All posts by libertariantaoist

Stay centered. Stay balanced. Stay serene.

The heavy is the root of the light.
The unmoved is the source of all movement.

Thus, the Master travels all day
without leaving home.
However splendid the views,
she stays serenely in herself.

Why should the lord of the country
flit about like a fool?
If you let yourself be blown to and fro,
you lose touch with your root.
If you let restlessness move you,
you lose touch with who you are.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 26, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu once again returns to the yin and yang; which represents the great balancing act of the Tao. So let’s take a quick look at just how yin and yang work together to achieve harmony.

He says the heavy is the root of the light and the unmoved is the source of all movement. What Lao Tzu seems to be saying is that we need an anchor. And we need to keep that anchor in mind as we read through the rest of the chapter.

How can the Master travel all day without leaving home? Well, if we hadn’t read the first two lines we might just think that it could mean that the Master doesn’t actually go anywhere. She does her traveling with her mind, perhaps? But I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu has in mind, at all.

Remember that anchor? This is just another example of yin and yang. The Master can travel all day without leaving home because she is anchored to home. This isn’t some dead weight that is keeping her from straying too far, or preventing her from enjoying herself. She is light as she travels, but she still has that root to keep her balanced.

The source of her movement is that unmovable anchor.

Remember yesterday, when Lao Tzu said that humanity is one of the four great powers? We humans are all lords of the country. And Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools. It isn’t just that it is unbecoming, though it is; when we let ourselves be blown to and fro we lose touch with our root.

The balancing comes in understanding that there is a time to move. There is a time to be light. It is just important to keep that balance. Lao Tzu wouldn’t advise us to just sit at home all day and remain unmoving. That would be just as foolish as flitting about, being blown to and fro.

But what should, and what should not move us? The key, says Lao Tzu, is not to let restlessness be the source of our movement. The unmoved should be the source. And the unmoved, the source, is who we really are. Restlessness can cause us to lose touch with who we are.

For, as we go about our travels, there will be splendid views to enjoy. And enjoy them we should, as we stay serenely in ourselves.

A Creation Myth (of sorts)

There was something formless and perfect,
before the Universe was born.
It is serene. Empty. Solitary.
Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present.
It is the mother of the Universe.
For lack of a better name, I call it the Tao.

It flows through all things,
inside and outside,
and returns to the origin of all things.

The Tao is great.
The Universe is great.
Earth is great.
Man is great.
These are the four great powers.

Man follows the Earth.
Earth follows the Universe.
The Universe follows the Tao.
The Tao follows only itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 25, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Sometimes, it is good to go back to the very beginning. Lao Tzu has already told us that we have to know where we came from in order to know where we are going. So today, Lao Tzu goes way back. It is a creation myth of sorts. The origin of the Universe.

There we find something without form and perfect. It is serene and empty. Solitary and unchanging. Infinite and eternally present. It is the great Mother of the Universe. It is the Tao. It is at once, our Source, and our Destination. It is the Life Force which flows through all things. Both inside and outside, the Well-Spring of all being and nothingness.

Our beginning is our end. Knowing where I have come from and to where I am going is what gives meaning to my own life. It frees me to simply enjoy this present moment with a certain indifference. I am present in every being in the Universe. We are all one. There is such unity in the knowledge that we all come from the same Source. The same Mother. And we all have the same End.

This kind of knowledge is exceedingly liberating for me. How can I hold grudges? How can I hate? How can I not have a deep love and respect for all of humanity? Indeed, for all beings in the Universe? Why are we so prone to point out such trivial differences, when we are really all just the same?

Understanding how the Tao brings order out of chaos, comes as Lao Tzu explains how that order is maintained in the midst of what sometimes appears hopelessly chaotic. It is understanding how the four great powers (the Tao, the Universe, the Earth, and Humanity) get their power.

Humanity follows the Earth. The Earth follows the Universe. The Universe follows the Tao. The Tao follows only itself. Or, put another way: the Tao is doing the leading. Following its own intuition. The Universe intuitively follows the Tao. The Earth intuitively follows the Universe. And Humanity? Well, we are really just along for the ride.

