Don’t Do It. Don’t Even Speak Of It.

The gentlest thing in the world
overcomes the hardest thing in the world.
That which has no substance
enters where there is no space.
This shows the value of non-action.

Teaching without words,
performing without actions:
That is the Master’s way.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 43, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I tried tackling the very mysterious, as we took a look at a creation myth story from the Tao Te Ching. Today, I think my job is a whole lot easier. Today, we are talking ,once again, about the value of non-action.

Lao Tzu begins by talking about the eternal reality. He says that the gentlest thing in the world overcomes the hardest thing in the world. And, that which has no substance enters where there is no space. But how does this show the value of non-action?

I am glad you asked. Wu-wei, which is the principle of non-action, is fundamental to Taoism. Often the best solution is not to act at all. Or when action is needed, to do as little as possible. I like to think of the Tao as the Invisible Hand of the free market. Because I am a free market anarchist, I am opposed to interfering with that invisible hand. Most things in the world correct themselves, given time. But we get impatient, don’t we? We get in a hurry. The Tao will take too long. But, when we interfere, we only make things worse.

The “powerful”, in particular, like to interfere. It is their modus operandi. Their excuse for being needed. And they are empowered by us going along with their hare-brained schemes. Far from ever actually solving problems they only make greater problems; and, then they will insist that gives them all the more reason to interfere more. “We just didn’t do enough.”

When the Tao is interfered with, it is like trying to overcome the hardest thing by being harder. Trying to force something of substance where there is no space. Nature’s way is self-evidently the best approach to handling difficulties. When you encounter something that is hard, be gentle. That is stepping around the difficulty. There are examples of this throughout nature. We just don’t take the time, or make the effort, to learn the lessons that nature is teaching us. Nature doesn’t act. It just is. Trying to force your way into a space that is already full, makes no sense at all. So, why do it?

I know that the first time I heard of this principle of non-action, that I thought it was speaking of passivity, or surrender. But, I came to realize that was just the way things appeared. The way things seem to be. The eternal reality is something far different. People with power need excuses to wield power. If there aren’t ready excuses, they’ll manufacture some. But non-action isn’t passivity or surrender. What it is, is the patience to wait for the outcome. The Tao has everything under control. The Universe only seems to be chaotic and without order. That is the illusion. But the reality is that we do live in an ordered Universe, governed by universal laws. When things are chaotic, it is only because we have been interfering with the natural order. Left to itself, the Tao always balances things out. Which is all well and good, if you want things to be balanced out. But what if you want imbalance? What if you thrive on disparity?

I have come to realize that there are always going to be some people who will never want to leave things to the Tao, because it upsets their apple cart. In a free market, the Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what is not enough. That is the reality of a free market. In spite of all the rhetoric to the contrary from vested interests that will have you believe that only by interfering with that invisible hand can we make sure that the rich don’t just get richer while the poor get poorer. The reality is and always has been that it is because of interference that imbalance and disparity is the norm. Even now, many will insist that things would only be much worse if we truly had a free market. “The problem isn’t that we over-regulate, the problem is that we regulate too little.” And even those politicians that cry out for deregulation are still not wanting to have a free market. They just want to tweak a little here and there, and leave the government still firmly entrenched in the market.

But I will continue to insist that non-action, having the patience to wait for the outcome, is the only way to truly foster peace, harmony, and happiness. We simply must trust that the Tao has things under control; and is governing the Universe towards harmony. I don’t think I can stress this too much. Problems we perceive as demanding our attention are often merely phases on the way to a good outcome, and in no need of our meddling. The law of unintended consequences comes to mind right here. How can we be sure that we are contributing to a solution when we don’t even know what would happen if we left things alone? Good intentions, my own Dad always was telling me, may pave the streets of Hell, but, they are a poor measure of whether you did your job right.

I know that someone right now is thinking of all sorts of situations where we need to take action, and quickly. Like, for instance, to save lives, or to avoid a disaster. I am not going to deny this. But I am wary of these excuses, since the powers that be will always use excuses like these to justify everything that they do. They become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Ultimately, we humans have a tendency to regard ourselves a bit too highly. It is nothing short of hubris for us to think that nothing would happen, at least nothing good, without our intervention. And that hubris, pride, will likely be our undoing.

