It Is Ever So Subtle

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or withdrawn from,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)

I have been so cut off from the outside world, the last few days. Not having internet, my only means for knowledge of what is going on out there, has provided me with quite the vacation from the world of illusion. At first, I was angry and out of sorts. My routine was entirely thrown off. Now, I am beginning to actually like my vacation, just a little. As much as I can’t wait to have the internet up and working again, I can’t help but feel a certain dread that I will sink back into that routine, my comfort zone. Thankfully, just a day before the internet decided to inexplicably quit on me, I had downloaded a book that I have been meaning to read since I was a Freshman in college. That would be back in the early 80’s, long before a lot of you were even a part of this world. Someone, sorry, I don’t remember which one of you on tumblr it was, had posted some quotes from it that I found very enticing. They made me quickly log into the iBooks store and search for and download the book on my iPad. The book is “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and it has been occupying much of my time for the last few days.

We don’t realize just how entrenched in routine and comfort zones we are, until we are forced out of them. I have been able to keep up with my daily Tao quote. Largely because I can type at my computer without needing an internet connection, and I can always run with my laptop to Hardees, the closest wifi spot available to me, a mile or so away. I can then log on, and post my blog post, respond to any messages and then leave again. Twenty minutes every day. That is it. I want more. I used to think I need more. I still think I do.

The last two paragraphs should suffice to explain my absence from liking and reblogging your own posts from my dashboard the last few days. I know I have been missing out on a lot of great content; just because the blogs I follow are all quality. I miss you guys. And hope to be able to reconnect with you soon.

But none of that has anything to do with today’s chapter. Which I will presume to begin discussing now. Yesterday, Lao Tzu presented us with the tale of the newborn’s erect penis. In the past, I have simply ignored that part of the chapter, kind of wishing it to go away. But see what happens when my comfort zone and routine have been made topsy-turvy? I begin to go places I never dared to go before.

And, as we continue with today’s chapter, I realize that I am understanding better, why it is that Lao Tzu chose to go there in the first place. Oh, I understood why he was enamored with the newborn. He was wanting us to want to return to our own primal identity. But I didn’t understand that making me want to go there, would mean confronting what had always proved to be an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge. Newborns do that to you. They force you to think about things you never wanted to think about before. Like why is his penis erect? And what does Lao Tzu mean by vital power?

See, I have already said so much; and yet, I think I have really said so little. Lao Tzu begins this chapter by saying those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know. Have I learned nothing?

But there really is a point to all of this. And the point is our need to be like the Tao. To return to our primal identity. If we are going to do that we are simply going to have to shut our mouths. We really talk too much. I know I do. But you don’t learn by talking. You learn by listening. By observing.

But then, what is this, block off your senses? But if my senses are blocked off, how am I supposed to observe? To learn?

But then I get it. The point of shutting my mouth isn’t to acquire more knowledge. If I talk because I don’t know, the reason to shut my mouth is because I do know. We don’t need to acquire more knowledge. That isn’t the point. We have a lot to unlearn. The newborn isn’t observing. Learning. No, not really. The newborn just is.

I am convinced of this now. I have been too sharp, too keen. If I am going to get back to my primal identity, I need to blunt my sharpness. I need to untie my knots. What are knots? Knots are those places along the way where he have made marks. Placeholders. We have all heard the joke about what you do when you are at the end of your rope. You tie a knot and hold on. But Lao Tzu has the opposite advice for us. We have lots of knots that we have tied along the way; and each and everyone of them need to be untied.
We need to soften our glare and allow our dust to settle. That glare is due to our determination to forge ahead. We see the prize just ahead, and we dig in, intent on reaching the goal. But Lao Tzu is wanting us to stop with this going forward. He is wanting us to return to the beginning, again. And wait for the dust to settle. Now, you are there. Now you are back at the beginning, the primal identity.

That is where the newborn is. They know nothing, and everything. Just like the Tao. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It just is. That is where Lao Tzu wants us. We just are. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can’t be benefited, or harmed. You just are. You can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. You just are.

