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Give Evil Nothing To Oppose And It Won’t Have Anything to Oppose.

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.

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

My posts the last few days have been rather long. I hope that hasn’t been too discouraging for those of you that want to read them. Today, I am hoping to keep it shorter. Yes, as you could already tell by reading the quote today, Lao Tzu is still talking about the art of governing. Today, his focus is on the maddening desire to interfere. For Lao Tzu, the art of governing, is really the art of living. Instead of having rulers who are driven by the will to power, he is looking for those who want to be great leaders, those who will be content to serve as an example.

Governing really is an art. If you are talking about governing a large country, the temptation is to think that bigger means a greater need to interfere. But Lao Tzu uses the illustration of cooking a small fish to illustrate the art required in governing. Yes, I have fried fish before. I know how strong is the temptation to poke at it. Any of us that have tried our hand at frying fish, know what happens when we succumb to that temptation. I have spoiled quite a few fish I was frying.

The lesson that Lao Tzu is wanting us to understand is that the art of governing is just like that. The greater the temptation to interfere, to poke, the more we need to resist that temptation.

But… There is always a but. What about the problem of evil? People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. We can’t leave the people to their own devices. And that would seem to be more and more true the larger the country.

And Lao Tzu has an interesting solution to the problem of evil. What is his solution? Don’t poke at it. Don’t interfere with it at all. Leave it alone. Center your country in the Tao and evil won’t have any power. Won’t have any power? But evil is all around us. Of course, we have to acknowledge it. Of course, we need to try and do something about it.

Lao Tzu doesn’t deny the presence of evil. But when he says it will have no power, what he is really saying, is we are the ones that give it the power. If we are not interacting with it, it won’t have any power. Center your country in the Tao. Evil will still be there. No, he isn’t promising that it is going to go away. It will still be there. But, we will be able to step out of its way.

Maybe that sounds too simple to you. The will to power is strong, indeed. And plenty of would be conquerors of evil will rise up to make grandiose promises of deliverance from the evil. But I think Lao Tzu has a point here. What is it that gives evil its power? When we are in its way. And why are we in its way? Because we are wanting to confront it. To deal with it.

I am rather sure that if Lao Tzu believed for even a moment that we could successfully confront it, and deal with it, once and for all, that he would encourage us to do just that. But Lao Tzu understands what we all need to understand. The problem of evil isn’t something that can be successfully confronted and dealt with. What we want to do is create for ourselves a situation where we can successfully step out of its way. That is the only thing to do with evil. Avoid it.

Now this is not going to go over too well with those with the will to power. So, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the U.S. government creates evil wherever it can; so that we can then have to confront it and deal with it. U.S. foreign policy has been a prime example of this for decades now. The situation in Iraq with ISIS or ISIL or IS, or whatever they are calling themselves now, is only one of the more recent examples of this.

Now, I have no problem acknowledging that the people that are a part of this Islamic State business are the very definition of evil. But, I also know that if we would only center ourselves in the Tao, we could very easily step out of their way. They are egging us on right now. That is good news for the powers that be. They have been looking for an excuse to get us back in Iraq since we got out of Iraq. But it isn’t good news for the rest of us.

Some are going to tell me that, sure we created this mess, but now we have an obligation to clean up the mess. And I am going to counter that, we never do actually clean up the messes. All we ever do is make more messes which we will then need to go clean up.

Tl;dr? Give evil nothing to oppose and it won’t have anything to oppose.

It Starts With Freedom

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.
The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky.
All pervading like sunlight.
Firm like a mountain.
Supple like a tree in the wind.
He has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

Nothing is impossible to him.
Because he has let go,
he can care for the people’s welfare
as a mother cares for her child.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 59, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today is Day 3 of me trying to apply what we have learned about philosophical Taoism to the art of governing. I am still out on this limb I call anarchism. Lao Tzu hasn’t come along and lopped off the branch, just yet. But, in spite of the fact that I am still maintaining the eternal reality, the way things are, is best referred to as anarchism, Lao Tzu does still continue to talk about how best to govern. And I know that a lot of you are still having trouble meshing together the idea of government with anarchism. Perhaps, if I had a better understanding of it myself, I would do a much better job of conveying what it is I believe.

The problem, I think, comes from trying to make anarchism out to be some set, static way of accomplishing things. But the Tao isn’t some set, static thing. And neither is anarchism. What we are trying to understand isn’t static at all. It is dynamic. It grows with our own understanding. We understand more and more as we go along in our journey. All I can ask of you is that you will indulge me while I continue to understand more and more.

Today, Lao Tzu says that there is nothing better than moderation. He specifically applies that to governing a country. Yesterday, he warned us that the higher our ideals, the lower our results were going to be. This is especially true when the will to power is in charge. But today, he has left that will to power behind. Oh, I know, we still have that to deal with. But Lao Tzu is beyond that, for today.

Now that he has dispensed with the problem of the will to power, he is telling those of us who want to be great leaders how best to govern. And he tells us that moderation is the way to go about it.

When he gives us the marks of a moderate person, he is merely talking about someone who is in perfect harmony with the way things are, the eternal reality. This is just another way of saying, this is how the Master looks when they are governing. And if we are able to see the marks, we will better understand what Lao Tzu means by moderation.

