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My Gardening Story

In harmony with the Tao,
the sky is clear and spacious,
the earth is solid and full,
all creatures flourish together,
content with the way things are,
endlessly repeating themselves,
endlessly renewed.

When man interferes with the Tao,
the sky becomes filthy,
the earth becomes depleted,
the equilibrium crumbles,
creatures become extinct.

The Master views the parts with compassion
because he understands the whole.
His constant practice is humility.
He doesn’t glitter like a jewel,
but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,
as rugged and common as stone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 39, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, I said that the Tao is everything. When the Tao is lost, it is our connectedness with everything that is lost. That is when things start to go horribly wrong in our lives and by extension in our world.

Things are just so much better when we are in harmony with the Tao. Lao Tzu describes it in this chapter as pristine. A clear and spacious sky. A solid and full earth. All creatures flourishing together. And everyone content with the way things are, endlessly repeating themselves, endlessly renewed. That is what being connected with the Tao and thus, everything, means.

But when we lose our connectedness to everything we start to interfere with the Tao. Why? Because we are lost and confused. And soon that pristine picture of a beautiful world is replaced with a dystopian vision. The sky is becoming filthy. The earth is becoming depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct.

Many of us look around at the world we live in and see the dystopian vision being played out. We don’t like it, but we wonder what can one individual do.

The answer is that one individual, who hasn’t lost his connection with everything, can make all the difference in the world. It takes compassion and understanding. And it takes humility.

That one individual, that Lao Tzu calls the Master, views the parts with compassion. He views the parts with compassion because he understands the whole. He understands his connection to the whole. He sees how the parts have been severed from the whole. How they have lost their connectedness to the whole. And he chooses to act as a pattern for the world. To show each separate part how to get reconnected to the whole. And, this takes making humility our constant practice. You can’t be interested in glittering like a jewel. Glittering jewels attract attention to themselves. And that takes attention away from the whole. Being a pattern is letting the Tao shape you into whatever you need to be, rugged and common as stone. Just like any other stone. Not very attractive. Not drawing attention to itself. Only drawing attention to the Tao. That is everything.

Get this settled, once and for all. Nature wins in the end. Oh, we can interfere with the Tao. And, we often do. And mess things up quite badly. But nature does win in the end.

Back years ago, when I was a child, my family had a large garden in our backyard. I remember vividly how we took a plot of ground that was covered in grass and turned it into a garden. Getting rid of all the grass, battling with weeds for years, and harvesting what had to be tons of rocks as we plowed and then tilled year after year. I never liked working in that garden because I hated having to constantly deal with the weeds and the rocks. We got lots of yummy (and some, not so yummy) vegetables out of that garden as a reward for that hard work, but I still didn’t like it. Which is why I am very happily now gardening the lazy way with a raised garden bed. No more rocks and weeds! But getting back to my story, we only had that garden until all us kids had grown up and moved away. Then my parents gave that garden back to nature. And in a few short years you would never know that a thriving garden had once been there.

My Dad didn’t have to do anything to let nature return things to equilibrium. We had been battling with nature for years to have that garden. And nature put up quite the fight. Winning in the end. That is just one story. And I am sure you have your own personal ones. The fact is that every man-made thing is going to last only so long as nature allows it to last.

So, don’t be discouraged by the dystopian vision you see. Nature will win in the end. Don’t worry about nature. Of course, you could worry about us humans. We may not survive our habitual interfering. That is why it takes individuals, like you, like me, who will act with compassion and understanding. Yes, and with humility too. Don’t forget humility. And be the pattern of the way you want the world to be. The Tao will take care of shaping you. Just let yourself be shaped.

You Can Be Imagining Better Things

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful;
thus, he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power;
thus, he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.

The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves meany things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds,
he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When good is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith,
the beginning of chaos.

Therefore, the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.
He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 38, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about freeing ourselves of desire; and, being content with our simple everyday lives. That may seem like a tall order. I know that has been my own daily challenge for the last couple of years. I think I am making headway; but I still have not rid myself entirely of desire. I encourage myself every day with the idea that it isn’t about the destination, so much as it is about the journey. A journey that we take one day at a time. Some days we have setbacks. But I try not to let myself get discouraged by that. What is the hurry? I have the rest of my life to do this.

