The Emergent Order: Always Just Beyond The Clouds, If We Will Only Let Them Pass

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)

Who wants to be partial, crooked, and empty? Who could be content to be those things? And yet, when we see the self as self, that is exactly what we find we are. We were talking about this yesterday. The only way to become whole, straight, and full is to see the world as self. But how do we so that, without losing our selves in the process? Lao Tzu told us how. First, we have to be content to be what we are; partial, crooked, and empty. Then, we have to be lived by the Tao. This is giving everything up, letting go of all our desires. This is how we become whole, straight, and full. This is the only way to truly be ourselves. I said, yesterday, being content is letting. Letting yourself be what you are, and letting yourself be lived by the Tao. If you want to be content, you start by being content. If this sounds circular, maybe, it is because it is. The Tai Chi symbol is, after all, a circle, representing everything that is; with yin and yang in a constant state of flow, within it. And where does Lao Tzu tell us to stay? In the center of the circle.

But fret not, Lao Tzu doesn’t leave us with just that as an explanation. In today’s chapter, he tells us exactly how to be lived by the Tao. Remember, we start with being content with being what we are. Now what? Now, express yourself, that partial, crooked, and empty self, completely. Don’t hold anything back. Don’t leave anything in reserve. Get it all out, and be done with it. Then, keep quiet. Often, we either jump the gun on being quiet, without first, completely expressing ourselves; or, we just keep on expressing ourselves, long after it should be complete, never becoming quiet.

That is a pretty common problem; so Lao Tzu offers this metaphor, to help us understand exactly how he wants us to be: Be like the forces of nature. Philosophical Taoism is nature’s way. When the wind blows, there is only wind. When it rains, there is only rain. This is how the forces of nature express themselves completely. Expressing yourself completely is like clouds in the sky. And when the clouds pass, after the wind and the rain, the sun shines through. The sun, here, is a metaphor for the Tao. Express yourself completely, like the wind and the rain does. Then be quiet. When the clouds pass, the sun will shine through.

We wanted to know how to be lived by the Tao. Well, we have to open ourselves to the Tao. That is how to be one with it. The clouds have to pass for the sun to shine through. But remember, the sun was always there, right behind those clouds. So, express yourself completely; and then let the clouds pass; keep quiet, you open yourself to the Tao in this way. You and the Tao become one. You are able to embody it completely.

I want to be clear, here. This involves knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. There are two things that are going to happen when we open ourselves to the Tao. First, you are opening yourself to insight. Practicing knowing that you don’t know, opens yourself to insight. Let that happen. Become one with it. Use it completely. Second, you are opening yourself to loss. Don’t balk at this. Don’t resist, don’t interfere, don’t try and force or rush things. Keep quiet. Remember what Lao Tzu said yesterday. “If you want to be reborn, you must let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, you must give everything up.” You are opening yourself to loss, when you open yourself to the Tao. You simply must become one with loss. You must accept it completely.

If you will do this, if you open yourself to the Tao, then you will be able to trust your natural responses. Your body’s intelligence has been restored (see chapter eighteen). And everything will fall into place. How everything falls into place is the emergent order (see chapter three). It is the eternal reality, the way things are. Always, just beyond the clouds, if we will only let them pass.

Not Empty Phrases

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)

I keep coming back to what Lao Tzu said, in chapter thirteen, about seeing the world as your self, and loving the world as your self. I call that intentional empathy. It is how to truly care for all things. But Lao Tzu said something else in that chapter. It is the problem we have been addressing for several days, now. Hope and fear are phantoms which arise from thinking of the self as self. When we don’t think of the self as self, we have nothing to fear.

I believe all the turmoil, we experience in the world, has to do with how we think of our selves. Some, no doubt, are concerned about this thinking of the world as self, as somehow erasing or sacrificing self to the world. But that would be seeing the self as world. A completely different thing. If you are having a problem with this distinction, please message me, I want to explain, better, what I think Lao Tzu means.

Today, I want to turn my attention to what Lao Tzu has to say about how we see the self, in today’s chapter. How do we see the self? Perhaps we see the self as partial, as crooked, as empty. That is seeing the self as self.

We see the self as self, and that causes us all kinds of turmoil. So, we want to become something other than what we are. We want to become whole, straight, full. That would be seeing the world as self. But, then, how do we go about making that transformation a reality in our lives?

Lao Tzu remains consistent in his approach to the art of living. 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. That is, let yin and yang balance each other out. We may bristle here. You mean I have to be patient? I have to wait on the Tao?Yes! That is exactly what he means. We must practice knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. What we think we know, and the things we do to try and interfere with the way things are, is exactly what causes all the turmoil in our lives.

We want to be reborn. We want to experience a rebirth. But we fail to understand, that means we will have to let our selves die. Your self has to die for you to be reborn. You have to let that happen. But I can’t let that just go by, without explaining what I think Lao Tzu means by letting your self die. I don’t think it means that your self is dead and gone. I think it means that you see your self in a whole new way from the way you have always seen your self. You no longer see your self as self. Once again, this isn’t something you do to your self. You don’t make it happen. You let it happen.

If you want to be given everything, give everything up. Don’t get confused here, and think Lao Tzu is talking about thinking you are owed anything. People who just want to be given every thing without working. That is a whole other plane of thinking from what Lao Tzu is meaning. When he speaks of being given everything, he is talking about all the things we want to become. If you want to become whole, and straight, and full, you need to give up the whole notion of becoming those very things. Everything you want to become, give it up!

