Inexhaustible When You Use It

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

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

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

Inexhaustible When You Use It

A few chapters back, Lao Tzu said the Tao is imperceptible. I said that is why expecting our leaders to remain centered in the Tao is expecting the impossible.

Yet, we can be centered in the Tao. It just requires something of us that those with the will to power never can achieve. Humility. We talked, yesterday, about the great Tao’s humility. It isn’t aware of its greatness. Ah, to be unaware of your greatness. That is the key to true greatness.

But, the Tao’s imperceptibility does pose a problem for us. Do we have to be aware of the Tao in us? And, how can we be, if it is hidden in our hearts, and imperceptible to our senses?

Lao Tzu explains it to us in this way: If you are centered in the Tao, you can go wherever you wish, without being in danger. How can this be? What is required is not perceiving the imperceptible Tao, but perceiving the universal harmony, the evidence of the Tao’s existence, even in the midst of the greatest pain. You can’t perceive the Tao. And when you are in the midst of pain, it doesn’t magically become perceptible. No, it isn’t that easy. However, you can perceive the universal harmony, when you find peace in your heart, regardless of your outward circumstances. No matter how great the storms of life. No matter how battered you become. No matter what pain you are experiencing. You have peace in your heart.

The number one question I get asked about philosophical Taoism is, “How do I put this into practice?” I had a friend, just the other day, who I told, “You worry too much.” This wasn’t news to him. He knows he worries too much. But he has been a worrier for a very long time now. It is habitual. And, his question was, “How do I let go of worrying?” I told him I wish I had a magic wand to wave over him. Really, I do. But, I can’t tell you how to do it. I can only tell you to let it go. “Yes, but how do I let it go?” This conversation could go on like this forever. And, I still don’t have that magic wand. Finally, I said, “I wouldn’t bother with trying to let it go. As long as you are trying, you are still worrying. You simply have to let it go.”

Not nearly as helpful as I would have liked to be. But, that is the way it is with words that point to the Tao. Music or the smell of good cooking may make people stop and enjoy. But words like these seem monotonous and without flavor.

When you look for it, there is nothing to see. So stop looking!

When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear. So stop striving to hear!

Is it hopeless, then?

Not at all. Lao Tzu tells us exactly what must be done. So pay close attention. When you use it, it is inexhaustible. There it is. Put it to use. We will expand on this, tomorrow.

Death by Vanishing

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)

Death by Vanishing

Yesterday, we became more introspective. I had been off on one of my favorite tangents, proclaiming my great loathing of our would-be leaders. Lao Tzu recalled my wandering eyes, and had me gaze, once again, within myself. It is because we worry about what is to become of us. We are thinking of the self as self, and the phantoms of hope and fear rear their ugly heads in our lives. Lao Tzu challenges us to stay in the center of the circle, and to embrace death with our whole heart. And, I promised yesterday, this death Lao Tzu refers to, isn’t a physical death. It is a death to seeing self as self. And, then I further promised, because Lao Tzu promises it, you will endure forever. All that is uniquely you will never die.

Well, that is quite a promise. And, it probably deserves a bit more explanation. Hence, we have today’s chapter.

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter talking about the greatness of the Tao. It flows everywhere. All things are born of it. It pours itself into its work. It nourishes infinite worlds. All these things do, indeed, make the Tao great. But, what makes it truly great, is that it isn’t aware of its greatness. It makes no claim of being our Creator. It expects nothing from us. It doesn’t hold on to us, denying us freedom.

It is merged with all things and hidden in our hearts. Thus, it is truly humble. Unaware, and willing for us to be unaware of it. I find it difficult to move past this. Haven’t we had enough false humility? Humility which is feigned, but we know better, we know of our greatness. We are aware of it. But, the Tao is unaware, and thus truly humble.

But, we must move on from there. For there is still that need to embrace death with our whole heart. All things vanish into it, and it alone endures. There it is. The death we are to embrace. We vanish into it. It alone endures. And yet, and yet, all that makes us unique never dies. We vanish into the Tao. And, it alone endures. But, we endure as well. In the great Tao.

