Not Being Aware Of Its Greatness Made It Truly Great

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

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

Just taken by itself, outside of the context of what we have been talking about for the last few days, today’s chapter is simply an ode to the Tao. But I don’t think that Lao Tzu just randomly decided, here would be a marvelous time to talk of the greatness and humility of the Tao. I think he has a much larger purpose. Yesterday, he talked about true wisdom and true power. It comes from knowing and mastering ourselves. And then he went on to explain how we can come to know and master ourselves. He said it is realizing that you have enough, which makes you truly rich. And, that if we stay in the center, and embrace death with our whole hearts, we will endure forever. Today’s chapter, while explaining what it is that makes the Tao both humble and great, helps us to realize that we really have everything we need, and how to embrace death with our whole heart.

I am particularly interested in this notion of dying, yet at the same time enduring forever. We said, yesterday, that it is the self as self that dies, and the world as self that endures. I was talking about something Lao Tzu has talked about before. It is a matter of whether we are perceiving the eternal reality, or not. If we see the self as self, the phantoms of hope and fear arise. But if we see the world as self, we have nothing to fear. This has long been a difficult concept for me to try and explain. The easiest way for me to explain it is to say we are all much more similar than we are different. When our focus is on what makes us different from everybody else, what makes us separate selves, we have this self-preservation instinct that kicks in. We are literally afraid to die. Death is the end of me!

But, if we focus on what makes us one, our similarities, our connection with the Tao, then we see the world as self. That is the eternal reality. We all come from the same source and we all return to the same source. I was told, just yesterday, that if my head wasn’t stuck up my philosophical ass, I would be very afraid of Muslims, for instance. What I thought, then, was if having my head being lodged in my philosophical ass keeps me free of fear, I am rather inclined to stretch out my neck just a wee bit more. My son thought that was cheeky. Pun intended.

But none of that has taken any notice of today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu opens by telling us some things he he has said time and again: “The great Tao flows everywhere. All things are born from it, yet it doesn’t create them. It pours itself into its work, yet it makes no claim. It nourishes infinite worlds, yet it doesn’t hold on to them.” The first half of each of these sentences isn’t anything he hasn’t said many times before. It is the “yets” that intrigue me something fierce. Now, Lao Tzu would say, he is just talking about the Tao’s humility. And, I get that. But I still find it intriguing that it makes no claim to having created us, or holds us to any corresponding duty that we owe to it. It doesn’t even hold on to us, which would make us less than free. Part of knowing yourself is knowing that you are free. And, you certainly can’t master yourself, if you aren’t free to be your own master.

This gets into the whole debate over whether or not we have a free will. Are we really and truly free to resist the Tao? Because if we are not, then we can’t really and truly be free. And some of Lao Tzu’s language, referring to the Tao, certainly leaves us wondering to what extent we can resist, especially since we all come from the same source, and we are all going to return to the same source.

Whether Heaven is really Heaven, if we can’t choose not to go there, is interesting to me, philosophically. But then, my head is so far up my philosophical ass, would you expect anything less of me? As much as is possible, I would like to settle the argument; we are free. And that means, we are free to resist the Tao to the very end. And, since we are all returning to the common source, for some, life on Earth is sure to be Hell.

Here, I have used the names of Heaven and Hell, not because they have anything to do with philosophical Taoism, but because, figuratively, they mean something to my readers. Heaven and Hell don’t have to exist for you to understand exactly what I am getting at. When we go with the flow of the Tao, life is good. When we go counter to the Tao, life is tumultuous. It isn’t so much that resistance is futile, as resistance is foolhardy. Lao Tzu and I would like to spare you.

But I still haven’t gotten to the part where the death of self as self is accomplished, and the world as self endures. Don’t worry, I may be meandering, but I know where I am going.

Still talking about the Tao, Lao Tzu tells us it is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. This he says, specifically, is why it can be called humble. But, it is the reality that all things vanish into it, until it alone endures, that makes it great.

And, it is that vanishing, which is death for the self as self. Everything that separates us from all other beings vanishes. It dies. Does that make you feel uncomfortable? I understand why it might. If you think what makes you unique, your individuality, is going to be swallowed up into some collective. But I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu means, at all. It isn’t our selves that dies. It is what separates us, the self as self, that dies. We are still all unique and different in myriad ways. But our uniqueness, our differences, no longer separate us. They unite us. We are one in the Tao; and we all, in the Tao, endure forever.