These aren’t just empty phrases. If you want to experience rebirth, you have to let yourself be lived by the Tao. This is the only way to truly be yourself. As long as you see yourself as partial, and crooked, and empty, and you aren’t content to be those very things; you are not being truly yourself. You are partial, crooked and empty, yes. But you aren’t letting yourself be lived by the Tao. Being content is letting.

The Master, as always, is our example; because he resides in the Tao. It is because he doesn’t display himself, people can see his light. It is because he has nothing to prove, people can trust his words. It is because he doesn’t know who he is (in other words, he sees the world has his self), people recognize themselves in him. It is because he has no goal in mind, everything he does succeeds.

What Gives Her, Her Radiance?

The Master keeps her mind
always at one with the Tao.
That is what gives her 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’s chapter was a very personal one for Lao Tzu. He used the personal pronoun, I, twelve times. I believe this was an amazing display of intentional empathy on his part. He identifies with our suffering, with our “aloneness”. It is when you see your self as self, as separate, as alone, that you feel cut off from the rest of the world. But, you are not alone. That is why you must see the world as your self. Then that intentional empathy carries you along. How so? Lao Tzu described it as drinking from the Great Mother’s breasts. You are held in Mother’s arms. You are nourished with Mother’s milk. You are different, extraordinary.

Today, Lao Tzu explains further, how it is the Master can keep her mind always at one with the Tao. It is what gives her, her radiance.

It doesn’t seem even possible. The Tao is ungraspable. We all know this is true. How can her mind be at one with it? Obviously, grasping at it, won’t be of any use to us. The Master doesn’t have any magical powers that allow her to do the impossible. So, what then, can we do? As soon as we ask the question, we suspect we know, at least, the first part of the answer. What can we do? We can do nothing. When confronted with something you cannot grasp, what can you do? When you can’t grasp, then don’t cling.

Our problem isn’t what we think it is. We think our problem is that we need to grasp the ungraspable. That would be a problem, if we really needed to grasp it. Because that is impossible. It can’t be grasped. But that isn’t our problem. Our problem is all the things we think we know. The ideas that we cling to. That is what holds us back from being at one with the Tao. What the Master does, is let go of all the things she thinks she knows. She doesn’t cling to ideas. Grasping is impossible; so stop clinging.

But what gives her, her radiance? The Tao is dark and unfathomable. We all know this is true, as well. How can it make her radiant? It is her practice of doing not-doing. She does nothing. She doesn’t do anything to make herself radiant; and, she also doesn’t do anything to prevent herself from being radiant. She simply doesn’t interfere with that dark and unfathomable Tao. And, the dark and unfathomable Tao does nothing; yet, through it, all things are done. She is at one with it. She lets it make her radiant.

Understand, very little separates you and I from the Master. We can all be masters. What makes her different, extraordinary? She practices doing not-doing. And, knowing not-knowing. Practice those two things, and you, too, will be radiant, at one with the Tao.

Behold the ungraspable, dark, and unfathomable Tao! It is both before and beyond; before time and space were, and beyond is and is not. How do I know this is true? This isn’t something that I can point at outside of myself. I can’t point to some distant horizon and say, “See there, there is the Tao!” And, I certainly can’t point at something closer and say, “Here it is!” It isn’t outside of me. The truth isn’t out there. Sorry, to all you “X-File” fans. The truth is inside of us. Inside you, and inside me. If you want to realize the truth, you will have to look inside your own self to see it.

Drinking From The Great Mother’s Breasts, Another Return To Intentional Empathy

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 were 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 aimless 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)

Yesterday, we were talking about the refuse we must not refuse to throw away. Lao Tzu concluded yesterday’s chapter by saying, “Stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course.” And, I said this “staying in the center of the circle” requires that we stop thinking and stop doing. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues where I left off.

Today’s chapter is easily the most misunderstood chapter in all the Tao Te Ching. Is Lao Tzu in the throes of depression? Is he experiencing some “dark night of the soul”? Twelve times he uses the personal pronoun, I. Seven of those times, he says, “I am alone.” Over and over again he violates his own, earlier instructions, not to compare and contrast ourselves with others. The tone of this chapter just seems wholly uncharacteristic of Lao Tzu. What is going on here? One translator (not Stephen Mitchell) referred to this chapter as, “One of the most pathetic expressions of human loneliness, from lack of appreciation, ever written.” Wow! I was stunned when I came across that critique. Really? This, from a so-called friend? Who needs enemies?

I admit I used to struggle with today’s chapter, which seemed so out of place. It took me awhile to get so familiar with the Tao Te Ching, that I no longer struggled to find the context which has to rule any interpretation of a particular chapter. But this critique was coming from a translator, surely they had familiarized themselves with what they were translating? Or, maybe they just were translating from the Chinese to English, without any thought for context? Either way, I shouldn’t call the translator, Shirley.

But let’s take a look at the criticism, to see if it has any basis in reality. Is this a pathetic expression of loneliness, perhaps the most pathetic ever written? Does Lao Tzu show no appreciation for his many blessings?

I think this particular translator couldn’t have been more off target. And, here is why: While the chapter does take on a very dramatic change in tone and style, I think that can be explained, if you don’t try to read it as a stand-alone chapter. You have to read it in its context. Keep in mind, the division of this work into 81 chapters was a later addition. When it was originally penned, it was one complete work. I like being able to take a chapter each day; but I always understand that each chapter just continues where he left off. Sometimes, the chapter divisions aren’t even, necessarily, good places to stop.