At least that is the Way it is supposed to be. Sometimes, we get dismayed; thinking that humanity is destroying the Earth, our only habitable home. I tend to take a much more optimistic view of things. The Earth is a remarkably, marvelous and resilient planet, supplying us with everything we need.

I think the Earth will survive us. It isn’t following us, you see. It has a much different Course in mind. And, I think humanity is waking up to the reality that the Course the Earth is taking is a better one than anything we could ever manufacture.

As more and more of us are learning to intuitively follow the Earth, as it intuitively follows the Universe, as it intuitively follows the Tao, as it intuitively follows itself, we find where the true power resides.

Creating Something That Endures

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

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

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

Today’s chapter is comprised of little ways that we go about our lives, oblivious of the eternal reality that is inside of, and all around, each of us. I could go through each and every one of them; and just end up repeating back everything you just read.

I think you all are smarter than that. It isn’t necessary, at all. But what is the bottom line? What is the “take away” from today’s chapter?

If you want to accord with the Tao, you need to stop all this nonsense. This reaching and grasping. This trying to outpace and outshine everybody else. This exerting your dominance over others; and when you are called on your bull shit, rushing to your own defense; instead of coming to a realization of just who and what you have become.

And nowhere is this more important than in the work we do in our everyday lives. We do want to create something that endures, don’t we? Why else are we, as humans, alive; if it isn’t to create something that endures? And Lao Tzu saves this warning for last. Don’t cling to the work that you do. Let it go. “But, but, how? How, do I just let it go?”

You let it go when you realize that is the only way that anything endures.

What can we learn from the wind and the rain?

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

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

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

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

In the last few days we have been talking about spending time in the darkness, in order to find your inner light. It is about opening yourself to the Tao and becoming one with it. Today, Lao Tzu continues that theme by inviting us to take our cue from nature. Whether it is in fully expressing ourselves and then knowing when it is now time to shut up, or it is just coming to terms with what is actually real, about ourselves, and about the world and the Universe we live in; opening ourselves to the Tao is a very important step for us to take in our journey.

So, let’s take a look at nature today, and see if we can see what Lao Tzu means by opening ourselves to whatever the Tao wants to accomplish in us, today and every day.

The first thing that strikes me about Lao Tzu’s depiction of the forces of nature is how he hones in and focuses on just one thing at a time. When the wind blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain.

Lao Tzu wants us to learn a lesson here. To be like the wind. To be like the rain. And how do we do that? By embodying it completely. Sometimes the wind just has to blow and it will continue to blow until it is finished. The same is true of the rain. Yesterday, I stepped out of my house and into my backyard. I was immediately greeted with two things, and I don’t know in which order I experienced them. Whether it was the wonderfully, refreshing smell of the rain, or the rain drops hitting me. I was delighted because we need the rain. And when you have a little garden in your back yard, you come to delight in even a few precious raindrops when they choose to fall.

Part of the art of living, of being one with the Tao, is opening yourself to whatever the Tao brings your way. I am talking about the idea of accepting, receiving, learning, and adapting, as it applies to insight. The challenge before us is that while we want to think that we are open to insight, how often, when the wind starts to blow, do we retreat into our sheltered place of refuge, our comfort zone. That place where our own preconceived notions aren’t threatened. When the wind blows, anything that can be blown away, will be blown away. It takes courage to face the wind. To open ourselves to it. To become one with it. To use it completely.

And, part of the art of living, of being one with the Tao, is opening ourselves to loss. When the rain is coming down, we need to let it. Not resist it. Loss is not something we can avoid encountering throughout our short lives on this planet. We can’t avoid it; so open your heart to it. Let the rain come down! Let it wash away all that isn’t truly you. Let it bring life-giving nourishment to what is truly you.

I hope you are seeing how the Tao is something that you can embody completely as you allow it to completely embody you. By opening yourself to insight, your mind is opened to the Tao. By opening yourself to loss, your heart is open to the Tao.

After the wind, after the rain, the clouds do pass. And the sun does shine through. It was always there, just waiting on you. You can trust your natural responses. Everything will fall into place.

The Path To Be Truly Yourself

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

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

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

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

We have been talking, the last couple of days, of time well spent in the darkness. Lao Tzu understood it, brooding alone and muttering himself. That is where he drank from the Great Mother’s breasts. That is where he found an inner radiance.