The first mark is freedom from your own ideas. It isn’t that you don’t have any ideas. It is that you aren’t a slave to them. What Lao Tzu is saying is that the difference between a moderate and an immoderate person is that freedom. An immoderate person is so certain that they are right. Their ideas, Their way of doing things. That they are completely incapable of seeing any other way of looking at things. They are enslaved to their own ideas. I know some anarchists that are just as enslaved to their own ideas, their own way of thinking and doing things. But anarchism doesn’t work that way. Freedom isn’t static. It is dynamic.

The second mark of a moderate person is how tolerant they are. I know that the word “tolerance” has been taking a beating the last few years. Tolerance had been a politically correct buzzword for awhile. After years of this, it seems to me that the growing trend is intolerance toward tolerance. This first showed up as intolerance of the intolerant. Then I started to hear that tolerance was simply not enough. I call that intolerance toward tolerance. Look, I get it. Acceptance sounds more accepting. The intolerant want acceptance to be the new politically acceptable buzzword. But I am not willing to play that game right now. Like it or not, I want to use the word tolerance. If for no other reason than that is the word that we have before us. Lao Tzu doesn’t say “accepting as the sky,” he says, “tolerant as the sky.” So, please, try to be moderate with me and “accept” that tolerance will just have to do.

Let’s keep this all in perspective. We are, after all talking about the marks of the moderate. Not the marks of the liberal, or the marks of the conservative. The moderate are not enslaved to their own ideas. And that makes them tolerant of every other idea.

I hope you are seeing the pattern that is beginning to develop as we explore what it is that moderation means. Each of these marks, these traits build on the last. Because the moderate person is free, they are tolerant. And because they are tolerant they are… All-pervading. That is the third mark. Sunshine spreads over the whole country. And moderation, too, spreads through all parts of the country.

It might come as a shock to some of my readers, but I will here equate anarchism with moderation. Moderation, or anarchism, does in fact pervade every thing in the world, the whole Universe really. If you are having trouble understanding that right now, give it time. I have said before that we have a whole lot of unlearning to do. And when it comes to that word, anarchism, we really have a whole lot of unlearning to do.

But I don’t really mean to distract you from our discussion about moderation. It just gets lonely out here on this limb sometimes, so I have to wave at you as you walk by.

The fourth and fifth marks of the moderate person I want to mention together; because they really serve to dispel a myth that I long believed about the moderate person. How can the moderate person be both firm like a mountain and supple like a tree in the wind? For a very long time I have not understand what being moderate really meant. And I still think a lot of people that label themselves moderate, don’t really know. But, contrary to my lack of understanding, the mark of a moderate person is not one who is holding up a wet finger to see which way the political winds are blowing and proceeding in that direction.

No, the moderate person is firm and supple. Not wishy-washy. The firmness relates to the fact that they still have very firm ideas. They are resolute in their purpose. Just like a mountain. And mountains are firm. Still, notice the subtle shift that Lao Tzu makes in going from describing the moderate person. Firm like a mountain, supple like a tree. Not supple like the wind. Not blowing every which way. Not going in whatever politically expedient way happens to be in vogue at the moment. They are like a tree, planted. And when the wind blows, because winds do blow, generally they come in from a variety of directions, that tree can withstand the winds. It doesn’t break, it bends. It is flexible. If the moderate person, so firm in their ideas, were likewise a slave to their own ideas, then they would break. But they are free. So, firm, yet supple.

The final mark of the moderate person is just downright crazy. Or at least it would sound downright crazy if we weren’t beginning to understand how this being in harmony with the way things are works. If I don’t have any destination in view, how am I ever supposed to get where I am going? But when I talk that way I am betraying my own enslavement to my own ideas. Once we understand what freedom really means, we see that this is the only end that we could ever have.

When I don’t have any destination in view, I can make use of anything life happens to bring my way. Life does have a way of bringing anything your way. Are you ready? Or do things have to be just so? If you are free, truly free, nothing will be impossible to you. When you have really let go of all your preconceived ideas of the way things ought to be, then, and only then, can you really deal with the way things really are. And, now you can really care for the people’s welfare. Oh, it isn’t that you didn’t care before. But you thought the solution was using force to achieve your ideals. That isn’t how a mother cares for her child. And that is why, for governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation.

But Who Among You Is Content To Serve?

If a country is governed with tolerance,
the people are comfortable and honest.
If a country is governed with repression,
the people are depressed and crafty.

When the will to power is in charge,
the higher the ideals, the lower the results.
Try to make people happy,
and you lay the groundwork for misery.
Try to make people moral,
and you lay the groundwork for vice.

Thus the Master is content to serve as an example,
and not impose her will.
She is pointed, but doesn’t pierce.
Straightforward, but supple.
Radiant, but easy on the eyes.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 58, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I know I really went out on a limb with yesterday’s post tying philosophical Taoism together with anarchism. Some of my friends who are into Taoism may be questioning whether Lao Tzu was really expressing anarchism. And some of my anarchist friends may be not so sure about this whole Tao thing. I am going to content myself with sitting out on this limb until such time as Lao Tzu comes along with a saw and cuts off the branch. I actually think I am sitting on a firm branch. The tree has been growing in my mind for sometime as I have been going through the Tao Te Ching. Today’s chapter is yet another which makes this particular branch sturdy.

