Perceiving The Imperceptible

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

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.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop,
you can avoid any danger.

All things end in the Tao
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by hearkening back to what he said about the Tao at the beginning of the Tao Te Ching. What Stephen Mitchell translates as imperceptible, in the original is nameless. Lao Tzu is talking about the mystery that shrouds the eternal Tao. We can’t perceive it. It is without form and nameless. That doesn’t make it any less real. It just makes it all the more real. However, it is a warning to us that what we are dealing with is beyond anything our minds can conceive.

But, since the Tao is not something that we can perceive, it would seem to be impossible to center ourselves within it. I mean, Lao Tzu comes right out and tells us that if powerful men and women could, then all things would be in harmony. The next few lines delight our imaginations. The world, a paradise. All people, at peace. The law, written in our hearts. This is beginning to sound like something right out of the sacred texts of our major religions.

Yet, we can’t shake that warning at the beginning. We can’t perceive it. And, if we can’t perceive it, we can’t center ourselves in it. Paradise seems hopelessly lost to us.

Well, human ingenuity being what it is, we sure try. We set out to give what is formless and nameless both a form and a name. Who can resist this? Even Lao Tzu couldn’t help himself. He is the one who gave it the name, Tao. Though he did acknowledge that name was only provisional. It is nameless. But I have to call it something. How can you begin to understand something until you apply some name to it? And, of course, Lao Tzu insists that what he is really talking about is the manifestations of the Tao, not the Tao itself.

While this doesn’t apply just to the Tao, today’s chapter is about the Tao. All our efforts to try and understand the mysteries of the Universe run up against this roadblock. The forms and names we come up with, they are only provisional. The institutions that we set up are always limited to a certain time. The danger isn’t in having forms and names and institutions. The danger is in not knowing when the time for such things is at an end.

I know, I know, this is a very difficult chapter. This imperceptible Tao that we are still trying to perceive has all the makings of driving us all insane. When does it end? And, if we can’t perceive it, no matter how great our efforts, then why keep talking about it?

When does it end? It ends in the Tao. And that, my friends, is much better news than we might yet perceive. You can’t center yourself in it. But, the Tao can center you in it. Just like all rivers flow into the sea. All things end in the Tao.

So, what does any of this mean to me? Well, knowing that all things end in the Tao, I can simply be like water. Be like all rivers, flowing into the sea. That is my place in the grand scheme of things. I am like water in a river, flowing, ever-flowing into the sea. Uncountable galaxies are contained within the Tao. And that includes me.

What Use, Weapons?

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear.
A decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last few days we have been talking about how our relationship with the Earth determines whether we are one with the Tao. Yesterday, we expanded our definition of the Earth to include not just the physical planet, but everything and every one contained within it. The whole world accepts you once you have learned to accept yourself.

Lao Tzu opened that chapter with a simple physics lesson, for every force there is a counter force. Violence, however well-intentioned it may be, always rebounds upon the one who is violent. That is a universal law. Which means it is one we ignore at our own peril. Still, Lao Tzu mentioned that universal law in a particular context. That of governing. He was instructing those who govern in the art of governing. You need to rely on the Tao, instead of relying on the use of force and violence.

Today, Lao Tzu expands on that theme of violence perpetrated by those who govern us. That is where weapons come in. Those are the tools of violence. And, to the extent they are used as tools of violence, all, not some or a few, decent people detest them. Here we have a litmus test for decency. Decency requires that you detest violence. Therefore, decency requires that you detest tools intended to inflict violence.

Now, before anyone starts getting any wrong ideas, let’s be clear that weapons may have other purposes than to inflict violence. It is only with respect to their use as tools of violence that they are to be detested.

Weapons are also the tools of fear. Fear is something that Lao Tzu has earlier identified as a phantom. It isn’t based in reality. This is why another litmus test of decency is found in one’s willingness to avoid fear-based use of weapons.

So, why have any weapons? That would seem the obvious question. After all, if weapons are going to be used as tools of violence and fear, and all decent people detest and avoid using them, why have them at all?

I, personally, would be more than happy to live in a world where there was no need for weapons, at all. But sadly, as ideal as that would be, that isn’t anymore based in reality than is fear. I could hope for it. And, who doesn’t hope for it? But, in the same chapter where Lao Tzu identified fear as a phantom, he said the same thing about hope. It isn’t based in reality either.