Still, for all my ranting today, Lao Tzu doesn’t just talk about the value of non-action. He also talks about teaching without words. Oops! Maybe I should have been paying more attention. Why do we talk so much? Because we are always feeling the need to explain our actions. We have to defend our actions, because if we had only avoided those actions in the first place, they wouldn’t be needing defending.

This is all so obviously not the way of the Master, who teaches without words. How does the Master accomplish this? Seriously, I need to know. And, here it is. Because the Master performs without actions. By letting the Tao do its work, there is nothing that needs to be said. You can see the results without any explanation necessary.

A One And A Two And A Three

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness,
realizing he is one with the whole Universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Chapter 42 in the Tao Te Ching is another creation myth. The last time I wrote about this chapter, I was not feeling like trying to go into what is the One and the Two and the Three. I wanted to make it as easy as one, two, three. And it really is that simple. But, I didn’t think I could make it as simple as it was. Still, I had a friend point out to me that I should not be reluctant to discuss these elements of the creation myth. For they point to something that it is important to understand about the Tao, and the art of living in our world. So, today, I decided to tackle it for my readers.

I am looking first at where Lao Tzu says: “The Tao gives birth to One.” And I immediately accept that the One is a reference to the Tao. So, the Tao gives birth to the Tao. Can that be right? It comes back to understanding the being and non-being that Lao Tzu has referred to before. Since “all things are born of being” and “being is born of non-being” I begin to understand how it can be that the Tao gives birth to the Tao. Let’s take a look at a snippet from another Taoist text, this one by another founder of Taoism, Chuang Tzu. He says: “At the beginning, there is Nothing. No existence. No names. Where One rises up, there is One but it doesn’t have a form yet.” This, to me, speaks of non-being. An aspect of the Tao. Non-being is nothing. This is the way it was at the beginning. There was no existence. No names. Just nothing. But nothing rises up. Or, non-being. That is the initial One. Formless and nameless. Still, it is the Tao.

Non-being gives birth to being. Now we have two. This is yin and yang. Still, this duality is One in unity. There is the Tao that gives and the Tao that receives. It has both of those aspects working together simultaneously. There isn’t one without the other.

The Two gives birth to Three. Now it gets a bit tricky. What is this Three? I believe it is a third aspect or element of the one Tao. We have non-being. We have being. And the third aspect is energy. The life force. Yin and yang combine, and like the splitting of an atom, produces energy.

These three elements, or aspects, of the Tao give birth to all things. Call it a big bang if you like. Make of it whatever you want. Use it, if it helps you to understand. And let it go, if it doesn’t.

Now, what does Lao Tzu mean by these next lines: “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male. When male and female combine all things achieve harmony.” Once again, we are having a reference to yin and yang. How is it that the life cycle continues. All things need to combine yin and yang, female and male, to achieve harmony.

But what do the next lines have to do with any of this? “Ordinary men hate solitude. But the Master makes use of it, embracing his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole Universe.” Yesterday, we were talking about extraordinary and ordinary individuals. Actually, the translation used the words superior and average. But it means the same thing. What makes the Master extraordinary is his willingness to embrace his solitude, his aloneness. It is in doing this that he realizes (or makes reality) that he is one with the whole Universe. We are all one with the Tao. The Tao is nothing and everything. And in the Tao we are nothing and everything. Ordinary men can’t tolerate being alone. They hate solitude. But, it is in solitude that we come to realize that we are not alone. We are not separate beings. We only appear to be separate beings. We are all one with the Tao.

Go Ahead And Laugh

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus, it is said:
The path into the light seems dark.
The path forward seems to go back.
The direct path seems long.
True power seems weak.
True purity seems tarnished.
True steadfastness seems changeable.
True clarity seems obscure.
The greatest art seems unsophisticated.
The greatest love seems indifferent.
The greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet, it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Look all around you and you’ll see it. The way things seem to be. The path into the light? It seems dark. The path forward? It seems to go back. The direct path? It seems long. That is what is confronting us today and everyday of our journey. The way things seem to be keep us from following the right path. The one that is the eternal reality.

We are enamored with what is only illusion. What seems powerful? What seems pure? What seems steadfast? I understand how our thinking can get muddled. The way things seem to be is so very clear. Why can’t we trust what we see and hear? What we can smell and taste and feel seem so concrete. True power? It seems weak by comparison. True purity? It seems tarnished. And true steadfastness? It seems changeable.

