Yang, Without Yin

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)

Yang, Without Yin

It took me a some time to realize why I had failed for so long; and then, suddenly, I was succeeding. But, I finally realized; I had been all yang, without yin. Once I let yin have its place, and then let yin and yang balance themselves out, problems no longer were a problem for me.

Now, I suppose it is possible to err on the other side, to be all yin, without yang. But, that has never been a problem for me. I have never witnessed this problem in others. And, over years of reading through the Tao Te Ching, it doesn’t seem to be a problem with which Lao Tzu is concerned. Are we humans capable of being yin to the extreme? I suspect yang is too strong in us for that to ever be a problem. I suspect, if we are going to err, it will always be on the side of being yang, without yin.

What we are always in need of is balance, harmony. And that balance, harmony, can’t happen if we don’t let yin have its place.

This is why the practice of competing without competing, doing without doing, knowing without knowing is so very important as the practice of philosophical Taoism.

When you are all yang, all your competing, all your doing, all your knowing, will yield miserable results. You will always fail. There will always be so much left undone. And, you will never know you don’t know.

But, look what happens when you allow yin its place. Then, without competing, you compete; without doing, you do; without knowing, you know.

Not-knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease. But, you have to first realize you are sick, then you can move toward health.

Maybe I am going way out on a limb, here. But, I doubt it.

You are sick. Just like I was. But, me telling you this isn’t going to be all that it takes for you to realize it. That, I can’t do for you. There are no time tables. Realization will come to you. It will come intuitively and spontaneously. But, I can’t tell you when that will happen, or how. And, don’t beat yourself up over wasted time spent before your realization. There is no wasted time. All of the time before my realization was simply me being molded, shaped, into the person who could realize it. The same is true for you. Just understand that once realization comes, then you can move toward health.

You can be your own physician. You can heal yourself of all knowing. Until you are truly whole.

It’s So Easy, But Don’t Be Surprised When You Fail

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)

It’s So Easy, But Don’t Be Surprised When You Fail

Today’s chapter hearkens back to what Lao Tzu said in chapter 67. There, he said he only had three things to teach: simplicity, patience, and compassion. And, if this is what your teachings boil down to, it makes perfect sense that they would also be easy to understand, and easy to put into practice.

After all, it was also in that chapter, where Lao Tzu said to those who said his teaching is nonsense, “To those who have looked inside themselves, this nonsense makes perfect sense.” And, to those who said his teachings are lofty, but impractical, “To those who put it into practice, this loftiness has roots that go deep.”

So, what could possibly be our problem with putting them into practice? It is supposed to be easy, right?

Today, Lao Tzu identifies exactly what our problem is. It is a dual problem. It involves both the practice of knowing without knowing, and the practice of doing without doing. “Your intellect will never grasp my teachings. And, if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.”

“What the _____?” Feel free to fill in the blank, voicing your own choice expletive in response. I have voiced my own, over many years of trying and failing, countless times of trying and failing.

Lao Tzu was patient with me. I expected no less, since patience is one of our three greatest treasures. And, he kept it simple, all through my countless failures. Where the compassion came in was all mine, however. I had to keep forgiving myself for not getting what was so simple, so easy. What was wrong with me?

“My teachings are older than the world. How can you grasp their meaning?” Well, through it all, I steadfastly remained determined to accomplish what Lao Tzu steadfastly insisted could not be done. I always have pictured Lao Tzu as a kind and gentle grandfather smiling at me through it all. And, me? I was just the opposite. “Maybe those naysayers weren’t so far off with their claims of ‘nonsense’ and ‘lofty, but impractical’”.

It was a long and circuitous route, and a very lonely one. Finally, I neared the end of my journey; though, from my own perspective, I was still just beginning. I threw up my hands in surrender. I gave up all hope. I finally knew that I didn’t know. I stopped trying to do what I now understood I could never accomplish.

It isn’t a head thing. It’s a heart thing. “If you want to know me, look inside your heart.”

On Knowing How to Yield

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)

On Knowing How to Yield

Yesterday, we talked about the virtue of non-competition, competing without competing. And, I said this is just another way to practice the Tao. It is the same as doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. Lao Tzu gave four examples of how the best, in their chosen professions, embody this virtue. And, one of those “best” was the best general “entering the mind of his enemy.” Today, he explains how a general puts this “entering the mind of his enemy” into practice.

They have a saying… Better than making the first move, wait and see. Better than advancing an inch, retreat a yard. Put into practice, this is competing without competing. Lao Tzu calls it going forward without advancing; and, pushing back without having to use weapons.

What Lao Tzu is describing is the power inherent in knowing how to yield. Though, unfortunately for the lot of us, this is one power those who are merely ordinary, and ever reaching for more and greater power, never do seem to put into practice.

Instead, we suffer the greatest misfortune of them all. Those who are in power, always practice underestimating their enemy. Unwaveringly, they think of the enemy, and propagandize the people into thinking of the enemy, as evil. The results are quite clear. The totality of human history has proven it over and over again. We have destroyed our three greatest treasures. Remember those? Simplicity, patience, and compassion. And, we have become an enemy ourselves.