We are hardly aware that any of this even takes place. It happens spontaneously, intuitively, as we go with the flow of the Tao. And that is great. I didn’t have to do anything. I can’t screw this up!

Knowing And Mastering Yourself

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, when Lao Tzu was talking about powerful men and women, he was talking about people with some measure of intelligence and strength. They couldn’t have attained their lofty positions without having some knowledge and power over others. I like to poke fun at these establishment figures; but hey, I will give them their due. The popularity of the anti-establishment messages from within the establishment, I am thinking, of course, of Bernie Sanders on the so-called left, and Donald Trump on the so-called right, attest to the extent of their knowledge of and mastery over a whole lot of other people. A whole lot of people are being played for the fools they apparently are. There is so much willful ignorance. And so much acquiescence to the fear-mongering which is being perpetrated by both sides of the political aisle. I am thinking especially of the fear-mongering regarding Muslims and the fear-mongering regarding Donald Trump.

The right wants you scared to death of Muslims, so vote for them. The left wants you scared to death of Donald Trump, so vote for them. I have a much better (I think) idea. Let’s realize what the source of fear is; and reject it, whenever it rears its ugly head. Lao Tzu has talked about this before. He said that fear is a phantom that arises because we are thinking of the self as self. Translated, that means, “We don’t know who and what we are.” That is the theme of today’s chapter. It is another timely one, given current events. Sadly, I have friends on both sides of the political aisle that are going to go to the polls motivated by fear. I think the establishment has really jumped the shark with our current political climate. They will stoop to anything, to convince you to lend their system legitimacy by voting. By the time November of 2016 rolls around, I wouldn’t be surprised, at all, if we won’t be required to vote.

And right here, I do want to apologize once again to my followers who don’t live in the United States. My posts do seem, at times, to be U.S. centric. I promise you, if I lived anywhere but smack dab in the middle of fly over country in the United States, I’d be talking about your own country’s crazy politicians.

But what I really need to do is stay on topic. Today’s topic is knowing and mastering others is simply not enough. While those in power content themselves with this knowledge and mastery, they will never know true wisdom and true power. We need to know and master ourselves. Then, we won’t so easily succumb to the fear-mongering.

Lao Tzu has been talking about the eternal reality all along. That is, see the world as your self; then, you won’t have anything to fear. Seriously, knowing who and what we are is the key to banishing, not Muslims, not Donald Trump, but the real phantom menace, fear.

We need to know ourselves if we are ever going to come to master ourselves. If you know yourself, in other words, if you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. That is that wisdom Lao Tzu was talking about earlier.

Now, I know it is a whole lot easier to remain willfully ignorant of ourselves. The powers that be in the corporate establishment certainly prefer we remain willfully ignorant. They want us to be afraid, constantly afraid, and they want us to consume, constantly consume. We are fed a constant diet of propaganda. Bread and circuses to keep us brain dead. Critical thinking is frowned upon. In an age where information is readily available to all, people willingly dig their heads into the sand. Don’t teach me how to think for myself, just tell me what I am supposed to believe. They know us and master us, pretty effectually. But can we know and master ourselves?

Remember, yesterday, when Lao Tzu painted that utopian vision of what kind of world we would be living in if only the powerful among us could stay centered in the Tao? Well, I am not holding out any hope for that one. Hope, as you may recall, is another one of those phantoms that aren’t real. But, you and I can stay in the center, and not let fear dismay us. We can embrace death with our whole heart, and in so doing, endure forever.

Now wait just a doggone minute. What’s that he said about embracing death? I was going to pass over that one; simply because, he immediately followed it with enduring forever. But I probably should take the time to explain what I think Lao Tzu means by embracing death. When you know who and what you are, mastering yourself, is not succumbing to the hopes and fears that beset those who don’t know who and what they are. One of those would be our fear of death. Mastering yourself is not fearing, but embracing death. That doesn’t mean having a death wish. Don’t be silly. It means realizing that you are not finite and temporal, and therefore, subject to death. You have the infinite, eternal Tao within you, and that means you will endure forever. So you embrace it. Knowing, death is not final. The self as self does die. The world as self endures, forever.

Knowing The Whens And Wheres

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)

We have been talking physics for the last couple of days. For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even the kind that has good intentions, always rebounds upon one’s self.