I guess the first objection that is going to be raised by those that doubt the validity of the marriage of anarchism with philosophical Taoism is that Lao Tzu keeps talking about governing. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments?

Of course, today’s chapter is just a continuation of the previous one. Haven’t they all been? I mention that, not just because I am stalling on answering the previous paragraph’s question. I talked to some new people today, who may or may not be looking at my blog for the first time. Chapter 57 wouldn’t be the ideal place to start this journey with me. And chapter 58 isn’t any better. You’d really have to go back to the beginning. To chapter one. But even then, that wouldn’t be enough. I have been traveling through the Tao Te Ching now for so long. When I get to chapter 81, I am not really at the end. And chapter one really wasn’t the beginning for me. I just know that I have really felt like I have been making real progress as I have been going along through this particular cycle of the Tao Te Ching. I hope my regular readers – you guys are out there, aren’t you? – have been picking up on that.

But now back to the present question. Aren’t anarchists opposed to all governments? Well, that is easy enough to answer. No. Anarchists come in all shapes and sizes – and ideological persuasions. But I have yet to meet one that is opposed to all governments. What we are opposed to is the State. The State is a particular form of government that all anarchists oppose. And sadly, most governments end up being the State. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Today’s chapter affords me the opportunity to explain better this marriage of philosophical Taoism with anarchism and address the problem of governing from that perspective. Yesterday, I entitled my blog post: “Anarchism! Because I believe the world can govern itself.” Except for that controversial word, anarchism, I took that line straight from Lao Tzu. He said in yesterday’s chapter, that the first lesson to be learned by someone who wants to be a great leader, is to stop trying to control. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself.

The only question that is really up for discussion is whether we believe that or not. I do. I believe the world can and will govern itself, if we will just let go of the will to power. The need to interfere. That ties in very nicely with today’s chapter. In which Lao Tzu specifically refers to the will to power. He very neatly lays out the difference between a country that is governed with tolerance and a country that is governed with repression. It makes all the difference between whether the people are comfortable and honest, or the people are depressed and crafty.

And this difference relates to when the will to power is in charge. It is the difference between a government that anarchists would not oppose, and the State, which anarchists will always oppose. The will to power is the defining mark of the State.

When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. The State may say its goal is to make people happy or to make people moral. Those are certainly high ideals. But the results, to put it as bluntly as possible, suck. Does the State make people happy? No, it makes people miserable. Does it make people moral? No, and Lao Tzu covered this quite well in yesterday’s chapter. No matter how high your ideals, people can’t be made to be what you want them to be.

Which is why the Master is content to serve as an example. This is the very opposite of making anyone be anything at all. She isn’t interested in imposing her will. Lao Tzu, in previous chapters has intimated that she actually has no will of her own. Instead, she has mastered the art of being content. The will to power is never content. And it isn‘t just because they don‘t want to be. It is, by definition, impossible. This is important to understand because many people mistakenly think that the problem isn’t the will to power, it is that we just don’t have the right people wielding that will to power. If the right people were in charge everything would be different. But that is folly. The problem isn’t the people. People are all the same. The problem is the will to power. That is the problem. It has always been the problem. And, it will always be the problem.

The Master understands this. She sees the eternal reality. She is in harmony with it. It is that harmony with the eternal reality that enables her to see the illusion for what it is. And, she is content with the way things really are. This is the mark of a truly great leader. This contentment. When you are content, the people who follow you will be content. Leaders, at least the great ones, serve as examples of how to live. They are pointed, but they don’t pierce. Straightforward, but supple. Radiant, but easy on the eyes. Great leaders don’t make us anything at all. Great leaders work with the mind of the people. They understand human nature for what it is, instead of wishing it was something entirely different from what it is. And the people? We just are. And the world governs itself.

Anarchism! Because I Believe The World Can Govern Itself

If you want to be a great leader,
you must learn to follow the Tao.
Stop trying to control.
Let go of fixed plans and concepts,
and the world will govern itself.

The more prohibitions you have,
the less virtuous people will be.
The more weapons you have,
the less secure people will be.
The more subsidies you have,
the less self-reliant people will be.

Therefore the Master says
‘I let go of the law,
and people become honest.
I let go of economics,
and people become prosperous.
I let go of religion,
and people become serene.
I let go of all desire for the common good,
and the good becomes as common as grass.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 57, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been wading through some of the more mystical elements of philosophical Taoism. Every time I cycle through the chapters I feel like I venture deeper and deeper into these mysterious waters. Hopefully, I am not just understanding them better; hopefully, I am doing a better job of conveying the mind of Lao Tzu. But I will admit, it is when we get to chapters like today’s that I feel like I am once again standing on firm and solid ground; where I can say, this isn’t just what Lao Tzu is saying, this is what I am saying. This is why I am libertariantaoist. This is what I believe.

In fact, if I was going to describe this chapter in three words, it would be “This Is Anarchism.” Anarchism is not a word with which a lot of my potential readers are even familiar. Most people have heard of the word anarchy before. And that word and those who practice it, anarchists, have all sorts of negative connotations. Anarchy = chaos. That is the stereotypical definition provided to us by the powers that be in our world of illusion. My family and friends find me a bit strange because I am a self-described anarchist. Their understanding of anarchy was provided to them through the indoctrination of the State. And based on that indoctrination, I should be throwing Molotov cocktails on my weekends.