The illusion has messed with us. Really messed with us. The greatest art seems unsophisticated. The greatest love seems indifferent. The greatest wisdom seems childish.

This is why Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by saying it takes a superior person to immediately begin to embody the Tao, when first they hear of it. It takes an extraordinary person to see beyond the illusion. Beyond the way things seem to be.

I wish I could say that I was one of those truly extraordinary persons. I first heard of the Tao many years ago. I was reading C.S. Lewis and he was talking about it. What he had to say intrigued me. It sparked an interest in me that lay dormant for many years. So, I certainly can’t say that I immediately began to embody it.

Perhaps, I just wasn’t ready yet. It took me many years before I actually thought again of the Tao and decided to actually try to find out more about it. I found copies of various translations of the Tao Te Ching. As I started reading through them, I found myself half believing and half doubting it. Yes, I was only average.

I guess I am thankful I didn’t respond like the foolish person. I never did laugh out loud. Not about the Tao, anyway. No, I just had that wrestling thing going on in my mind. The wrestling between what I believed and what I doubted. I think that is a perfectly normal reaction. I am thankful for the years of wrestling. Because, even though it took years of wrestling, I came out on top. That is when I laughed out loud. Because it was all so very simple. And I had missed it for so very long. Trying to make it a great deal more complicated than it ever had to be.

Why do we only half believe it? And why do we half doubt it? Because it is so simple. And yet, so very hard to see. I understand why the fool laughs. But I understand too, why the superior person is able to immediately embody it.

The fool laughs because the Tao is nowhere to be found. I get that. Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. The way things seem to be, make the fool laugh out loud. But that is okay. Go ahead, and laugh. If you didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.

The superior person is able to immediately embody it because they can see what the fool will never see. They can see beyond the way things seem to be. They can see what it is that nourishes and completes all things. They perceive the eternal reality behind it all.

Me? I just get glimpses of it. Just out of the corner of my mind’s eye. When and where I wasn’t even looking for it. And that is okay, too. For I am still being nourished and completed.

Return And Yielding, Being and Non-being

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Everytime we get back around to these four lines in the Tao Te Ching, nestled almost exactly half way through Lao Tzu’s guide to the art of living, I can’t help but think that the Tao is just like that. All of nature seems to be cyclical. Day follows night. Or is it, night follows day? I guess how you look at it depends on where you are in the cycle. We are always looking forward, forward. Waiting for the return. Last time we were on this chapter, it was Summer. Now, it is Autumn. As much as I enjoyed Summer, even then, I was looking forward to the return of the changing colors and temperatures, that symbolize the return of Autumn. Next time through, we will be in the midst of Winter. I am not quite ready for that return. I want to enjoy Autumn for just awhile longer. This evening, as I am writing this, we have a full moon. Yet another example of the cycles of nature.

So where does the Tao fit into all of this? The Tao is something of an unsung hero in the story. I say unsung, though I keep pointing at it, and singing its praises. Still, it is appropriate to point out that the Tao is doing its thing largely unnoticed and behind the scenes, behind everything that is going on in the Universe. But, while return is the movement of the Tao, and we can certainly point out all the examples of returning in the natural cycle, it is yielding that is the way of the Tao. What does Lao Tzu mean by yielding?

I think that yielding has both a yin and a yang aspect to it. Much like returning does. You can’t return if you never depart. And yielding speaks to me of both giving and receiving. The Tao lets all the credit go to nature. But the Tao is what is really responsible for all the abundance that nature produces. I read somewhere of leading by opening doors you want people to walk through, rather than closing doors you don’t want them to walk through. That sounds like the Tao to me. Nothing is forced. That is the way of the Tao.

And then we have being and non-being. This is more yin and yang. The interplay between the two is what makes the Universe, and everything in it, happen. All things are born of the one. But the one is born of the other. We could spend a lifetime contemplating non-being; and many people have. Yet, never do more than scratch the surface. It is a mystery. And I am okay with that. The mysterious Tao. I like contemplating it. But I don’t dwell on it too long. I am content to be. And I am content to accept that my being is because of non-being. Though I don’t even know what that means.

Two Alternate Realities: Pick One.