And this is important. This last line about the Tao giving itself up continually. Lao Tzu says that is why it endures. And a part of me says that I want to endure too. If I want to endure, this is the path I must take. But I am putting the cart before the horse. The goal isn’t to endure. That isn’t why the Tao does what it does. It doesn’t give itself up continually so that it will endure. It endures because it gives itself up continually.

It is ever so subtle. But that is what Lao Tzu means by vital power. As long as I am still thinking about what is in it for me, I am not there yet.

Lessons I learned From A Newborn Child

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft,
its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about
the union of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things
come and go effortlessly,
without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What is it that has Lao Tzu talking about a newborn’s erect penis?

How is that, for a provocative start to a blog post?

Yesterday, I said that each and every one of us is a whoever. And whoever can be a force to be reckoned with, for good in the world. Today, Lao Tzu is talking about a newborn child. Lao Tzu can seemingly take anything and use it as a metaphor to talk about the Tao.

And so, because we have arrived at this chapter, we are going to talk about newborns. I had some experience with newborns. Back in August of 1990 and then again in November of 1994. So, forgive me if I am a little rusty. I loved my little ones immensely. But as I recall, my newborns, both my first born, a daughter, and my second, a son, did a whole lot of sleeping. Unless, of course, you were trying to sleep. Then they needed your attention.

And attention, they got. They were so small, so fragile, so dependent. Breathing, and sleeping, and messing diapers – that, they could do all by themselves. But beyond that, they needed Mom and Dad. And grandparents, uncles, and aunts. But my newborns were blessed to have plenty of help.

Still, I marveled at them. Just like Lao Tzu. Their bones and muscles, soft and weak. But I loved how tightly they could wrap their little fingers around my finger. And their cries! I thought they could wake the dead. We wanted so much to solve whatever little problem was causing them to scream their little heads off all day or all night. Fed and changed; what more do you need, little one? But they never did get hoarse. Lao Tzu calls that harmony. Harmony? Hmmmmmmm.

And Lao Tzu won’t let me overlook that erect penis. Nothing sexual intended. Not by the newborn. Not by Lao Tzu. And not by me. Lao Tzu only points it out, as a display of the newborn’s vital power. I thought the fact that it could scream its head off all day and night, proved that point nicely.

But Lao Tzu is really talking about being in harmony with the Tao. He is likening it to a newborn child. He says the Master’s power is like this. Remember, the Master is a whoever. Whoever is in perfect harmony with the way things are. The eternal reality. The Tao.

How does the Master display that power? By letting all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. Just like that newborn. What is it they want? What do they desire? And what effort do they put forth? Does a newborn really expect anything? Any kind of result? Can a newborn experience disappointment? Ah, the spirit of a newborn. A spirit that can never experience disappointment; a spirit that can never grow old.

Look Inside Yourself. You’ll See It Too.

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will be genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the Universe
and the Universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about being aware when things are out of balance. People prefer the side paths to the great Way of the Tao. The side paths result in nothing but robbery and chaos. But, some have a vested interest in keeping us on the side paths. This chapter won’t convince them. It is for those of us that recognize the illusion for what it is. But, still fear that nothing will ever change as long as so many prefer the side paths.

The purpose of this chapter is to assure you that your own individual choices do make a profound difference in the world in which you live. You don’t have to be one of the powerful to make a difference for good in the world. In fact, it probably helps that you are not one of the powerful.

Everyone, repeat after me, “I am a whoever!” That little exercise may not seem like much; but I think it is a powerful statement. You are a whoever. And whoever is planted in the Tao will not be rooted up. No matter how much the powers that be, in our illusory world, may pull and tug; they are not going to uproot you.

You are a whoever. And whoever embraces the Tao will not slip away. We fear that, I know we do. We worry that all our efforts won’t matter at all. We think that no matter how much we hold on for dear life, that the prevailing winds of our time (still, all an illusion) are going to blow us away. That is what they want you to believe. They want you to give up. They know their own hold on power is tenuous at best. They need people on the side paths, propping up their illusion of power.

