Succeed Where Others Fail

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How to Succeed Where Others Fail

While I do love Stephen Mitchell’s interpretation of today’s chapter, I find Robert Brookes’, particularly useful today.

“That which is at rest is easily held.

That which has not yet emerged is easily prevented.

That which is fragile is easily shattered.

That which is small is easily dispersed.

Deal with things before they emerge,

set things in order before there is discord.

The giant tree starts out as the tiniest shoot,

the tallest tower starts out as a single brick,

the longest journey starts with the first step.

Taking action leads to failure,

seizing at things results in their loss.

Therefore the wise person does not act and does not fail,

he does not grasp and thus loses nothing.

People pursue their affairs, constantly near success,

and yet ultimately meet with failure.

If you are as careful at the end as at the beginning,

your activities will not end in failure

The wise person seeks freedom from desire

and does not treasure precious things.

He learns not to hold onto ideas.

He restores what others pass by,

and thereby assists in their development naturally.

He does not presume to interfere.”

Here we have Lao Tzu teaching how to act without acting, from the beginning, through the middle, and all the way to the end. If we will follow his sage advice, we will succeed where others fail.

It begins, as all things should, at the beginning. Stephen Mitchell says, “Prevent trouble before it arises. Put things in order before they exist.” Robert Brookes tells us, “Deal with things before they emerge, set things in order before there is discord.”

They both remind us of the humble beginnings of the giant pine tree, and where every long journey begins.

But, whereas Stephen Mitchell has Lao Tzu warning us about rushing into action, Robert Brookes has Lao Tzu telling us simply taking action leads to failure. Stephen Mitchell speaks of trying to grasp things, but Robert Brookes sees us doing things a bit more forcefully. It is our seizing at things which results in their loss. If you don’t act, you won’t fail. If you don’t grasp, you will lose nothing.

Stephen Mitchell talks of people trying to force a project to completion, and ruining what was almost ripe. Robert Brookes observes people pursuing their affairs, constantly near success, and yet ultimately meeting with failure.

Why is that? Stephen Mitchell tells us we failed to remain calm. We get so worked up. We need to remain as calm at the end, as we were at the beginning. Robert Brookes tells us we weren’t careful enough. If we were as careful at the end, as we were at the beginning, our activities wouldn’t end in failure.

Whether it is a lack of calm, or a lack of carefulness, both agree that freedom from desire is what is needed. Desires are what have us all worked up. We shouldn’t treasure precious things. For, to have nothing is to have nothing to lose. Learn to unlearn, until you learn not to hold onto ideas.

Remember what you have always been, it is where you come from. Let yourself develop naturally, from that point on. And, never dare to presume to interfere. All the way through to the end.

Don’t Reach Don’t Grasp Don’t Cling

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Don’t Reach Don’t Grasp Don’t Cling

So, how do we put into practice non-intervention? Thank you for asking, that just happens to be the subject of today’s chapter.

When Lao Tzu says to act without doing, to work without effort, he is talking about non-intervention, of course. But, our old habits of intervention are going to be hard to break. How can we begin to break such a bad habit?

The Master, Lao Tzu teaches us, never reaches for the great. And, make no mistake, the Master considers everything, even the small, as great. Is Lao Tzu really expecting us to do nothing at all?

Not exactly. But, he would definitely encourage us to work with nature, rather than against it. To not force things. To not try to control. Not to interfere. Not to intervene.

That is what doing without doing really means. The Master, while never reaching for greatness, actually ends up achieving greatness. If we would just master the not-doing, the doing would follow, naturally.

But, we insist on putting the doing first. And, the not-doing, never gets done. That is why those who are always doing, leave so many things not done.

If we would confront the difficult, while it was still easy, it wouldn’t be so difficult. Great tasks should be accomplished by a series of small acts.

The Master, when running into a difficulty, stops. Instead of trying to force the issue, the Master lets it be. Giving yourself to the difficulty, and letting it run its course, you will find problems are no problem.