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way things are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion,
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel,
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last few days we have pondered the possibility of transforming the world into a paradise. Lao Tzu has said both, that if powerful men and women could center themselves, and remain centered, in the Tao that the world would transform itself; and, that we can’t improve the world, it is sacred, and it can’t be improved upon. These two statements aren’t really that hard to reconcile. What Lao Tzu is saying is that if we want the world to be a paradise, we need to let the Tao do the transforming it. Powerful men and women think that by tampering with the natural order they can make improvements. If only they let the Tao do its thing, the world would transform itself into a far better place.

Today, Lao Tzu offers us two different possible realities. The one, in harmony with the Tao. And, the other, when humans insist on interfering with the Tao. We know which reality we are experiencing currently. The only question is, can we ever expect the other?

Lao Tzu’s vision is for individuals living in community with each other. Individuals choosing to live in harmony with the Tao. We, who will view the parts with compassion, because we understand the whole. Making our constant practice humility. And, instead of seeking to glitter like a jewel, being content to let ourselves be shaped by the Tao, as rugged and common as stone.

This is an especially important message now that another election is over (in the U.S.). As the euphoria begins to wear off, and people begin to see that elections never change anything (that is, until the next election, when they once again think that this time things will change), we need to reach out to our fellow individuals living with us in community, and work together to transform our own world by centering ourselves in the Tao.

Are You Willing To Have No Will Of Your Own?

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus, he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus, he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds,
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore, the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality, and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu said that the Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done. Today, he says that the Master does nothing, yet he leaves nothing undone. This is something to keep in mind when we are always facing the temptation to do something.

We have been talking about what can be done about the pain and suffering we find in our world. Lao Tzu has promised time and time again that if the powerful could center themselves in the Tao, and remain centered, the world would transform itself into a paradise.

I said yesterday that I don’t think we should wait for the powerful to get their act together. But, can we really transform the world, ourselves?

Today’s chapter is concerned with what can happen all by itself. If we will just let it.

Lao Tzu tells us that the Master doesn’t try to be powerful. This puts him in stark contrast with ordinary men. Ordinary men are always reaching for more power. And, they never have enough. The Master understands the eternal reality. By not trying to be powerful he is truly powerful.

An ordinary man is always doing things. Busy, busy, busy. But sadly he always leaves many more to be done. And, once again, the Master understands the eternal reality. By doing nothing, he leaves nothing undone.

I know this all sounds quite mysterious. How do I expect you to put this into practice? Well, when I say do nothing, I really mean do nothing. When I say, don’t try to be powerful, I really mean don’t try to be powerful.

The art of living is really all about not doing. And, if we are going to fail, it is right here where we will. If we aren’t content to be. And, instead insist on finding something to do. That is what separates the Master from the ordinary man. The paradox comes in when you consider that the Master is content to be merely ordinary. And that is what makes him extraordinary.

But, oh! How great is the temptation to do something. We have things to shrink or get rid of entirely. There is a whole lot of pain and suffering in the world. And Lao Tzu tells us that regardless how subtle our perception of it might be, we need to understand and accept the way things are is the way things are. Some things we want to shrink we will first need to let expand. Some things we want to get rid of we will first need to let flourish.

Behold, the kind man. He sees that there is work to be done. Lots of pain and suffering. And, because he is kind, he does something. Yet, something remains undone. Am I saying there is anything wrong with kindness? Should I offer some kind of reward to the kind man for at least doing something? Perhaps, you think that, if not for the kind man, nothing would have been done. But that isn’t how the Universe works.

Behold, the just man. He steps up and sees the pain and suffering. And, being a just man, sees the injustice of it all. So, he does something. Yet, and very sadly, he leaves many things to be done.

Kindness couldn’t get it all done. Justice couldn’t get it all done. I wonder what morality will accomplish.

Behold, the moral man. He does something. And, when no one responds, he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

I get the distinct impression that Lao Tzu doesn’t think too kindly of your moral persuasion. This is what he has to say. You can tell that the Tao has been lost. Because goodness has been put in its place. And, you can tell that goodness has been lost. Because morality has been put in its place. And, you can tell that morality has been lost, because all that is left is the husk of true faith, which is, ritual. And that, my friends, is the beginning of chaos.

This is why I cannot stress enough how important it is for us to let go of all illusions and dwell in reality.