Here is the reality. While all decent people detest and avoid using weapons as tools of violence and fear, not everyone is decent. You can’t make all people decent. Sorry to drop that bombshell on you. But it is the truth. And, given that truth, it is for the best that decent people have weapons. That really wasn’t fair of me. I just offered the hope that we could limit the use of weapons to decent people. But, do I really need to tell you that hope isn’t based in reality either? Wouldn’t it be great if only decent people had access to weapons? Of course it would. But we are trying to be realistic here.

As much as I would like to live in a fantasy world, I live in this world. And in this world weapons can and should be used by decent people, not as tools of violence and fear, but in self-defense. Because, yes, there are plenty of not too decent people out there who are only too willing to use weapons as tools of violence and fear.

So let’s take a look at what Lao Tzu has to say about using weapons as tools of self-defense. What does self-defense mean? Still talking about decent people here, it means that weapons are going to be avoided except in the direst necessity. And, only with the utmost restraint.

I think it would be a mistake to classify Lao Tzu as a pacifist. If by pacifist, you mean someone that wouldn’t use a weapon even in the direst necessity. Then again, if by pacifist you mean someone for whom peace is his highest value, you have Lao Tzu, and me, pegged. Decent people can’t be content when the peace has been shattered. And that is something that goes both ways. We refuse to be the ones that shatter the peace. But, we also understand that others, who are not so decent, may wish to shatter the peace. That is what we are guarding against. The peace being shattered. Peace being our highest value, direst necessity does call decent people to arms.

But let’s not forget who it is that Lao Tzu has been addressing the last couple of days. It is those who are governing. And their definition of direst necessity has me thinking there isn’t a decent person among them. Utmost restraint is another one of those things that those who govern us seem to have in short supply.

We talked earlier about hope and fear being phantoms. But let’s be clear here. Our enemies are not demons, but human beings like ourselves. Our rulers like to whip up a whole lot of patriotic fury to get us to support our troops as they engage all over the world in making global capitalism profitable. But these enemies that are being manufactured out of thin air are not demons. They are our fellow humans. Each of them have their own hopes and fears, just like we do. We all have plenty of phantoms to deal with, we don’t need to be manufacturing demons.

Decent people do not wish their enemies personal harm. Decent people do not rejoice in victory over them. How could they? In what test of human decency is delighting in the slaughter of men, women, and children acceptable?

You know, we used to understand that battlefields were graveyards. We weren’t so insulated from the reality of war like we are today, with all of our high tech gadgetry. We used to understand that battles were places of great sorrow. And, it was because of our previous understanding that the greatest acts of compassion were demonstrated on those battlefields. Now, we have replaced compassion and sorrow with mocking and laughter. That is our shame. And, it is indecent.

Are You Ready To Stop Being A Pawn?

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon one’s self.

The Master does his job
and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and that trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need others’ approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how being one with the Tao depends on our relationship with the Earth. Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us that the world is sacred and can’t be improved. He said that treating it like an object is only going to result in losing it. I said, parenthetically, that this doesn’t just go for the Earth, this goes for all beings. Treating anything or anyone as an object is only going to mess things up. We aren’t objects to be exploited. We are all subjects. We are all subject to the natural laws of the Universe, the Tao.

I want to be clear on this point. Lao Tzu talks over and over again about the Tao being the way things are. That we need to accept that the way things are is the way things are. And every time I write those words I have this nagging suspicion that somebody somewhere is going to think that Lao Tzu is telling us that the status quo is something we should just accept.

That is not at all what Lao Tzu is teaching. The Tao is not the status quo. The status quo is a system set up in opposition to the Tao. It should be opposed wherever possible. That isn’t easy. It is a powerful system backed by powerful men and women who want nothing to do with the Tao. All they want is to maintain their power.

When Lao Tzu talks about the way things are, he is talking about the natural laws that govern the Universe and everything in it. The Tao doesn’t rule like some dictator. You can go against the current of the Tao. You might even thrive for a time going against the current of the Tao. But in the end, we reap what we sow. What Lao Tzu is ultimately offering us is a life of ease. That is the reward, and I am not meaning a heavenly one, that is the result of a life lived relying on the Tao.

I give a whole lot of grief to those that are trying to maintain the status quo, our rulers and their sycophants. But little ol’ me doesn’t give anywhere near the grief that they give to all of us residing on planet Earth, simply because powerful men and women refuse to rely on the Tao in governing us.