But instead, we cling to our own comfort. This is what sets apart the Master from the ordinary. What you cling to, you always end up losing.

So that is today’s lesson. Don’t reach. Don’t grasp. Don’t cling.

What Help Should I Offer Them?

The Tao is the center of the Universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What Help Should I Offer Them?

I don’t happen to have any wealth or expertise; but Lao Tzu would tell me, even if I did, that isn’t something with which I should offer to help a new leader.

That got me thinking of this last US presidential election cycle, something I have been trying to forget for sometime. And, I was thinking of one of the many “gotcha” questions thrown at Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party “contender” for president. The question was something about coming up with the name of one foreign leader he admired. I would like to think I might have been adept enough to answer, “I don’t know any of their names, because they aren’t the ones that get all the attention in the news. I admire the ones that fly under the radar like that. Ones that mind their own business, and don’t stir up trouble which gets them face time in the news.” But, I doubt I would have been any more adept with the question, at the time, than poor Gary Johnson was. And no one ever accused him of being adept at anything, besides being stoned during interviews on national television.

Still, there is the question of how Lao Tzu would have us offer to help our so-called leaders. He would have us teach them about the Tao. So, just in case any of our “leaders” are reading my blog, here I go.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches the Tao is the center of the universe. By “center” he isn’t speaking of a geographical location. He is talking about the Tao centering, or bringing balance, to the universe. That is why we should want to be smack dab in the center of it. It is one simple lesson it would do us all a world of good to learn. Centering your country in the Tao is more to be valued than anything else.

To our shame, we place more value on honors, or on respect. We seek greatness! But, as Lao Tzu teaches today, honors are easily bought. A few fine words, here and there, and it is yours. And respect, likewise, can be won by only a few good deeds. But, the Tao? No one can achieve it!

When we are one with the Tao, the Tao is a treasure to those who are good, and a refuge to those who are bad. See how the Tao doesn’t make the distinctions we insist on making?

It is good to both the good and the bad. Seek it and you will find it. And, when you make a mistake? Oh, this one is especially good news. You are forgiven.

That is a simple enough lesson for anyone paying attention. But honestly, I think I will stick with my day job, teaching children. They are so much more amenable to taking these simple lessons to heart.

Where Does Greatness Come From?

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Where Does Greatness Come From?

Just in case my readers are not already long tired of talk about greatness, Lao Tzu offers his own take on where greatness comes from.

It isn’t something which can be forced. Making greatness your goal, trying to be great, is not the way to achieve it. If you try to place yourself above others, you will only be disappointed. True greatness comes to those not looking for it, to those whose constant practice is humility. That is my interpretation of Lao Tzu’s teaching in today’s chapter.

Become like the sea and good things will stream down to you. Humility is the source of greater and greater power. Trust the Tao and you will never need to be defensive. For, if you don’t reach out beyond your own borders, if you mind only your own affairs, what have you to fear?

Yes, we are still extolling the virtue of non-intervention. And, there is no better time than the present to realize the error of our ways. We have made plenty of mistakes. Our interventions have caused turmoil all over the world. We keep insisting on giving evil something to oppose, and the shadow we now cast is grown quite large. We must realize this. We must admit it. We must correct it.

It is time to center our nation in the Tao, to nourish our own people, and no longer meddle in the affairs of others. We could yet be that shining city on a hill, a light to all nations in the world.

But, as I said last week, I know better than to expect anything to change in the near term. The will to power is too strong; this need, to intervene against evil, is too ingrained in us.

In the meantime, I will keep putting the truth out there. There has never been a greater need for humility. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear know it. As for the rest, they will come to know it, too. I have to be humble. And, patient. Content to be an example.

The Lesson Interventionists Are Never Willing to Learn

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Lesson Interventionists Are Never Willing to Learn

Today, is day four of me extolling the virtue of non-intervention. To finish this week, Lao Tzu offers us a metaphor about the virtue of non-intervention. And, he teaches us exactly how to deal with that many-ages-old problem, the problem of evil. Could it be, the one thing we have never tried before, non-intervention?