Turning My Gaze Back Within Myself

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)

Turning My Gaze Back Within Myself

I have been having an inordinate amount of fun the last few days with my posts. Our would-be leaders wear a big fat target, and would be easy to mock, even if they weren’t so horribly awful. But, today, Lao Tzu recalls me from my political fancies. Not that I couldn’t use today’s chapter to point my finger at our would-be leaders, I just feel like Lao Tzu would have me look within, rather than without, today.

Our knowledge of others (especially my knowledge of our would-be leaders) might count as intelligence; but it is knowing ourselves which is true wisdom. We might have mastery over others, and our strength might seem formidable; but true power is mastering ourselves. These are words spoken across all philosophies. Do you want to be truly rich? Realize that you already have enough. You lack nothing. It may not be unique to philosophical Taoism, but that doesn’t make it any less true. On the contrary, that it is in agreement with other philosophies, should make it more reliably true. We all know these things. They aren’t something new and untested. We need to strip away all of our desires. Everything that looks outside of our own selves for true contentment. Stay in the center of the circle. Just you, and the great Mother, Tao. Embrace death with your whole heart. Lao Tzu isn’t referring to a physical death, here. It is the death of seeing self as self. Let it go. “But, what is to become of me?” Let that go. What is uniquely you, never dies. It endures forever.

Knowing When to Stop

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)

Knowing When to Stop

To my friends who don’t share my fascination with politics, please accept my apologies for the pleasure I have had, the last couple of days, at the expense of the two major party’s candidates for US president.

I had an interesting conversation this past week with the seven year old girl I teach. She, too, is fascinated with politics. Ah, to be so young, so innocent. I told her politics would be a whole lot better if it weren’t for the politicians.

Indeed, we place our politicians on too high a pedestal. We think they can do things they can’t possibly do. Lao Tzu gives us just one example in today’s chapter. 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.

In my commentary, yesterday, I spoke of making policies based on utopian hopes and dreams. I was thinking of something quite different, then; but Lao Tzu gives us, here, a utopian hope and dream to fantasize about. Just imagine it. Paradise!

But, wait! Let’s step back a bit. Alas, it is utopian. Meaning, it can’t be realized. If powerful men and women could… But, they can’t. The Tao can’t be perceived. Smaller than an electron, it contains uncountable galaxies. It can’t be perceived; and the powerful, those who have been corrupted by the will to ever more power, could never remain centered in the Tao.

Lao Tzu never intended to get our hopes up. Remember what he has said about hope, before. It is but a phantom, which arises because we are thinking of the self as self. No, Lao Tzu knows better than to offer us vain hope. He intends to dash our hopes against the cruel rocks of reality. He wants us to see the way things are. What we desperately need, right here, right now, is a good dose of reality.

We need to know our hopes for the powerful are false ones. And, we need to know when it is time for certain things to come to an end. Names and forms are only provisional. They may have served us for a time; but that time has long since passed. There are institutions, which we have held up in great honor, and now is the time for their functions to end. We must know when to stop.

We can avoid any danger, if we know when to stop. The myriad dangers our world faces are all the result of powerful people not knowing when to stop. And, we need to understand, it is time to stop counting on them.

That Tao which can’t be perceived, smaller than an electron, yet containing uncountable galaxies, is where all things end. Everything, which had a beginning, has an end, just like rivers end by flowing into the sea.

A Question of Decency

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)

A Question of Decency

Lao Tzu was just getting started, yesterday, when he talked about every force resulting in a counter force, and violence always rebounding upon one’s self. Today, he declares weapons to be the tools of violence and fear. And, he says all decent people detest them, avoid them except in the direst necessity, and use them only if compelled and with the utmost restraint. That is our litmus test for decency. Weapons have only one legitimate use. And, that is self-defense. It isn’t “decent” to use them in any other way. But, make no mistake, weapons are the tools of violence and fear. That is their purpose. They are intended to strike fear in the hearts of anyone who would threaten your life, your liberty, your property. And, they are intended to do violence, if fear isn’t persuasive enough.