What have we been talking about in the chapters leading up to this one? He has been talking about the turmoil and chaos that results when people don’t realize where they come from. When the great Tao is forgotten, people stumble about in confusion and sorrow, contriving systems to try and fill the vacuum created by their own lost connection with the Tao. Lao Tzu has told us what we need to do. Observe the turmoil of beings, yes; but contemplate their return to the Source. All those contrived systems need to be thrown away, so we will begin to remember the Tao. Lao Tzu isn’t being pathetic in this chapter. He is being empathetic.

That is the point of all the first person pronouns. He is taking on our suffering, as his own. This isn’t mere sympathy, where he feels sorry for us, or pities us, but can’t possibly understand exactly what it is we are going through. Oh, he knows and understands very well, what we are experiencing. He experiences it, as well.

The context is so obvious to me now, I wonder how I ever struggled to see it before. We said, yesterday, that staying in the center of the circle, and letting all things take their course means “Stop thinking and stop doing.” And how does Lao Tzu begin today’s chapter? “Stop thinking, and end your problems.”

He is talking to himself, yes. But this is that intentional empathy we have spoken of before. He sees the world as his self. “What is the difference between yes and no, between success and failure? Must you value what others value and avoid what others avoid? How ridiculous! How can we possibly empty our minds when we can’t stop thinking? Stop thinking, and all your problems vanish.

Lao Tzu understands just how “alone” we can feel at times. That is why a complete, seven times, he says, “I am alone.” It is that sense of being alone that Lao Tzu empathizes with. So, he compares and he contrasts between the one who feels that, and all the others, who seem to be other than him. They are the ordinary ones. He is so very different. It feels like a very solitary path. Other people are so excited. Why is it that I don’t care? Other people have what they need? I alone have nothing. I just drift about, without a home. My mind is empty. I am an idiot. The reason Lao Tzu feels this way is because we all have felt that way.

Other people are bright, sharp, and have a purpose. I alone am dark, dull, and drift about like a wave on the ocean. Is it any wonder he is talking, or should I say mumbling, to himself?

This is all ridiculous! But he doesn’t call it ridiculous to mock us. The point of calling it ridiculous is to show us that it is completely okay to feel alone, while realizing you are not alone. That is where the empathy comes in. You are not alone. No matter how very alone you feel. You are not alone. And, it is okay to be different. We are all different, unique, individuals. Our empathy with each other never erases our individuality. It is okay to be different. What wouldn’t be okay, would be for us to all be the same. How very ordinary, that would be!

But we are different! Which makes us extraordinary! So, stay there, in the center of the circle. Let all things take their course. Just drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.

The Refuse We Must Not Refuse To Throw Away

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 in the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.

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

Yesterday, we talked about the chaos that results when the great Tao is forgotten. It was a rather depressing chapter. I concluded my commentary by saying, “We need to start remembering. And the sooner we do, the better it will be.” Today, Lao Tzu offers us the way to go about remembering.

Keep in mind, just because the Tao has been forgotten, and people are stumbling about in confusion and sorrow, that doesn’t mean the Tao is not still, very much here. The Tao is not lost; only our connection to the Tao has been lost. The reason we best be remembering, is because the sooner we restore that sense of “connectedness”, the sooner we return to our natural state. Let there be no regrets for lost years. Some people, dare I say, most people, suffer from a lifetime of regrets. But we need to leave the past in the past, where it belongs. The Tao is always present. To realize where you come from is to be always present.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about the ways we contrive to go on with our living, having forgotten the Tao. They are poor substitutes, sure. Such things as goodness and piety, cleverness and knowledge, filial piety, patriotism – these are all signs of the turmoil that our lives are suffering. Today, we are on the road to recovery, a recovery of our connection, our harmony, with the Tao.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us (it seems, somewhat cavalierly), there are certain things we will simply need to throw away – if we want to restore that lost connection. The problem, Lao Tzu is addressing, is getting rid of our dependence on contrived and forced methods for living our lives. Holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. Some of these may be near and dear to a lot of my readers. The temptation to want to hold onto these things, rather than throwing them away, might be very strong. What is wrong with holiness and wisdom, with morality and justice, with industry and profit? I hear you asking. And, I sympathize. And the answer is, there wouldn’t be a thing wrong with any of them, if they flow voluntarily and naturally from the core of our being. The problem is, we have a blockage. You could think of it as some major constipation, if you wanted to think of it in those terms. That is certainly one metaphor you could use. Another, is less crude. Think of it like a blockage in your heart. These things don’t flow voluntarily and naturally from the core of our being. We are stopped up.

And some of you may think, “Of course, I understand that; but can’t we wait to throw them away until after they are no longer useful? Can’t we wait until after the blockage has been cured? Can’t we rely on these “crutches”, as we have been, for quite some time – until we regain our connection with the Tao?” But, even as you are asking these questions, you must already know the answer. Whether, or not, you realize it. Throwing them away, is the cure.

We can’t just wait for people to be a hundred times happier, before we throw away holiness and wisdom. We can’t just wait for people to do the right thing, before we throw away morality and justice. We can’t just wait until there are no more thieves, before we throw away industry and profit.