He compares governing a large country to frying a small fish. In both cases, you only spoil it with too much poking.

Center that fish in the frying pan, and leave it alone. Let it be. Don’t poke at it.

Center your country in the Tao, and evil will have no power.

The interventionists are squirming now. They can’t help themselves.

They will insist Lao Tzu can’t be serious. Don’t intervene against evil? Why, we have been doing battle against evil since the dawn of time. At least as long as anyone can remember. Our histories are replete with it. It captures our imagination in books, plays, movies, and video games. It is ingrained in us. The only way for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing. We must engage it. We must intervene. We need heroes fighting against incredible odds, and in the end, winning.

But then, there is Lao Tzu. And, make no mistake, he is serious about his call to non-intervention.

One thing no one seems to take notice of is that evil has this nagging ability to always be lurking about. Lao Tzu isn’t making any grand promises that evil will be eradicated. And, anyone who is making those grand promises is deceiving themselves, and you.

Center your country in the Tao, and I promise, evil will still be there. But, and this is a big but, it won’t have any power.

Here is the lesson interventionists are never willing to learn. What gives evil power is giving it something to oppose. Of course, having something to oppose is what gives interventionists power. So, I tend to equate interventionism with evil.

But, if we would practice non-intervention, we could pretty much kill two birds with one stone; though, I do think I am being a bit redundant. Still, non-intervention is the answer to the problem of both the power of evil, and interventionism, it would disappear all by itself.

The Mark of Perfect Freedom, the Non-Interventionist

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible for him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

The Mark of Perfect Freedom, the Non-Interventionist

Today, is day three of me making the case for non-intervention as the answer for just about any problem. Yesterday, I talked about what I will now characterize as an almost insurmountably high hurdle to overcome, before I can achieve my end of non-intervention. That hurdle is the will to power. The will to power is so formidable, I have given up any hope of there “being peace” in the near term. The will to power is just what its name suggests. It wants ever more power. And, we are inundated with merely ordinary people ever grasping for more and more power. They never have enough. Few are those who resist its call, and you would never find any of them any where near seats of power. With nary an extraordinary one in the bunch, these ordinary people give birth to generation after generation of even more merely ordinary people enthralled by their will to power. Much as I hate to have to say it, it is going to take generations to break this addiction. That is why I said, yesterday, I have adopted a long-term strategy, one I don’t expect to see conclude in my life time, that of being content to be an example. Extraordinary people can give birth to extraordinary people, just as surely as the ordinary give birth to more ordinary. And, generations from now, the extraordinary will triumph. That is my hope.

To that end, I would like to take today’s chapter to illustrate for all of you what being an example entails. For, I want you to be examples, too.

Stephen Mitchell, in his translation, calls it moderation. It is the same with Robert Brookes’ translation. Red Pine calls it economy. Economy being the thrifty and careful management of resources. I would add another synonym, temperance.

These are all good descriptions. But, Lao Tzu goes even further in describing the mark of a non-interventionist.

It begins with freedom from your own ideas. It isn’t that you don’t have your own ideas. It is just that you aren’t bound to them. You are free to act (or not act), to intervene (or not intervene), and you choose the latter. If you weren’t free, you would intervene, because what drives the person who is enslaved by the will to power is the need to do something. Damn the consequences! When things don’t end up going according to plan, you’ll just intervene some more.

But, freedom means there are no limits to your ability to choose not to intervene. Or, as Stephen Mitchell puts it today, you are “tolerant like the sky; like sunlight,” your understanding of the dangers of intervention is “all-pervading.” You can withstand anything! Being “firm like a mountain,” and “supple like a tree in the wind.” And, because you aren’t bound to a particular destination, you are capable of making use of anything life happens to bring your way.

You have let go. That is perfect freedom. And, nothing is impossible for you. So, now, like never before, you are free to care for the people’s welfare, just as a mother cares for her children.