But the eternal reality is the way things really are. The illusion is exposed as the fraud it is. Thanks to your efforts. And your name is going to endure for many generations to come. How do I know this is true? Because the victors always get to write the history books. And we are going to win.

That all sounds well and good. But I can hear some of you that are still questioning, still full of doubts. How are we really going to win? Just look around at the world around you, and you will see, Chuck, that the prevailing winds are strong; and they don’t bode anything good. Wars and rumors of war. Yes, I see it too. But I know this is all an illusion. And the winds can change. Lao Tzu tells us exactly how we are going to win, in the end.

It begins with each of us, one individual at a time, letting the Tao be present in your life. You who think you have no power, really have all the power. I keep telling you that you are free. It is time to start acting like it. Take back control of your life, your world. Don’t play their games anymore. When you don’t play their games, you don’t have to play by their rules. It starts with you, yes, you, letting the Tao be present in your life. This is the pathway to being genuine. There is no other. You want to be real, right? Genuine. Well, let the Tao make you real. Otherwise, you are just part of the illusion that is going to be swept away.

Let the Tao be present in your family. This isn’t just an individual thing. Oh, it starts with each individual, but it spreads out from there. By a conscious effort. Let it be present in your family. This will cause your family to flourish. I don’t know about you, but I like to have my family flourishing.

Lao Tzu could show all the incremental steps it takes to see the Tao go from individual, to family, to neighborhood, to community, to country, to world, to Universe. Because that is how it works. It is infectious. The good kind of infection. And it will grow and multiply as it spreads. Pretty soon, your country is an example to all countries in the world. The whole world is transformed into a paradise. And, if you listen, ever so carefully, you can hear the Universe sing.

Lao Tzu says that he knows this is true because he looks inside himself and sees. And I know for myself the transforming power that has taken place in my own life. I am planted in and embracing the Tao. I won’t be rooted up, and I won’t slip away. Neither will you

Be Aware! It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.

The great Way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.

When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials
spend money on weapons
instead of cures;
when the upper class
is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by saying that it is easy to follow the great Way. But if it is so easy, why is it that people don’t all follow it? Don’t we like easy? Why is it that people prefer the difficult to the easy? Because that is what the side paths are. Difficult. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us exactly why that is.

Staying centered within the Tao is easy. Or, at least, it would be, if we weren’t so easily distracted and swayed by the illusion. That is what those side paths represent to us. The promise of an easier way? A short cut to happiness? I think it is more systemic than individuals making lousy choices.

Lao Tzu wants us to stay centered. To stay on the great Way. But, you hopefully remember, the monkey wrench that Lao Tzu has been pointing out all along. Powerful men and women don’t want to be centered in the Tao. And they certainly don’t want you centered in the Tao. The Tao is the great Balancer of the Universe. The great Equalizer. But that right there is a threat to those who don’t want balance and absolutely don’t want equality.

Yes, the Tao is the great Balancer. Lao Tzu warns us to beware when things are out of balance. Because, that right there, shows that powerful men and women are interfering with the Tao.

The powerful maintain their power by a very strong illusion. The illusion that without them, all would be chaos. They promise all of us protection from those who would rob and plunder us. But, like I said, that is all an illusion. They are the ones who are doing the robbing and plundering. They are the ones creating the chaos. Do you doubt this? Lao Tzu gives us examples; so that we can see exactly what he means.

When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Rich speculators have the power to interfere with the balancing and equalizing effects of the Tao. They don’t want balance. They don’t want equality. The powerful know exactly what leaving things to the Tao will do. That is what they fear. It would mean that they won’t prosper.

When government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Say what you want about the efficacy of the ALS ice bucket challenge; to me, it epitomizes what the people actually want. Cures. And more has been raised, thanks to this grassroots’ effort going viral, than any government ever spent. Governments aren’t interested in cures. They are interested in war. It is what governments do. They don’t profit from peace. They profit from war, and the weapons that they can use to wage them.