Lao Tzu was no pacifist. While peace was his highest value (indeed, it is the highest value of any decent person), Lao Tzu understood direst necessity. The way things are is the way things are. No matter how much we may wish to live in a utopia, making policies based on utopian hopes and dreams is foolhardy. But, a decent person understands that violence always rebounds upon one’s self. That is why the use of weapons requires the utmost restraint. And, peace being their highest value, decent people could never be content, if the peace has been shattered.

This, of course, is a continuation of what we were talking about, yesterday, with regard to our would-be leaders. Why should it be too much to ask that our would-be leaders be decent people? I have many friends who are seriously afraid of Trump. Granted, he is certifiably bat-shit crazy. But, they don’t recognize the same in Hillary? Someone who jokes about the horrific deaths of fellow human beings. Don’t even try to tell me that peace is her highest value. Far from being discontent when the peace has been shattered, she goes out of her way to shatter it. She treats her enemies, I won’t call them “ours”, as demons. This isn’t the way decent people behave. Decent people regard them as fellow human beings. See, there is a reason I consider her the devil incarnate. Perhaps, the reason she doesn’t treat them as fellow human beings is because it takes one to know one. A decent person wouldn’t wish another human being personal harm. Nor would they rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children.

I could never support Trump, because I don’t know what he would do given that kind of power. But, Hillary is of a whole other order than Trump. I know exactly what she would do with that kind of power. She has already exercised it. And, the whole world is a much more dangerous place because of it.

Give me a leader who is decent! That shouldn’t be too much to ask. I want one who will enter a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if they were attending a funeral. Our two major party choices seem to want to put the “fun” in funeral. So, they both fail the test of decency.

How to Be Accepted by the World

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)

How to Be Accepted by the World

Being as today’s chapter is merely a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying in yesterday’s chapter, warning us against the idea we can improve on our world, it would be good to remember exactly what he was saying to those of us who would be leaders in our midst. If you are wise and virtuous, you will see things as they are, and won’t try to control them. You will let them go their own way, and reside at the center of the circle.

Today, he calls that relying on the Tao in governing. When you rely on the Tao, you won’t try to force issues, or defeat enemies by force of arms. I wish I didn’t have to point out our would-be leaders can’t be relied on to follow this sage advice. Yet, it is based on lessons we all should have learned while we were children. For every force there is a counter force. That is elementary physics. These are the laws of the universe which govern us, whether or not we care to be governed by them. Violence, even (especially) when it is well intentioned, always rebounds upon one’s self.

They should understand this! They must! How could they not? It is why I consider myself to be virtually a one-issue voter. I don’t care what your other policies may be, if you are a warmonger, like Hillary definitely is (and who knows what Trump would do if he was granted that kind of power?), I could never support you. We create havoc all over the world, bringing about a refugee crisis. But, we blame the victims. We create terrorists, we fund them, we arm them. Then, we act shocked when it comes back to bite us?

Will we ever learn? Do your job, then stop. Don’t overreach. Understand, the whole universe is forever out of our control. Stop trying to dominate events! It goes against the very current of the Tao.

I spend a lot of my time just shaking my head. I seriously resemble a bobble head doll. I am dismayed by the utter folly of US foreign policy. Hillary is the devil incarnate when it comes to options for president. But, Trump’s whole schtick is to suggest that the only problem is that America isn’t “great” enough. No, Donald, it is America’s “greatness” which has caused the problems we are facing. We weren’t, and aren’t, humble. So, we keep messing around in places all over the world we never should have been.

Trump puts on this act, like he believes in himself, and we should, too. But, Lao Tzu has it right. If he believed in himself, he wouldn’t try to convince others. If he was content with himself, he wouldn’t need others’ approval. Trump’s narcissism is proof of just how inadequate he sees himself to be. Perhaps it is something to do with his small hands?

