The great way is easy,
yet people prefer the side paths.
Be aware when things are out of balance.
Stay centered within the Tao.
When rich speculators prosper
while farmers lose their land;
when government officials spend money
on weapons instead of cures;
when the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible
while the poor have nowhere to turn –
all this is robbery and chaos.
It is not in keeping with the Tao.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
It is so easy. Oh, I never saw it like that. Always preferring the side paths, just like almost everyone else. Was that time wasted? All that time I spent on the side paths? Somehow, I don’t think so. That is now behind me. What is behind me can’t be a waste. It is finished. It was useful, not a waste. But living now, in the present, I can look back with clearer vision. I can learn so much. And, I do. I have become a kind of observer. I didn’t do that so much in the past. But now I do. I observe. I look and listen. And I smile as much as I can smile. At people. At places. At things. The great way is easy. Why do people prefer the side paths? Lao Tzu doesn’t answer that question. He merely observes that we do. And, he is right. People prefer the side paths. Don’t we realize how very difficult we are making living? No, I don’t think we have a clue just how difficult we are making our lives. That certainly was my problem. Ignorance. So, we just keep on keeping on. Preferring the side paths.
It doesn’t have to be this way. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a better way. An easier way. If only we understood. We have to stay centered in the Tao. That is the better way. But how do we do that? Lao Tzu tells us what to beware of. Beware when things are out of balance. That is not in keeping with the Tao. The Tao is always about bringing about balance. When things are out of balance, you have left the great and easy way. You are now meandering down those side paths again.
I had an interesting visitor today. I have been talking in this blog for the last few days about living according to our nature, instead of against our nature. My visitor had a different view from my own. He said that he is convinced that human nature is not good. That it is our nature to be bad. We have to work against our nature to be good. Interesting. Many people would agree with my visitor. I do not. What Lao Tzu has been talking about all along isn’t something that requires work, effort. It is easy. It is a life of ease. It is effortless. If it requires work, effort, then it isn’t the Tao. At least that is what I have observed.
My visitor intrigued me, though. For you see, he is an observer, as well as me. How can two observers see two very different things, when they are looking at the same thing? I chalk that up to a difference in perspective. He sees all the darkness and he sees only darkness. I see all the darkness and I just know that the Tao is there, working effortlessly to bring about balance. Though some people are working hard to keep things out of balance.
It dawned on me some time ago that some people benefit by keeping things out of balance. That isn’t some great revelation for many of my readers. But I hadn’t been awake and observing for very long when I first realized it. When you start reading through the Tao Te Ching, if you are like me, you are going to begin to wonder, since this is so obviously true, why doesn’t everyone act accordingly? Only later did it begin to register with me that for some, being in harmony with the Tao, is frightening. It upsets their apple carts.
Farmers lose their land. That would seem to be a tragedy that demands that something change. But, look at those who prosper when farmers lose their land. Speculators are made rich. They are prospering. Do they want things balanced? No!
And just look at our government officials. They are always promising that they want to spend money on cures. But where is the profit in that? The profit is in keeping people sick. They don’t want cures. They want people dependent on their handouts. We’ll treat symptoms. But cures? No, no money in that. Where is the real money to be made? Just look what we are spending money on. That is what we are investing in. Weapons? Yes, that is a bonanza! Cures? Not so much.
Just look around you. Observe it for yourself. The upper class is living extravagantly and irresponsibly. Who am I to judge? Yes, I heard that. Who am I to judge? How dare I judge the lifestyles of the rich and famous as extravagant and irresponsible! Honestly, I wouldn’t care less how you accumulated your wealth or what you do with it once you accumulated it. Except for one problem from which I simply can’t turn my eyes away: The poor have nowhere to turn.
I can’t turn my eyes away. So, while I otherwise wouldn’t care, I find myself caring. How did you accumulate your wealth? And what are you doing with it? None of my business? Well, believe it or not, I do not want to force you to live your life any differently. And, I wouldn’t want the government to swoop in and confiscate your wealth for some redistribution; even if I believed that that redistribution was actually going to go to the poor. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care. It just means I know that you profit when things are out of balance. You don’t want the Tao bringing about balance.
That is why Lao Tzu characterizes these as examples of robbery and chaos. And people that thrive off of robbery and chaos want to keep things just the way they are: Out of balance. Not in keeping with the Tao. They want you to prefer the side paths. They want you to think there is no easier way. That way, things can remain out of balance.
But things can’t remain out of balance. That is the good news for the rest of us. Things can’t always remain out of balance. I am reminded of a quote of Martin Luther King Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
With all this darkness, the Tao is nowhere to be found. But it is still here, my friends. Deep within the darkness. And, it is still acting, effortlessly, but ever-acting. And the Tao, unlike our ruling class, will bring about balance and equality, aka, justice.
So what does that mean? Do we just have to wait things out? What about all these people who have nowhere to turn? Oh, but we do have somewhere to turn. We can turn away from the side paths and follow the great and easy way. Stay centered in the Tao and find your life coming back into balance, now, not years from now. This isn’t the empty promises of the ruling class. They want none of this. But you can live free of their schemes.