But anyone that knows me, knows that I don’t fit that stereotype. So what gives? Someone is obviously confused. Am I confused? I can’t really be an anarchist. I don’t fit the stereotype. I would like to suggest that it is in your indoctrination that the error is to be found. Let’s take a look at today’s chapter for a better understanding of what Lao Tzu is trying to teach those who want to be great leaders.

First off, I really want to dispense with the word anarchy. This is not going to be a defense of anarchy. Anarchy equals chaos in too many minds. That notion is so entrenched, I don’t hope to change any minds. No, I want to talk about a completely different word, anarchism. Because that word, I hope, is one that can be used as a counterpoint to anarchy. This is how it is done. I am not talking about anarchy. Gosh, I am just as scared of anarchy as you are. What I am talking about is anarchism. Your concept of anarchy and the reality of anarchism are two very different things. See, that wasn’t hard at all.

And now to the chapter. Lao Tzu presents the world of illusion, in today’s chapter, for all to see. In the world of illusion we have rulers who must be in control. They have fixed plans and concepts which they use to try to manipulate and control. Let’s take a look at the results.

Because of the increasing number of prohibitions, the people are become less virtuous. Because of the increasing number of weapons, the people are become less secure. Because of the increasing number of subsidies, the people are become less self-reliant.

This is the world of illusion in which we find ourselves. I call it the world of illusion because it only masquerades as reality. Oh, it seems very real. It is the world that we find as we explore with our senses. But, there is also an eternal reality, the way things really are, that is hidden to our senses. But can be revealed to us, if we will only look inside ourselves, to find it. This is the real world in the real Universe. In this world, we don’t have rulers trying to control us with their fixed plans and concepts.

In the real world, you learn to follow the Tao. And, Lao Tzu says, if you want to be a great leader, you must learn to follow the Tao. This isn’t a place for rulers. What, no rulers? Yes, this is anarchism. Once again, not to be confused with anarchy. This isn’t a world of chaos. This is a world of order. Spontaneous order. Anarchism = order.

One of the things that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. To people that have been indoctrinated by the State,, in our world of illusion, this sounds very strange indeed. In the world of illusion, people are led by the State to believe that people are made virtuous by their rulers imposing virtue on them. That is the stated goal of the increasing prohibitions. People are not virtuous enough? We’ll just increase the prohibitions. Of course, this is all an illusion. The real reason for the increased prohibitions is control. The rulers don’t care about virtue. They care about control.

But back in the real world, where people are following the Tao, and great leaders are born and bred, there is only one rule. What? Only one rule? Yes, this is anarchism. There is only one rule. The Golden Rule. Treat people like you want to be treated. As long as you aren’t aggressing against anyone else’s rights, you can do whatever you want. People can do whatever they want? Yes, as long as they aren’t aggressing against anyone else’s rights to do the same. It is anarchism. And the people become more and more virtuous, the more they learn to follow the Tao.

Another thing that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more weapons you have, the less secure people will be. Once again, to people that have been indoctrinated by the State, in our world of illusion, this seems like crazy talk. In the world of illusion, people are led by the State to believe that while people that live in other countries, and look and talk differently than us, are definitely our enemies; by enabling the State to amass more and more weapons to “defend” us from these foreign threats to our “sovereignty” we will end up, some day, feeling secure. And, as if these foreign threats are not enough, they are now scaring us with the specter of domestic threats.

Back in the real world, we recognize the illusion for the lie it is. People are people wherever they live. Those people in foreign countries are not enemies, but fellow humans. And those weapons are not to protect us, they are to protect the ruling caste. By fomenting war we are not more, only less secure.

Another thing that anyone that learns to follow the Tao finds is that the more subsidies you have, the less self-reliant people will be. When you have been following the Tao for awhile, it becomes self-evident that this is the case. Subsidies breed dependence. And regardless of the political rhetoric that would have us believe that it is because our benevolent rulers care that they offer these crumbs, the reality is that our rulers are not benevolent at all. They know exactly what they are dong. They don’t want us self-reliant. Self-reliant people are not easily manipulated. We can’t be controlled. And this is true, whether you are talking about welfare to individuals or corporations. Whole industries have become dependent on the public dole for their economic survival. Which means they are well under control by the ruling caste.

The world of illusion is the truly scary place. This is where chaos truly reigns. If you want order, you will need to look for it deep inside yourself. You won’t find it in the world of illusion. Rulers in the world of illusion won’t stop trying to control. It is the only way they have of maintaining their power. Their fixed plans and concepts are all they have to work with. They could never let go of them.

But, in the world of illusion, those who have been indoctrinated by the State believe what the Rulers want them to believe. We can’t let go of the law. We can’t let go of economics. We can’t let go of religion. We must increase our desire for the common good. Anything less than this would be chaos.

Back in the real world, it is just these fixed plans and concepts, the Master has let go of, along with the need to control. The Master has let go of the law, and people become honest. The Master has let go of economics, and people become prosperous. The Master has let go of religion, and people become serene. Finally, the Master has let go of all desire for the common good. And the good becomes as common as grass. This isn’t chaos. This is spontaneous order. This is anarchism.

It Is Ever So Subtle

Those who know don’t talk.
Those who talk don’t know.

Close your mouth,
block off your senses,
blunt your sharpness,
untie your knots,
soften your glare,
settle your dust.
This is the primal identity.