I am trying to give both the Donald, and Hillary, their due. No playing favorites, here. And, I can only hope that the Johnson/Weld ticket offers voters a more sane option.

We need leaders, wise and virtuous leaders, who believe in themselves, are content with themselves, and accept themselves. Far from being narcissistic , these kinds of leaders are humble. They know their place. And, the whole world, indeed, the whole universe, accepts them.

You Want to Improve the World?

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)

You Want to Improve the World?

In yesterday’s chapter we were talking about how we can relate to the world around us. We can receive it in our arms. We can be a pattern for it. And, we can accept it, just as it is. If only we would be content to let that be enough for us! Instead, we get some heady notions. We forget our place in the hierarchy of the great powers. We, humans, are great! But, only to the extent we follow the Earth, as it follows the Universe, as it follows the Tao. Forgetting our place, we begin to think we can improve on our world.

Lao Tzu reminds us of our place. Hold on there! First, he is gentle, saying, I don’t think the world can be improved. But, then, he is more bold. The world is sacred. It can’t be improved. If you tamper with it, you will ruin it. If you treat it like an object, you will lose it.

That is a pretty good diagnosis of exactly what is, now, wrong with our world. We have been tampering with it, and treating it like an object, for quite some time.

We need to know our place. And, stop interfering with the natural order. We need to understand that we, humans, are subject to a higher law than any we can try to enforce. The world isn’t an object. It, too, is subject to higher laws, the laws of the Universe, which are subject to the Tao.

This is why Lao Tzu was reminding us, yesterday, of the complementary relationship of yin and yang. We need to realize that there is a time for being ahead, and a time for being behind; a time for being in motion, and a time for being at rest; a time for being vigorous, and a time for being exhausted; a time for being safe, and a time for being in danger.

These aren’t just meaningless words! They show a respect for the natural order of things. A respect which we ignore at our own peril. That time for being in danger, could often be avoided. We could be safe. But, because we don’t respect our place, we seek to usurp a higher one. Not realizing there is a time for being behind, we try to force our way ahead. When we should be at rest, we are in motion. We are vigorous, to the point of exhaustion. We could be safe. But, instead, we put the whole planet in danger.

If we were wise and virtuous (yes, that is what is called for, here) we would see things as they are, without trying to control them. We would let them go their own way, and simply reside at the center of the circle.

How We Relate to Our World

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)

How We Relate to Our World

Today’s chapter is about our relationship to the world around us. Lao Tzu refers to this relationship as the complementary relationship between yin and yang.

Know the male, that is yang; yet keep to the female, yin. That is how to receive the world in our arms, and be like little children; with the great Mother, Tao, never leaving us.

Know the white, that is yang; yet keep to the black, yin. This is how we can be a pattern for the world, making the Tao strong in us. Nothing will be impossible for us.

Know the personal, that is yang; yet keep to the impersonal, yin. This is the only way to accept the world just as it is, making the Tao luminous inside of us. We return to our primal selves.

This returning to our primal selves is the key to relating to our world. We need to return to following the Earth, as it follows the universe, as it follows the Tao. Just as the world was formed from the void, and utensils are formed from a block of wood, we need to know the utensils, yet keep to the block of wood. We need to return to that block of wood. Be that block of wood.

Be like a little child again, that is our pattern for the world. Return to your primal self. Accept the world just as it is. But, keep before you its beginning, and your beginning. With that block of wood before you, nothing is impossible. Infinite are the ways you can use it.

The Great Secret: How To Embody The Light

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)

The Great Secret: How To Embody The Light

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu warned us not to flit about like fools, being blown to and fro. If we let restlessness be what moves us, we will lose touch with our root, with who we are. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins by telling us exactly who we are. We are fellow travelers, artists, and scientists. These aren’t just random occupations Lao Tzu pulled out of thin air. These are who we are, as human beings. We may not always be the best travelers, artists, and scientists. But, this is who we are, good or bad.