Yesterday, Lao Tzu reminded us that it isn’t about striving to do anything. The Tao doesn’t try to do anything. Yet, through it all things do get done. What we are wanting is to be more and more like the Tao with each passing day.

Today, Lao Tzu tells us what separates the Master from the ordinary person. And this is important for each of us to understand. He has been talking about centering ourselves in the Tao. That is certainly what the Master does. So, how does the Master accomplish this? By not trying. What is true power? The Master is truly powerful. So, the Master knows what true power is. He is true power in the flesh. And how did he get there? By not trying to be powerful. This is the antithesis to what the ordinary person does. The ordinary person is always trying to attain more and more power. He never has enough. Always he is reaching for more and more and more.

This is key to understanding the way things are in our Universe. Anything that you are reaching for is an illusion. True power isn’t something to be taken. It is given. And, it is only given to those who aren’t reaching for it. Trying to be powerful is never the way to attain true power. And I want to be clear here that I am talking about true power here. Not the illusory kind that so called powerful men and women exercise over others. Know that their power is all an illusion. It isn’t real. Regardless how very real the illusion may seem to be. How do I know their power isn’t real? Because they never have enough. They always need more. True power doesn’t leave you needing more. It is, in and of itself, inexhaustible. You will never need more.

Another way that the Master is head and shoulders above the ordinary person is that the Master doesn’t have to do anything. That doesn’t mean that the Master is leaving things undone. But the Master’s actions are effortless. There is no striving. That is what Lao Tzu means by doing nothing. The ordinary person can’t wrap his head around this concept. He is always finding things to do. He must always be busy, busy, busy. Striving. Exhausting himself with effort. But look at what that gets him. Look at all the things that are left to be done. That is why the ordinary person is always complaining that there are not enough hours in the day. Not enough days in the week. Time is a constant concern because he never has enough.

Perhaps this ordinary person is kind. And because they are kind they do what they do. Kind things. But these random acts of kindness are never enough. Something always remains undone. Perhaps this ordinary person is just. And so, they work to accomplish justice. But no matter how many acts of justice are done, many more are left to be done. Is Lao Tzu telling us that we are wasting our time when we are kind and just? Since we can’t possibly get everything done through kindness or justice, we would be better off not being kind and just?

I don’t think that is what Lao Tzu is saying, at all. What I think he is saying is there is a better way. One that actually works. What are your motives really? That is a valid question, I think. Are you doing something kind, or something just, because you want kindness and justice in the world, or because you want to be thought of as kind or just. If it is the latter, you probably aren’t going to pay much attention to what Lao Tzu has to say. But if it is the former, if you really are wanting the world to be a better place for everyone, then Lao Tzu’s words ring true.

We have already talked about improving the world. Lao Tzu says it is sacred, and we need to be careful that we aren’t interfering with the Tao. That is how the world got messed up in the first place. But Lao Tzu doesn’t mean that the world is in a hopeless situation. We can and should be a pattern for how we want everyone in the world to be. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being a pattern. Notice, it isn’t doing. Just like the Master doesn’t do anything. But the Master is a pattern. And all things do get done.

But look at the moral person over there. They see all that is wrong in the world and they know just how to fix things. They start applying their fixes and when no one responds, in other words, things don’t happen just like they wanted them to, that is when their true nature reveals itself. They roll up their sleeves and use force to accomplish their objectives. This is yet another example of the illusory power we were talking about earlier. True power never applies force. It never has to. Because unlike the illusory kind of power it doesn’t have to prove itself. When the facade starts to crumble, more and more force is brought to bear.

The Tao is everything. That is why it does nothing. And when the Tao is lost, which means that our connectedness to everything is lost, we can’t get away with doing nothing. That is why we substitute doing something for doing nothing. That is why we substitute other things for the Tao. Like goodness. But goodness can be lost too. And so we substitute morality. Because if people can’t naturally be good then they must be forced to do good. But morality can be lost too. And then there is just ritual. We aren’t good naturally. We aren’t even doing good anymore. But we can put up a good show. That is what ritual is. A good show. Well, it is a show. An act. It is the husk of the real thing, true faith. And that, my friends, is the chaos that we are living in today.

