What, Me, A Reactionary?

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future
is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Reactionary? Me? Well, I promised a friend, earlier today, I was going to “confess my sins” with today’s blog post.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu encouraged us with the knowledge “The Tao is always at ease” and “Its net covers the whole universe…it doesn’t let a thing slip through.” But one thing that really should have stood out to me, indeed it does, but sometimes it takes Lao Tzu hitting me over the head with a stick for me to realize it, is how “not reactionary” the Tao is. “It overcomes without competing, answers without speaking a word, arrives without being summoned, accomplishes without a plan.”

Oh, to be at ease! Even when the whole world seems to be in turmoil. Well, I can only say that I wasn’t just blowing smoke when I said, yesterday, “We will most certainly fail. Many times. But every time we do, the Tao has our back.”

In my own town, a man much loved within the community, lost his job of 20 years. I won’t go into all the details, for I only intend to confess my own sins. But, a great uproar occurred after his firing. It was one which went viral. News of it spread on Facebook and then to newspapers, radio, television, internationally even. It got mentioned on the Tonight show. A rally was planned. Word that this was “going to be our Ferguson” began to spread. That was when I stepped in. Was I content to remain at ease? Heavens, no! I posted some things on Facebook. I didn’t just react, mind you, I over-reacted.

Then, I had a friend kindly put me back at ease. “Do you really think that’s likely? I don’t think so. This too shall pass.”

“This too shall pass.” I was mulling that over, and then I looked at today’s chapter, where Lao Tzu took his stick and beat me over the head. “If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you aren’t afraid of dying, there is nothing you can’t achieve.” Once again, very not reactionary. And, then he goes on to say, “Trying to control the future is like trying to take the master carpenter’s place. When you handle the master carpenter’s tools, chances are that you’ll cut your hand.”

There, I have said it. Now, let me get back to licking my wounds. I am done with over-reacting! … At least, until the next time.

What If I Fail?

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about what happens when we lose our sense of awe, when we no longer trust ourselves, and become dependent on some outside authority. The Master at leading people would want us to unlearn our reliance on something outside of ourselves, and to relearn self-reliance. They would take a step back; and, instead of further confusing the people, would teach without teaching. Leading, by example, and showing the people the way back to their true selves.

Where are the Masters? They seem to be in short supply. Those who govern us have become quite adept at exploiting our weaknesses, and offer us a safety net that only furthers greater and greater dependence on the rations they toss our way. Elections have become a contest to see who can promise the most goodies. Whether it is those on the left, who see a nearly infinite pile of goodies to be redistributed to everyone, or those on the right, who see a slightly smaller pile of goodies, so we dare not allow anyone different from us to get any of our goodies – no one is showing the people how they can rely on themselves.

With my blog, I don’t approach things from the left or the right. I see things as they are, not as they seem to be. The goodies offered by those who want to maintain the status quo are all an illusion. And people who are different from us are no threat to their illusion. Because Masters are in such short supply, I try, in my own little way, to expose the illusion, and point out the reality. The life of ease, promised by those who want to hold you down, is an illusion. But, there is a life of ease to be had, by anyone who will unlearn reliance on some outside authority, and begin, once again, to trust ourselves. The Tao is the name Lao Tzu gave it. It is always at ease. Overcoming without competing. Answering without speaking a word. Arriving without being summoned. Accomplishing without a plan. It is the way things actually are in our Universe. You can pick up on its ebb and flow, by observing nature, left to itself. Master that, and you, too, can flow with it. Effortlessly. Spontaneously. Intuitively.

You have everything you need to be content in your own life. Trust yourself, again. “But, what if I fail?” You most certainly will. Many times. But every time you do, the Tao has your back. Its net covers the whole universe. And though its meshes are wide, it doesn’t let a thing slip through. “Oh, but why are its meshes so wide?” That, my friends, is to allow us room to grow. This is no net to constrain us. It is a net which leaves us completely free, to be all we can be.

How Is Your Sense Of Awe?

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.

Therefore the Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Avoid the extremes. Stay in the center. After talking for a few days, now, about our need to know we don’t know, people might begin to take this teaching to an extreme. “Since, I don’t know what I think I know, how can I trust myself?” That is the problem Lao Tzu addresses in today’s chapter.