The question isn’t, “Can we get by with anything less than throwing them all away?” The question is, “Will even that, be enough?”

I want to reiterate that the Tao has gone nowhere. It is still where it has always been, deep within the core of your being. And as long as we insist on using these “crutches”, we will never “get well”. The only way to remember what we have lost, is to rid ourselves of all the poor substitutes we have contrived, for that which is lost.

I really need to add this about Lao Tzu’s list of throwaways. I used to have a love/hate relationship with these things; holiness and wisdom, morality and justice, industry and profit. When I came to this chapter in the Tao Te Ching, I would have this battle inside me, as I both loved and hated these things Lao Tzu said, must be thrown away. I wrestled, and I struggled. But, I have come to a new conclusion. You could say I had an epiphany, a revelatory moment. We have put all these things on a kind of pedestal. That is why we don’t want to give them up. And some of us just can’t see what could possibly be wrong with them. “Industry and profit” took me an especially long time to be willing to throw away. My epiphany came, when I realized (yes, there is that word, again) that these things, we have on the pedestal, are but ideas. They are intangibles. They aren’t real. What are any of these things? What is holiness and wisdom? What is morality and justice? What is industry and profit? What is it, apart from what you have been programmed to believe it is?

Because I had an especially hard time letting go of industry and profit, let me just talk about it. Let me assure you, you can do this exercise with all of them. I had become a sort of anti-capitalist capitalist. I want “freed markets”. So, I ask myself, “How do I work within our present system, a system of industry and profit, to get where I want to be?” Because, let’s be clear, our current system of industry and profit, is anything but, a free market economy. It may, or may not, be fair to call it capitalism. But I don’t have the energy or the time for that kind of debate. It simply doesn’t interest me. My only question is, “Can I can work within this system, to bring about a very different reality?” Once you start asking those kinds of questions honestly, I don’t think they are very hard to answer. Must industry and profit be thrown away, for there to be no more thieves? Duh! That is a no-brainer. The same is true, trust me, for all of Lao Tzu’s throwaways. We aren’t throwing away these ideas, we are throwing away the systems we have artificially put into place to promote these ideas. I hope that helps to clear up any confusion. If you are still confused, message me.

Now, to answer the question of whether, or not, throwing away our “crutches” will suffice, Lao Tzu only adds this: “Just stay in the center of the circle. Let all things take their course.” It sounds both, entirely too simple, and entirely too complicated. I have asked the question, “But, how?” so many times, I am rather ashamed. It is very simple. It is only difficult because we are approaching it from a completely different mindset. We refuse to throw away the refuse, the systems we have contrived. Staying in the center of the circle and letting all things take their course, is simply practicing knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing. What makes it so difficult are the things we think we know; and, our addiction to being in control; the will to power, to force, to interfering. Stay in the center of the circle; that is, stop thinking, and stop doing. Let your mind empty and your core fill, to overflowing. Just realize where you come from, and you won’t stumble about in confusion and sorrow any longer.

The Sooner We Remember, The Better It Will Be

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)

Back a couple chapters ago, Lao Tzu said, “When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.” This is what happens, naturally, as you are immersed in the wonder of the Tao. This is a state of being in perfect harmony with the way things are. Because you are going with the flow of the Universe, you can deal with whatever life brings you.

But what happens when you don’t realize the Source, when the great Tao is forgotten? Then, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. It becomes harder and harder to deal with whatever life brings you. This is a state of turmoil. As Lao Tzu describes it, in today’s chapter, it spreads like a contagion from the individual, to the family, to the whole country.

Let’s get this straight, right from the beginning, harmony with the Tao is our natural state. To stumble about in confusion and sorrow, is completely unnatural. But, being the resourceful creatures, us humans tend to be, we will find ways to try and adapt to our unnatural way of living. The great Tao is forgotten. Goodness and piety appear in its place.

Goodness and piety don’t seem like very bad things, do they? I guess that is why we fall for the trap. Much like bugs are attracted to beautiful, but deadly, things. The problem with goodness and piety is that they are contrived. They don’t flow, naturally, as a product of our harmony with the way things are. They are poor substitutes. Contrived. Forced. Unnatural. We have some idea what goodness and piety should be like. But it isn’t easy to be good or pious. We can try to be good and pious. And with the right amount of effort on our own part, or due to force from the outside, we might even put on a good show. But, ultimately, that is all it is. A show. It is pretentious. But it is all we have left.

In speaking of how this is manifest in individuals, Lao Tzu describes it like this: Because the great Tao has been forgotten, the body’s intelligence declines. What does he mean by “body’s intelligence”? I think he means our intuitive connection with the Tao. I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Harmony with the Tao is spontaneous and intuitive. You don’t have to think about it. And your actions are effortless. They just flow naturally, from the core of your being. But you have forgotten the Tao; and your body’s connection with the Tao has been cut off. For awhile, you may still continue to do the things you have always done. But with each passing day, it gets harder and harder. It is a state of decline. But, like I said, we are resourceful creatures; when the body’s intelligence declines, cleverness and knowledge are sure to step forth. I think we have a love/hate relationship with cleverness. Some of the time, we like the idea of being clever. Other times, it is a term of derision. But, love it or hate it, cleverness and knowledge are poor substitutes for the spontaneous intuition that our bodies have, when our connection with the Tao is strong. We may think we are clever and knowledgeable. But the reality is, we don’t know what we think we know. We should be practicing knowing that we don’t know. But how can we? Our knowledge, our cleverness, is all we have going for us. No wonder we stumble about in confusion and sorrow.