We, humans, are naturally curious beings, always seeking out explanations for the unexplainable. And, we like things to be tangible. We want to be able to measure, study, perform experiments, develop theories, and ascertain laws for how our Universe is governed. Now that we have computers to work out calculations, it seems like we can come up with all sorts of interesting, and maybe even plausible, explanations for things. My son, just the other day, pointed me in the direction of what I will now refer to as a “click-bait” article, my apologies to the University of California. A couple of scientists have worked out a model demonstrating how Mars’ largest moon, Phobos, which is slowly but surely creeping toward Mars, is going to break up into fragments before its impact with the surface of Mars, and then form a ring around Mars, like the rings around other planets in our solar system, most notably, Saturn. I took the bait. I thought, “How cool would that be, for amateur astronomers to be able to view Mars with a ring around it?” Mars is much easier to view than say, Saturn. So, I couldn’t wait to be able to pull out my telescope and get to viewing. When will this all go down? So, I clicked on the article and began reading. To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. 10 to 20 million years from now. Yeah. Not exactly in my lifetime. Will humans even still be around then? Oh, but inquiring minds now know.

The destiny of Phobos aside, we do like to understand things from their beginning to their end. Intangible things are frustrating to us. They often defy explanation. And we don’t like that. That is why talking about the Tao can be quite frustrating for us. Lao Tzu warned us all the way back in chapter one that it isn’t really possible to talk about the eternal Tao. Its mysteries are intangibles; we have to be content with tracing back its manifestations to the Source.

Even, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu still opens by reminding us of what he has been saying all along, “The Tao can’t be perceived.” Just as when he described it as, “before time and space were” and “beyond is and is not”, it can’t be perceived. Our senses aren’t of any use to us. We can’t perform scientific experiments on it. It is “smaller than an electron” yet, “it contains uncountable galaxies. Mystery, indeed.

Yet, Lao Tzu has insisted all along that we can center ourselves in that imperceptible Tao. Today, Lao Tzu specifically points at powerful men and women, to tell us what would happen, if only “they” could remain centered in the Tao. It sounds very much like the utopia I said, yesterday, doesn’t exist. “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.” Because I am someone for whom peace is their highest value, I am totally down with this outcome. Sign me up! Let’s get our powerful men and women to get centered in the Tao, and stay there.

But then I noticed he said, “If”. That doesn’t sound too promising. Especially, because I have been paying attention to powerful men and women for quite a long while now. I am something of a student of history. And I can’t think of a time when powerful men and women wanted to give up their need to control, to force issues, to get violent (always with the best of intentions, of course). And that leaves me less than hopeful that the world is going to become a paradise, any sooner than Mars will have the remnants of Phobos encircling it.

That is a bummer. Sorry to do that. But, seriously, do we really have to wait for powerful men and women to do what we know they have no inclination to do, in order to have this paradise that Lao Tzu is promising us?

Thankfully, Lao Tzu followed up his “If” with a “When”. The “When” is for the rest of us. Don’t be like so many who are holding out hope that the next election will see just the right powerful men and women get swept into office to “fix” all that is wrong with our world. They never do. They just make it more wrong. But that is where the rest of us come in. “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 danger.”

Those three lines explain exactly why I am an anarchist. It is because I know. Thankfully, I am not the only one that does. It is good to not be alone. It is good to know how to avoid danger. And, it is good to know where all things are going to end.

It isn’t enough to know where Phobos is going to end. If you didn’t find and read the article I didn’t provide a link for, after encircling Mars for a good long while, Phobos will gradually rain down on Mars, in a moon shower, that will finally end as far into the future as a hundred million years from now. Why? Because looking forward 10 to 20 million years from now, just wasn’t enough.

Lao Tzu doesn’t concern himself with time and space. Why? Because the Tao is before time and space were, it is before is and is not, and all things are going to end in the Tao. Not 10 to 20 million years from now, or even 100 million years from now. Because the Tao isn’t bound by anything like that. But, computer models not withstanding, you can count on everything ending in the Tao, just as rivers flow into the sea.

If we want to see an end to violence, it begins with us.

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 several days we have been talking about how our relationship with the Tao is determined by our relationship with the world around us. You need to see the world as your self. That is essential. How you view the world, whether you can accept it as it is, and going along with that, accepting your self, just as you are, is also essential. You can’t really practice the one without practicing the other. That is what it means to rely on the Tao. We talked a lot about that, yesterday. If you are relying on the Tao, you will believe in yourself, you will be content with yourself, and you will accept yourself. Then, the whole world will accept you.