There is no clearer picture of the line that separates those that rely on the Tao from those that don’t, in today’s chapter. The chapter begins with an elementary physics lesson. The kind of lesson that we were all taught as children while playing with others. This isn’t rocket science. It is what every boy and every girl has been taught for many generations. Sadly, too many have either failed to learn the lesson or have forgotten it.

To rely on the Tao is to never try to force issues. To rely on the Tao is to never defeat enemies by force of arms. Using force is a big no-no. Why? Because for every force there is a counter force. Everyone knows this is true. It is a law. That means that violence, the go-to measure being inflicted by powerful men and women everywhere, will inevitably rebound on them. That doesn’t stop them. Because it isn’t them on the front lines. They aren’t the ones that are shedding the blood. They aren’t the ones that are losing arms, legs, and lives. They aren’t the ones that come home from war with shattered minds. For now, they have their pawns to inflict the harm and reap the devastation.

I have no delusions that the words that I post are going to influence the powerful to amend their ways. My ambitions are much more humble. I just hope to influence a few people not to be pawns anymore.

So, how do we go about no longer being a pawn? If you are looking for something specific here, I’d say that the answers are as varied as there are people on the Earth. I am not going to tell you what you specifically should do to avoid being a pawn used to maintain the status quo. But Lao Tzu does have some solid instructions on how to go about relying on the Tao, instead of being a pawn.

So, getting off the chessboard… First off, you have work to do. We all do. The only question is, will we be satisfied to do our job and then stop? What does he mean, stop? This is certainly something that we need to understand.

Do you understand that the universe is forever out of control; and, that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao? Until you understand this, you won’t stop. Do you believe so little in yourself that you just have to try to convince others of your worth? You need to believe in yourself. You can’t begin to rely on the Tao until you learn to believe in yourself. You don’t need others’ approval. Oh, you may think you do. But that isn’t relying on the Tao. You need to be content with yourself. This is important. Getting off the chessboard is going to appear a very lonely thing. If you haven’t learned to be content with yourself, it is going to be very difficult for you.

Finally, accepting that the way things are is the way things are, means accepting yourself. It means accepting the Tao in you. I am not going to make any grand promises that in no time at all you are going to be lauded with accolades by the powers that be. I think the best you can hope from them is that they won’t even notice you. But Lao Tzu offers something a whole lot better. This: The whole world, that sacred place that can’t be improved, will accept you. And that means everything. Everything. Because our relationship with the Earth is how we interact with the Tao. That life of ease that Lao Tzu keeps talking about. It all starts here.

A Sacred Place

Do you want to improve the world?
I don’t think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you’ll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you’ll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 29, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about how important it is that we have a right relationship with the Earth, our world. Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us how to receive the world in our arms and be a pattern for it. He also talked about the importance of balancing yin and yang, knowing the personal, yet keeping to the impersonal; if, we are going to come to accept the world as it is. I promised, yesterday, that we were going to talk more about accepting the world as it is. If the Tao is going to be luminous inside of us, returning us to our primal selves, it is essential that we accept the world as it is.

Today, as promised, we are ready to tackle learning to accept that the way things are is the way things are. Too often, we see how things seem to be, and we want to improve on things. But Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter on this very note. Do you want to improve the world? I don’t think it can be done.

We have talked about this earlier. The Earth is one of the four great powers. Humans are another. But humans are subordinate to the Earth. We need to follow the Earth as the Earth follows the Universe as the Universe follows the Tao. That is how we are one with the way things are. We do well when we accept this natural order.

For Lao Tzu, the world is sacred. You simply cannot improve on it. Trying to improve it involves going against the natural order. It means not accepting the way things are. And that means tampering with it. It is our tampering with the natural order which ruins it. The world shouldn’t be treated as an object, but as a subject. Subject to the natural laws of the Universe. The Tao. When we treat it like an object, we lose. Parenthetically, this goes for all beings, including our fellow humans. Treating anything or anyone as an object is just going to mess everything up. We are all subjects. Subject to the natural laws of the Universe. The Tao.