When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Marie Antoinette is alive and well. Our whole economic system is designed to throw crumbs to the poor, to keep them just barely surviving; while Marie and all like her, are living like there is no tomorrow. I am not talking about capitalism or socialism or communism. Those are all just systems of illusion used by the powerful elite to prop up their power. The Tao is so much better than any of that. But the Way of the Tao is not for the powerful elite. If the Tao was left to its own devices, billions wouldn’t be subsisting; while only a few, thrive. The Tao would be a great equalizer. The Tao would balance things out.

These are all side paths. I know why the powerful prefer them. But what I find exceedingly frustrating is when those who don’t profit from interfering with the Tao, are so inured that they can’t see the great Way before them. They continue to wear chains that only they can shake loose. I can’t loosen their bonds. Only they can.

I am thinking about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. So close to home for me. I know too many people who rushed to defend the aggressor and blame the victim. I thought it was crystal clear, for all the world to see. Yet, I came to realize that what was so obvious to me, was just the opposite to a great number of people I know. They want to make it about race. And race is an important feature of this story. But race isn’t the only component.

The issue is about what is the role of the police in a community? And why does the question of any opposition to the status quo have to be answered with overwhelming force? Why have we allowed our local police to become militarized? And why would I expect anything different from the Congressional Black Caucus but what they offer as a solution? They are just part of the powerful elite. They have theirs. And they aren’t going to restrain the hand that feeds them.

People believe what they want to believe. And oh, the contortions they put themselves through, in order to believe the illusion. Lao Tzu would have you live free. Free of the illusions. Free of the sorrow. But if that is going to happen in your life, you will have to be aware when things are out of balance. It is not in keeping with the Tao; and, you don’t have to live this way.

Shake Off Those Chains And Live As You Were Born, Free

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic in desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing in darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the Source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about living life spontaneously. Lao Tzu has said that is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe, and that expression is one of love. Lao Tzu describes the Tao as a loving mother, giving birth and nourishing all things; and, as something that isn’t external to any of us, it is inside all of us. Today, we continue on with this theme, as Lao Tzu talks about practicing eternity.

To do this he takes us back to the beginning, where we find our Source, the Tao. And he reminds us that the Tao isn’t just our beginning, it is also our end. All things issue from it; and, all things return to it.

He has told us this before, yet we continue to have trouble understanding how to find the Tao. That is why it is helpful to know that we are all expressions, or manifestations, of the Tao. If you want to find the origin, trace back the manifestations. Recognize the children and you will find the Mother.

Yesterday, I told you what the point of all this is. It is that we are free. Yet, we don’t live like we are free. We live like we are slaves, rather than children. The imaginary chains we carry cause us plenty of sorrow. And Lao Tzu wants to help us to be freed from those chains and that sorrow.

This metaphor of slavery and chains vs. being free children, relates to the illusion that masquerades as the eternal reality. We need to see the illusion for what it is; and accept that the way things are really is the way things are. That is the eternal reality. That is where free children dwell.

So let’s talk a bit about that illusion. Why do we so easily fall for it? We can’t really prefer the chains of slavery to the freedom of children. How is it that we get so lost?

Lao Tzu tells us that it is because our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled by our traffic in desires. This is what makes us slaves. If we want to be set free, then it is up to us. We are each expressions of the Tao. We are the children of the Tao. And we aren’t ever going to find the Tao except through finding it inside ourselves. Everything you need is already present within you.

As long as our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled with desires, all we can find is darkness when we look inside ourselves. But that doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Lao Tzu invites us to dare to peer deep into the darkness, and find clarity. But how, when all I see is darkness?

I know just how scary that darkness is. I have peered inside my own enough to know how utterly naked and alone you feel. But only when you dare to peer into that darkness will you find your own light. You won’t find it by being led by your senses. And you must keep your mind from judging. But this is the way to a peaceful heart.

Something you will learn as you make your own way through the darkness, is that knowing how to yield is your greatest strength. We have talked about yielding before. It isn’t just slowing down and letting others go in front of us. It is also, producing abundantly beyond anything that we thought we had inside of us.