People amaze me sometimes. I know so many people that fear anarchy because, well, that would be chaos. So they fear an imagined chaos, while all the time living a very real chaos. I tell them that things could be so much better. But their imaginations are filled with fear. And so their lives are filled with fear. All because they won’t look beyond the surface, to the depths. They get distracted by flowers when they need to concern themselves with the fruit.

But how does the Master do it? We talked yesterday about letting go of desire. Today, Lao Tzu calls it having no will of your own. It is dwelling in reality and letting go of all the illusions. You can be imagining better things.

Letting Go Of All Desire

The Tao never does anything,
yet through it all things are done.

If powerful men and women
could center themselves in it,
the whole world would be
transformed by itself,
in its natural rhythms.
People would be content
with their simple, everyday lives,
in harmony, and free of desire.

When there is no desire
all things are at peace.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 37, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the subtle perception of the way things are. Its workings are a mystery to us. The Tao never does anything. Yet, we can perceive the results. Through it all things are done.

Yes, it is the subtlety of it that confounds powerful men and women. The whole world can be transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. That is the way of the Tao, the way things are. Centering yourself in the Tao is letting go of your need to control, and no longer interfering with the natural rhythms of the world.

Can powerful men and women do this? I don’t think so. They have their own agenda. They are consumed by their will to power. But don’t get the wrong idea of the role powerful men and women play in the grand scheme of things. Too often, I hear people say things like, “If only we can get the right people in power, then everything will be fine.” And, these same people keep striving toward that goal without ever stopping to consider there is a better way. The corrupting tendencies of power are all too often overlooked. It has a will of its own. Relying on power to achieve what you want to achieve means you aren’t relying on the Tao.

And, it doesn’t take power to center yourself in the Tao. What it takes is letting go of desire. Don’t wait on others to do it. You have the Tao complete within yourself. And, you can center yourself in that reality. Let go of all desires, until you are free of all desire. This is the path to true contentment. A contentment with your own simple, everyday life. In harmony with the way things are.

We think it is harder than what it actually is. We think we must do something. But Lao Tzu is pointing us in a completely different direction. Instead of moving into action, we need to move toward inaction. But if we never do anything, how will anything get done? How does the Tao do it? That is a mystery. All I can show you is the results. All things do get done. It just isn’t the result of your striving, your efforts. Inactive action is effortless action. Stop striving. Let go of all your desires. Then, there is peace.

Like Breathing In And Breathing Out, So Very Subtle

If you want to shrink something,
you must first allow it to expand.
If you want to get rid of something,
you must first allow it to flourish.
If you want to take something,
you must first allow it to be given.

This is called the subtle perception
of the way things are.

The soft overcomes the hard.
The slow overcomes the fast.
Let your workings remain a mystery.
Just show people the results.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 36, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about perceiving the universal harmony and finding peace in our hearts. And I said then, what that means is perceiving the way things are. Today, Lao Tzu calls it a subtle perception. That word subtle is important. It means that it is so slight as to be difficult to detect or describe. Yes, that is precisely the difficulty we were talking about yesterday. Your senses are of no use to you in this quest. Words pointing to it seem monotonous and without flavor. It is elusive.

But what exactly do we mean when we talk about the subtle perception of the way things are? It involves seeming paradoxes. Like yin and yang. In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu talks about shrinking and expanding, getting rid of something and allowing it to flourish, taking and giving, soft and hard, slow and fast. And, we almost can’t help but think of these as opposites. But they aren’t opposites. They are complements. And I finally came up with a way to perfectly illustrate the relationship of yin and yang.

Think of it as breathing. There is breathing in and breathing out. Inhalation and Exhalation. There is no half way point. You are either inhaling breath or exhaling breath. To stop inhaling and exhaling is to stop breathing. And then you die. But we aren’t talking about death. We are among the living. And that means breathing in, followed by breathing out, followed by breathing in, and so on, endlessly repeating the process.

That is how it is with yin and yang. Night and day follow each other. And so, when we talk about wanting to shrink something, we need to first allow it to expand. When we talk about wanting to get rid of something, we must first allow it to flourish. If we are talking about wanting to take something, we must first allow it to be given.

Expansion first, then it can shrink. Flourishing first, then you can get rid of it. This give and take is the subtle perception of the way things are. And, sometimes we won’t necessarily like that. Waiting on nature to take its course tries our patience. But, you know what’s worse than waiting on nature? Trying to resist nature. The way things are is the way things are. The sooner we get on board with that, the better for us.

