Category Archives: Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

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.

It Is About Our Beginning

What is rooted is easy to nourish.
What is recent is easy to correct.
What is brittle is easy to break.
What is small is easy to scatter.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.

Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm
at the end as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 64, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu continues what he was talking about, yesterday; the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. Yesterday, he said, in order to practice it, you must begin by changing the way you think about things. By thinking of the small as large, and the few as many, you will confront the difficult, while it is still easy. Today, Lao Tzu begins with four examples of easy things we can do without doing. Without trying, or effort, we can nourish what is rooted, correct what is recent, break what is brittle, and scatter what is small.

There are two ways to look at these examples. We might like the idea of the ease with which we can nourish something rooted, or correct our recent mistakes; but, we might not appreciate how easy it is to break what is brittle, or scatter what is small. Yet, that only helps us to see the yin and yang relationship of easy and difficult. We need to understand their complementary relationship to prevent trouble before it arises, and put things in order before they exist.

To further illustrate his point, Lao Tzu uses two familiar metaphors. First, we have the lesson of the giant pine tree, which grows from a tiny sprout. Second, we have the journey of a thousand miles, which begins with the first steps we take.

The lessons to be learned from these metaphors is to neither delay, nor rush doing what needs to be done, from the beginning. That tiny sprout will become a giant pine tree. Are you procrastinating, when you need to be doing something? That tiny sprout will become a giant pine tree. If you don’t want a giant pine tree, that is going to a problem for you. As for that long journey you have ahead of you, it begins, not at the end, just beyond the horizon, but at your feet. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to the end. Begin, by placing your focus on the beginning.

Slow, yet steady. That is the way of the Tao. When you rush into action, you will fail. If you try to grasp at things, you will lose them. Trying to force a project to completion is to ruin what was almost ripe.

The Master, as always, is our example. Take action by letting things take their course. Remain calm, from the beginning, and all the way through, to the end. You have everything; but, your attitude should be, that you have nothing. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Let go of all your desires. Unlearn all you think you know.

What the Master teaches is a simple reminder of who we have always been. This isn’t some new thing to learn. It is about our beginning. Back when all we cared about was the Tao. This, Lao Tzu has previously illustrated, by picturing a newborn with its mother. When we were newborns, all we cared about was Mother. Mother, who gave birth to us, nourished us, maintained us, cared for us, comforted us, and protected us. All we desired was for Mother to take us back into her arms, and hold us close to her.

To care about nothing but the Tao, the source of all things, is to be able to perfectly care for all things.

It Is All In How We Perceive Things

Act without doing;
work without effort.
Think of the small as large
and the few as many.
Confront the difficult
while it is still easy;
accomplish the great task
by a series of small acts.

The Master never reaches for the great;
thus she achieves greatness.
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn’t cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 63, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After talking for the last six days on the art of governing, today, we will give it a rest. Let’s not lose sight of the fundamental teachings, which we all, leaders and followers, alike, must be practicing, if we want to be content. This isn’t the art of governing; it is the art of living.

So, Lao Tzu comes back to the fundamental tenet of philosophical Taoism, Wei Wu Wei, doing without doing. “Act without doing; work without effort.” If we are going to put this into practice in our lives, it begins with how we think.

Small and large. Few and many. Difficult and easy. These are yin and yang concepts. And, we always seem to be thinking about them all wrong. We do this, because the only reality our minds can perceive is the one we perceive with our senses. That is the finite and temporal reality. But, Lao Tzu’s message to all of us is that there is a whole other reality we can be experiencing, the infinite and eternal reality. This is the Tao.

If we are going to experience this reality, we will need to change how we perceive things. Somewhere along in here, knowing without knowing will come in. For now, don’t think of the small as small. Think of it as large. And, don’t think of the few as few. Think of them as many.

Say what? Why would I want to think of the small as large and the few as many? Why? Because, the way we think of things creates our reality. When I see small things as small, and few things as few, I limit myself to a finite and temporal reality. When I think of them as large and many, I open myself up to a whole new reality. One that is expansive. Infinite. Eternal.

I know this is a challenge to our way of thinking. That is the whole point. “But, but, they ARE small, and few.” Let me ask you a couple of questions about your life. Is your life full of difficulties, or is it one of ease? If your life is difficult, why do you think that is? Is it possible, the reason you think your life is difficult is because of your thinking about things? “Yes, but how is thinking of the small as large and the few as many, going to help with that. I often feel quite overwhelmed. Wouldn’t that just be making a mountain out of a molehill?”

Good, I have you thinking. Now, understand this: The mountains of difficulty in your life ARE just molehills. But those molehills have become mountains to you, because you didn’t confront the difficult while it was still easy. If you had thought of the small as large and the few as many, you would have confronted the difficult while it was still easy. You would have accomplished the great task, now before you, by a series of small acts.

Do you remember, a few chapters back, when Lao Tzu asked, “Do you want to be a great leader?” Here is the Master’s secret: “The Master never reaches for the great;” That is how they achieve greatness. When they run into difficulty, they don’t run and hide. They stop, and give themselves to it. They don’t cling to their own comfort; thus, problems are no problem for them.