As we have been saying, the whole point of knowing without knowing is to stop relying our own accumulation of knowledge, and to start relying on the spontaneous and intuitive knowledge which comes from the core of our being. The point isn’t that we should trust ourselves less; the point is that we need to start trusting who and what we are, in the core of our being, more. No, our own minds can’t be trusted. And, that is exactly why we shouldn’t be relying on what we think we know. But, we can trust what we are in the core of our being. That is where the Tao resides within us. This is our connection with the whole universe. Lao Tzu calls it our sense of awe.

You have, contained within you, everything you need to be content. That, once realized, produces a sense of awe. But, what happens, when people have lost their sense of awe?

When people lose their sense of awe, when they no longer sense their connection with the whole universe, when they no longer realize that who and what they are, in the core of their being, is sufficient, indeed, more than sufficient, for whatever life will bring their way, then people will turn to some, outside of themselves, authority. Historically, religion has been one such outside authority. But, where religion may be in decline in our world, the State has risen to fill the vacuum. Because they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend upon that outside authority. They no longer are self-reliant.

This would be a great cause of concern for good leaders, though I think most of our leaders are absolutely delighted with the chain of events, which enabled them to obtain more and greater power.

The Master is an example of how to be a great leader. Not wanting the people to be so confused, a great and wise leader would take a step back, right here. The people must unlearn this dependence on outside authority, and relearn self-reliance.

But, how does the Master accomplish this? If you aren’t careful, the people, in their confusion, will only turn to, and begin to depend on, you, as their authority. This is why taking a step back is always such good advice. Don’t be in a hurry. The people need to be taught, but without teaching. Teaching without teaching, so that the people will have nothing to learn. Teaching without words, but by example. Show the people how they can rely on themselves, once again.

Being Your Own Physician

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about what Lao Tzu refers to as our three greatest treasures: Be simple in thoughts and actions. Be patient with both friends and enemies. And, be compassionate toward yourself. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said these teachings are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. But, our intellect can never grasp them; and, if we try to put them into practice, we will surely fail. Yesterday, I split my time, pretty evenly, between the practice of knowing without knowing, and doing without doing, to help us to not make something so easy, difficult. Today, we are going to go into a little more depth on the practice of knowing without knowing.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us that not-knowing, in other words, knowing without knowing, is true knowledge. Presuming that we know, which is relying on our knowledge, is a disease. We are sick! But, we may not realize it. We think we know. Our minds are vast storehouses of knowledge. For all our lives we have been adding, every day, to that storehouse of knowledge. We take in everything we perceive with our senses. Our brains process that information, and form ideas of how the world operates. But, the reality we perceive with our senses is only the way things seem to be. Our minds, our intellect, can’t grasp the whole other reality, before and beyond the way things seem to be, the way things are. That reality, Lao Tzu calls the Tao.

If we are going to put into practice these teachings of Lao Tzu (simplicity, patience, and compassion), we have to move toward health. And, the very first step is realizing we are sick. We have to know we don’t know. We have to know there is a reality, before and beyond the reality we perceive with our senses, and we don’t know it. But, that realization isn’t something which we can force on ourselves. We simply can’t decide, one day, I am going to realize something about the universe I don’t already know. Realization (true knowledge) isn’t something forced; it is spontaneous, and intuitive.

By spontaneous, I mean, it flows naturally, without any effort on our part. It just happens. I think of spontaneity as a “yang” thing. Intuition, on the other hand, is very much a “yin” thing.

And realization (true knowledge) is intuitive. It isn’t based on what our mind knows. It is born in the core of our being. Think of it as something you know in your gut, or in your heart. Because, what we know in our minds is in conflict with intuition, our minds will tend to discount it. How many times have you known something, in your gut, but then, your mind started arguing with you about it?

That is what we are up against. Spontaneity is effortless. And, intuition is “without knowing”. But our minds will offer resistance to it. “How do you know this?” The information I have in my mind may be completely in conflict with it. The truth is, I don’t know. But, the more we know that we don’t know, the further toward health we move. Still, expect resistance from your mind, and your body, along every step of the way.