Sure, it is so very subtle. So very subtle that we can hardly believe it sometimes. But we still know it is true. The soft does overcome the hard. And the slow does overcome the fast. We know it is true, even though it is largely a mystery, why it is true. Why is it true? It is just the way things are. Like that is an explanation. But Lao Tzu tells us not to be concerned with the mystery of the workings. Just look at the results.

Nothing To See And Nothing To Hear

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

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

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

We have been talking a lot about the Tao. Usually, with words that may seem monotonous and without flavor. The reason that words pointing to it are like that is because we are talking about something that Lao Tzu has already warned us is imperceptible to our human senses. You can look for it and there isn’t anything to see. You can listen for it and there won’t be anything to hear. That does present us with a difficulty, since our goal is to center ourselves in it. And why wouldn’t that be the goal? Lao Tzu has promised such wonderful things if powerful men and women can only center themselves, and stay centered, in the Tao.

And today’s chapter is a continuation of those wonderful promises. Center yourself in the Tao and you can where wherever you wish, without danger. But if the Tao is imperceptible to our senses, how exactly are we to center ourselves in it? Have we been on a wild goose chase? A fool’s errand, all along?

I’d certainly like to think not. The key, I think, is to understand that we can’t employ our senses in order to accomplish what it is we are trying to accomplish. Music or the smell of good cooking, those are things that our senses can enjoy to great benefit. But the Tao isn’t like that. And the words that we use, including the ones that Lao Tzu uses, are not meant to lead us along by our senses. They have just the opposite effect. Dulling our senses would seem to be the goal.

No, if we are going to center ourselves in the Tao, and I certainly believe we can, since I believe I do, we need to understand that while the Tao is imperceptible, there are things that we can perceive. What we are differentiating is the mystery from the manifestations. The mystery is imperceptible. Lao Tzu told us our problem in the very first chapter. We are caught in desires. Our desires, which have us pursuing things that our senses make perceptible, prevent us from realizing the mystery of the Tao.

I like music and the smell of good cooking as much as anyone else. But there isn’t any mystery in that. I also enjoy the palette of colors that my eyes get to enjoy, while surveying our beautiful world and universe. Is there any help here? What Lao Tzu says of the person who is centered in the Tao is that they perceive the universal harmony. Perceiving the universal harmony is not really something that we use our physical senses to achieve. With our senses we may perceive pain. That is certainly something we can sense. But perceiving the universal harmony goes deeper than even great pain that we might feel. It is a “seeing” which is beyond anything that our eyes can see. It is beyond anything that our physical senses can perceive.

But it can be perceived. I know this. Because I perceive it. And, I am convinced that you perceive it too. You just know that the way things are is the way things are. This isn’t acquiescence to something horrible, like pain. This is accepting, embracing, something that is a whole lot greater than the greatest pain that we can experience. And, what it produces in us, is something that is beyond all value. We are talking about finding peace in our hearts.

This is huge! Because it isn’t something external to us. That would require that we use our physical senses to acquire knowledge of it. No, it is internal. And, it was always there, that peace. It was there all along. In my heart. In your heart. Just waiting to be found. Once you find that, what danger are you going to encounter that is going to take that away from you? You fear that there is? But Lao Tzu has good news for all of us. Why it is that we can go where we wish without danger? Because we are talking about being centered in the Tao; and, when you use it, it is inexhaustible.

Being Like Water

The great Tao flows everywhere.
All things are born from it,
yet it doesn’t create them.
It pours itself into its work,
yet it makes no claim.
It nourishes infinite worlds,
yet it doesn’t hold onto them.
Since it is merged with all things,
and hidden in their hearts,
it can be called humble.
Since all things vanish into it,
and it alone endures,
it can be called great.
It isn’t aware of its greatness;
thus it is truly great.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 34, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, Lao Tzu gives us an ode to the great Tao. The Tao is, as we have said many times before, ubiquitous and liquid. It is like water. It is both humble and great. But this isn’t just an ode to the Tao. What Lao Tzu is doing with today’s chapter is continuing what he was talking about yesterday, with centering ourselves in the Tao and embracing our own death. It is about getting to know our true selves, by knowing the great Tao. At least, to the extent that is possible. Remember, we can’t really begin truly mastering our own selves until we have first come to truly know our selves.