Kindness and justice and morality are all illusions. And poor substitutes for the real thing. They always leave something undone. And when things don’t go their way, they will act out aggressively, reaching for more and more and more power. Their appetite is insatiable.

The Master understands these things. That is why he concerns himself with the depths and not the surface, with the fruit and not the flower.

The question is, are you willing to have no will of your own?

Transform Your Own World

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be
transformed by itself,
in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Right from the beginning chapter of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu identified our problem. It is that we are caught in desire. He has been leading us along a path to freedom from desires, the only place where all things are at peace.

If today’s chapter sounded vaguely familiar to you, it is because it wasn’t that long ago, chapter 32, where Lao Tzu was saying much the same thing about powerful men and women. Then, he said if powerful men and women could remain centered in the Tao, all things would be in harmony. The world would become a paradise. All people would be at peace and the law would be written in their hearts.

But with today’s chapter, Lao Tzu’s wording is subtly shifted. Lao Tzu isn’t talking about remaining centered in the Tao today. He doubts the powerful could center themselves in the Tao, in the first place. This, of course, makes perfect sense; when you consider that the Tao is imperceptible. The powerful, just like the rest of us, are caught in desires. They want what they want. Just like the rest of us want what we want. And the Tao remains imperceptible. And no one is content.

So, the question on my mind today is: Is it hopeless, then? Today, is election day. There are still lots of people holding out hope even given that their only choice in the election is between tweedleDummer and tweedledummeR. People have been doing this for what seems like forever. Lots of anti-incumbent sentiment. There always is. Though that never seems to include their own incumbent. Why else would incumbents almost always get re-elected? And I have heard a lot of discontent with the powerful men and women who are supposedly running our country. But few seem to understand that you are never going to achieve different results when you keep doing the same things over and over again.

Nevertheless, I am voting today. I actually have a choice in my own 8th Congressional District in Missouri. We have an independent running. I know Terry Hampton personally. I have known her for years. But I am not suffering from any delusions about the powerful men and women that supposedly run things in Washington D.C. I know they are bought and paid for. And I wasn’t buying. So I am not paying.

The truth is, I know too many people who steadfastly and fervently believe that Democrats are the lesser of the two evils. And I know too many people who steadfastly and fervently believe that Republicans are the lesser of the two evils. But I know too few people who steadfastly and fervently believe limiting our choice each election cycle to a choice between two evils, de-legitimizes our whole system of governance. Given that we aren’t being given any real choice, it is time to accept reality. We aren’t being governed. We are being ruled. And that makes it tough to be content.

And yet…and yet, the art of living as individuals in community with each other is still about being content. I am not holding out any hope for powerful men and women to get their act together. And thankfully, we don’t have to. I know where I came from and where I am going. I am freeing myself of dependence on an unsustainable system. I am letting go of desires, one desire at a time. I am learning to be content with my simple, everyday life, as I live my life in harmony with the way things are. And, that once elusive peace, isn’t so elusive anymore.

Friends, don’t wait for the powerful to make this world a better place. Transform it yourself.

Just Show People The Results

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.

This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

My commentary the last few days has been brief. I’d like to think short and sweet. But I’ll just leave it at brief. We have been talking about the imperceptible Tao and what we can perceive. Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about going wherever you wish, without danger. The key, Lao Tzu tells us, is in being centered in the Tao and perceiving the universal harmony even amid great pain. That is the way to find peace in our hearts.

And I get it. I really do get it. I have found that peace. But that doesn’t really go far enough, does it? The fact that my heart is at peace when there is so much pain and suffering all around me. It seems almost selfish of me to content myself with my own peace.

And Lao Tzu comes along with today’s chapter, to show me how to better make use of the inexhaustible Tao. Even if my heart is at peace. There is still so much pain and suffering. Naturally, I want to do something about that. I’d like to shrink it; or better yet, I’d like to get rid of it entirely.

And this is where Lao Tzu shares what he calls the subtle perception of the way things are. See, we are still talking about what can be perceived. And a lot of that, is ever so subtle. But that is the eternal reality. It is ever so subtle. In perceiving the universal harmony, let us not think for a moment that it is only about our own hearts. No, it concerns more than just little ol’ me. It concerns everything and everybody. It concerns how we can effectively deal with what is the hard and fast reality for people all over the world.