That may sound rather bleak. If so, I only intend it to sound bleak, so that the gravity of the situation is quite clear. Perhaps there is reason to be hopeful. Some, certainly, are daring to hope that the winds of change are blowing. For my part, I am trying to keep my expectations low, where I am not yet capable of letting them be nil.

No expectations isn’t really hopelessness in the way we might “expect”. At least, that is what I keep telling myself. All I really “know” is when two great forces oppose each other, and it always seems to be the case that two great forces are opposing each other, the victory will go to the one force who knows how to yield.

Be Like Children, Play More

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)

Be Like Children, Play More

Yesterday, Lao Tzu boiled down all of his teachings to just three things: simplicity, patience, and compassion. And, since this is really all that his teaching amounts to, he ends up repeating himself a whole lot. Sometimes the metaphors will be different, but he is always saying the same thing. And, a lot of the time he will use different phrases to say the same thing. That was the case two chapters ago when he introduced the virtue of non-competition. He said then, “Because [the Master] competes with no one, no one can compete with her. The virtue of non-competition, which he expands upon in today’s chapter, is that it isn’t really not competing. In reality, it is competing without competing. In this, he is identifying it as the practice of the Tao. What he most often refers to as doing without doing, and knowing without knowing. They are different ways of saying the same thing.

To illustrate the practice of competing without competing he uses four different metaphors: the best athlete, the best general, the best businessman, and the best leader. How do they all embody the virtue of non-competition?

For the best athlete, it is seen in wanting his opponent at his best. For the best general, it is seen in his ability to enter the mind of his enemy. For the best businessman, it is seen in the way he serves the communal good. And, for the best leader, it is seen in how he follows the will of the people.

In this, they are competing without competing. No one can compete with them, because they compete with no one. Each of them, in their own chosen vocation, has discovered a great secret. By being like children, and competing in a spirit of play, they are in harmony with the Tao.

Nonsense? Impractical?

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)

Nonsense? Impractical?

I will open today’s chapter commentary with an imaginary discourse between Lao Tzu and a few of his contemporaries.

“Nonsense!” And, they nervously giggled to themselves, surprised they had spoken their thoughts out loud. Others who heard them, said, “Oh, but, isn’t that a bit harsh? We will readily admit, his teaching is lofty. But, nonsense? Let’s just call it impractical.”

And, I imagine Lao Tzu simply shaking his head at them, and thinking to himself, “If they would just look inside themselves…if they would just put it into practice…”

That is the problem, isn’t it? We spend so much of our time gazing at things on the outside. We see the surface, but not the depths. If we just looked inside ourselves, we would see that this “nonsense” makes perfect sense. And, if we were to actually put it into practice in our lives, its loftiness has roots which go deep.

But, that would take humility on our part. And, that was the subject of yesterday’s chapter. Today, Lao Tzu has just three things to teach, what he calls our three greatest treasures, if we will only have the humility to seek and find them, to treasure them, and hold onto them-never letting them go.

These three things: simplicity, patience, and compassion.

I am not patting myself on the back, and boasting, when I say I have found them, that they are indeed my three greatest treasures, that I will guard them fiercely, and never let go of them.

What joy they have brought to my life! To be simple in actions and in thoughts. And, because of this practice, I constantly return to the source of being. To be patient with both my friends and my enemies. And, because of this practice, I know I am in accord with the way things are. To be compassionate toward myself, because I see the world as my self. And, because of this practice, I am able to reconcile all beings in the world.

No, I am not patting myself on the back. I am not boasting. What would I have to boast of? What great thing have I done? I didn’t reach for the great. I simply looked inside myself. I put these teachings into practice.

There was nothing to be done, so I did nothing.

And, nothing was left undone.

Is Humility a Possibility?

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)

Is Humility a Possibility?

I posted Jacob Hornberger’s open letter to President-Elect Trump on my tumblr blog, yesterday. It just goes to show, I am not the only one offering unsolicited advice. And, Mr. Hornberger’s advice, if heeded, would likely result in just the extraordinary presidency he is asking of the newly elected President. But, given the “three suggestions” he offered, I doubt Hornberger will be holding his breath, either.

What would it take for Trump to follow this advice? Humility. The subject of today’s unsolicited advice, from me.

It is a familiar metaphor for Lao Tzu to use. All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.

Why is it those who are merely ordinary, who are always seeking and grasping for ever more greater power, are seemingly blind to the power inherent in humility? Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical. Of course, it is because they are merely ordinary. But, oh, to have a leader who would be extraordinary! Different than all the rest.

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.

I have to be honest, here. I am struggling to not come out sounding as cynical as I am feeling right now, about the potential of a Trump presidency. I would like to dare to hope that he would be different. He really could, you know? Once you get past the surface of all his campaign rhetoric. You might dare to believe there are depths to believe in down there somewhere. Why else would I continue to offer my own unsolicited advice?

That phantom of hope remains. And, honestly, it sure beats being scared out of my wits by the phantom of fear.

Oh, to have Trump be like the Master, and finding himself above the people, no one feels oppressed. To have him go ahead of the people, without anyone feeling manipulated. Is there anyone who doubts the whole world would be grateful? By competing with no one, no one would be able to compete with him. And, isn’t that just the greatness he promised us?