Okay, that seems simple enough. But, how exactly do we go about accepting the world as it is? How do we set aside any notion that we can improve on the natural order? It should come as no surprise that it depends on our understanding of how yin and yang complement each other. Isn’t that what Lao Tzu has been going on and on about? We tend to favor one over the other. Generally, I think we favor yang over yin. But Lao Tzu has made it very clear that we can’t have one without the other. And, we shouldn’t cherish one over the other. They are not at odds. One isn’t superior to the other. One isn’t good, while the other is bad.

Accepting, then, is understanding that in the natural order of things, there is a time for everything. There is a time for yang to be in ascendancy. And, there is a time for yin to be in ascendancy. It is not for us to question why things are the way things are; except, insofar, as it helps us to accept that the way things are is the way things are. And, central to this understanding is knowing that things are in a constant state of flux. Change is the only constant.

There is a time for everything. That means there is a time for being ahead. But there is also a time for being behind. There is a time for being in motion and a time for being at rest. There is a time for being vigorous and a time for being exhausted. There is a time for being safe and a time for being in danger.

That last paragraph may have just been repeating back what Lao Tzu said in the chapter, but it is vitally important that we get this. When we go against the flow, when we tamper with the natural order, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, when we try to put things in motion that need to be at rest, when we keep pushing ourselves to be vigorous when we are already exhausted, we will find ourselves in danger, when we should have been safe. Oh, there is a time for being in danger. But we would do well to leave that to the Tao. Putting ourselves in danger when we could be safe? That goes against the Tao.

We need to be like the Master. She is our example. She sees things as they are. Not as we may want them to be. She doesn’t tamper, never trying to control. She just lets things go their own way. That is accepting that all things are subjects rather than objects. All things are subject to laws that we have absolutely no business tampering with. It is so far above our pay grade to be tampering with the Tao.

The world is a sacred place. That is where we reside. It is our home. The only home we have. Treating the world as the sacred place it is, is residing at the center of the circle. Lao Tzu has talked about staying in the center of the circle before. That is the most sacred place. It is while residing at the center of the circle that you let all things take their course. That is where the Tao is. That is where the Tao does nothing; yet through it, all things are done. That is where we all need to reside. As we venture out from the center of the circle, life starts getting chaotic. That is where the temptation to interfere with things starts to get strong. The center of the circle is a sacred place. It is there that you, too, can do nothing; while letting all things get done.

Don’t Take This Personally

Know the male,
yet keep to the female;
receive the world in your arms.
If you receive the world,
the Tao will never leave you
and you will be like a little child.

Know the white,
yet keep to the black;
be a pattern for the world.
If you are a pattern for the world,
the Tao will be strong inside you
and there will be nothing you can’t do.

Know the personal,
yet keep to the impersonal;
accept the world as it is.
If you accept the world,
the Tao will be luminous inside you
and you will return to your primal self.

The world is formed from the void,
like utensils from a block of wood.
The Master knows the utensils,
yet keeps to to the block;
thus she can use all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 28, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking, over the last few days, about how our relationship with the Earth governs our lives. Today’s chapter, also, is about our relationship with the world in which we live. Once again, yin and yang play a vital role in enabling us to follow the Earth in its natural rhythms. Yin and yang interact together to create balance and harmony in our Universe; and so, in our world. By understanding this, we can be lived by the Tao and find all things falling into place as we do what comes naturally.

Over and over again, Lao Tzu tells us, “Know the yang, yet keep to the yin.” Male, white, personal – these are all yang. Female, black, impersonal – these are all yin. I have said this before, but it bears repeating: One isn’t good, while the other is bad. It is balance between yin and yang that Lao Tzu is wanting. This is the only way to achieve balance and harmony in ourselves, our lives, our world, our Universe. You don’t want to be one, while avoiding the other.

Knowing the yang, while keeping to the yin, is how to receive the world in our arms, be a pattern for the world, and come to accept the world as it really is. That is what we have been talking about doing. When we have this balance of yin and yang, the Tao never leaves us, and is strong and luminous inside of us.

Luminous is a very interesting word. For the last couple of days, Lao Tzu has been talking about the interaction of light with heavy. In that case, the light he was referring to wasn’t the luminous variety. Embodying the light, took into account how it relates to the heavy. But today, we are back to talking about the luminous kind of light. This is about enlightenment. And, once again, we see how yin and yang complement each other.

When we allow yin and yang to complement each other in our lives we become like a little child. That little child is a favorite metaphor of Lao Tzu’s. It is a metaphor, not just of the innocence of the little child, but of that child’s unlimited potential. There is nothing that little child can’t be. It has all the potential in the Universe bound up within it, just bursting at the seams waiting to be let out.