One thing we never want to hear is that if we want to shrink something we must first allow it to expand. Or worse, if we want to get rid of something we must first allow it to flourish. No, we don’t much care for the way things are when we are seeing people in the midst of pain and suffering.

Still, not liking it, doesn’t change things. If you want to take something, you must first allow it to be given. We must see this. We must understand this. No matter how subtle it appears to be. No matter how clouded our vision, or muddled our thinking may be. We must see how things work in our Universe.

There are laws which must be obeyed. Call them laws of nature or laws of physics. I call them the way things are. That, you simply can’t successfully work against. Oh, maybe for a time you might appear to thwart nature. But nature always wins in the end. Always.

Does that seem hard and cruel to you? Am I saying that pain and suffering are something that we must simply allow to expand and flourish? Actually, what I think Lao Tzu is getting at is helping us to work with the Tao, instead at cross purposes with it. That the pain and suffering may just be a consequence of failing to work with the Tao.

But we have lost our way. And finding our way back is a process. And a slow and painful process, it might have to be. We can’t overcome the hard by being hard. We have to perceive the universal harmony. We have to perceive the way things are. It is the soft that overcomes the hard. It is the slow that overcomes the fast.

Does this all seem very mysterious? Just mumbo jumbo? Sure, the Tao is a mystery. And its ways are largely a mystery. That is its imperceptibility. But we can see it manifestations. We can perceive its results. That is why Lao Tzu encourages us to let our own workings remain a mystery. Just like the Tao. Just show people the results.

You Can’t Judge It By The Words That Point To It

She who is centered in the Tao
can go where she wishes, without danger.
She perceives the universal harmony,
even amid great pain,
because she has found peace in her heart.

Music or the smell of good cooking
may make people stop and enjoy.
But words that point to the Tao
seem monotonous and without flavor.
When you look for it,
there is nothing to see.
When you listen for it,
there is nothing to hear.
When you use it,
it is inexhaustible.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 35, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I am still thinking about the imperceptible Tao. Lao Tzu tells us that music or the smell of good cooking may make people stop and enjoy. But words that point to the Tao seem monotonous and without flavor. Has he been reading my blog? That doesn’t sound very gracious. Oh well, I am not going to take it personally. What he is really getting at is how impossible it is to perceive the Tao. When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

Still, there is something appealing to me about the Tao. Though it is monotonous and without flavor. I have found that I can center myself in it. The secret is in understanding that it isn’t something that you perceive with your senses. You find it deep inside your own heart. That is where it is. That is where it always is. And, that is the peace I have found in my own heart.

There is danger in the world. Danger and great pain. You can see it all around you. You can hear it. You can smell it. But there is something else too. Something that you can only experience once you have found peace in your own heart. And that is the universal harmony. The Tao? That can’t be perceived. But the universal harmony? That you can perceive. Even amid all the danger and the pain. It can be perceived.

And I know the question you are asking. It is the same question I am always asking myself. How, in the midst of all the danger, all the pain, all the suffering, can I have this peace in my heart? It is by centering myself in the monotonous and flavorless Tao. It is in using it that I find it is inexhaustible. And that is good. Because it has to be inexhaustible. Sometimes the danger and pain seem inexhaustible. But they have their end. And the Tao? It goes on and on and on.

You Know What Is Truly Great?

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold onto them.
Since it is merged with all things,
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it,
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

It is its humility that makes it truly great. That is something that stands out to me about today’s chapter. We have been talking for so long about the great Tao. And the temptation is to think that everything that needs to be said has already been said many times before. And, we have talked about humility before. We talked about water always seeking out the lowest places. And water is a metaphor for the Tao.

But as I was reading through this chapter again today, I was thinking about why it is that the Tao is imperceptible. And it dawned on me. It is its humility. No one can perceive it, because it isn’t making a show of itself. Yet, it flows everywhere. All things are born from it. Yet, it doesn’t create them. It pours itself into its work. Yet, it makes no claim. It nourishes infinite worlds. Yet, it doesn’t hold onto them. Just look at those “yets.” No matter what the Tao accomplishes, it takes none of the credit.

It is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. That is what makes it humble. All things vanish into it and it alone endures. That is what makes it great. And, it isn’t even aware of its greatness. That is what makes it truly great.

This is the great Tao that flows everywhere.