We are going to spend some time today talking about good and bad. Perhaps, it will be in ways you haven’t thought of before. We have a tendency to think of the differences between good and bad as resting on some moral judgment. But, this isn’t the way Lao Tzu is thinking of them. The goodness, or virtue, Lao Tzu is esteeming makes no moral judgments. Some people are just better at some things than others. If you are good at something, you need to make yourself available to others, who aren’t so good at it. And, likewise, if you are bad at something, you should find yourself a teacher.

True goodness is making yourself available to all people, whether to teach, or to be taught.

That is the whole point of today’s chapter, where he begins by calling us all travelers, artists, and scientists. He tells us how to be good at these things.

If you are a good traveler, you won’t be bound by fixed plans, and you won’t be intent upon arriving. I appreciate what Lao Tzu means by this good traveler. How can you be available, never reject anyone, and be ready to use all situations without wasting anything, if you are so bent on getting to the end of your journey? We know the answer to that question. I can’t begin to tell of the number of opportunities I let pass me by, simply because I was in a rush. I had too much to get done. I couldn’t make the time. I wasn’t available. I wasn’t ready for whatever situation might arise.

Freeing up our schedules and making ourselves available to anyone, and any situation, doesn’t mean we are going to flit about like fools, being blown to and fro, however. We covered that in yesterday’s chapter. Yes, we can never lose touch with our root. But, we can, and should, embody the light. Our travels should be full of purpose. And the purpose should be, being available to all people, and ready for all situations.

That is where being a good artist comes in. Let your intuition lead you wherever it wants. Your intuition is your connection to the Tao. That is why we need to learn to trust it, more and more. It knows what our minds could never have known. Our minds have their own agenda. Our minds are intent upon arriving. Our minds are either reminding us of the places we are supposed to be at such and such a time, or they will be screaming out at us to pull out that schedule and rehearse it all again. Our intuition, on the other hand, is intent upon being, in the present.

This all leads us to the need for being a good scientist. We need to free ourselves of all concepts, and keep our minds open to what is. Free yourself! Don’t be bound! If we are going to be available to all people, and ready for all situations, we simply can’t let our preconceived notions and ideas stop us.

But, what if I am bad at some, or all, of these things? Find a mentor! Over the years, whenever I found myself being bad at something, it never was too long before someone who was good at it came along. Good people are out there. They need a job. And, you are their job. You only need to open yourself up to that possibility.

I am a firm believer in surrounding ourselves with people who are older and younger than ourselves. Personally, I think that is more important than surrounding ourselves with our peers. But, don’t let that older and younger just refer to age. I have sought out relationships with people more, and less, mature than me. People more well-traveled, better at following their intuition, those whose minds were open; and people less traveled, less intuitive, and whose minds were closed. People I could learn from, and people who could learn from me. I make myself available to all people, and don’t reject anyone. Therefore, I am ready to use all situations, and don’t waste anything.

Not that I can, at all, say I have arrived. No, my friends, I am still learning. Learning how to embody the light, more and more each day.

We simply have to understand our need to be, and to have, mentors. Lao Tzu calls it the great secret. We need each other. If we don’t understand this, we will get lost. And, it doesn’t matter how intelligent we may think ourselves to be.

Never Lose Touch With Who You Are

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)

Never Lose Touch With Who You Are

Yesterday, Lao Tzu described the Tao as it was in the beginning, as it always will be. Formless, yet perfect. Serene. Empty. Solitary. Unchanging. Infinite. Eternally present. I repeat these, again, because this is the heavy which is the root of the light. This is the unmoved, which is the source of all movement. The Tao is unmoved. It flows through all things, inside and outside, but always returns to itself. It is detached and disinterested, unmoved. But, it is the source of all movement. The Universe follows it. The Earth follows the Universe. Humanity follows the Earth. Back to our Source.

A wise and virtuous person never lets go of that anchor. They hold on to that root. No matter where their travels may take them, no matter how splendid the views, they never leave home. They stay serenely in themselves, in the Tao flowing through them.

Only a fool would flit about, being blown to and fro, losing touch with their root. This is not befitting of lords. Never let restlessness be what moves you, never lose touch with who you are.