The Master is our example for healing ourselves of all knowing, until we are truly whole.

First, comes the realization we are sick. Spontaneously, and intuitively, this realization comes. Then, we begin to move toward health. Every day, something had to be added to our knowledge. So, the remedy is every day, every time, we hear our minds saying, “I know, I know”, we stop ourselves, and take a step back.

Tell yourself, “No, I don’t know.” Don’t beat yourself up over this. Be compassionate toward yourself. You are sick, remember? You are healing, now. Every day you are moving toward health. The more you know you don’t know, the more you don’t know you know. Little by little, you are relying less and less on what you think you know, and more and more on what you know, spontaneously and intuitively, in your gut, in your heart.

This isn’t going to be something which happens in a day, or a week, or a month. It takes practice. It is an on-going process. But, you can master this. We all can.

Making the Easy, Difficult

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me,
look inside your own heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Three chapters ago, Lao Tzu boiled down his teachings to what he called our three greatest treasures: simplicity, patience, and compassion. Today, he says these teachings are easy to understand, and easy to put into practice. But, they aren’t something to be grasped with our intellect; and, if we try to practice them, we will surely fail. In other words, in order to be simple in our actions and thoughts, patient with both friends and enemies, and compassionate toward ourselves, we must practice knowing without knowing, and doing without doing.

I am constantly getting new followers who message me with fundamental questions about philosophical Taoism; so, I think it is important to make sure we all understand what Lao Tzu means by these fundamental tenets.

Knowing without knowing means not relying on what we think we know. It is to realize we don’t know. This, for Taoists is the beginning of wisdom; for, we can’t begin to know, until we know we don’t know. “My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning?” This is a rhetorical question. You can’t possibly know. That needs to be settled, once and for all. As long as we think we know, and think we can know, we will simply spin our wheels. You won’t get any traction. They can’t be grasped. So, stop trying to grasp them with your mind. If you want to know them, look inside your heart.

Doing without doing has to do with our actions. Trying to practice these teachings won’t work. Don’t try, do. Don’t do, be. Let these practices flow from the core of your being. Look in your own heart; there, you will know these teachings. Then, let them flow out of you, without offering any assistance or resistance. Don’t try to be simple. Be simple. Don’t try to be patient. Be patient. Don’t try to be compassionate. Be compassionate.

It really is that easy. Stop making it so difficult.

How We Destroy Our Three Greatest Treasures

The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go
to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two days ago, Lao Tzu boiled down his teachings to our three greatest treasures: “Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being. Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are. Compassionate toward yourself, you reconcile all beings in the world.” Yesterday, Lao Tzu began talking about how to guard those three treasures, through the virtue of competing without competing. That had me thinking about the possibility of competing governments. For some time, those of us who yearn to be free have had to resort to escaping the land of our nativity, on a perilous physical journey; and, that has not always been a viable option. But, now, with our present technology, we should be able to have competing virtual governments vying for our citizenship. Governments no longer have to be restricted to geographic borders. I am a citizen of the world. What difference does it make where I happen to live, physically? Now, I know, I am never the first to think of these things. If I am thinking of something, untold numbers of people have probably thought of them many times, before. Sure enough, I got an almost immediate response to my blog post, asking if I had heard of bitnation.co. Good! I wanted to be part of a conversation. I have already begun to check out what I can find out online about this endeavor. And, I hope those of my readers who already know something about it, and maybe are participants, will message me. I have a need to know more. Let’s talk!

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu focuses on the danger of not guarding our three greatest treasures. He does so, by talking military strategy. Remember, yesterday, Lao Tzu talked about the best general entering the mind of his enemy. This is one way to embody the virtue of competing without competing. Once you have entered your opponent’s mind, it is time for the generals to get together, and start talking. Lao Tzu says, “The generals have a saying: ‘Rather than make the first move it is better to wait and see. Rather than advance an inch it is better to retreat a yard.’” This, my friends, is the embodiment of one of our three greatest treasures, patience.

We dare not attack first. To initiate the use of force, that is, violence, is to have it rebound upon us. Better to take a step back, to “retreat a yard”, to take a defensive position, and wait and see what actually is in our opponent’s mind. And, because they are patient, they “go forward without advancing, and push back without using weapons.”