When female and male are combined, you get a little child. We understand that in a physical sense. But Lao Tzu is speaking metaphorically here. He is wanting us to return to our primal selves, to be like a little child.

This is how to interact in our world. By being like a little child. Receive the world in your arms. Be a pattern for the world. And, finally, accept the world as it is. This is how we go about returning to our primal selves. This is the path of enlightenment.

We understand the complementary relationship between female and male, so we understand how to produce a little child. We understand how black and white work together to be a pattern. The familiar yin yang symbol shows the balance of black and white flowing and interacting together. But when we start trying to understand the interaction between the impersonal and personal, things may start to get a little harder. I am sure you have heard many times, “Now, don’t take this personally.” How am I not to take it personally? You have either harmed me or are getting ready to. Of course, I am going to take it personally. How do we know the personal, yet keep to the impersonal?

That seems to be the most difficult thing of them all. And, probably because it is more difficult, the reward is that much greater. When we accept the world as it is, is when the Tao becomes luminous inside of us. But Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us without any help to understand.

After talking about that little child, nothing more personal than a little child, he goes on to talking about an uncarved block of wood. And the chapter takes a strange turn from the personal to the impersonal. He says this world in which we live was formed from the void. The void, yet another impersonal thing. It is just like utensils are formed from that block of wood. Utensils are something that we use personally. The uncarved block of wood, is impersonal. The Master, knows the potential contained within that uncarved block of wood. She knows the utensils. Yet, she keeps to the block. She never loses sight of it. Even when she is looking at and using the utensils, she is keeping before her that uncarved block. And, that is how she can use all things – both personally and impersonally.

Return to your primal self, allow the Tao to be luminous inside you, accept the world as it is. Tomorrow, we are going to talk further about the importance of accepting the world as it is. I don’t usually give a preview for tomorrow. But these chapter divisions are sometimes messy. And Lao Tzu isn’t finished with this topic.

 

They Travel In Pairs: The Master And The Apprentice

A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s job?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

-Lao Tzu- (Tao Te Ching, chapter 27, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu started talking about how to be a good traveler. It was there, that he introduced the idea of the heavy being the root of the light. Yesterday, his emphasis was on the importance of the heavy. But, yin and yang being what they are, today, we are going to talk about embodying the light. How do we embody the light? By understanding the great secret: good and bad need each other.

Traveler? Artist? Scientist? These aren’t just random vocations Lao Tzu is pulling out of thin air. We are all fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. He could have just as easily referred to the generic “human” here. But, he is using these metaphors to illustrate a point. We are going to be good at some things and bad at others. It is the human condition. But, it is essential that we be good at these things. Otherwise, we will be lost.

So, the good traveler is a metaphor for our need to let go of fixed plans, and not to be so intent on arriving. The good artist is a metaphor for our need to be guided by our intuition. The good scientist is a metaphor for opening our mind to the way things really are.

Obviously, we can be bad at these things. And, often we are. We carefully make our travel plans, intent on arriving; because it is the destination, and not the journey, that interests us. But Lao Tzu would have us understand that it is the journey and not the destination that is of prime importance. The journey is everything. The destination? Who knows what the future holds. We need to be available to all; and ready for whatever situation. There is no other way to go with the flow than that. You need to learn to trust your intuition. And, you can never learn to trust your intuition until you start, well, trusting your intuition. We all have these fixed concepts and preconceived notions through countless years of, well, call it what you want: brainwashing, indoctrination. We have become so inured to the way things seem to be. Can we open ourselves to the way things actually are?

When Lao Tzu is talking about being good or bad, he is talking about the relationship between the master and the apprentice, the teacher and the student. In your travels, you are going to encounter all sorts of different situations and people. Many are going to be much better at some things than you are. And, many will be worse.

This highlights the importance of following your intuition. What is it we have been saying about being open to the Tao and doing what comes naturally? Everything falls into place. The Master is available to all. And never has to reject anyone. Whatever situation he finds himself in, he never lets a thing go to waste. That is embodying the light.