So, the Tao is like water. And Lao Tzu has told us to be like water. It flows everywhere. All things are born from it. It pours itself into its work. It nourishes infinite worlds. It is merged with all things and hidden in their hearts. All things vanish into it and it it alone endures.

I could spend a lot of time talking about the humility of the Tao. That is certainly an attribute of water. And there is plenty that can be said about the greatness of the Tao. And, of water. But, what really stands out to me, as I read today’s chapter, is the effortlessness of it all.

It flows everywhere, effortlessly. And we, too, should effortlessly let it flow in and through us. It merges with all things effortlessly. And, all things vanish into it, effortlessly. Yesterday, we were talking about embracing death with our whole heart. We fear that death is final. That we lose ourselves there. Never to be seen or heard from again. That is what vanishing really means. Isn’t it?

And we resist the very notion of vanishing. Which is why we don’t embrace our own deaths. But, why is that? I think it is only because we have a very limited understanding of the way things are. We simply don’t understand it. And we fear what we don’t understand.

What Lao Tzu is doing with the Tao Te Ching is teaching us that the way things are is the way things are. That may seem very elementary. And it is. But it is also something that gives us a whole lot of trouble. Of course the way things are is the way things are. Why do we even need to be told this? Because we act in this world as if things aren’t the way they are. We act like they are somehow different. We embrace an illusion that we have created. And then reality comes in, like a flood, shattering our carefully crafted illusions, and we are dismayed.

Let go of the illusions. Let the Tao merge inside you as it merges inside all things. Let your self vanish in the Tao as all things vanish in the Tao. Until nothing but the Tao endures. Is this the end? Death does seem like that. But, look around you. Look at nature and pick up on all the natural rhythms of the circle of life around you. Is death final? I can’t look at it that way anymore.

What does it mean to be like a molecule of water in a vast ocean of water? Do we really lose our identification? No, we are more than just part of that ocean. We are complete, in and of ourselves. And yet, that ocean would not be complete without our inclusion.

Knowing And Mastering Your Self

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 33, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today’s chapter is all about self-knowledge and self-mastery. And what is the difference between intelligence and true wisdom, strength and true power. What we are after is truth, what is real. And we aren’t go settle for anything less than that.

And that begins with realizing truth about ourselves. Most of us are content to spend all our lives believing an illusion about ourselves. I am not talking about what we want others to think they know about us. I am talking about what we think we know about ourselves. We have a surface knowledge of the truth. It is very superficial. And often, about as far removed from the truth as we can fool ourselves into believing. That illusion, we have figured out. Or, at least, we hope we do. It certainly makes mastering ourselves easier. But that mastery is all a mirage. Because we really can’t begin to truly master ourselves until we truly know ourselves.

But how? How do we begin to peel away the facade? How do I get to know the real me? The first thing that Lao Tzu tells us in this chapter is to realize that you have enough. This isn’t as easy, or as hard, as it sounds. It is what it is. I don’t think you can just wake up one day and decide, “Damn it, I have enough!” It would be nice if it was that easy, but alas, it isn’t. At least, it wasn’t that way for me. Realizing is a process. You come to realize truth, that is only revealed, as you peel away layers of falsehood. Peeling away may sound like a painful process. That is good, if you think that. Because you might as well know. Those layers of falsehood are like layers of skin. Not dead skin that just flakes away, either. No, these layers of falsehood are very much alive to you. And you need to slice away at it, going always deeper, deeper. Okay, that sounds incredibly hard. And yet, I dared to suggest it isn’t as hard as it sounds. The reason it isn’t as hard as it sounds is that we are talking about falsehoods here. We aren’t talking about truth. It probably will be painful. Because we have been quite content to live this charade. But it isn’t going to be as hard, or as painful, as it lets on. Best advice I can give you: Don’t listen to the protestations that are going to rise up in defense of keeping you covered in layers of falsehood.