But, Lao Tzu said something else about relying on the Tao in yesterday’s chapter. He said how important it was to rely on the Tao in governing people. He said, “Whoever relies on the Tao…doesn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms.” Using force goes against the current of the Tao. If you were relying on the Tao you wouldn’t have to resort to the use of force. That was when he brought up an elementary physics lesson. You could call it a law of the Tao. “For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.”

Today, Lao Tzu talks further about violence. Sadly, it is a lesson we never seem to learn. Thus, today’s chapter deals directly with current events. Whether we are talking about the steady stream of violence being perpetrated in “gun-free” zones, or my government’s blood thirst for war, we need to understand that human decency requires better of us all. Violence begets violence. It is time to break the cycle of violence. Where are the decent among us?

So, today’s chapter is about weapons, as both the tools of violence and of fear. It is one of my favorite chapters in the Tao Te Ching, injecting the right balance of yin and yang into the debate of what to do about violence.

Because weapons are the tools of violence, all decent people detest them. Because weapons are the tools of fear, a decent person will avoid them, except in the direst necessity. Only if they are compelled will they use them. And, even then, only with the utmost restraint.

That last paragraph is how I feel, how I have always felt, about weapons. Would I love to live in some alternate universe where nothing was ever used as a weapon against another? Who wouldn’t? But utopia doesn’t exist. As much as we might wish it did, it just isn’t our reality. And people do choose violence, force, every day, to get their way. Making it harder for decent people (the overwhelming majority of the world’s inhabitants fall into this category, regardless the lies and propaganda you have been told) to provide for the defense of the lives of themselves, their loved ones, and their property, against all threats, both foreign and domestic, just isn’t a reasonable solution to the problem of violence. It simply isn’t reasonable to suggest that individuals (civilians) don’t need to defend themselves.

Suggesting that they could just call the police is a utopian idea. We live in a world where violence is being perpetrated far too regularly, and the police are not always there. That is, unless they just happen to be running an anti-terrorist training event on the day when a so-called terrorist attack takes place. But I won’t get into that. The truth of the matter is, our police force can’t be trusted to keep us safe from harm. You could think of it in benign terms. When seconds count, they are minutes away. Or, you could look at the escalation of violence that seems to coincide with inviting the police to take care of your own defense. If using a weapon to defend myself is my last resort, calling the police comes sometime after that. That is hyperbole, maybe. Actually, I don’t think I would ever call the police. After I neutralize the offender, I think my first call would be to my lawyer. Though, if the offender is still breathing, I probably would call for an ambulance.

That is all just conjecture. I have never been faced with that kind of situation; so, what I have thought out and planned to do, and what I would do, in that present moment, might be very different things. You have to understand that, for me, peace is my highest value. That is the way it is with all decent people. We are talking about a scenario where the peace has been shattered. Why did they have to go and do that to me? It is not a circumstance anyone chooses for themselves.

So, I understand; really, I do, when people, for whom peace is their highest value, cry out for tighter gun control. I get it. You’re scared. Weapons are the tools of fear. If only we could get rid of all the weapons… But, we can’t. That genie has been out of the bottle for some time. And, the bottle has been shattered. There isn’t any going back. But I understand that you aren’t content with this situation. How could you be content?

So, what do we do? Given that weapons are the tools of violence, that they are tools of fear, and that we can’t just do away with all weapons, what do we do? I am glad you asked.

First, we can begin to rely on the Tao. Stop viewing your enemies as demons. They are actually fellow human beings, just like yourself. See the world as your self. Don’t wish any other human being personal harm. Even in my nightmare scenario described above, I really would have preferred that those wishing to do me harm had not compelled me to do them such harm. I restrained myself; really, I did. Direst necessity compelled me, I assure you. I don’t wield weapons cavalierly. Remember what I said, earlier. I would prefer to live in an alternate universe where weapons don’t exist. But while I am wishing, I have a much broader list of impossible dreams which I would love to come true. No time for that list? I will just move on.

If we really want a world where violence isn’t so prevalent, perhaps we could stop rejoicing so much in violence. What do I mean? I mean when we rejoice in victory. Just think of all of our holidays commemorating wars. I am typing this up on December 7th, the anniversary of the Japanese being provoked into attacking a military target, Pearl Harbor. That’s okay, though. We ended that war by dropping atomic bombs on two civilian targets. So, we responded appropriately, right?