To do anything other than this is to underestimate your enemy. And, what a misfortune that would be! When we underestimate our enemy, when we think of them as anything less than human, as evil, we destroy our three treasures, and become an enemy ourselves.

This brings me to our current “War on Terror”. Yesterday, I also posted an article by Chris Hedges at truthdig, entitled “The Lie Of Patriotism” where he interviewed a couple of “Veterans For Peace” who, after seeing firsthand, just how evil we have become, in our prosecution of wars (let’s just admit our generals aren’t following Lao Tzu’s military strategy), that they are now practicing acts of civil disobedience, to call attention to the atrocities done in our name.

The article is a good one. I highly recommend everyone read it. We have departed so far from where we should be. And, it seems that those voices, who are speaking the truth, are drowned out by those who want only more of the same. When will we see the power in yielding? That is the way of the Tao. When two great forces oppose each other, the victory will go, not to the one who strikes first, but to the one who knows how to yield.

The Virtue Of Competing Without Competing

The best athlete
wants his opponent at his best.
The best general
enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman
serves the communal good.
The best leader
follows the will of the people.

All of them embody
the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two chapters ago, Lao Tzu introduced the virtue of non-competition. There, he said of the Master, “Because she competes with no one, no one can compete with her.” I said, then, we would go into more depth about how to put this into practice, today. And, here we are.

First things, first. As with the practice of not-doing and not-knowing, the practice of non-competition isn’t really not competing. It is a way of competing, “a spirit of play” is how Lao Tzu describes it, today. It is competing without competing. We may need to remember back to when we were children, to fully understand this practice.

And, isn’t that just like Lao Tzu. Always referring us back to the way we were from the beginning. Lao Tzu often uses children as a metaphor for how to be in harmony with the Tao. Children instinctively know how to play. That is really what competing without competing is all about. It is us, adults, who train our children to take competition to extremes. Children just want to play. Leave them to it. Let them enjoy being children. Isn’t that what being content is all about? Instead, we make these “games” not near the fun, they used to be.

Competing without competing is a virtue. To put this into practice is to love to compete, but to do it in a spirit of play, just as if you were children again. Harmony with the Tao is the sweetest state we could ever want to be in. It is a natural state, for children; so, why not for adults, too?

It can be for us, adults, too. We just need to follow a few examples of other adults who have embodied the virtue of non-competition. Lao Tzu gives us four to consider, today.

The first is the best athlete. It makes perfect sense to start with this one, since athletes love to play games. When they are at their best, they embody the virtue of competing without competing, by wanting their opponents to, also, be at their best. Sure, we all want to win. But even more important, in the best of games, is that both sides played their very best. Somehow, that victory loses a little of its sweetness, or maybe a lot of its sweetness, when we know our opponent wasn’t at their best. You feel cheated. Sure, I beat them, today. But, what if they had been more on their game? Talk about disappointment!

But competing without competing doesn’t just involve fun and games. Sometimes your opponent is an enemy. And, the “game” is war. Here, the best general embodies the virtue of competing without competing by entering the mind of his enemy. I don’t know whether it would be accurate to say they want their opponent at their very best; but, I do know that knowing what your opponent is thinking is being able to be one step ahead of them. Perhaps, I can outmaneuver them. Or, perhaps, there is something even more important about entering their mind. It completely changes your own perspective, when you can see things from another perspective. Maybe, this dispute can be resolved, without the loss of unnecessary bloodshed. Lao Tzu lived in a time, much like our own, with lots of wars and rumors of war. He believes this virtue, in time of war, is particularly important. So much so, that we will continue talking about generals’ military strategy, in tomorrow’s chapter.