If we want to return to the Source of light, we will need to use our own light. It is this practice of eternity, which is just another way of saying, living life spontaneously, that will bring us through our own darkness.

Just Doing Whatever Comes Naturally

Every being in the Universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings.
Nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them,
protects them, takes them back to itself.
Creating without possessing,
acting without interfering,
guiding without interfering
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was teaching us to live in the present moment. Today, he tells us how and why, when we live in the moment, we are an expression of the Tao. Perhaps it was because of my own hang ups about living in the moment, which I think I expressed very clearly yesterday, I was really struck by that word “spontaneously” in today’s chapter.

In fact, I latched onto that word so much that I spent a lot of time today just thinking of the word spontaneous. I even read through its definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. And then looked at a list of synonyms.

Here is the definition: “Done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning.” And then I read further: “Doing things that have not been planned but that seem enjoyable and worth doing at a particular time.” And still more: “Proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint. Arising from a momentary impulse. Controlled and directed internally, self-acting. (movement characteristic of living things). Produced without being planted or without human labor, indigenous. Developing or occurring without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment. Not apparently contrived or manipulated, natural.”

I hope that didn’t bore you too much. I think it is important that we understand all that the word implies. And just to be thorough, here is a list of synonyms especially for those that find that easier to decipher than reading a dictionary definition: “casual, impromptu, instinctive, offhand, simple, unplanned, voluntary.” I got those off of thesaurus.com. I would like to add “intuitive” to the list.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, why exactly did I do that? Because, I think, Lao Tzu is saying that spontaneity is the art of living. It is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe. Let’s get back to the chapter and see the spontaneous nature of the Tao and every being in the Universe.

Lao Tzu says, “It springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free, takes on a body, lets circumstances complete it.” I like this line because he is not very clear with what the “It” refers to, Does it refer to the Tao? Or, to every being in the Universe. The answer is, both. We are all expressions of the Tao. The Tao isn’t something external to any of us. It is inside each of us. And, as we live our lives, just doing what comes naturally, we are spontaneously honoring the Tao inside each of us.

I really want to emphasize the reality that the Tao is not some external being, manipulating us, forcing us to do this or that, demanding worship or honor or love. The Tao is inside each of us. Indeed, it is inside every being in the Universe. The honor we bestow on the Tao is not some duty required of us. It is spontaneous. It is simply us doing whatever comes naturally.

But while the Tao is not some external force, or being, demanding our love; love of the Tao, is in the very nature of things. It is in our nature. And why not? It gives birth to all beings. It nourishes and maintains them. It cares for and comforts them. It protects them and takes them back to itself. Every thing we do, throughout the cycle of our lives, is an expression of that love that is innate in us. We love because we are loved. And this love is unconditional. The Tao creates without possessing. Acts without expecting. Guides without interfering.

This is a love which has no rules and no bounds. It is spontaneous. It is characteristic of all living things. It is what makes us all expressions of the Tao.

It should be clear that I have great regard for this ode to spontaneity, this ode to love. But you might be thinking, “Yes, but what is the practical value?”

And here it is: You are free! Live like it.

Whatever The Moment Brings

The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to;
No illusions in his mind,
no resistance in his body.

He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said the Master has no mind of her own. Today, he says the Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.

We have that change in personal pronouns from female to male because the translator chooses to go back and forth between the female and male pronouns when referring to the Master. His point is that the Master isn’t gender exclusive. Any one of us could be the Master. It is my understanding that in the original Chinese, there isn’t any gender specification. And I suppose I could try to write it entirely without using gender specific language. Except for the fact that the English language doesn’t make that very easy. So, I will continue to use the back and forth that the translator chooses to use. I know I didn’t have to write this paragraph. I just knew it had been awhile since I had pointed out what was going on with the change in personal pronouns as we go from chapter to chapter.

Okay, back to the present chapter. Lao Tzu is really laying out the goal for us in today’s chapter. The idea is for each one of us, to get to a point where we give ourselves up to whatever the moment brings. As you read along through the rest of the chapter he talks about the inevitability of death and the need to be ready for it. But that isn’t the point of the chapter.