In today’s chapter Lao Tzu explains how that process works. This journey of self-discovery. The path to be truly yourself.

As you were reading along through the first half of this chapter, did it seem like Lao Tzu was promoting passivity? I know that when I first started reading through the Tao Te Ching, I made the mistake of thinking that was what philosophical Taoism was all about. I couldn’t begin to wrap my mind around effortless action. And now he has this list of things we need to let ourselves be. “Letting” certainly sounds passive.

If you want to be whole, it must be because you see yourself as partial. If you want to become straight, it must be you see yourself as crooked. If you want to become full, you must see yourself as empty. Ah, the way things seem to be. Do you see how we let the way things seem to be determine how we live our lives?

But Lao Tzu offers us a better way. We will need to spend time in the darkness. But not for the sake of the darkness. The point of spending time in the darkness is that we may come to see the light in ourselves.

Spending time in the darkness means letting ourselves be what we seem to be. Coming to terms with that. Let yourself be partial. Let yourself be crooked. Let yourself be empty.

I can already hear the objections. But I don’t want to be any of those things. Why should I just let myself be those things?

Who said anything about just letting yourself be any of those things? I certainly didn’t say that. And neither did Lao Tzu. What? Did you think this journey we are on is like the drive thru at McDonalds? I can drive up, place my order, and expect it to be waiting for me as soon as I pull up to the window? Life doesn’t work that way. Get used to it.

No, anything worth having is worth investing in. And that means spending some time in the darkness. Waiting. If you want to be reborn, you need to let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, you need to give everything up. That isn’t something that we are going to accomplish in just a few minutes in the drive thru.

But you must emerge from the darkness sometime. I am not putting any time constraints on the process. I am sure it varies. Don’t be in a hurry. But don’t get too comfortable, either. You are there to die. You are there to give everything up. Don’t be judging how long others are taking. Just let the Tao do its work in you.

The Master, Lao Tzu reminds us, resides in the Tao. And by doing so, he sets an example for all beings. You can see his light. You can trust his words. You can even recognize yourself in him. And everything he does, succeeds.

What Lao Tzu is offering us today isn’t just a whole lot of empty phrases. This is the path to truly being yourself.

After all the darkness, some radiance…

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, we found Lao Tzu brooding alone in the darkness muttering to himself. Our moods do have their ebb and flow, don’t they? Sometimes, we feel like we are soaring with the eagles. Other times, we fell like we are in some pit of despair, with little light or hope.

Recognizing and accepting the ebb and flow of our moods is all just part of the art of living. Far too often, I think, melancholy is diagnosed as some sort of illness in need of chemical treatment. And it isn’t just being down that gets people worrying about you. You will be scorned for being too happy, as well. While society promotes, even demands, sameness and conformity, I like that Lao Tzu celebrates the individual.

Now there are legitimate medical needs that need to be addressed. So, I am not nay saying legitimate pharmacological solutions, when I say that just because an individual dares to not conform to a sick society it doesn’t mean they need a pill.

All I am saying, is that if it was okay for Lao Tzu to find his own radiance by going into, and staying awhile in, the darkness; then it is okay for you and me, too. Individuals need the freedom to explore the depths and the heights of who they are without fear of being outed by others. The sanest people I know are the ones that can not and will not conform. The rule breakers.

Individuals who have had the freedom to spend as long as they needed in their dark place, like Lao Tzu, have discovered there a creative energy and will to embrace their own individuality and differences from everybody else. They emerge from the darkness, radiant. And all I can say to them is, “Well done! Embrace the real you. Celebrate what makes you different and unique.”

That dark place is where we learn to let go of our own ideas. Yes, I said let go. You think we are holding on to them? If we were holding onto them we wouldn’t be in that dark place. No, that is where we learn to let go of them. And, it is because we have suffered in the darkness of solitude and silence, that we can emerge from there, free, and bathed in light. That is the work of the Tao.