Lao Tzu was talking about the reality that we really have enough. The falsehood is that we don’t. We need more. Always more. We never have enough. That is, by the way, how to see the falsehood for what it is. All the screams that say that you don’t have enough are a lie. That is what needs to be peeled away. Okay, short of skinning ourselves alive, what exactly is the practical advice here? It is actually very simple. You need to discover for yourself how little is enough. And that means simplifying your life. Cutting it down to bare bones. Oh, you think you are already subsisting right now? I just bet you are lying to yourself. I say that because I know how good I have been at lying to myself. There is a real art to that. And the longer you do it, for me that lasted for decades, the more of a master you are at it. And, just so you know. I am not through yet. I know I am still lying to myself. I am still a work in progress. Like I said, it is a process.

This is huge! I mean, seriously, this isn’t something that anyone is going to accomplish in just a little while. But it is going to be so worth it. We are talking about true riches here. I have been on this journey for only a short time. I’d say about two and a half years now. And, I know, I still have a very long way to go. However, this much is clear to me. I am beginning to have my eyes opened to how truly rich I am. Now, I know some of you are wondering why we can’t see how much is enough, instead of how little. And, that is really quite easy to answer. Because there is no such thing as enough when you are accumulating. I bet the richest person alive is not just living out the rest of their days, content to just live on that. No, they want more. And, you will too. You will always want more. I know I do. But I am learning how little is enough. And there is a limit to that. No, I haven’t reached that limit yet. But there is a limit.

The next thing to do, is something to be doing at the same time. We aren’t doing things one at a time here, we are doing them both at once. And that is, staying in the center of the circle and embracing death with your whole heart. Now, what does Lao Tzu mean by this? I am still young. I am not even close to being ready for death, let alone embracing it.

But embracing death is not wishing for it. The Tao is at the center of the circle. And, the Tao is carrying us through the circle of life. From birth, growth, maturity, death, decay, rebirth, new growth… You see, when you look at it that way, it really throws our mindset, which puts death at the end, out in the dung heap. Death isn’t the end. It is really kind of, sort of, in the center. No, death isn’t at the end. It isn’t the end for us. We can embrace death, knowing that we go on and on and on, enduring forever.

And, we really know this. We just don’t care to think of things this way. But you have existed since the very beginning in the Tao. And, you will continue to exist in the Tao forever and always. “No!” We protest. “The conscious me is going to cease to exist when I die. My body is going to rot in a grave, or it is going to be cremated. And my soul? Well, we have only faith to rely on, when it comes to the eternal destination of the soul.” Look, I don’t want to challenge your faith. But I do want to assure you that just because you don’t know anything really about the nothing that you are going to return to, the very nothing that you came out of, doesn’t mean that you aren’t going to have a very real existence in that nothing. Just like you have a very real existence in that nothing right now.

And we need to embrace that. We continue to believe in the illusion that we are separate. When the reality is that we are all connected. We are all one. And we are all the whole. That is the way it has always been. That is the way it is now. And, that is the way it will always be. Death seems final, only because we think of ourselves as separate beings. Once you realize that you are not separate from the whole, once you realize that you contain the whole Universe inside of you, then you come to realize that you will go on forever.

 

Why Size Doesn’t Matter

The Tao can’t be perceived.
Smaller than an electron,
it contains uncountable galaxies.

If powerful men and women
could remain centered in the Tao,
all things would be in harmony.
The world would become a paradise.
All people would be at peace,
and the law would be written in their hearts.

When you have names and forms,
know that they are provisional.
When you have institutions,
know where their functions should end.
Knowing when to stop, you can avoid danger.

All things end in the Tao,
as rivers flow into the sea.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 32, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of chapters ago, I said that our rulers are compensating for something. Today, we are going to begin by talking about why it is that size doesn’t matter. It all has to do with that “if” and that “when.”

The Tao is small, smaller than an electron. That is pretty small. It is, in fact, so small that it can’t be perceived. So, yes, we have pretty much established that the Tao is quite small. But size doesn’t matter. Oh, I guess it matters if you are trying to perceive it. But, when you consider that it contains uncountable galaxies, then its size doesn’t matter, after all.

But, if our rulers could perceive it – no, it would take more than perceiving, it would take centering themselves in it, and remaining centered in it – then all things would be in harmony. That is, after all, what they claim to be after with all their power. They make all kinds of promises. Promises of harmony. Promises of peace. They promise us a paradise.