Lao Tzu wants us to embody the light in order to be available to everyone that we encounter. What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher? What is a bad man but a good man’s job? Every master (or teacher) needs an apprentice (or student). And, where would the apprentice (or student) be, without the master (or teacher)? Sometimes, I find myself being one, and sometimes I am the other. That all depends on the situation and the people I encounter. I have found it so, in my own life, that whenever I was particularly bad at something, someone that was particularly good at it, came along. How fortuitous! I also believe I have fortuitously come along to help out when someone else has been particularly bad at something that I am good at.

That is how yin and yang works. The ebb and flow of nature’s way. It just goes to show us how important it is to not be bound by fixed plans and concepts. To not be so intent on arriving that we aren’t available to help, or be helped. It takes a mind that is open to the way things really are. That means being attuned to our intuition and going where it leads us.

Lao Tzu calls this the great secret. There isn’t any shortage of people who are good and people who are bad. There is only a shortage of people who are following their intuition and making themselves available. It isn’t a question of intelligence. It is a question of embodying the light. Understand this, so you won’t get lost.

Don’t Be A Fool

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 yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu identified humans as one of the four great powers. So, we are great. At least we have the potential to be great. That all depends on our relationship with the other great powers. Specifically, it is our relationship, subordinate to the Earth, that is of interest to me. It provides us with a necessary healthy balance. Our greatness is tempered by our respect of the Earth. If we are going to be great, we need to follow the Earth. The Earth isn’t ours to exploit. We need to be picking up on its natural rhythms. It is far greater than us. We depend on its richness and goodness for our very survival. I think we have largely forgotten that. Or, lost sight of it. And that has been our great folly.

Today, Lao Tzu continues to refer to the greatness of humanity. He says we are all lords of the country. So, how should we behave in a way that is fitting for lords? We keep coming back to that word balance. It is balance that has Lao Tzu returning, once again, to the familiar imagery of yin and yang, to show us the way.

We have covered yin and yang and their complementary relationship, extensively. Going all the way back to chapter two, we find that they create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, and they follow each other.

Today, Lao Tzu talks about the relationship of heavy and light, the unmoved and movement. How these interact is how we are to interact in the Earth that is our home.

We have a root, an anchor. Not to weigh us down, but to allow us to thrive. Even, and especially, when the greatest storms of life are raging. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us flitting about like fools, being blown to and fro. He doesn’t want us to lose touch with our root, with our home. It is thus that the Master is able to travel all day, enjoying the splendid views. She never loses touch with her root, with her home. Thus, she is able always, even when life is chaotic, to stay serenely in herself.

So, we have the example of the Master. And what are supposed to do when we have an example? We are supposed to follow it. What is it that moves you and me? What do we allow to move us? Is it restlessness? That is the danger. Being blown about by every wind that comes along. That, Lao Tzu admonishes, is foolishness. If we let restlessness move us, we will lose touch with who we are.

I think we can point to any problem we are facing in our world today; and see that at its root, people have lost touch with who they are. And we know this is true. That is why we say things like, “It wasn’t always this way. When and how did things go so horribly wrong?”

So, what do we do? I think we need to get reconnected with the Earth. Get in tune with its natural rhythms. We can find ourselves again. We can return to who we have always been. We can be serene, even in the midst of all the chaos, by holding onto our anchor and always staying connected to our root.

Following The Earth

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)

How exactly do I go about offering commentary on a chapter like this one? To begin with, I am going to borrow heavily from all the previous chapters. This chapter rehashes so much of what he has already said. But there is something more at work here. Lao Tzu is still trying to lead us to understanding. How do we open ourselves to the Tao? How do we follow it? As this chapter reveals, it has a whole lot to do with our relationship with the Earth.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu goes back to talking about the mysterious Tao. This is like the early chapters of the Tao Te Ching. We go way back, back to the very beginning, before the Universe was born. No humans. No Earth. No Universe. Just the Tao. It is without form; yet, it is perfect. Complete without need of anything. It is serene, in that moment and every moment. It is empty; yet within that emptiness is contained everything. It is solitary. It is everything there is. There isn’t anything except for it. It never changes. No matter what changes, it remains the same. It is infinite. It lacks nothing, desires nothing. It is eternally present. Before space and time. Beyond is and is not. It is the great mother of the Universe. It is the source of all being and non-being, of everything that is and everything that is not. Lao Tzu has already told us that it is nameless, the eternal Tao. But we have to call it something; and so we do.

The Tao is ubiquitous; and, it is liquid. It is ever-flowing through all things. Always on the move, both inside and outside; and it always returns to itself, the Origin.