I know the language that Lao Tzu uses to describe the Tao is often poetic and mystical. The reasons for this, I think, are obvious. Language is very limiting. He is trying to communicate the infinite here. How can you pin down the Tao using finite language? All he can really do is point at the mystery. We marvel at it in all its obscurity. And, when we dare to peer into the darkness for long enough, we do find clarity.

Physics, in the 20th century, started to uncover with science, things that Lao Tzu told us many centuries ago, can really only be fully grasped with the intuition. The Tao is before time and space. It is beyond is and is not. A lot can be learned by looking outwardly. So, philosophical Taoism has no quarrels with science. But at the end of the day, after all your efforts to understand how the Universe works, you may just make your greatest discovery of what is true, when you look for it inside yourself.

Dark Night Of The Soul?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wow! Doesn’t this chapter seem odd and out of place? Unlike so many chapters of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu really gets personal with this one. I believe it the only time that he writes in the first person. I counted a dozen times he uses the personal pronoun, I. It is very personal, very human, very dark. Every time I read through this chapter I can’t help but ask myself, is he having a crisis of faith? A dark night of the soul? Is it a bout with depression?

And then I remind myself that the last two chapters have been particularly rough ones. Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu was talking of the aftermath of the great Tao being forgotten. Yesterday, we were talking about the need to throw away some hard things to throw away in order to get back on track.

Perhaps there is every reason for Lao Tzu to despair about whether his readers would get it. And so, it seems, we find Lao Tzu off in a corner somewhere muttering to himself: “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” Is the man suicidal?

Lao Tzu asks himself a series of questions. And, answers them. Yes, my friends, it is okay to talk to yourself. This chapter is about coming to terms with being different from everybody else. Other people are excited. Other people have what they need. Other people are bright. Other people are sharp. Other people have a purpose. I alone am different.

I alone don’t care. I alone am expressionless. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about. What an idiot I am. I alone am dark. I alone am dull. I alone don’t know.

It is so very difficult when you feel like you are the only one who is experiencing what you are experiencing. You are alone. And you are different from everybody else. Nobody could possibly understand you. And you are stupid for feeling the way you are feeling. Why can’t you just be like everybody else?

But at the same time, you don’t want to be like everybody else. You want to be different. You don’t want to value what others value, just because they value it. You don’t want to avoid things just because others avoid them.

Going along with the crowd. Choosing what they choose. Doing just what they do. What a ridiculous way to live your life.

There is no difference between yes and no. And there is no difference between success and failure. Oh, why can’t I just stop thinking? That would bring an end to my problems.

Over the years, many times I have heard people counseling other people to be careful with the words they use to talk to themselves. I too, have heard people talk negatively about themselves and wanted to correct all that negativity with positive words. “Don’t call yourself an idiot. You have tremendous worth. You aren’t so different from everybody else. You aren’t really alone.”

But Lao Tzu isn’t looking for my sympathy. And he doesn’t need to change his stinking thinking. He simply is embracing who and what he is. And he comes to celebrate what makes him different.

Are you drifting like a wave on the ocean? Are you blowing as aimlessly as the wind? Are you different from ordinary people? Come to terms with that. Embrace it. And by all means, drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures

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

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

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

I entitled today’s blog post, “Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures” because yesterday’s chapter described a dark and desperate situation, indeed. The great Tao was forgotten. Lao Tzu describes the aftermath with how it affects each individual, whole families, and the entire country. I also think it describes our present day, all too well. We are not living in harmony with the way things are. Having forgotten the Tao, we are suffering great misfortune.

And, Lao Tzu offers us the antidote for what ails us in this chapter. These three things he wants us to throw away may seem too drastic a remedy. Maybe you need to reread through the last chapter, and get a real feel for just how bad things have gotten.

Or, you could just take a look at the news coming out from around the world. If that doesn’t sober you, then I don’t know what will.

Before I get to the three throwaways, I did want to begin with Lao Tzu’s final prescription. These three desperate measures may simply not be enough to turn things back around again and get us back on track. We need to be in perfect harmony with the way things are. And that is going to take more courage than our throwaways for this chapter.

If the three throwaways are not enough, just stay at the center of the circle. And let all things take their course. I said this will take courage. And it will. It is about trust. Trusting that the Tao will sort it all out. Performing the balancing act that it has always performed; and always will perform.