Be like the Tao.
It can’t be approached
or withdrawn from,
benefited or harmed,
honored or brought into disgrace.
It gives itself up continually.
That is why it endures.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 56, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

I have been so cut off from the outside world, the last few days. Not having internet, my only means for knowledge of what is going on out there, has provided me with quite the vacation from the world of illusion. At first, I was angry and out of sorts. My routine was entirely thrown off. Now, I am beginning to actually like my vacation, just a little. As much as I can’t wait to have the internet up and working again, I can’t help but feel a certain dread that I will sink back into that routine, my comfort zone. Thankfully, just a day before the internet decided to inexplicably quit on me, I had downloaded a book that I have been meaning to read since I was a Freshman in college. That would be back in the early 80’s, long before a lot of you were even a part of this world. Someone, sorry, I don’t remember which one of you on tumblr it was, had posted some quotes from it that I found very enticing. They made me quickly log into the iBooks store and search for and download the book on my iPad. The book is “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and it has been occupying much of my time for the last few days.

We don’t realize just how entrenched in routine and comfort zones we are, until we are forced out of them. I have been able to keep up with my daily Tao quote. Largely because I can type at my computer without needing an internet connection, and I can always run with my laptop to Hardees, the closest wifi spot available to me, a mile or so away. I can then log on, and post my blog post, respond to any messages and then leave again. Twenty minutes every day. That is it. I want more. I used to think I need more. I still think I do.

The last two paragraphs should suffice to explain my absence from liking and reblogging your own posts from my dashboard the last few days. I know I have been missing out on a lot of great content; just because the blogs I follow are all quality. I miss you guys. And hope to be able to reconnect with you soon.

But none of that has anything to do with today’s chapter. Which I will presume to begin discussing now. Yesterday, Lao Tzu presented us with the tale of the newborn’s erect penis. In the past, I have simply ignored that part of the chapter, kind of wishing it to go away. But see what happens when my comfort zone and routine have been made topsy-turvy? I begin to go places I never dared to go before.

And, as we continue with today’s chapter, I realize that I am understanding better, why it is that Lao Tzu chose to go there in the first place. Oh, I understood why he was enamored with the newborn. He was wanting us to want to return to our own primal identity. But I didn’t understand that making me want to go there, would mean confronting what had always proved to be an uncomfortable thing to have to acknowledge. Newborns do that to you. They force you to think about things you never wanted to think about before. Like why is his penis erect? And what does Lao Tzu mean by vital power?

See, I have already said so much; and yet, I think I have really said so little. Lao Tzu begins this chapter by saying those who know don’t talk. And those who talk don’t know. Have I learned nothing?

But there really is a point to all of this. And the point is our need to be like the Tao. To return to our primal identity. If we are going to do that we are simply going to have to shut our mouths. We really talk too much. I know I do. But you don’t learn by talking. You learn by listening. By observing.

But then, what is this, block off your senses? But if my senses are blocked off, how am I supposed to observe? To learn?

But then I get it. The point of shutting my mouth isn’t to acquire more knowledge. If I talk because I don’t know, the reason to shut my mouth is because I do know. We don’t need to acquire more knowledge. That isn’t the point. We have a lot to unlearn. The newborn isn’t observing. Learning. No, not really. The newborn just is.

I am convinced of this now. I have been too sharp, too keen. If I am going to get back to my primal identity, I need to blunt my sharpness. I need to untie my knots. What are knots? Knots are those places along the way where he have made marks. Placeholders. We have all heard the joke about what you do when you are at the end of your rope. You tie a knot and hold on. But Lao Tzu has the opposite advice for us. We have lots of knots that we have tied along the way; and each and everyone of them need to be untied.
We need to soften our glare and allow our dust to settle. That glare is due to our determination to forge ahead. We see the prize just ahead, and we dig in, intent on reaching the goal. But Lao Tzu is wanting us to stop with this going forward. He is wanting us to return to the beginning, again. And wait for the dust to settle. Now, you are there. Now you are back at the beginning, the primal identity.

That is where the newborn is. They know nothing, and everything. Just like the Tao. It isn’t something that can be approached or withdrawn from. It just is. That is where Lao Tzu wants us. We just are. Nothing more, and nothing less. You can’t be benefited, or harmed. You just are. You can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. You just are.

And this is important. This last line about the Tao giving itself up continually. Lao Tzu says that is why it endures. And a part of me says that I want to endure too. If I want to endure, this is the path I must take. But I am putting the cart before the horse. The goal isn’t to endure. That isn’t why the Tao does what it does. It doesn’t give itself up continually so that it will endure. It endures because it gives itself up continually.

It is ever so subtle. But that is what Lao Tzu means by vital power. As long as I am still thinking about what is in it for me, I am not there yet.

Lessons I learned From A Newborn Child

He who is in harmony with the Tao
is like a newborn child.
Its bones are soft,
its muscles are weak,
but its grip is powerful.
It doesn’t know about
the union of male and female,
yet its penis can stand erect,
so intense is its vital power.
It can scream its head off all day,
yet it never becomes hoarse,
so complete is its harmony.

The Master’s power is like this.
He lets all things
come and go effortlessly,
without desire.
He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 55, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What is it that has Lao Tzu talking about a newborn’s erect penis?