Why do we rejoice in victory, taking delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children? Remember, the goal is to lessen the prevalence of violence. You wanted solutions, right? How about if, when we entered a battle, we did so gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if we were attending a funeral? Yes, that might have a profound impact on our psyche’s. Instead, we honor our “heroes” with medals, and parades. Don’t even start with the, “You don’t support our troops” meme. I am talking about why it is that there is so much violence. And it is in large part do to the fact that we honor the violent. When a lone gunman shoots up a school, or a theater, or a mall, or wherever guns are not allowed to be, we give that gunman not just 15 minutes of fame, but days, weeks, months, years of fame. What if we didn’t honor our veterans? That will certainly anger a bunch of you. But just hear me out. They are responsible for the slaughter of men, women, and children. I know, I know, they were just following orders. But, there is a price to pay for all that slaughter. Violence always rebounds upon one’s self. If we want to see an end to violence, it begins with us.

Accepting Your Place In The Grand Scheme Of Things

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)

Since listing humans as one of the four great powers, Lao Tzu has been talking about how to follow the Tao by following the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao. The last couple of chapters, in particular, Lao Tzu devoted to our relationship as individual selves to the world in which we live. To follow it, we need to receive it, be a pattern for it, and accept it as it is. We can’t improve upon it, because it is a sacred place. Today, Lao Tzu tells us that since we can’t do anything to improve the world, indeed, the universe is forever out of our control, we should concentrate on our selves. Just do your job and then stop. Let that be enough.

Rely on the Tao! This is the message of today’s chapter. When you try and dominate events, you aren’t relying on the Tao. Instead, you are going against the current of the Tao. That will never go well for you.

For Lao Tzu, our lack of faith in the Tao is ultimately a lack of faith in ourselves. If we believed in ourselves, we wouldn’t try to convince others. If we were content with ourselves, we wouldn’t need others’ approval. If only we accepted ourselves, we would find the whole world accepts us.

That really is the key to everything: Accepting our place in the grand scheme of things, the way things are.

This is true in every aspect of our lives. But, Lao Tzu specifically refers to governing today. Understand, though, governing is only how we relate to our fellow human beings, our selves.

Today’s chapter is always timely. It always seems to coincide with yet another display of violence. Will we ever learn? Violence, even well-intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self. And, as if the actual violent event wasn’t horrific enough, there is our response to each new violent event. It just keeps rebounding and rebounding. If only we were to rely on the Tao. Then, we wouldn’t try to force issues or defeat enemies by force of arms. It always comes back to an elementary physics lesson that we somehow failed to learn: For every force there is a counter force. And, the cycle keeps being repeated, over and over and over again.

It is times like these that my faith in humanity ebbs. Which is exactly the wrong direction for it to be taking. For Lao Tzu’s faith in humanity continues to flow. Instead of pointing out that we don’t believe in ourselves, we aren’t content with ourselves, and we don’t accept ourselves, I need to, like Lao Tzu, encourage each of us to believe in ourselves, be content with ourselves, and accept ourselves.

Don’t worry so much about convincing others. Don’t worry so much about others’ approval. If you want the whole world to accept you, then accept your own self. Do your job and then stop. Be content that that is enough.

Speaking Of Sacred Places

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)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu told us three ways that we, as individual selves, can relate to the world. We can receive it in our arms. We can be a pattern for it. And, we can accept it as it is. These are powerful expressions of our relationship with the world in which we live, if only we can be content to let them be. The problem, of course, is that we are often far from content. We are quick to find things that we think can, and should, be improved. So, we tamper with it. But Lao Tzu warns us, straight away in today’s chapter, we need to resist this temptation.

First, he says to those wanting to improve the world, “I don’t think it can be done.” That seems to leave open the possibility that maybe it could. But, he follows up immediately by referring to the world as sacred. And that seems to settle the matter for him. He leaves no room for doubt, when he concludes, “It can’t be improved.”

When Lao Tzu refers to the world as sacred, I don’t think he means it in a religious context, though that word is often used in a religious context. He is merely saying that it is something that needs to be treated with the utmost respect. Don’t tamper with it! You’ll ruin it!

But, also, it is very important that we not treat it like an object. That would be another easy temptation. Treat it like some object on a shelf that you can admire, look at, but don’t actually touch. Lao Tzu has talked before about what happens when we overvalue things. People begin to steal. If you treat the world like an object, you will lose it.