The point of the chapter is the art of living in the present moment. Too often, we are fearful of the future. What will happen? What if I die? Fear holds us back from living. Why do we fear death? We do. I know we do. I do too. But why? What is fearing it or worrying about it doing to make actually living life any easier?

So, I will admit right up front that I haven’t arrived at this point. But that doesn’t stop me from realizing that once I get to that point; when I really give myself up to whatever the moment brings; that I will actually be living, like I have never lived before.

And Lao Tzu gives us ways of telling when we are there. What I notice about these is how they are set up like dominoes, that each fall one after the other.

The first seems more simple than it actually is: He knows that he is going to die. Don’t we already know this? Well, we sort of do. We just don’t like thinking about it, or admitting it. But this reluctance to acknowledge reality is holding us back. We need to be firm about this. I know I am going to die.

Second: He has nothing left to hold on to. He specifically refers to what these things are that we have been holding on to: They are illusions in our minds and resistances in our bodies. We have spent a good deal of time talking about what is the eternal reality vs. what are merely illusions. The Master isn’t holding on to illusions any longer. He has let go of them all. But that isn’t enough, if the body is still putting up resistance. I picture me in a plane getting ready to jump out with a parachute. Or, maybe diving off a bridge with a bungee cord tied to my ankle. Yep. That isn’t happening. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is going to put up plenty of resistance. See, I don’t think I am quite ready to live in the moment. I am still hoping it isn’t going to come to this. But, I need to refer back to the preceding paragraph: I am going to die. Yes! I know that! I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be right this moment.

Third: He doesn’t think about his actions. Now where were you when I was in that plane thinking about my actions. Oh, that is the point. I am not supposed to be thinking about my actions. But that sounds a whole lot more haphazard than Lao Tzu intends. When Lao Tzu says he doesn’t think about his actions, he explains how and why that is. It is because his actions flow from the core of his being. It is intuitive. He doesn’t have to think. He just acts.

Fourth: He holds nothing back from life. I had such trouble with the first three, this fourth one seems impossible. But if there is one thing that I know, it is that as long as I am holding back, I am not really living. I keep thinking to myself, but I am not ready for death. And that right there is the very reason to hold nothing back from life. Because it prepares you. And makes you ready. So that when death comes, as we all know it will, we can be as ready for it as any man (or woman) is for sleep, after a good day’s work.

People Don’t Understand Her

The Master has no mind of her own.
She works with the mind of the people.

She is good to people who are good.
She is also good to people who aren’t good.
This is true goodness.

She trusts people who are trustworthy.
She also trusts people who aren’t trustworthy.
This is true trust.

The Master’s mind is like space.
People don’t understand her.
They look to her and wait.
She treats them like her own children.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 49, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What are we to make of today’s chapter, in which Lao Tzu reveals to us the mind of the Master? Well, first, let’s not fail to remember what Lao Tzu has been saying all along in the Tao Te Ching. Context is important, after all.

The Master is one who is perfectly in harmony with the Tao. Her mind is in tune with the Tao; and therefore she knows how to work with the minds of all the people. By saying she has no mind of her own, Lao Tzu is merely saying that she doesn’t limit herself, to only what she thinks. She understands how other people are thinking, as well.

This understanding of the minds enables her to be good to all people. Whether or not they are good. After all, what kind of goodness is only good to people who are good? Anyone can be good to people who are good. But it takes someone extraordinary to be good to those who aren’t good. That is true goodness.

The same can be said for true trust. It isn’t enough to only trust people who are trustworthy. Of course, you trust people who are worthy of trust. Why wouldn’t you? But to trust people who aren’t worthy of trust? Now, that is an extraordinary thing. You may think “foolhardy” is a more apt description. After all, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But that is only taking into consideration my own mind. And that isn’t how the Master thinks.