My Personal Long-Term Strategy

If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content
to serve as an example
and not to impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

My Personal Long-Term Strategy

Today, is day two of my answer to every thing, non-intervention. Stephen Mitchell, in his translation, calls it governing with tolerance; and has, as its antithesis, governing with repression. But, when he goes into exactly what he is talking about, it clearly is the difference between non-intervention and intervention.

If you practice non-intervention when you govern, your people will be both comfortable and honest. If you practice intervention, your people will be depressed and crafty.

The problem is that the will to power is in charge. That is why I said, yesterday, I have decided to adopt a more long term approach to things. The will to power is going to take generations to undo. I wish that wasn’t the case. But, if wishes were private jet planes, beggars would all be flying them. Wait, the greatest beggars already are. So, scratch that analogy. Still, the point remains. Wishing, won’t change reality. It might augment it. But, it doesn’t really change it. The higher the ideals, the lower the results are going to be. That is just the way things are. When you try to make people happy, you are only laying the groundwork for misery. When you try to make people moral, you are only laying the groundwork for vice.

So, my own personal long term strategy? Be content to serve as an example. Instead of trying to impose my will, I am going to keep putting the truth out there; but, I am going to be content to be an example to others. They, I hope, will in turn be content to be an example to others. Who will be content to be an example to others. And, the beat goes on. It spreads. From one generation to the next. And, then the next. Slowly. Painfully slow, at times. But we must be content with that. Be pointed, without piercing. Be straightforward, but supple. Be radiant, yet easy on the eyes.

First, Learn to Follow

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says:
I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes common as grass.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

First, Learn to Follow

Today, we begin a series of chapters which perfectly illustrate what originally attracted me to philosophical Taoism. I have identified as a libertarian (note the little l) since I was introduced to the term. That was back in college, some 35 years ago. I sometimes think I am something of an odd man out on these things. Laissez-faire, let it be, simply made perfect sense to me. Don’t intervene. Don’t interfere. Don’t try to force things. Don’t try to control. But, my peers at the time didn’t “see” it quite in the same way I did.

And, nothing much has changed in the last 35 years. Most everyone I encounter believes to their very marrow this is the most preposterous ideology. Don’t intervene? Don’t interfere? Don’t try to force things? Don’t try to control? You would suggest we do nothing? But, of course we must do something. People can’t be left to their own devices. You are being utopian. Sure, it would be nice, in a perfect world. But, the world is hardly perfect. Name one place where this has been tried, and the results weren’t disastrous. I then would kindly inform them of the many historical examples. They dismiss those quickly. Yes, but how about a current example? Before I can say anything, they have one ready, Somalia. Why don’t you go live in Somalia, and see how that works out for you?

They wander off while I am explaining that the problems in Somalia are the result of States intervening, interfering, trying to force things, trying to control. Oh, and their last words are always, “And who will build the roads?”

That about sums up the reception libertarians get wherever they may be encountered. It used to bother me a bit more. I was so passionate about what I believed. I could rant and rave with the best of them, trying to be persuasive. To convince people how right I was. I have since mellowed out some.

And, it isn’t because I believe any less passionately. I just have come to realize a more long term strategy must be employed. One that is going to take generations. In other words, I don’t expect to live to see it. Until every resource used to intervene, to interfere, to force things, to try to control, is exhausted, those who wish to employ that strategy will never grow weary of it.

Please don’t think I have given in to despair. I haven’t. I am still full of hope. Hence, I still maintain this blog. Putting the truth out there. Gaining followers (a few of which aren’t actually porn blogs) here and there. I will continue to inform. I will continue to educate. But, I can’t very well force anyone to “see” or “hear” when they don’t currently have eyes to see, and ears to hear.

I was some how blessed 35 years ago. I had the eyes to see and ears to hear. And, plenty of my followers are similarly blessed. It is my wish for all. And, some day, some day, it will be. If, I will just let it be.