The world is meant to be used. Just not abused. It isn’t an object; it is a subject. Subject to the laws of the Universe. We need to understand and accept these laws. They are how yin and yang manifest in our world. We need to know what time it is, and not wish that it was another time. See things as they are, and not want them to be something else.

There is a time for everything. A time for yin and a time for yang. A time for being ahead and a time for being behind. We may think that we would always like to be ahead. But sometimes it is time to be behind. Often that is the best time. After all, being behind, you know exactly what is going to follow. Yang always follows yin. Take advantage of the time for being at rest, soon enough it will be time to be in motion. Are you exhausted? It isn’t time to be vigorous. But get rested, soon it will be. Understanding and accepting what time it is, will help you to always be safe from danger. The time of danger occurs, when we try to get ahead when it is time to be behind, when we insist on being in motion when it is time to be at rest, when we exhaust ourselves by being overly vigorous.

I guess, it could be countered that we can also go too far in the other direction. We could insist on staying behind when it is time to be ahead, on resting when it is time to be in motion, on being exhausted when we should be vigorous. But I don’t think we normally suffer from too much yin. We tend to overdose on yang. There needs to be balance. But, I admit, if I had my druthers (I always look for any excuse to use that word) if I am going to err, I’d prefer to err on the side of leading with yin.

And that seems to be the way the Master does things, too. She sees things as they are, and doesn’t try to control them. She simply lets them go their own way, and resides at the center of the circle. Speaking of sacred places, the center of the circle is certainly the most sacred one of all.

This Is How To Always Stay In Balance

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 the block;
thus she can use all things.

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

Today, Lao Tzu delves more into the relationship of ourselves with our world. He has told us before that by following the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao, we are following the Tao. And we have talked about how to follow the Earth. When we see the world as self, our connection with the Tao is, as it should be. When we see the self as self, our connection with the Tao is not what it should be. That is the eternal reality, the way things are. Humans are one of the four great powers; but that is only because we follow the earth. Picking up on the natural rhythms or vibrations of the Tao, as it flows through all things, inside and outside and returns to the origin of all things, isn’t nearly as difficult as we may make it out to be. It is a matter of understanding the relationship of yin and yang as they bring about balance and harmony in our universe, the emergent order.

And yin and yang are certainly front and center in today’s chapter. Three times Lao Tzu says, know the yang, yet keep the yin. The yang is represented as male, white, and personal. The yin is represented by female, black, and impersonal. It only remains for us to understand what he means by “know” and “keep to” to realize how order emerges out of chaos.

He says that by knowing the male, yet keeping to the female, we receive the world in our arms. Receiving the world in our arms, speaks of our relationship to the world. It is how we are one with the Tao. It never leaves us. We become like little children.

He says that by knowing the white, yet keeping to the black, we are a pattern for the world. Being a pattern for the world ensures the Tao is strong inside us. There will be nothing we can’t do.

He says that by knowing the personal, yet keeping to the impersonal, we are able to accept the world as it is. When we accept the world as it is, the Tao becomes luminous inside of us. It is how we can return to our primal selves.

Receive the world, be a pattern for the world, accept the world as it is. This is how we relate to the world. We do it by knowing the yang, yet keeping to the yin. To understand better what he means by this, he uses one more metaphor, and brings in the Master.

The world is formed from the void, like utensils are formed from a block of wood. Lao Tzu is talking about origins here. The Master knows the utensils, she knows the yang. Yet, she keeps to the block, she keeps to the yin. Like the Tao flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things, the Master keeps returning to the origin of all things. Always keep returning to where all things come from. Yang follows yin. Receiving the world, being a pattern for it, and accepting it as it is, is made possible by constantly reminding ourselves of where it comes from. Know the yang, yes; but, keep returning to the yin. This is how to always stay in balance.

Letting Us In On The Great Secret

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)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu used the example of the Master’s travels to talk about yin and yang, heavy and light. He said the Master’s travels, aka movements, are light; but they have as their source something heavy, a root, which he called our home, meaning who we are on the inside. His focus, yesterday, was staying in touch with our root, with who we are. That is, something heavy. But, yin and yang being what they are, we knew that after spending a day talking about the heavy, he would follow with embodying the light.

To explain embodying the light, he opens today’s chapter with three metaphors describing the human experience. These aren’t three random occupations. I believe they represent the sum total of all that we humans are.