Okay, now, about that trust thing. Let’s look at the three throwaways. Remember, when we are not in perfect harmony with the Tao, when the great Tao has been forgotten, all kinds of substitutes arise to try and take the place of the Tao. Life is chaotic when it is lived out of harmony with the way things are. We crave order. The Tao does provide spontaneous order. But when that is forgotten, we seek to restore order.

All of these throwaways may seem to be good things in and of themselves. Why would Lao Tzu want us to throw them away? First, we have holiness and wisdom. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with either one of these; if, we are talking about how individuals go about their daily lives. When we are living in perfect harmony with the Tao, I don’t doubt that both holiness and wisdom will be a mark of that harmony.

But Lao Tzu isn’t talking about throwing out holiness and wisdom as effects of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. What he is talking about is a system put into place to restore holiness and wisdom in the midst of the chaos that results from living out of harmony with the Tao. It is that system that needs throwing out. Yes, we are living in chaotic times. And, sadly, it is likely to only get more chaotic, the longer we go without remembering the great Tao. But Lao Tzu offers something that a system of holiness and wisdom will never offer. People will be a hundred times happier.

“But, but, Chuck, we can’t do that. Can’t you see how chaotic things are?” Remember, I said it was about trusting the Tao to work it out. As long as that system is in place, we are going against the flow of the way things are. We are suffering at the hands of the illusion. They simply must go. I promise you, people will be a hundred times happier.

The second throwaway is morality and justice. I know plenty of people who mistakenly think we have thrown those out long ago. They think immorality reigns and our justice system is barely able to keep up with the mess that throwing out morality has brought about. But I want you to think about that for just a moment. There is absolutely nothing wrong with morality and justice; when, it is the natural outgrowth of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. In fact, I would suggest that the reason that you might think immorality is such a problem today, is because we haven’t been living in harmony with the Tao.

And as for our system of justice, would someone please offer me some solid examples of actual justice. I live in the United States, and I apologize to those of my followers who are bored with my constant referrals to my own country, but it is my frame of reference. And the U.S. has only 5% of the world’s population, while having 25% of the world’s prison population. That is seriously (*put in your favorite expletive) up. What has it gotten us? Where is the justice in that? I am talking about people being incarcerated for victimless crimes. That covers roughly more than half. And even those that are incarcerated for crimes where there were victims, what restitution has been made to the victims?

The system of morality and justice is no substitute for a life lived in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu says to trust the people. Throw out morality and justice. People will do the right thing.

“Oh, but, Chuck, Chuck, how can we trust the people?” And all I can tell you is how can we not? Morality and justice aren’t doing it. They need to go in the rubbish heap.

And now to the final throwaway. This one might just be the most difficult one of them all, at least for me, to consider.

I can already hear some of you saying, “But industry and profit can’t be thrown away. Just where would we be without industry and profit?  Do you want us all dwelling in caves?” And, there are the rest of you saying, “Hell yeah! Let’s get rid of capitalism!”

Before anyone hit’s the “unfollow” button I want to try and explain what I think Lao Tzu is getting at. I think Lao Tzu has come across somewhat cavalier in his use of language in today’s chapter. We need to throwaway holiness and wisdom. Check. We need to throwaway morality and justice. Check. And we need to throwaway industry and profit? Damn it, Lao Tzu, you have me really stalling on this one.

Okay, deep breath… Once again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with industry and profit; when, they are the results of a life lived in harmony with the Tao. I am very much in favor of a freed market. And, I have often likened the Tao to the invisible hand of the free market. Okay, so far, so good.

However, (you just knew there was going to be one of those). What we currently are experiencing in our world is not a freed market. We are not living in harmony with the Tao. What we have in place is an illusory system put in place of a freed market. That system, you can call it whatever you want. I know some of you will gladly call it capitalism. And some of you will rush to try to defend capitalism. But I don’t want to talk about the term capitalism at all. I try to keep it out of my vocabulary as much as possible. It simply means too many different things to too many different people. And I don’t think it is a term worth trying to salvage.