Family life is important. This is why, when Lao Tzu was speaking of the supreme good (being in harmony with the way things are), he said, “In family life, be completely present.” Being present is a state of oneness with the way things are. We need to be completely present in our family life. And so, when the great Tao is forgotten, it does have a profound affect on families. Turmoil in individuals spills over into families. You can’t very well be completely present, when you have lost your connection with the Tao. Harmony? Peace? They are soon lost. Family life is important. Families have been around for as far back as anyone can remember. Family life is an expression of the emergent order. Families, too, are spontaneous and intuitive, in their natural state. But, when there is no peace in the family, something must fill the vacuum, created in the absence of the Tao. Lao Tzu says that’s when filial piety begins.

Filial piety is not a familiar term to our Western minds. Like the piety we spoke of earlier, it isn’t spontaneous, intuitive, or natural. It, too, is contrived and forced. We are talking about things done out of a moral sense of duty. We are talking about a father’s duty to provide for his children. A mother’s duty to nurture her children. A husband’s and wife’s duties to each other. Children’s duties to their parents. Some people will say, “But this is nothing more than family values. What is wrong with family values?” And there wouldn’t be anything wrong with them, if they flowed naturally from the core of each individual’s being. But they aren’t voluntary or spontaneous. They are contrived duties. And, in all honesty, the whole point of filial piety is to keep up appearances. How do I know this is true? Because, the end result is not peace. Not real peace. It may look like it, on the outside. But that is just a facade. Start scraping away at the surface and you will see the truth.

Once chaos has ravaged family life, it isn’t long until the whole country falls into chaos. For family life really is the backbone of the country. To a certain extent, the country is the last resort. That is why we institute governments. Lao Tzu devotes many chapters to the art of governing, including yesterday’s. In yesterday’s chapter we were talking about the need for our leaders to trust us. But when we don’t trust ourselves, it is hard to be trusted. The great Tao has been forgotten. We have lost our connection with the Tao. We no longer believe we can trust ourselves, or each other. And, unscrupulous leaders are ready to ride in, promising to save the day. If we can’t trust ourselves, how can we trust them? But, remember, we are talking about a state of chaos, here. That is just the advantage some are looking for. That is when patriotism is born. I don’t think I have ever failed to make very clear exactly how I feel about patriotism. It is a loathsome thing. There is nothing natural about patriotism. It is entirely contrived. Like the moral sense of duty in family life, we have a moral sense of duty to the country. God and country! Generally, those two hardly get separated. You have a moral duty to support your country, which can do no wrong. You must support the troops. I could go on and on. It is disgusting, and wholly uncharacteristic of the natural order. It is about as far removed from the eternal reality as I can imagine.

This is a very depressing chapter. Things really get bad fast, when the great Tao is forgotten. We need to start remembering. And the sooner we do, the better it will be.

On The Art Of Governing And The Need For Civil Disobedience

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)

“I heartily accept the motto, – ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, – ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” – Henry David Thoreau – (from his treatise “Civil Disobedience”)

I was made to read “Walden” back in high school. That is what we are all expected to remember Thoreau for. And, I like “Walden” very much. It is filled with quotable quotes. But it is his treatise “Civil Disobedience”, which I didn’t stumble upon until as an adult, that lights my fire. As far as I am concerned, nothing written before or since has equaled it. And, it is as relevant today as it was in its day. I recommend that every one of my followers read it at least once in their life time; but, once a year would be even better. To that end, I am including this link to a page which divides it into three separate pages: http://thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html

I could end my commentary with your promise that you will soon avail yourself of this opportunity to delve into it. But I do feel the need to further explain myself. So, here is one more line from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”: “Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it.”

Today’s commentary is my own frail attempt at doing just that.

Lao Tzu, in today’s chapter, gives me exactly the kind of government which would command my respect. And then he lists in declining order the ones we must think we deserve. I want the Master to govern. When he governs, people are hardly aware that he exists. He doesn’t talk, he acts. Just that alone sets him apart from the whole lot of them. But Lao Tzu goes on to explain what he means about the way in which the Master acts. When his work is done, the people say, “Amazing, we did it, all by ourselves.” Yes, that is the kind of government that would command my respect. The kind of government that respects me. That trusts me. I want the kind of government that leaves me alone to my own devices.

Once again, I am compelled to quote Thoreau. “Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.” If I could have my wish, we would have no government at all; just for the simple reason that governments cannot avoid being inexpedient, at some time. In speaking of the American government, Thoreau said, “this government never of itself furthered any enterprise, but by the alacrity with which it got out of its way.”

But, I ask then, when, since Thoreau’s day, has it ever gotten out of our way? Okay, just one last quote from Thoreau: “For government is an expedient by which men would fain succeed in letting one another alone; and, as has been said, when it is most expedient, the governed are most let alone by it.”

Yes, I encourage you to abandon my commentary, at once; and get busy on reading “Civil Disobedience” in its entirety.

What? You’re still here? Well then, I suppose I should go on. The reason that the people can say correctly, “we did it, all by ourselves”, when the Master governs, is for the very reason that the Master, with great alacrity, lets them do it, all by themselves. He trusts them. He leaves them alone. Sure, he leads. He provides an example. But the people hardly notice him; what they see is the example. He trusts them. And, you know what? They are proven worthy of that trust.