That brings me to my favorite way of thinking about competition, since I do believe, very strongly, in free competition in business. I have talked many times, before, of how I grew up in a family-run small business. My mom and dad had a small photo-finishing lab. I spent many hours with my dad in darkrooms. We couldn’t see anything. But we could talk. And, talk we did. My mom and dad are both dead and gone. But I will always cherish the amount of time I had talking with them. I learned so much, though not nearly enough. One of the things I gleaned, from talking with my dad in the dark, was how much he cared for our little community. I guess I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the little mom and pop operations, which are largely gone now, in our new economy. It is tough to compete when governments favor large businesses over small ones. But, does that put the good of the community first? Serving the communal good is how the best businesspeople embody the virtue of competing without competing. I am just a little nostalgic, for a day long gone, when small businesses in small towns were the norm. And, communities were more like communities, back then, too. Oh well. Enough of my trip down memory lane. On to my other passion.

Yes, we are back to talking about the art of governing, again. How does the best leader embody the virtue of competing without competing? By following the will of the people. With all my talk of nostalgia for the good old days in the previous paragraph, there is one thing I can rejoice about in the here and now. That would be the possibility of competing virtual governments. We shop around online, before ever actually buying anything, anymore. Why not be able to shop around for a government with which you can actually give your consent. What was impossible a few years ago, isn’t impossible now. Governments don’t have to be restricted to geographic regions. I should be able to be a citizen of any government in the world, or none at all, if that is what I prefer, not by having to physically move anywhere, but through governments freely competing online for my patronage. I talked, before, about so many people lacking imagination. And, believe me, I can already hear all of you naysayers saying that is impossible. You guys really need to work on stretching your imaginations. There have been quite a few impossible things that were made possible by dreamers willing to make them a reality. Leaders following the will of the people, by the way, doesn’t mean the majority of the people. That would leave a number of people not content. Like how things are right now. I want governments with the unanimous consent of the governed. And, there is no reason that can’t be achieved, when once we exercise our inalienable right to opt in, or opt out, of any of them.

That last paragraph was really designed to get you all thinking. Please, message me with questions and comments. Don’t settle for the status quo. The thinking that “we have never done it that way before” is only the thinking of people who have come to love their chains. Are you a slave, or are you free? Start acting like it, then. Embody the virtue of competing without competing.

It Begins With Me

Some say that my teaching is nonsense.
Others call it lofty but impractical.
But to those who have looked inside themselves,
this nonsense makes perfect sense.
And to those who put it into practice,
this loftiness has roots that go deep.

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 67, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago, in my commentary on chapter 65, I said, “The number one problem I encounter, as I promote my libertarian taoist philosophy, is people who lack imagination. People have become so inured to our present system, they can’t imagine what it would be like to live without the chains.” Lao Tzu understood it all too well. He knew of some who said his teaching was nonsense. And, others who thought it lofty but impractical. And Lao Tzu, no doubt muttered to himself, “All it would take for them to see this nonsense makes perfect sense is looking inside themselves. And, if they would only put it into practice, they would find its loftiness has roots that go deep.” Lao Tzu and I feel each others’ pain.

When it is all said and done, Lao Tzu’s teaching boils down to just three things: simplicity, patience, and compassion.

Keep it simple, stupid. How many times have we heard this phrase? We have probably told it to ourselves on quite a few occasions. And yet, we still insist on making our lives far more complicated than they have to be. It is why just living requires such effort. Be simple in your actions; and, be simple in your thoughts. This is the practice of doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. But, we tend to try too hard at putting even these, into practice in our lives. Even simplicity has become a real chore, when living, can and should, be an art. We try to do too much, when what we should do is breathe, eat, work, sleep. But we aren’t satisfied with even these four basic requirements of life. We seek out new, and better, techniques for breathing. What is the newest diet craze? How can I be more efficient at work? And, with all the hustle and bustle we create in our lives, we then wonder, “Why can’t I sleep?” They call Lao Tzu’s teaching nonsense? Nonsense is making breathing, eating, working, and sleeping so complicated. It isn’t just what we do. It begins with how we think. We laugh at those we think of as simple-minded. But the simple-minded have a gift the rest of us should treasure. No wonder Lao Tzu calls simplicity one of our three greatest treasures! A return to simplicity is a return to the source of being. Lao Tzu keeps talking about not-doing, and he means it. We need to do less and less, until we arrive at non-action. Simply be!