How is that, for a provocative start to a blog post?

Yesterday, I said that each and every one of us is a whoever. And whoever can be a force to be reckoned with, for good in the world. Today, Lao Tzu is talking about a newborn child. Lao Tzu can seemingly take anything and use it as a metaphor to talk about the Tao.

And so, because we have arrived at this chapter, we are going to talk about newborns. I had some experience with newborns. Back in August of 1990 and then again in November of 1994. So, forgive me if I am a little rusty. I loved my little ones immensely. But as I recall, my newborns, both my first born, a daughter, and my second, a son, did a whole lot of sleeping. Unless, of course, you were trying to sleep. Then they needed your attention.

And attention, they got. They were so small, so fragile, so dependent. Breathing, and sleeping, and messing diapers – that, they could do all by themselves. But beyond that, they needed Mom and Dad. And grandparents, uncles, and aunts. But my newborns were blessed to have plenty of help.

Still, I marveled at them. Just like Lao Tzu. Their bones and muscles, soft and weak. But I loved how tightly they could wrap their little fingers around my finger. And their cries! I thought they could wake the dead. We wanted so much to solve whatever little problem was causing them to scream their little heads off all day or all night. Fed and changed; what more do you need, little one? But they never did get hoarse. Lao Tzu calls that harmony. Harmony? Hmmmmmmm.

And Lao Tzu won’t let me overlook that erect penis. Nothing sexual intended. Not by the newborn. Not by Lao Tzu. And not by me. Lao Tzu only points it out, as a display of the newborn’s vital power. I thought the fact that it could scream its head off all day and night, proved that point nicely.

But Lao Tzu is really talking about being in harmony with the Tao. He is likening it to a newborn child. He says the Master’s power is like this. Remember, the Master is a whoever. Whoever is in perfect harmony with the way things are. The eternal reality. The Tao.

How does the Master display that power? By letting all things come and go, effortlessly, and without desire. Just like that newborn. What is it they want? What do they desire? And what effort do they put forth? Does a newborn really expect anything? Any kind of result? Can a newborn experience disappointment? Ah, the spirit of a newborn. A spirit that can never experience disappointment; a spirit that can never grow old.

Look Inside Yourself. You’ll See It Too.

Whoever is planted in the Tao
will not be rooted up.
Whoever embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Her name will be held in honor
from generation to generation.

Let the Tao be present in your life
and you will be genuine.
Let it be present in your family
and your family will flourish.
Let it be present in your country
and your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
Let it be present in the Universe
and the Universe will sing.

How do I know this is true?
By looking inside myself.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 54, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about being aware when things are out of balance. People prefer the side paths to the great Way of the Tao. The side paths result in nothing but robbery and chaos. But, some have a vested interest in keeping us on the side paths. This chapter won’t convince them. It is for those of us that recognize the illusion for what it is. But, still fear that nothing will ever change as long as so many prefer the side paths.

The purpose of this chapter is to assure you that your own individual choices do make a profound difference in the world in which you live. You don’t have to be one of the powerful to make a difference for good in the world. In fact, it probably helps that you are not one of the powerful.

Everyone, repeat after me, “I am a whoever!” That little exercise may not seem like much; but I think it is a powerful statement. You are a whoever. And whoever is planted in the Tao will not be rooted up. No matter how much the powers that be, in our illusory world, may pull and tug; they are not going to uproot you.

You are a whoever. And whoever embraces the Tao will not slip away. We fear that, I know we do. We worry that all our efforts won’t matter at all. We think that no matter how much we hold on for dear life, that the prevailing winds of our time (still, all an illusion) are going to blow us away. That is what they want you to believe. They want you to give up. They know their own hold on power is tenuous at best. They need people on the side paths, propping up their illusion of power.

But the eternal reality is the way things really are. The illusion is exposed as the fraud it is. Thanks to your efforts. And your name is going to endure for many generations to come. How do I know this is true? Because the victors always get to write the history books. And we are going to win.

That all sounds well and good. But I can hear some of you that are still questioning, still full of doubts. How are we really going to win? Just look around at the world around you, and you will see, Chuck, that the prevailing winds are strong; and they don’t bode anything good. Wars and rumors of war. Yes, I see it too. But I know this is all an illusion. And the winds can change. Lao Tzu tells us exactly how we are going to win, in the end.

It begins with each of us, one individual at a time, letting the Tao be present in your life. You who think you have no power, really have all the power. I keep telling you that you are free. It is time to start acting like it. Take back control of your life, your world. Don’t play their games anymore. When you don’t play their games, you don’t have to play by their rules. It starts with you, yes, you, letting the Tao be present in your life. This is the pathway to being genuine. There is no other. You want to be real, right? Genuine. Well, let the Tao make you real. Otherwise, you are just part of the illusion that is going to be swept away.

Let the Tao be present in your family. This isn’t just an individual thing. Oh, it starts with each individual, but it spreads out from there. By a conscious effort. Let it be present in your family. This will cause your family to flourish. I don’t know about you, but I like to have my family flourishing.

Lao Tzu could show all the incremental steps it takes to see the Tao go from individual, to family, to neighborhood, to community, to country, to world, to Universe. Because that is how it works. It is infectious. The good kind of infection. And it will grow and multiply as it spreads. Pretty soon, your country is an example to all countries in the world. The whole world is transformed into a paradise. And, if you listen, ever so carefully, you can hear the Universe sing.