That is the kind of government that would command my respect. Thoreau just says it much more eloquently than I.

Most people think that governments are a necessary evil. Why do they think this? Because they don’t believe people can be trusted. They believe we deserve the kind of governments we have. And, Lao Tzu also lists the kind of leaders that we must think we deserve. For if we believed we deserved better, wouldn’t we demand it? I am talking about leaders who may be loved; or, they may be feared; or worse, they may be despised. I won’t try and explain what could possibly cause anyone to love these kinds of leaders, who don’t measure up to the example set by the Master. I might forgive this, if we are talking about their mothers. Otherwise, shame on you. Oh well, there is no accounting for taste, I suppose. But I can certainly understand why these kinds of leaders are feared and despised. If you don’t trust the people, you make them untrustworthy. We fear you. We despise you. Why? Because you don’t trust us. And if the truth were ever to be acknowledged by the likes of you – you fear and despise us, too. But, it is you, who have made us untrustworthy. It’s all on you!

Well, that was fun. I hope you enjoyed it. But, please do set aside some time to read “Civil Disobedience”.

Where I Return To Intentional Empathy

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.

Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.

If you don’t realize the Source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kind-hearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 16, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Back in chapter twelve, Lao Tzu said to observe the world, but trust your inner vision. Allow things to come and go; let your heart be open like the sky. In chapter thirteen, he said to see the world as your self. To have faith in the way things are. To love the world as you love yourself. This, I call, intentional empathy. Today, I want to talk more about that intentional empathy.

In the last couple of chapters Lao Tzu has talked about the need to be present. It is when you just realize where you come from that you experience ease in your life, right here, right now. This is very much tied into that intentional empathy I was speaking of, earlier. He describes what intentional empathy looks like in today’s chapter. It may not be what you were expecting it to be. But, then again, expecting isn’t something that brings fulfillment.

Today has been full of turmoil; for me, and everyone around me. I had been told yesterday, by my landlord, to expect the roofers to show up after 8am today. I thought this would be great. They had a half-day of work, and if they got it done in the morning, it wouldn’t interfere with my son’s sleep schedule (he works nights; so he sleeps, afternoon through evening). But, by the time I left for tutoring, just before 10am, they still were not here. Sometime, shortly before I returned home, a little bit after 1pm, the roofers arrived; and the turmoil had begun. My son, who had not been sleeping all morning, expecting the roofers any moment, had finally given up on them, and quickly went to sleep. Only to be immediately awakened by their arrival. It really isn’t possible to sleep, when people are working on the roof over your bed. Go figure. So, I get home, and get to deal with the fallout. Unhappy son makes the turmoil all the more tumultuous. Memo to self: There is no such thing as a half-day roof job. The roofers worked for a good part of the afternoon. Job is not done. Power in the house goes out when some driver apparently managed to take out three utility poles, just a few blocks away. It has already been out for over two hours, as I am typing this. No power means, no air conditioning, no fans, no internet, but at least the battery on my computer was fully charged when the power went out. I am able to stand here and type away. Though it is hot and stuffy in here. Son still cannot sleep. Bedroom too hot. He leaves the house. I promise to text him when power is restored.

Turmoil. But Lao Tzu doesn’t want me contemplating the turmoil. He tells me to empty my mind of all thoughts. To let my heart be at peace. Yeah, right. How am I supposed to do that? Notice that Lao Tzu didn’t say to try and empty your mind. Good. Because my efforts aren’t going anywhere. I remember something Lao Tzu said earlier. The Master leads by emptying people’s minds and filling their cores. Ah, yes. Emptying and filling are tied together.

All that turmoil surrounding me is outer turmoil. I don’t have to let it become inner turmoil. I am to watch the turmoil of beings, but don’t get caught up in that turmoil. Don’t internalize it. Let it remain external to me. On the inside of me, I am contemplating their return to the Source.

Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source. Returning to the source is serenity. That becomes my meditation. I remember when Lao Tzu first talked about the Source, back in chapter one. The Source is where we come from. It is where each and every one of us returns. We experience turmoil now, because we see ourselves as separate. But each separate being in the universe returns to the common source. This is serenity. The end of turmoil.

If you don’t realize the Source, you stumble in confusion and sorrow. This is turmoil. We all experience it, whenever we fail to realize the Source. Yes, even I experience it. I can just as easily get caught up in the turmoil as any other being in the Universe. But I don’t have to. And neither do you.

And this brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about; before the power went out, and the turmoil got jacked up a few extra notches. I said I wanted to talk some more about intentional empathy.

For you see, I am an empathetic person. I am not patting myself on the back, here. I am just pointing out that for whatever reason, the universe wired me a certain way. And I am an empathetic person. But I have found that empathy can be manifest in different ways. Long before I had ever read the Tao Te Ching, before I had even heard of Lao Tzu or philosophical Taoism, I was an empathetic person. And here was how it was manifest: When I found myself in tumultuous circumstances, like when a family member or friend was suffering, I would internalize their suffering, I would make it my own suffering, and try and find some way to alleviate their suffering. I would interfere and try to control and try to fix things. I had single parenthood thrust upon me. That brought out a lot of “mothering” in me. I was very mothering; or you could say smothering. But I was empathetic. You could say, I put the pathetic in empathetic. But, I really just wanted to help. If you had a problem, I wanted to fix it.