How many times have we heard this worn-out cliché, “Patience is a virtue”? And, how is it, that the times you hear it are always the times you don’t want to hear it. We all know that patience is a virtue. But when we want something, we want it now, not later. Telling us to be patient is just annoying. But impatience while waiting for things, aside, what Lao Tzu really wants us to treasure is patience with both our friends, and our enemies. Patience in waiting for things may have its own reward; but, being patient with friends and enemies, alike, places you in accord with the way things are. Impatience, when it comes to material things, is petty. Impatience, with friends and enemies, has monumental consequences. When you are impatient with others, the temptation is to begin to rely on the use of force to get your way. How many good friendships have been ruined? How much violence has been wrought, only to rebound back and forth, over and over again? How about we just simply do this one thing? Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Ah, the golden rule. Treat people like you want to be treated. You reap that, when you sow it, too. But harvests sometimes take awhile to come to fruition. Be patient!

Finally, be compassionate toward yourself. Lao Tzu may have saved the greatest of the three treasures for last. You are the most important person in the whole universe. Oh, don’t worry about that being a selfish thing for you to think of yourself. It is true of me, as well. I am the most important person in the whole universe. Each of us is. We are a microcosm of the whole universe. And we make mistakes. Big blunders. Egregious errors. Much of the time we are not simple enough in our actions or our thoughts. And, we often are impatient with both our friends and our enemies. But worse even than these transgressions is that we are not reconciled with who and what we are in our universe. As I said, before, you are the most important person in the whole universe. So, start showing yourself some compassion. I mean it. We really need to quit with the self-loathing. I hate my life, I hate my family, I hate my job, I hate…..me. Cut that out! You really need to get to a place where you can look at your reflection in the mirror, look deeply into your own eyes, and say “I love you”, and mean it. Forgive yourself. Make peace with yourself. Nurture yourself, body and soul. Obviously, we aren’t talking about some narcissistic thing, here. We are talking about reconciliation. You are the most important person in the whole universe, because you contain within you, the whole universe. By being compassionate toward yourself, you are reconciling all beings in the world. That is why the old song says “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

How To Make The Whole World Grateful For Your Leadership

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 66, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Are you feeling oppressed, or manipulated, by those who govern you? Today, Lao Tzu shares the antidote for what ails those of us who are being governed by means of repression. He returns once again to the now familiar metaphor for governing, “Be like the sea.” He uses this metaphor, to introduce the virtue of non-competition, competing without competing. This is something we will cover in more depth, a couple of chapters from now. But, even though this is only an introduction, what can we glean from Lao Tzu’s teaching, today?

“If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them.” In Lao Tzu’s metaphor, the people are represented by streams. Those who govern us, our leaders, are supposed to be like the sea. It is because they are below the people, they can tap into the power inherent in humility. “If you want to lead the people, you must learn how to follow them.” This is just another way of saying the same thing. Where do the streams lead? Follow them, to the source of real power.

To master the art of governing is to be above the people, with no one feeling oppressed. It is to go ahead of the people, with no one feeling manipulated. Masters at governing are above, because they have placed themselves below. They are ahead, because they have placed themselves behind.

It is so unlike the way we are being governed, today. We hold long competitions to see who will come out ahead, and on top. But, these are like games of “king of the hill”. Our would-be leaders immediately try to stake out their place on top. And, there is a certain entertainment value in watching them all be toppled from their lofty positions.

But, no one can compete with the Master at governing. Why? Because the Master doesn’t play their games. This is the virtue of non-competition. By competing without competing, the Master follows the streams of people back to the sea, the source of their power.

Yesterday, I talked about my low expectations for any of our would-be rulers, to be the kind of leaders our world so desperately needs. So, I encouraged the rest of us to be that kind of leader. It doesn’t have to mean running for political office. You can be this kind of leader in your home. In your work place. In your neighborhood. In your community. In your world. And, the whole world would be grateful to you, for this kind of leadership.

Be The Kind Of Leader Your World Needs

The ancient Masters
didn’t try to educate people,
but kindly taught them to not-know.

When they think that they know the answers,
people are difficult to guide.
When they know that they don’t know,
people can find their own way.