Obviously, the Tao is great. When we consider the four great powers, we list them from greatest to least. So, we start with the Tao. And why not? It is the beginning of everything. The Universe follows after the Tao. It, too, is great. Then comes the Earth, following after the Universe. It, too, is great.

Then comes humans. How do we get to be so great? By following the Earth. We follow the Earth. That is how we follow the Tao. The Earth follows the Tao by following the Universe. The Universe follows the Tao. And the Tao follows only itself. So it is, we return once again to the Source.

Working Against Nature

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 defines himself
can’t know who he really is.
He who has power over others
can’t empower himself.
He who clings to his 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)

Yesterday, we were talking about how to express ourselves completely. Lao Tzu told us to be like the forces of nature, to open ourselves to the Tao, and then, to trust our natural responses. When we follow nature’s way, everything falls into place.

How very different are things as they are described in today’s chapter. This is not doing what comes naturally. It just isn’t natural to stand on tiptoes. And it isn’t natural to rush ahead. By acting against nature we only bring trouble on ourselves. There is a world of difference between letting your light shine and trying to shine your light. We are so afraid of what everybody thinks of us. We want to be the one in control. We begin to think the only way to have any control is to have power over others. Instead of doing things nature’s way, letting our light shine, we aren’t satisfied with that, we reach out for more. That is that standing on tiptoes, rushing ahead, trying to shine our own light. What we are really about is outshining everyone else. I can’t be satisfied with just letting my own light shine. It has to be brighter. The brightest. Do you even know who you are? This constant need to define yourself, to make yourself seem better than anyone else. No matter how great your power over others, you have failed to empower yourself. Nothing you create endures, because you insist on clinging to your own work. Hey, look at me, see what I have done?

So very out of accord with the Tao. If you want to be in accord with the Tao, stop grasping, stop clinging, stop trying… Just do your job; and then, let it go.

Like The Forces of Nature

Express yourself completely.
Then keep quiet.
Be like the forces of nature:
When it 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)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu didn’t want us dismissing what the ancient Masters had to teach us as nothing but empty phrases. He has been talking about residing in the Tao. That, to truly be yourself, you must be lived by the Tao. What he is wanting, for each one of us, is that we will truly be ourselves, a full expression of ourselves. We don’t think we are, yet, what we need to become. We think the challenge before us is to become something very different from what we are. But Lao Tzu insists that it isn’t becoming that is the challenge. It is being, simply being, what we already are. Can we be content to simply be ourselves?

Today, we are continuing on with how to embrace being ourselves. He tells us we need to express ourselves completely. It is the full expression of who and what we are that is the challenge. We never feel like we do that, do we? We always hold something back. Never fully expressing ourselves. Yet, only by fully expressing ourselves are we going to ever truly be ourselves. It is only after we have fully expressed ourselves, holding nothing back, that it is then time to keep quiet and let the Tao live in and through us.

This expression of ourselves is natural. Lao Tzu gives us the examples of the forces of nature and tells us to be like that. Let the wind blow. It is only wind. Let it blow. And when it is raining, let it rain. Let it keep raining until it is time for the clouds to pass and the sun to shine through again.

Being willing to fully express yourself, the real you, without holding anything back, is the beginning of everything the Tao wants to accomplish in you. It is that full expression of who and what we are which opens ourselves to the Tao. That is what makes us one with the Tao, in perfect harmony with the way things are. Having fully expressed ourselves, now we can fully embody the Tao.

What is holding you back from fully expressing yourself? What are you afraid of? Are you hoping, first, to get some new insight? But you already have everything you need. Just open yourself to it. Be one with it. Then you can use it completely.

Still scared? I understand. I am scared too. That is why we hold back. We are afraid we will lose everything. Who among us isn’t scared of experiencing loss? But loss isn’t something we can avoid. It will happen over and over again in our lives. We need to accept that reality. And the only way to accept it, completely, is to open ourselves to it, allowing ourselves to become one with it.

So, what are you afraid of? Open yourself to the Tao. You can do this. And having done it, you can trust your natural responses. No matter what you may think to the contrary. No matter what you have been told. You can trust you. And, as you do take that monumental step of trusting yourself, you will find everything falling into place. That is what it means to be in harmony with the way things are, to go with the flow, to do what comes naturally to you, to be at one with the Tao.