Lao Tzu says that he knows this is true because he looks inside himself and sees. And I know for myself the transforming power that has taken place in my own life. I am planted in and embracing the Tao. I won’t be rooted up, and I won’t slip away. Neither will you

Be Aware! It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way.

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.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 53, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter by saying that it is easy to follow the great Way. But if it is so easy, why is it that people don’t all follow it? Don’t we like easy? Why is it that people prefer the difficult to the easy? Because that is what the side paths are. Difficult. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu tells us exactly why that is.

Staying centered within the Tao is easy. Or, at least, it would be, if we weren’t so easily distracted and swayed by the illusion. That is what those side paths represent to us. The promise of an easier way? A short cut to happiness? I think it is more systemic than individuals making lousy choices.

Lao Tzu wants us to stay centered. To stay on the great Way. But, you hopefully remember, the monkey wrench that Lao Tzu has been pointing out all along. Powerful men and women don’t want to be centered in the Tao. And they certainly don’t want you centered in the Tao. The Tao is the great Balancer of the Universe. The great Equalizer. But that right there is a threat to those who don’t want balance and absolutely don’t want equality.

Yes, the Tao is the great Balancer. Lao Tzu warns us to beware when things are out of balance. Because, that right there, shows that powerful men and women are interfering with the Tao.

The powerful maintain their power by a very strong illusion. The illusion that without them, all would be chaos. They promise all of us protection from those who would rob and plunder us. But, like I said, that is all an illusion. They are the ones who are doing the robbing and plundering. They are the ones creating the chaos. Do you doubt this? Lao Tzu gives us examples; so that we can see exactly what he means.

When rich speculators prosper while farmers lose their land, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Rich speculators have the power to interfere with the balancing and equalizing effects of the Tao. They don’t want balance. They don’t want equality. The powerful know exactly what leaving things to the Tao will do. That is what they fear. It would mean that they won’t prosper.

When government officials spend money on weapons instead of cures, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Say what you want about the efficacy of the ALS ice bucket challenge; to me, it epitomizes what the people actually want. Cures. And more has been raised, thanks to this grassroots’ effort going viral, than any government ever spent. Governments aren’t interested in cures. They are interested in war. It is what governments do. They don’t profit from peace. They profit from war, and the weapons that they can use to wage them.

When the upper class is extravagant and irresponsible while the poor have nowhere to turn, this is a sign that things are out of balance. Marie Antoinette is alive and well. Our whole economic system is designed to throw crumbs to the poor, to keep them just barely surviving; while Marie and all like her, are living like there is no tomorrow. I am not talking about capitalism or socialism or communism. Those are all just systems of illusion used by the powerful elite to prop up their power. The Tao is so much better than any of that. But the Way of the Tao is not for the powerful elite. If the Tao was left to its own devices, billions wouldn’t be subsisting; while only a few, thrive. The Tao would be a great equalizer. The Tao would balance things out.

These are all side paths. I know why the powerful prefer them. But what I find exceedingly frustrating is when those who don’t profit from interfering with the Tao, are so inured that they can’t see the great Way before them. They continue to wear chains that only they can shake loose. I can’t loosen their bonds. Only they can.

I am thinking about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri. So close to home for me. I know too many people who rushed to defend the aggressor and blame the victim. I thought it was crystal clear, for all the world to see. Yet, I came to realize that what was so obvious to me, was just the opposite to a great number of people I know. They want to make it about race. And race is an important feature of this story. But race isn’t the only component.

The issue is about what is the role of the police in a community? And why does the question of any opposition to the status quo have to be answered with overwhelming force? Why have we allowed our local police to become militarized? And why would I expect anything different from the Congressional Black Caucus but what they offer as a solution? They are just part of the powerful elite. They have theirs. And they aren’t going to restrain the hand that feeds them.

People believe what they want to believe. And oh, the contortions they put themselves through, in order to believe the illusion. Lao Tzu would have you live free. Free of the illusions. Free of the sorrow. But if that is going to happen in your life, you will have to be aware when things are out of balance. It is not in keeping with the Tao; and, you don’t have to live this way.

Shake Off Those Chains And Live As You Were Born, Free

In the beginning was the Tao.
All things issue from it;
all things return to it.

To find the origin,
trace back the manifestations.
When you recognize the children
and find the mother,
you will be free of sorrow.

If you close your mind in judgments
and traffic in desires,
your heart will be troubled.
If you keep your mind from judging
and aren’t led by the senses,
your heart will find peace.

Seeing in darkness is clarity.
Knowing how to yield is strength.
Use your own light
and return to the Source of light.
This is called practicing eternity.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 52, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

We have been talking about living life spontaneously. Lao Tzu has said that is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe, and that expression is one of love. Lao Tzu describes the Tao as a loving mother, giving birth and nourishing all things; and, as something that isn’t external to any of us, it is inside all of us. Today, we continue on with this theme, as Lao Tzu talks about practicing eternity.

To do this he takes us back to the beginning, where we find our Source, the Tao. And he reminds us that the Tao isn’t just our beginning, it is also our end. All things issue from it; and, all things return to it.