And Lao Tzu, too, makes promises. If it were possible for the powerful to be in harmony with the imperceptible Tao, then the whole world would become a paradise. But, for our rulers, size does matter, after all. They can’t perceive the uncountable galaxies that the Tao contains. They are too distracted with how very small it is. And, if you can’t perceive it, you can’t center yourself in it. You can’t become it.

The “if” seems pretty hopeless. We have talked about our desires for improving the world. Lao Tzu has warned us that the world is sacred. And, that which is sacred cannot be improved. Tampering with it only results in ruining it. That is what our rulers have been doing for generations now. Which brings us to the “when.”

Knowing “when” is the only way to avoid danger. Lao Tzu is talking about names and forms, and saying they are provisional. And, institutions, whose functions should end. Now, he doesn’t say specifically what these names, forms, and institutions are. And, I think trying to figure out what specifically he could be referring to is very much like peering at that tiny Tao, smaller than an electron; yet, we strain our eyes to perceive it.

What I want to concentrate on is the uncountable galaxies that it contains. And, that means going back to the very beginning chapter of the Tao Te Ching, where Lao Tzu first talked about the temporal and the eternal, the named and the nameless, that which has form and the formless. Back to the difference between the manifestations and the mystery. You may recall that we can’t perceive the mystery because we are caught in desire. That is why we can only see the manifestations. Names are temporary. So is form. Oh, they serve a purpose for a time. But we need to understand when their time is up. Oh, and institutions? Yes, there is a time for their functions to end as well.

This is what we are in danger of missing. Knowing when it is time to stop. And the powerful are not being helpful here. Even their name, the powerful, is not an eternal name. Which should be a clue to the danger. Can we avoid the danger? Because all things are going to come to an end. All things end in the Tao. Just like rivers come to an end where they flow into the sea. Can you perceive when? That moment when the river meets the sea?

The Shame Of Our Indecency

Weapons are the tools of violence;
all decent men detest them.
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in direst necessity;
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.

Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t wish them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory,
and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 31, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we were talking about the art of governing. And, how relying on the Tao in governing means not trying to force issues or resorting to violence. Yesterday, the reasons given for not resorting to violence involved a simple law of physics. For every force there is a counter force. And violence, no matter how well intentioned it might be, always rebounds upon itself.

If reason isn’t enough to stay the hands of would be leaders, today, Lao Tzu appeals to our basic human decency as he targets the tools of violence and of fear, weapons.

He tells us that all, not most, or some, but all, decent men detest them. What can we make of this litmus test of human decency. I know plenty of people that have what I would call an almost love affair with the weapons in their arsenal. Is Lao Tzu saying this is indecent? That these cannot possibly be decent human beings?

Perhaps it would be helpful to narrow it down to one decent person. That is what Lao Tzu does. If we can get a good understanding of what makes one decent person, decent, then we can understand what it means to be indecent. Saying all decent men detest them isn’t enough. So, let’s take a look at one decent man. That one decent man understands that weapons are tools to be used to produce violence and fear.

Yesterday, we talked about the dangers of violence. And chapters ago, we talked about fear being a phantom, an illusion, that we create by thinking of ourselves as separate. Violence and fear being what they are, how does our one decent man go about dealing with these tools?

He avoids them. At least he tries to avoid them. He only employs them in the direst necessity. And then, only with the utmost restraint. In other words, while weapons are tools of violence and fear, they do serve a useful purpose that transcends the violence and fear. There is a necessary use for them. But, only as a last resort. And, that would be self-defense.

Lao Tzu certainly is not a pacifist here. He doesn’t once tell us that no decent person ever uses weapons. That a decent person would never be compelled to use them. Or, that a decent person would avoid them, no matter what. No, a decent person understands the costs. They understand exactly what wielding weapons means. That is why they avoid them, if they can. That is why they only use them with the utmost restraint. That is why they hate that it has come to this. A decent person understands that for every force there is a counter force. And, they know that their intentions for using them, no matter how good they may be, don’t change the reality that violence always rebounds on itself. That is the cost that necessity has compelled upon them.

So, for those of you that want to turn this into something denying the right of self-defense, I think you were missing Lao Tzu’s point entirely. But, why would an individual so love his arsenal of weapons? In order to become a master at using them, one necessarily must get quite intimate in knowledge of them. No, we hope to never have to use them for what they are designed to be used for. But, if direst necessity calls, we best be prepared. You can’t pick up a weapon for the first time and expect things to go well for you. You need to acquire skills, in the hopes that your skills will never be put to the test.