The first one is a traveler. You have probably heard ourselves referred to, before, as fellow travelers. Travelers are what we are. We are always on the move. Even when we are standing still, we are actually in a state of constant motion. Besides the fact that the earth on which we live is rotating on its axis and revolving around our sun, every molecule that makes up our being is in a constant state of motion. But, I think the kind of traveling that Lao Tzu is talking about is something in between the macro and the micro levels of movement. He isn’t talking about the travels of which we are hardly aware. He is talking about our purposeful travels, when we have places to go and people to see. And, concerning this kind of travels, we can be good; and, we can be bad. He tells us a good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. It is understood, then, that if we have fixed plans and are intent upon arriving, we are a bad traveler. More on this in a bit.

The second one is an artist. You may be like me, and think you haven’t any artistic talent at all; thus deciding, you are, by definition, a bad artist right from the start. But, Lao Tzu isn’t referring to whether you excel in any of the arts, or not. I refer to the Tao Te Ching as a manual on the art of living. Why? Because, living is an art. And we can be good at it, if we let our intuition lead us wherever it wants; or, we can be bad at it, if we aren’t led by our intuition. You may already be picking up on the connection between a good traveler and a good artist; but, Lao Tzu isn’t finished with his metaphors describing the human experience.

The third one is a scientist. You may be thinking that Lao Tzu, himself, lived in a pre-scientific age; so, what does he know about being a scientist? But, once again, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about working in one of the fields of science. He is talking about being a human being. And what are we humans, if not observers of the world around us? We observe the world, and draw conclusions from what we observe. Whether or not we are good scientists depends on whether or not we have freed ourselves of preconceived notions, ideas, and concepts, and keep our minds open to what is.

So, you see, I think Lao Tzu is very much correct that we are all travelers, artists and scientists. All that remains is to determine whether or not we are good travelers, artists, and scientists. For, if we are good, we will embody the light. But, what if we are bad? Don’t worry, we’ll get to that, too.

The Master is our example of a good traveler, artist and scientist. In his travels he isn’t bound by fixed plans. He isn’t so intent on arriving that he is unavailable to anyone; so, he rejects no one. He lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants, keeping his mind open to what is, rather than being bound to certain concepts about the way things should be. This means he is ready to use all situations and never lets anything go to waste. This is what it means to embody the light.

We all want to be good travelers, artists, and scientists. We want to embody the light. But, what if we are bad?

This is why it is so important that there are good men and women out there. Good travelers, artists, and scientists. For, if you are bad, they are available to teach you. You are their reason for being.

I probably don’t have to point out that Lao Tzu’s good and bad, here, aren’t referring to good and evil. Lao Tzu isn’t making some moral judgment about people. Having fixed plans when you are traveling, and being intent on arriving, doesn’t make you evil. It just means you are unavailable. If you don’t let your intuition lead you, if your mind is closed to what is, you will encounter situations, time and time again, where you have to reject people; you will waste situations. That doesn’t make you evil. But it isn’t good. It is bad. You are in need of a teacher. An apprentice needs a master. And, a master needs an apprentice.

That is all Lao Tzu is saying, here. But this is something that many simply don’t understand. And, if you don’t understand this, it doesn’t matter how intelligent you are; you are going to get lost. Letting us in on what he calls, the great secret, is his way of leading us to seek out a teacher, if we are bad; and a student, if we are good.

How To Remain Serenely Yourself

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)

Well, you certainly can’t call Lao Tzu a misanthrope. Yesterday, he listed humans as one of the four great powers. Today, he refers to us as lords. That isn’t to say he has an inflated opinion of humanity. I’d like to think of it as a balanced view. He expects us to behave according to our nature. But, he admits, we can behave quite badly; for example, when we flit about like fools. But, that is no way for a lord to behave. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu teaches us, once again, to use yin and yang to achieve balance in our lives.

Lao Tzu has been talking about yin and yang, since chapter two. There, he said, they create each other, they support each other, they define each other, they depend on each other, and they follow each other.

Following was the theme of yesterday’s chapter. Humans follow the earth, the earth follows the universe, the universe follows the Tao, the Tao follows only itself. It is following which makes, each of the four great powers, great. By observing how yin and yang follow each other, we can learn, better, how to follow.