The problem with this kind of empathy is that there are a whole lot of things that are simply beyond anyone’s control. Many problems, dare I say, most of them, can’t be fixed. At least, I couldn’t fix them. But that didn’t stop me. I could exhaust myself and everyone else with my efforts. And no one was better off for my efforts; least of all the people I was trying to help. Not that I let a little thing like that stop me. For I was an empathetic person; and I only wanted to help.

Thankfully, there are other ways for empathy to be manifest. And when I am speaking of intentional empathy, I hope you let it be manifest in a different way than I did for a good many years.

Lao Tzu described something, back in chapter thirteen, that I called intentional empathy. I didn’t coin that term; but I am using it as my term for what Lao Tzu describes. He warned us, in that chapter, about the twin phantoms of hope and fear. These are phantoms that arise because we are thinking of the self as self. Which I take to mean, seeing ourselves as separate. For, when we don’t see the self as self, what do we have to fear?

I got further corroboration for my premise, when he went on to say, “See the world as your self. Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as your self, then you can care for all things.”

I call that intentional empathy. But I expected (there is that word again) to get a whole lot of flack from those who want to speak of life as if it is split along certain dualistic lines. “There you go, sacrificing the individual to the collective.” And, I immediately parried by saying, “This isn’t sacrificing self to the world. It is realizing your self and the world are one. That isn’t self-sacrificing. It raises self to a whole new level of awareness and importance. When you realize you are the world, then your every act is an act of caring, of intentional empathy.”

I really want us to move beyond the individualist/collectivist mindset. We are all individual and unique beings; and yes, separate. That is what Lao Tzu says in today’s chapter, “Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source.” But notice, here, that he doesn’t want us to contemplate our separateness. He is wanting us to contemplate our return to the common Source. It is in contemplating that each of us returns to the Source that I experience serenity, right here and right now. But that serenity isn’t just mine. It is shared by all. You might ask, well, then, how is it shared? And that is where that intentional empathy comes in. Not the kind that I had been prone to manifest for years before. A very different kind of intentional empathy. This is how Lao Tzu describes it. “When you realize where you come from, you naturally become tolerant, disinterested, amused, kind-hearted as a grandmother, dignified as a king.” This is how this intentional empathy is manifest (shared) with all beings, as you realize where you come from.

That is the whole point of not internalizing the turmoil that is going on all around you. It is emptying your mind of all thoughts and letting your heart be at peace. When you realize this, when you immerse yourself in the wonder of the Tao, you can deal with whatever life brings you. I like this kind of empathy so much more than the kind of empathy I used to manifest. It is so much easier, for one thing. It requires no effort. It just flows naturally. I used to have to try to be tolerant. Do you know how difficult it is to try to be tolerant? Why sure you do. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. And, this kind of intentional empathy is not just one part of the life of ease, that Lao Tzu says is ours, if we will let it be. It is the whole of it. It is the whole of your life; and that means it prepares you for death. We will have to talk more about this another time. I have already gone overly-long. But the power is restored; and our fear of death is but a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self, instead of the world as self. We will only be ready for death, once we have learned how to fully live, having overcome our fear of it.

It Can’t Be Hurried Or Rushed

The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful as someone
crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapeable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 15, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu presented us with a riddle to describe something we can never know. He was talking about why the proverbial ladder of success doesn’t deliver on its promises of a life of ease. Why? Because it always postpones “happiness” to some future. We can never know it as long as we are pursuing it. It will always be just out of reach. But he did have some good news. And that is, what we can never know, we can be. It is all a matter of moving it from some unknowable future to the present. It is a move from the illusory to reality. For, the only reality is the present moment in which you live. He said, “Just realize where you come from.” That is the present, the eternal reality. It isn’t the way things might be. It is the way things are. It is a profound, yet subtle shift in the way we think and the way we act in our world. It is the art of being content with our simple and ordinary lives. Because it is so profound and subtle, it is also the essence of wisdom to realize this.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu wants to talk about the profound and subtle wisdom of the ancient masters. Once again, he doesn’t think it is something we can know. He says their wisdom is unfathomable. And, indescribable. All he can describe is their appearance.

Here, he is using metaphors to try and show us the essence of their wisdom. They were careful; like someone who is crossing an iced-over stream. They were alert; like a warrior who finds himself in enemy territory. They were courteous; like guests are courteous to their host. They were fluid; like melting ice. They were shapeable; just like a block of wood is able to be shaped into whatever you want it to be. They were receptive; like a valley is positioned perfectly to receive waters from the melting snow from the mountains. They were clear; as clear as a glass of water.

The point of all this is that Lao Tzu always invokes the Master as our example. This must be especially important to him, since he doesn’t just point at one Master. He refers to plural Masters. And, he refers to them as ancient to further illustrate why we should esteem their wisdom. In an earlier chapter, he warned us about over-esteeming great men and women. The point is well taken. But it doesn’t preclude us from esteeming them, giving them their due.

I am going to resist the urge to go back and take these metaphors one by one and try and expound on each one. It isn’t that I don’t think that is useful. It is just that I don’t want my commentary to be overly long. And, it isn’t necessary, when Lao Tzu puts it all in a much more condensed version, for me. He does so, by framing two rhetorical questions:

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?”

“Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

That right there is the essence of their wisdom. They had the patience to wait until their mud settled and the water was clear. And, they could remain unmoving till the right action arose by itself.