So I am not going to defend it, and I am not going to berate it. What I will do is say that the present system has to go. Our present system is designed to enrich the few at the expense of the many. And that is indefensible. It cannot be sustained in the long run? Why? Because the many will only take it for so long. Desperate times make for desperate people. And desperate people do desperate things. Horrible things.

People locked into a system where they see little legal means to surviving on this planet, will resort to illegal ones. Lao Tzu wants the people set free. People who are free to enjoy one hundred percent of the fruit of their labor will be less inclined to steal. And that is the problem that Lao Tzu is addressing when he says to throw out industry and profit. Why are there thieves? Because people are desperate. Eradicate the systems that cause the despair and you eliminate the despair.

There is so much more that I want to say about this chapter today. But I can already see that it is at least twice as long as what I would like it to be. The bottom line is this: Do you want people to be a hundred times happier? Will you trust people to do the right thing? Trust the Tao and trust the people. Lao Tzu certainly did. And we need to as well.


But They Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing

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

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

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

When the country falls into chaos,
patriotism is born.

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

For some of my newer followers, I want to remind you all what is meant when Lao Tzu refers to the Tao. Or in this case, the great Tao. First, Tao is just the name he gives it, for lack of a better word. But what is it? It is the eternal reality. The way things are. Every day, I remind myself that the way things are is the way things are. This isn’t said with resignation on my part. That would imply that there is something horribly wrong with the way things are. And that is not the case, at all.

Lao Tzu, throughout his Tao Te Ching, contrasts the way things are with the way things appear to be. The eternal reality vs. the illusion which masquerades as truth. And today’s chapter gives us the opportunity to spot the reasons behind those illusions masquerading as truth.

He says that the illusion is there because the great Tao is forgotten. That is what he means when he talks about goodness and piety appearing. The great Tao hasn’t gone anywhere. It is still exactly what and where it has always been. But when we forget that the way things are is the way things are, then we start substituting for the apparently “missing” reality.

It is like the act of forgetting causes a vacuum or void which must be filled with something, anything; just as long as we fill that hole. The allure of the illusion is only valid because the Tao has been forgotten.

Goodness and piety might not seem like such bad things on the surface. But they ain’t nothing like the real thing. And they simply won’t fill that hole, that void, that was created by forgetting the Tao.

It is like a chain reaction is caused by this great loss. Lao Tzu says that the body’s intelligence will decline. What does he mean by that? I believe what he means by body intelligence is our own intuitive connection with the Tao. Not just our bodies but our whole beings’ ability to go with the flow of the way things are. Things that once came so easily to us, now require something extra that we have never had to rely on before. And cleverness and knowledge step forth to “help” us along.

I put help in scare quotes because they are as helpful as any government bureaucrat. Oh, you mean to tell me, Chuck, that cleverness and knowledge are not good? Yes, that is exactly what I mean to tell you. They ain’t nothing like the real thing. You will just keep declining. Substituting more and more cleverness and knowledge, all along the way; and to no avail.

And when the great Tao is forgotten, it doesn’t just affect individuals. Soon, there is no peace in the family.

No peace in the family? Well, we can’t have that. Filial piety begins. Filial piety may not be a familiar term to the Western mind, so I will tell you exactly what Lao Tzu means by that.

Filial piety speaks of duty and devotion. In China, family ties were sacred. For Lao Tzu, family ties came naturally. That is the way it is when people are in harmony with the way things are. There are no duties to perform, or rules to follow. Families in harmony with the Tao just naturally do what families do. But when the Tao is lost, chaos ensues. Family ties are still there, yes. But now, they are a burden, a duty. Rules are established and enforced. All in the name of keeping peace within the family.

We are all familiar with these duties. The duty of a father to provide for his family. The duty of a mother to care for her children. The duty of children to respect their parents. And let’s not forget the duty of wives to honor and obey their husbands. Duty and devotion, forced and contrived. Odd and unnatural. Because of the chaos created by having forgotten the Tao, the illusion arises to fill the great hole. We must keep up the pretense of order and peace in our homes.

But of course, it doesn’t stop there. The loss of the Tao affects the entire country, as it falls into chaos. There is great turmoil in the country. The people are unsettled. In the absence of the Tao, self-rule is simply not going to be allowed. Rulers, who only wish to maintain their control, and who surround themselves with sycophants, will rally the confused masses of people to some cause. Patriotism is born and flourishes in the absence of the Tao.