Today’s yin and yang are heavy and light, the unmoved and movement. The heavy is unmoved. It is a root, an anchor, to keep us grounded in the eternal reality. Today, Lao Tzu advises us to let the unmoved be the source of all our movement. And, he invokes the Master as our example, as a way to show how to apply this metaphor to our own lives.

When Lao Tzu says the Master travels all day without leaving home, he is referring to her movement, having, as its source, the unmoved. Home is a root, it is heavy. Travel, on the other hand, is light. I don’t think that home, here, necessarily refers to a physical building in which we dwell. Nor, is travel, necessarily, some trip. Travel is a metaphor for how we go about living throughout each day. Home is a metaphor for who we are. The cliché “Home is where the heart is” is appropriate, here.

“However splendid the views,” is another way of saying, “no matter what her circumstances, no matter what life may throw at her,” she stays serenely in herself. She isn’t moved by the turmoil going on around her. She remains firmly anchored, or rooted, in who she has always been. That is letting the heavy be the root of your “travels”. That is letting what is steadfast and unmovable, be what moves you.

She is our example. Follow her, and we won’t go wrong. The alternative, as Lao Tzu puts it, is flitting about like a fool. Letting yourself be blown to and fro, you lose touch with your root. When you let restlessness move you, you lose touch with who you are.

And we don’t want to do that, now, do we? We want to remain serene, even in the midst of great sorrow. Serenely in ourselves. The operation of yin and yang are so important, here. To remain serene is to be able to really care, because you are disinterested. It is to be one with all things, because you are detached from all things. Restlessness, turmoil doesn’t move you. You simply go with the flow of the Tao, as it flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things. Returning to the source is serenity.

Greatness Follows

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)

Today’s chapter hearkens back to earlier chapters (most recently chapter 21), where Lao Tzu talks about the dark and unfathomable Tao. None of these descriptions are necessarily new to those of us who have been reading along, through the Tao Te Ching; but they are a good way of introducing a further way to understand how we can be in accord with the Tao. In chapter twenty-one, Lao Tzu said of the Tao, “Since before time and space were, the Tao is. It is beyond is and is not.” I said, in that chapter’s commentary, “Referring to the Tao as “before and beyond” is my favorite way of describing it.”

Now, Lao Tzu goes way back, indeed. Way before, and way beyond. Before our universe was born. Beyond anything that mere words can define. How do you tell of something that is both formless and perfect? At first, I think, how can something be both formless and perfect? That has to be an oxymoron. But then I remembered Lao Tzu talking earlier about our efforts to know true contentment. He said that true contentment has a form that includes all forms. That is probably exactly what he means by the word we have here translated, formless.

But, calling it formless and perfect wasn’t quite enough for Lao Tzu. He goes on to identify it with seven further words. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. Mother of the universe. We have talked about each of these before; so, I won’t touch on them again. Still, it is like Lao Tzu wants to go on and on with his descriptions of that which defies description.

Finally, he admits he can’t come up with any better name for it, than the Tao; saying, “It flows through all things, inside and outside, and returns to the origin of all things.” This must be where the force awakens. I hope I can get away with that last sentence. I don’t want Disney coming after me for copyright infringement. It is just that I couldn’t help but be reminded of Obi Wan Kenobi explaining the Force in Episode IV of the Star Wars franchise.

But enough of that. That was just the introduction. Now, we get to the meat of the chapter. He said all of that, to introduce the four great powers; and, explain why it is they are great. It is a given, that the Tao is great. It is before and beyond anything and everything else, the mother of the universe, the origin of all things.

And, the universe is great, too. Why? Because it follows the Tao. But, then, the earth is great as well; since, it follows the universe. And humans are great; because we follow the earth.

I hope you noticed the theme here. Greatness follows. Once again, Lao Tzu tosses conventional wisdom out the window. We have all been taught that greatness leads. We expect great men and women to lead us. But what does Lao Tzu say to would be leaders? If you want to be great, you need to learn how to follow.

There is a whole lot of following going on in this chapter. And, it is the great who are doing the following. Even the Tao, itself, follows. Even, if it is only itself it is following, it is still following. Do you want to be in accord with the Tao? You have to follow. But Lao Tzu has actually made it quite easy for us. We don’t have to try and follow the Tao, directly. Leave that to the universe. And, we don’t have to try and follow the universe, directly, Leave that to the earth. All we have to do is follow the earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao. The Tao is flowing through all things, inside and outside, always returning to the origin of all things. Everything we need to follow the Tao is right here for us, as we follow the earth.