But notice how I changed the tense back to the past. That is when the ancient Masters were practicing their wisdom, after all. But Lao Tzu isn’t concerned with the past. That is why he poses his questions in the present tense. He is concerned with the present. With how we are living right here, right now. Do you have the patience to wait? Can you remain unmoving? When we are living in the present moment, the mud settles, the water is clear, the right action arises by itself; and, we are right there, in that moment. That is being in harmony with the way things are, the eternal reality. That takes patience. Patience like that exhibited by the ancient Masters. It is never something that can be hurried or rushed.

Wait for it. Wait for it. Don’t get confused here, thinking that this puts it into the future. We wait in the present. The mud settles and the water is clear. That is the present. We are unmoving in the present; and the right action arises by itself in the present. Fulfillment isn’t something for us to seek. It is something to experience, right here and right now. To further emphasize this, Lao Tzu once again, invokes the Master. She doesn’t seek fulfillment. She doesn’t seek. She doesn’t expect. She is present. And being present, she can welcome all things. And we can, too.

It Is Where You Come From

Look, and it can’t be seen.
Listen, and it can’t be heard.
Reach, and it can’t be grasped.

Above, it isn’t bright.
Below, it isn’t dark.
Seamless, unnameable,
it returns to the realm of nothing.
Form that includes all forms,
image without an image,
subtle, beyond all conception.

Approach it, and there is no beginning;
follow it, and there is no end.
You can’t know it,
but you can be it,
at ease in your own life.
Just realize where you come from;
this is the essence of wisdom.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 14, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of chapters back, Lao Tzu told us how the stimuli our senses are taking in, can make it difficult to focus on our inner vision. “Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste.” He very clearly wasn’t referring to our physical eyes, ears, and tongue. The eye, ear, and taste, here, are a description of our inner vision. “Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires wither the heart.” We want to be able to cleanse our inner vision (see chapter 10); so we can trust our inner vision. In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu talked about the proverbial ladder of success and failure. And how our hopes for success and our fear of failure are not only equally dangerous, they are equally hollow. If we want to keep our balance, we need to stand with both our feet on the ground.

Today, Lao Tzu expands on this theme, by beginning with a riddle. Thankfully, he doesn’t leave us guessing what the riddle is all about. We want to know ease in our own life. That is the whole point of that ladder, right? The riddle tells us we can’t know it.

Our senses aren’t any help to us. Looking for it won’t help, because it can’t be seen. Listening for it won’t help, because it can’t be heard. Reaching for it won’t help, because it can’t be grasped.

What that proverbial ladder promises us, a life of ease, isn’t grounded in reality. It is both dangerous and hollow to put our hopes in that ladder. The real problem with the ladder is that its promises are always future promises. You can’t have that life of ease, now, says the ladder. But you can have it in some future time – if you will only climb higher. But the future has a way of always being a distance away. You look above, it isn’t bright. You look below, it isn’t dark. How can you approach it, when there is no beginning? How can you follow it, when there is no end? It just goes on and on and on, without beginning, without end, seamless. It isn’t something you can even give a name; it is unnameable. It always moves back (or returns) to the realm of nothing (nothingness). Getting frustrated yet? It isn’t that it is formless. It is that its form includes all forms. It is an image without an image. It is so subtle. So subtle, that it is beyond anything that you can conceive.

Okay, okay, we know we can’t know it. That was the point of the riddle. Infinitely confounding. That would seem to be very, very bad news. But Lao Tzu doesn’t just want us to abandon all hope. Though that is a good starting point, when you enter here. What we can’t know, we can be. Notice he said be and not become. For this isn’t some pie in the sky, reserved for the sweet by and by.

You can be at ease in your own life, right here, and right now. Just realize where you come from. Realizing this is the essence of wisdom. So, how do we go about realizing it? Speaking as someone who has followed this path awhile, perhaps I can help.

Realizing, as I have said before, is something beyond knowledge. Realizing is spontaneous. And, it is intuitive. You may have a lifetime of stored knowledge and yet never experience realization of that something you think you know so much about. Realization doesn’t come through effort. You shouldn’t set about to try and realize it. That is not only anti-intuitive, it is misunderstanding what spontaneity is. It is an “in the present moment” kind of experience. It happens, when it happens, in the present moment, spontaneously; and you experience it, intuitively. We all know what intuitive means. It is beyond, or outside the realm of, knowledge. And it isn’t just reserved for women. “How do you know that? I don’t know, I just do.” Intuition isn’t something that is, or can be, forced. It just happens. So, refer back to the riddle. This isn’t something you can know. We defeat ourselves when we insist on knowing, rather than being. Don’t try to know. Just be. We can’t know. But we can just realize.

Notice, too, he said come; he didn’t say came. It isn’t “Just realize where you came from.” This isn’t about your past. It isn’t about where you came from. It is about the present. Where you come from. That is what we just realize. Spontaneously. Intuitively.

So, having said all that, are you still wondering how to just realize where you come from? Because there really is an answer. And here it is. I want to live in the present moment. I want my heart open like the sky, ready to experience spontaneous and intuitive realization. So, I practice not-knowing. Knowing that I don’t know. And, I practice not-doing. I don’t interfere with the flow of the Tao. I let things come and go as they will, effortlessly. And that, my friends, is living in the present moment. That is when spontaneous, intuitive realization comes. It is where you come from.