The Master’s mind is like space. I think that nails it. People don’t understand her. What? Is she just gullible? I bet she gets taken advantage of, a lot. Trusting people that can’t be trusted. *shakes head

But, wait! See. how the people look to her and wait. Do you see it? The Master understands something that only the extraordinary can understand. She treats every one of them like they are her own children. Notice he didn’t say she treats them like children. No, she treats them like HER OWN children.

In this, she represents the perfect parent. She isn’t harsh with any of them. She is patient and understanding. Doing good to all. Trusting all. And like her own children, they look to her and wait.

Every Day You Drop Something

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 48, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu began what I could easily call an anti-knowledge rant. I thought his reasoning for it was valid. I just know that it flies in the face of a lot of conventional thinking. Yesterday, he was stressing that understanding was much more important than gaining new knowledge. Today, he continues on from there.

If you are pursuing knowledge, every day you will have to add something to your knowledge. There is no such thing as a complete amount of knowledge. There is always something more to learn. But that isn’t how to practice Taoism.

It is like reaching a fork in the road. If you continue in your pursuit of knowledge, you have to go down one path; and if you want to practice the Tao, you will need to go down a different path. This different path is what interests me. Perhaps for the same reason that I used to like Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken.”

Instead of having to add something every day, in the pursuit of knowledge; I choose this path where every day something is dropped. Will it make all the difference? And what are we dropping along the way?

I like that word “dropping” because it speaks to me of letting go of things. We drop things all the time. Usually, we rush to pick them back up. We never intended to let go of that thing. But this letting go of things is a deliberate act. You drop it, and you continue on your way. Never looking back.

To what end? Well, that would depend on what you are letting go. Lao Tzu is speaking of the practice of the Tao; and what he wants us to drop is our need to force things. The more we drop, the less we need to force. Until, (yes, there is an end) we arrive at non-action.

See? He isn’t just anti-knowledge. He is anti-doing anything at all! But if I leave it at that, I think I am really misrepresenting what Lao Tzu is trying to say.

So, let’s hold up for just a moment and review what exactly Lao Tzu means by non-action. Back in chapter 43, I talked a bit about Wu-wei, the principle of non-action which is fundamental to Taoism. We were talking about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri; with a militarized police feeling compelled to use force to calm protestors and restore order for the State. Lao Tzu is wanting us to let go of our need to use force each and every day; until there is no longer a need to use force.

This is the end we are journeying toward. When nothing is done, nothing is left undone. Letting go of our need to interfere, apply force, means letting the Tao do its thing in the Universe, letting things go their own way. This is the path to true mastery in the practice of the Tao.

The More We Know, The Less We Understand.

Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 47, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

It would be easy to dismiss today’s chapter. Is Lao Tzu opposed to opening your door, or even looking out your window? Is he saying that being a hermit is the only way to live? Does it seem that Lao Tzu is anti-knowledge?

If we only read this one chapter, out of its context, perhaps we could come to that conclusion. But thankfully, we aren’t doing that.

No, Lao Tzu is only using extremes to make his point. We place a premium on gaining new knowledge. And we sometimes think that will mean leaving our homes and going some place else to do it. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. But Lao Tzu means to remind of us of one very solid truth. You don’t have to go anywhere else to understand what you need to understand.

Every thing you need, you already have. Increasing knowledge, without increasing our understanding, is pointless. This is something that Lao Tzu really wants us to understand. Perhaps, that does sound anti-knowledge. I just think Lao Tzu expects that we already know everything we need to know. If there is a lack, it isn’t in our knowledge, it is in our understanding.

Wisdom doesn’t come from attaining greater knowledge. It comes from greater understanding. And so he describes how the Master arrives without ever leaving, sees the light without having to look for it, and achieves all things without doing a thing.

As I read those words, I remember a few chapters ago where Lao Tzu said that the superior man, when he hears of the Tao, immediately begins to embody it; while the fool, when he hears of the Tao, laughs out loud. In that chapter Lao Tzu also offered us the example of the average man, who, when he hears of the Tao, half believes it and half doubts it.

I can certainly see how a chapter like this one would elicit such varied responses. I think I am doing better, I more than half believe it, and only a little doubt it.