The world is fully capable of governing itself. It doesn’t need our intervention. It doesn’t need our interference. No matter how “great” our plans and concepts. Every effort to control will continue to have disastrous results.

The more prohibitions you have, those very prohibitions designed to make people more virtuous, the less virtuous people will be. The more weapons you have, those very weapons designed to make people more secure, the less secure people will be. The more subsidies you have, those very subsidies designed to provide for people, the less self-reliant people will be. Of course. That is really the whole point. Self-reliant people are anathema to people who want to rule you. You have to need them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t put up with their nonsense.

I have become a broken record. That is a very old meme. Some of you younger ones may need to look it up to understand it. But whether or not you want to continue hearing me repeat the same thing, over and over again, non intervention is my answer to every thing.

We don’t need more laws. We already have intervened far too much. It is time to back off. More laws won’t make people honest. But, if you let go of the law, in other words, don’t rely on laws, people would naturally become honest.

We also don’t need to be intervening more in the economy. We have already intervened way too much. We need to take a step back. No, make that quite a few steps. The only thing which is keeping everyone from becoming prosperous is the intervention into the economy we continue to make.

I let go of religion. That frightens some of the members of my family. But, the result for myself was a serenity I never knew existed before. Now, I don’t mean this to be anti-religion. Frankly, I don’t much care whether you subscribe to any religion, or not. But, I do care when religion is used as a tool to control. That, I do oppose. I encourage all of you to open your own eyes, your own ears. Is religion being used to control? If so, let go of it. People will become serene. I know that isn’t an incentive for those who wish to control. But, seriously, you need to stop that.

This last one may be the hardest one of them of all. Most people really do have the best of intentions. What they most desire is the common good. But, once again, non-intervention is the very best answer. Let go of that desire. As good a desire as you believe it to be, let go of it, and the good will become as common as grass.

It really all comes back to the opening line in today’s chapter. If you want to be a great leader (and what leader doesn’t want to be great?), first, learn to follow. Learn how to follow the Tao. That is, let nature take its course. It doesn’t need your help. Really.

Where We Begin

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Where We Begin

We ended last week with Lao Tzu essentially telling us to be like a newborn child. Today’s chapter ties into that idea in its opening stanza, saying, “Those who know don’t talk. Those who talk don’t know.” Newborns don’t talk. What they know may seem, at first, a mystery. After all, they aren’t about to tell. But, we do have a few clues in how Lao Tzu relates it to being in harmony with the Tao. They know not to talk. Their senses are not yet refined enough to sense much of anything. They are a blank slate. Or, as Lao Tzu might liken them, an uncarved block of wood. That is a metaphor he uses in another place. They could become anything! But, they aren’t concerned with what they will become. They simply are.

Can we be like this? Or, as Lao Tzu says in today’s chapter, can we be like the Tao?

What a state to be in! You can’t approach it, or withdraw from it. You can’t benefit, or harm, it. You can’t honor it, or bring it into disgrace. It always endures, solely because it gives “itself” up continually.

But, how do I achieve this state of being? We have already ruled out reentering our mother’s womb, and “being born again.” So, what then?

Talk less. The less the better. Someone might suggest we would do well to listen more. But, that is just turning this into something Lao Tzu never intended it to be. He doesn’t tell us to listen more. He tells us to block off all our senses. We allow ourselves to be led by them far too much already. That is why our desires give us so much trouble. We are entirely too sharp for our own good. Be dull. Know that you don’t know. Our lives have become a tangled mess of knots. Don’t let it get more tangled. Begin to untie them. A little something each day. Soften the glare of your countenance. Stop, and be still; until the dust, you have stirred up, settles.

This is the primal identity. This is where we begin.

And, speaking of beginnings, tomorrow we will begin a series of chapters on the art of governing: on how to be a great leader. These are some of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching. I get to talk about my answer to just about every problem you will ever encounter.

Spoiler alert: It is non-intervention. Laissez-faire. Let it be.