This isn’t just good advice for would-be leaders. This is good advice for all of us. Don’t try to be great. Don’t reach for greatness. Be content with the simple and ordinary. Master that, and you will become great. By thinking of the small as large, and the few as many, we aren’t limiting ourselves to the small and few. We are realizing the large and many.

Here is another question for you. Are you often bored? It is hard to be content, when you are bored. There has to be something more out there for me. But why isn’t there more? Once again, it is because you keep thinking of the small as small and the few as few.

Think of the small as large and the few as many, and you will always have more with which to be content.

Whether your life is filled with difficulties, or filled with boredom, Lao Tzu’s teaching is the same. Stop limiting your reality to the finite and temporal. There is a whole other, infinite and eternal, reality you could be experiencing, each and every day. And, you can begin to realize this reality, as you change the way you perceive things.

The Onus Is On Us

The Tao is the center of the Universe,
the good man’s treasure,
the bad man’s refuge.

Honors can be bought with fine words,
respect can be won with good deeds;
but the Tao is beyond all value,
and no one can achieve it.

Thus, when a new leader is chosen,
don’t offer to help him
with your wealth or your expertise.
Offer instead
to teach him about the Tao.

Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao?
Because, being one with the Tao,
when you seek you find;
and when you make a mistake, you are forgiven.
That is why everybody loves it.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 62, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

After teaching on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders, for the last five days, Lao Tzu brings the teaching home to all of us. Some of us, who don’t think of ourselves as leaders, might have thought the teaching of the last few days didn’t much apply to us. But, Lao Tzu reminds us, the onus is, well, on us, when it comes to choosing a new leader. Those words, to would-be leaders, are words we better be taking to heart.

It seems like it is always time to choose new leaders, somewhere in the world. So, what advice does Lao Tzu have for us, in this perpetual election season?

When a new leader is chosen, don’t offer to help them with your wealth or your expertise. How interesting! They always seem to be interested in one or both, from us. But, as we have already said, quite a few times, our leaders don’t always know what is best for themselves, let alone us. They crave honors and respect. I see the allure of both of those. It is always nice to be recognized for your achievements. And, who doesn’t want to be treated with respect?

Yes, honor and respect have value. But those can be be bought with fine words, or won with good deeds. The Tao, on the other hand, is beyond all value. No one can achieve this.

This is why Lao Tzu instructs those of us choosing a new leader to teach them about the Tao.

So, what should I teach the would-be leaders, I know of, about the Tao?

I could begin by teaching them, the Tao is the center of the Universe. Here, Lao Tzu isn’t talking about its location in the universe. Think of the center as the origin, or the source. The Tao isn’t a place to go, but a way to be. We need to center ourselves within it, because it is the center, or source, of everything that is. This is why it is so important to center your country in the Tao. You want it going with the flow of the Tao, rather than running counter to it.

But there is something else I want to teach would-be leaders about the Tao. That is, when you are good, it is a treasure; and when you are bad, it is a refuge. Why is that so important for would-be leaders to know?

Here, Lao Tzu goes way back in history to answer the question with why the ancient Masters so esteemed the Tao. It is because, when you are one with the Tao, when you seek you find. See, when you are good, the Tao is a treasure to be sought.

But, what happens when you make a mistake? Yes, even the best of leaders will make mistakes. Hopefully, they will be inclined to recognize it, admit it, and correct it, when they do. But, what might help to incline them in this way? The knowledge that when they make a mistake, they are forgiven. The Tao is a refuge for us, when we make a mistake. We are forgiven!

I can’t think of a better thing to know about the Tao than this good news. One of the reasons I haven’t always been so forthcoming in admitting my own mistakes, is because I feared I would never be forgiven. What a comfort it is to know, I am.

What Is True Of A Nation Is True Of Its Leaders; What It Means To Be Great

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy
as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

-Lao Tzu- (Tao Te Ching, chapter 61, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, is day five of our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. Because I know some of you take a break over the weekend, it was a holiday weekend for many, I want to take a little bit of time recapping what Lao Tzu has been teaching would-be leaders.

Back in chapter 57, Lao Tzu said, “If you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao.” The world will govern itself, so let go of fixed plans and concepts, and stop trying to control. In chapter 58, Lao Tzu talked about the virtue of tolerance, and contrasted governing a country with tolerance, and governing a country with repression. The problem all leaders must ever be on guard against is the will to power. “When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results.” We must be content to serve as an example, and not to impose our will. In chapter 59, Lao Tzu used another word for tolerance, moderation; saying, “For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.” Lao Tzu stated, “The mark of a moderate person is freedom from their own ideas.” Nothing is impossible for those who let go of their own will, their own desire. He also identified certain defining traits of this moderate person. One of those is “all-pervading like sunlight”, which is of particular importance to us, in today’s chapter. Yesterday, in chapter 60, Lao Tzu compared governing a large country to frying a small fish. “You spoil it with too much poking.” He went on to teach would-be leaders how to deal with the problem of evil in our world. Hint: It isn’t the way the powers that be always deal with it.