The powers that be (remember this is all an illusion) must maintain order. There is a call of duty to one’s country. Some enemy must be contrived, for we all need to get behind some common purpose. And fighting some common enemy that doesn’t quite look like us or act like us, is as good a reason as will ever be found.

Those that question the motives or the purpose will be labeled heretics or terrorists; it all means the same thing. If order is to be restored we must unite as a nation and fight our common enemy. All misgivings and dissent must be silenced. We need to support our government. Our president. Our troops. And off to war we go.

And all because the great Tao was forgotten. We aren’t in harmony with the way things are. And the illusion rears its ugly head.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. That is why I take time each and every day to remind myself that the way things are is the way things are. I pause and reflect on the natural order of the Universe. I observe its ebb and flow. I remember the Tao.

And together we will create a much better world in which to live.

The First Rule of Good Governing

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

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

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

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

In the past, when I have gotten to this chapter of the Tao Te Ching, I have devoted a great deal of time to looking at the differences between a leader who is loved vs. a leader who is feared, or worse despised. Having taken up so much of the space I intended to use, I haven’t really been able to devote much of my blog post to what I think is much more important, and what I think Lao Tzu was much more interested in, and that is how the Master governs.

Today, I would like to rectify that failure on my part.

Let’s start by first remembering what Lao Tzu means when he refers to the Master. The Master is anyone who is in perfect harmony with the way things are. Or, put another way, in perfect harmony with the Tao. The Master isn’t swayed by the way things seem to be. The Master isn’t attracted to the illusion at all; but sees right past it, to the reality that is beyond the veil of how things seem to be.

So, how does someone who is in perfect harmony with the Tao govern? This is a very important question for Lao Tzu, because it gives us Lao Tzu’s first rule of good governing.

He says that when the Master governs, the people are hardly aware that he exists. Okay, Lao Tzu, you have my attention. Tell me more.

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

Oh, to have such a one to lead. Some people think that anarchists, like myself, would not be in favor of there being any leaders. Shouldn’t anarchists be opposed to all governments?

Perhaps, some anarchists seem to want no government at all. That whole meme “No Masters, No Rulers.” does seem to suggest that anarchists are quite an unruly bunch.

But remember that we don’t want to be swayed by how things seem to be. What we are wanting is to be in perfect harmony with the way things really are.

That is why I wanted to be careful to define Lao Tzu’s term, Master, right from the start. He is not envisioning some master/slave relationship. The people are not slaves to the Master. No, he trusts them completely. And, because he trusts the people, the people become trustworthy.

The Master doesn’t entice the people with flowery speech intended to deceive them with the illusion of power and authority over them. No, he doesn’t talk at all. He merely acts. And the people are hardly aware that he even exists. He hasn’t made some show of himself. He doesn’t act with great pomp and circumstance. You wouldn’t spot him at photo ops. He wouldn’t be found making the rounds of late-night talk shows.

The people are hardly aware that he even exists. He merely acts. Trusting the people to do for themselves what it is in their nature to do. And so, when his work is done the people will say they did it all by themselves. And what else would they say? For that is exactly what has happened.

Are good leaders a necessary thing? Certainly! Anyone telling you differently is simply mistaken. Good leaders will always be a necessary thing. Some people are natural leaders. Some people are naturally followers. One is not better than the other. They just have different functions in the way things are.

So leaders, there will always be. Because they are necessary. But sadly, they are not always good.

If you aspire to govern, if you aspire to be a leader, here is Lao Tzu’s first rule of good governing. It doesn’t matter if you are loved, or feared, or despised; if you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy.

You do it. You. I know I often talk about the illusion of power. And that is certainly an important topic of discussion. But today I am talking about real power. The power wielded by a leader. For good or ill. Every leader has the power to make the people untrustworthy; just as surely as they have the power to make them trustworthy.

And the first rule of good governing, of being a good leader, is to trust the people. We need leaders that are not swayed by the illusion of power. That give no ground to the way things seem to be. We need leaders in perfect harmony with the way things are. We need leaders who recognize their real power; and trust the people.