If you want to learn how to govern,
avoid being clever or rich.
The simplest pattern is the clearest.
Content with an ordinary life,
you can show all people the way
back to their own true nature.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 65, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the last couple of chapters, we seem to have taken a break from Lao Tzu’s teachings on the art of governing. But, have we? Lao Tzu certainly didn’t mention governing, specifically, in the last two chapters; but, his teaching on the practice of doing without doing is definitely something I wish would-be leaders would take to heart. Just imagine a world where our leaders let go of the will to power, the will to intervene, interfere, and try to control. A world with leaders, who would be content to serve as an example of how to follow the Tao. Imagining that kind of world, would be a step toward bringing it about.

Lao Tzu opens today’s chapter by talking about the leaders of long, long ago. How long ago? Well, Lao Tzu lived around 600 B.C.E., and these Masters were ancient to him.

He said, they “didn’t try to educate people, but kindly taught them to not-know.”

By that, I think, he means, they didn’t try to tell people what to know. Instead, they taught them how to know. This shows how doing without doing and knowing without knowing work together in both the art of governing, and the art of living.

People who think they know the answers are difficult to guide.

And that, my friends, is the true role of leaders in government. They are supposed to be guides, not rulers. But, how can leaders guide us, if we don’t know we don’t know. If we think we already have all the answers, we won’t look, we won’t listen, and we won’t learn. It is the very thing I keep reminding the seven year old girl I teach every day. “Aliza, you have to look and listen, if you want to learn.”

Saying, “I know, I know” is anathema to any possibility of learning.

And, for those who think Lao Tzu is just wanting ignorant, easily manipulated people, for our leaders to govern, he goes on to say, “When they know that they don’t know, people can find their own way.”

This kind of governing takes patience. You can’t give up on the people, deciding they will never know what is best for themselves, that you must force them to do the right thing.

This is why we keep calling this kind of governing, an art. You need to be a Master to govern the people.

It has been a very, very long time since we have had leaders like these ancient Masters. For some time now, our leaders have been rulers. And, our governments are very much involved in trying to educate the people. They want a particular outcome in education. They want people who are smart enough to work the machines, but not too smart; lest they start to question the authority of their “leaders”. They want you to know what you are supposed to know. But, don’t dare start thinking independently. That will get you treated for a mental illness, or locked up in a re-education facility.

In short, the ancient Masters wanted the people to think and do for themselves. If the people would only follow their example, the ancient Masters would show them the way. But, in a way that the people found on their own.

I know we seem to be a long, long way from realizing the kind of governing that Lao Tzu was promoting. I asked, in the first paragraph of this commentary, for you to imagine that kind of world. The number one problem I encounter, as I promote my libertarian taoist philosophy, is people who lack imagination. People have become so inured to our present system, they can’t imagine what it would be like to live without the chains.

My approach in “educating” people has to be to kindly teach them to not-know. They think they already have all the answers; and the government is always the answer. Until they know they don’t know, they will never get to a place where they can begin to imagine anything beyond their finite and temporal reality.

So, we need leaders who will avoid being clever or rich.

They need to avoid being clever, because you can’t very well show people they don’t know, when you think you know. With the little girl I teach, I am always answering her questions with “I don’t know, but here is how to discover the solution for ourselves.”

They need to avoid being rich, because riches insulate them from the simple and ordinary life with which we all should be content. Simple and ordinary, here, doesn’t mean what you may think it means. It isn’t dull; it is imaginative, because it isn’t confined to the finite and temporal reality. There are no limits to the infinite and eternal reality we tap into, by being content with a simple and ordinary life. By being content with a simple and ordinary life, you tap into a life of extraordinary ease.

The simplest pattern is the clearest. But, often, we are just too darn clever for our own good. We can’t see it, though it would be clear, if we were only to take a step back, and stop relying on our own knowledge.

If our leaders were content with an ordinary life, they could show all people the way back to their own true nature.

What is our true nature? It is an inquisitive nature. One that is always asking questions. One that is always imagining, and dreaming, of the infinite and eternal reality beyond the finite and temporal one we perceive with our senses. It is one that is never satisfied with the limits others might wish to impose.

Since we can’t expect any of our would-be rulers to be these kinds of guides, let’s aspire to be the leaders we know the world needs.