That is enough of a recap, let’s move on to today’s chapter. Here, Lao Tzu says, what is true of a nation is also true of its leaders. For a nation to be great, it must be humble. It must be like the sea, and take the lowest place. Let streams run downward to it. The last time I posted commentary on this chapter, my thoughts were very much on immigration. Imagine the sea erecting barriers or walls, trying to keep the streams from flowing into it. That makes no sense at all. And, for a nation to not understand that immigration is what has made you great, and will make you great again, also, makes no sense.

A nation is only so great as its leaders. If we want our nation to be great, again, whatever that is supposed to mean, we need to be mindful of who we choose as our leaders. They might say they want to make us great again. And, it is for sure, whether or not they are actually saying it, they all think they have the right stuff to accomplish this. Still, this is the antithesis of how Lao Tzu describes a great leader. A great leader, like a great nation must be humble. He goes on to explain what humility looks like. Now, ask yourself, does this sound like any of our major party’s presidential candidates? “When they make a mistake, they realize it. Having realized it, they admit it. Having admitted it, they correct it.” Yeah, I can’t think of any example of this, either. Try to imagine one of our would-be leaders considering those who point out their faults, as their most benevolent teachers. Yeah, I laughed out loud trying to imagine it, as well. But, laughing sure beats crying.

Remember, two days ago, when Lao Tzu said, someone who is free from their own ideas is all-pervading like sunlight? That sunlight plays a powerful role in today’s chapter. If the moderate person is like sunlight, the great leader, in today’s chapter, is most concerned with the shadow they, themselves, cast. How long is your shadow? That depends on how high your place is. If you occupy the lowest places, your shadow, your enemy, will also be small. Be ever mindful of what kind of shadow you are casting. Are you covering the whole world in darkness, America, hmmmmmm? Humility really is the key to being a great nation, and a great leader.

And, what does humility mean? It means trusting the Tao. Thus, never needing to be defensive. Center your nation in the Tao. Nourish your own people; and, don’t meddle in the affairs of others. Then, your nation will be a light to (rather than a shadow on) all nations in the world. That is certainly my definition of what it means to be great.

Small Fish And Hornets, Stop Poking Them!

Governing a large country
is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.

Center your country in the Tao
and evil will have no power.
Not that it isn’t there,
but you’ll be able to step out of its way.

Give evil nothing to oppose
and it will disappear by itself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 60, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

My, how the time does fly by. We are, already, to day four of our series of chapters on the art of governing, a manual for would-be leaders. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu uses a simple metaphor we can all understand. “Governing a large country is like frying a small fish.” I doubt I am the only one out there who has ever spoiled the little fish I was frying, with too much poking. And, when it comes to governing, the temptation is even more great. The will to power is a very corrupting influence. You see all the things that are “wrong” in the world, and you just have to poke, poke, poke at it. Why not intervene, interfere, “meddle” in things you really have no business meddling in? What could possibly go wrong, when you are using force (violence) for good? Good intentions are the worst kind of intentions. Even worse than bad intentions? You bet! Because those with bad intentions are easily dealt with. But, those with good intentions never do go away. When things don’t go their way, they’ll just roll up their sleeves and redouble their efforts.

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us how to deal with those with bad intentions. And, if we truly have good intentions, we best heed his advice. So, how do we deal with the problem of evil? A problem, you probably don’t need reminding, which has been around for all of recorded history. If we learned the lessons of history, we wouldn’t have to keep repeating the same lessons over and over again. Will we ever learn?

Here is the one method, which has hardly ever been used, though it is guaranteed to work, if you really want evil to have no power. “Center your country in the Tao” and let the world govern itself. Wait just a minute! How does that deal with evil? Oh, evil is still there, but you will be able to step out of its way.

I am writing this thinking of the recent “terrorist” bombings in Belgium; yet another excuse being offered by the war party to poke, poke, poke at the hornet’s nest. Yes, I do think of evil as a hornet’s nest. Why on Earth would we want to poke at that nest? Much better, for everyone concerned, if we step out of its way. What makes hornets mad? Giving them something to oppose. What makes evil strong? Giving it something to oppose. “Give evil nothing to oppose, and it will disappear, all by itself.”

Oh, I know how my detractors will respond. “That is hopelessly naive. Utter foolishness. We must do something! We can’t just leave it alone. Evil must be confronted. It must be opposed.” You mean, like we have been doing with evil throughout recorded history? How has that been working out for us?

And the beat goes on. The steady drumbeat of war. Endless war, endless shedding of the blood of innocents. All in the name of opposing evil. Violence always rebounds on the violent. We would like to think we are just doing the rebounding, on those who are violent. And, we are shocked, shocked when it rebounds on us. So, what exactly have we accomplished over the course of the so-called war on terror? We have claimed to kill untold leaders, again and again and again. Literally. Some of those killed, we have claimed to have killed multiple times. Yet, evil keeps coming. The number of terrorists remains unchanged. This is what poking gets you.

But I suspect Lao Tzu’s teaching, and my commentary, will fall on deaf ears, once again. The codependent relationship between the State and evil will continue as always. They need each other to thrive. And, both are happy to oblige the other.