He has told us this before, yet we continue to have trouble understanding how to find the Tao. That is why it is helpful to know that we are all expressions, or manifestations, of the Tao. If you want to find the origin, trace back the manifestations. Recognize the children and you will find the Mother.

Yesterday, I told you what the point of all this is. It is that we are free. Yet, we don’t live like we are free. We live like we are slaves, rather than children. The imaginary chains we carry cause us plenty of sorrow. And Lao Tzu wants to help us to be freed from those chains and that sorrow.

This metaphor of slavery and chains vs. being free children, relates to the illusion that masquerades as the eternal reality. We need to see the illusion for what it is; and accept that the way things are really is the way things are. That is the eternal reality. That is where free children dwell.

So let’s talk a bit about that illusion. Why do we so easily fall for it? We can’t really prefer the chains of slavery to the freedom of children. How is it that we get so lost?

Lao Tzu tells us that it is because our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled by our traffic in desires. This is what makes us slaves. If we want to be set free, then it is up to us. We are each expressions of the Tao. We are the children of the Tao. And we aren’t ever going to find the Tao except through finding it inside ourselves. Everything you need is already present within you.

As long as our minds are closed in judgments and our hearts are troubled with desires, all we can find is darkness when we look inside ourselves. But that doesn’t have to be the end of our story. Lao Tzu invites us to dare to peer deep into the darkness, and find clarity. But how, when all I see is darkness?

I know just how scary that darkness is. I have peered inside my own enough to know how utterly naked and alone you feel. But only when you dare to peer into that darkness will you find your own light. You won’t find it by being led by your senses. And you must keep your mind from judging. But this is the way to a peaceful heart.

Something you will learn as you make your own way through the darkness, is that knowing how to yield is your greatest strength. We have talked about yielding before. It isn’t just slowing down and letting others go in front of us. It is also, producing abundantly beyond anything that we thought we had inside of us.

If we want to return to the Source of light, we will need to use our own light. It is this practice of eternity, which is just another way of saying, living life spontaneously, that will bring us through our own darkness.

Just Doing Whatever Comes Naturally

Every being in the Universe
is an expression of the Tao.
It springs into existence,
unconscious, perfect, free,
takes on a body,
lets circumstances complete it.
That is why every being
spontaneously honors the Tao.

The Tao gives birth to all beings.
Nourishes them, maintains them,
cares for them, comforts them,
protects them, takes them back to itself.
Creating without possessing,
acting without interfering,
guiding without interfering
That is why love of the Tao
is in the very nature of things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 51, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, Lao Tzu was teaching us to live in the present moment. Today, he tells us how and why, when we live in the moment, we are an expression of the Tao. Perhaps it was because of my own hang ups about living in the moment, which I think I expressed very clearly yesterday, I was really struck by that word “spontaneously” in today’s chapter.

In fact, I latched onto that word so much that I spent a lot of time today just thinking of the word spontaneous. I even read through its definition in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. And then looked at a list of synonyms.

Here is the definition: “Done or said in a natural and often sudden way and without a lot of thought or planning.” And then I read further: “Doing things that have not been planned but that seem enjoyable and worth doing at a particular time.” And still more: “Proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint. Arising from a momentary impulse. Controlled and directed internally, self-acting. (movement characteristic of living things). Produced without being planted or without human labor, indigenous. Developing or occurring without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment. Not apparently contrived or manipulated, natural.”

I hope that didn’t bore you too much. I think it is important that we understand all that the word implies. And just to be thorough, here is a list of synonyms especially for those that find that easier to decipher than reading a dictionary definition: “casual, impromptu, instinctive, offhand, simple, unplanned, voluntary.” I got those off of thesaurus.com. I would like to add “intuitive” to the list.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, why exactly did I do that? Because, I think, Lao Tzu is saying that spontaneity is the art of living. It is how the Tao expresses itself in every being in the Universe. Let’s get back to the chapter and see the spontaneous nature of the Tao and every being in the Universe.

Lao Tzu says, “It springs into existence, unconscious, perfect, free, takes on a body, lets circumstances complete it.” I like this line because he is not very clear with what the “It” refers to, Does it refer to the Tao? Or, to every being in the Universe. The answer is, both. We are all expressions of the Tao. The Tao isn’t something external to any of us. It is inside each of us. And, as we live our lives, just doing what comes naturally, we are spontaneously honoring the Tao inside each of us.

I really want to emphasize the reality that the Tao is not some external being, manipulating us, forcing us to do this or that, demanding worship or honor or love. The Tao is inside each of us. Indeed, it is inside every being in the Universe. The honor we bestow on the Tao is not some duty required of us. It is spontaneous. It is simply us doing whatever comes naturally.

But while the Tao is not some external force, or being, demanding our love; love of the Tao, is in the very nature of things. It is in our nature. And why not? It gives birth to all beings. It nourishes and maintains them. It cares for and comforts them. It protects them and takes them back to itself. Every thing we do, throughout the cycle of our lives, is an expression of that love that is innate in us. We love because we are loved. And this love is unconditional. The Tao creates without possessing. Acts without expecting. Guides without interfering.

This is a love which has no rules and no bounds. It is spontaneous. It is characteristic of all living things. It is what makes us all expressions of the Tao.

It should be clear that I have great regard for this ode to spontaneity, this ode to love. But you might be thinking, “Yes, but what is the practical value?”

And here it is: You are free! Live like it.