But, Lao Tzu wasn’t talking about individuals defending themselves when he talked about decent men detesting weapons. He was continuing what he began yesterday; and still talking about our rulers. Those who are governing us. He is wondering if there are any decent men to be found among them.

Well, are there? The agents of the State seem to have a mindset which is to kill first, and ask questions only later. I have grown weary of reports of police officers fearing for their lives and shooting unarmed civilians. Come on, if there is a decent person among you. If your job is truly so stressful and dangerous. If you fear for your life, and you fear you won’t see your children grow up, then quit your job. Do the decent thing. Put down your weapons and walk away. There has to be a better line of work for you. One where you aren’t a constant danger to civilians.

And what of our elected officials? Our rulers? If there was a decent person among them, then peace would be their highest value. But, the peace has been shattered. And, it is our rulers that have done the shattering. Talk about indecency. They couldn’t be content with peace. They can only find contentment in war. Because it costs them nothing. They even manage to make a huge profit from it. That is why they manufacture enemies out of thin air. That is why they portray our enemies as demons instead of human beings, just like us.

Decent people could not wish personal harm on a fellow human being. There it really is in a nutshell. That is the whole point. That is what indecency is. Wishing personal harm on another human being. It is one thing to have an arsenal of weapons and to know how to use them in direst necessity. And, it is quite another to wish another human being personal harm.

Where is our human decency? How can we rejoice in victory? How can we delight in the slaughter of men? The decent among us can’t, and don’t.

We used to understand that battlefields were graveyards. We weren’t insulated from the reality of war like we are today with all of our high tech gadgetry. We used to understand that battles were places of great sorrow. And, it was because of that, that they were also places where the greatest acts of compassion were demonstrated. Now, we mock and laugh while we attend the funerals. That is our shame. The shame of our indecency.

They Are Compensating For Something

Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn’t try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon itself.

The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the Universe
is forever out of control,
and trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t seek others approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 30, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

For the longest time I treated my libertarian thinking as strictly political philosophy. Entirely separate from the rest of my life. It was something I thought about as elections took place. And then, I filed it away; since I wouldn’t be needing to pull it back out, dust it off, and use it again until the next election. I have considered myself a libertarian for as long as I have been familiar with the term (30+ years). But, I was very slow to grasp that personal and political philosophy are not separate things.

I always like it when we have a chapter like today’s chapter where Lao Tzu once again is talking about the art of governing. But just when I start to get all excited about being able to explain how Lao Tzu was the very first libertarian, I am reminded that there is a reason that I tag each chapter’s blog posts with #libertarian. And not just the ones where he is bringing up governing. The art of governing is not something separate from the art of living. The two are one and the same. Yes, Lao Tzu spends a great deal of time speaking directly to those who would be leaders among us. But his words for leaders are no different from the words he speaks to us all. And, would be leaders seem particularly adept at ignoring what Lao Tzu has to say.

Much of the time now, I think calling myself “libertariantaoist” is a bit redundant. Not because you can’t be a libertarian without being a taoist, nor because you can’t be a taoist without being a libertarian, but because for me, personally, I can no longer separate the one from the other. But, I am going to keep my url just the way it is, hoping to teach libertarians about philosophical taoism; and, philosophical taoists about libertarianism. I want to demonstrate that your personal and political philosophy can’t really be two separate things. That the one informs the other. And, it matters little which you think is doing the informing. I am a taoist because I am a libertarian; and, I am a libertarian because I am a taoist. What? You think it matters which came first?

Lao Tzu wants us all relying on the Tao. In everything that we do. That is what the art of living is all about. Relying on the Tao. Being in harmony with the way things are. It matters not whether you are a leader or a follower, you need to rely on the Tao. That makes your world a whole lot better place for you to live. But today, Lao Tzu does specifically address the art of governing. And the advice holds firm. All you leaders and would be leaders, you governors of men and women around the world, if you were relying on the Tao, you wouldn’t be trying to force issues. And, the very fact that you are so blatantly trying to force issues everywhere you turn, is all the evidence in the world that anyone should need to surmise that you aren’t relying on the Tao.

What is force? It is an attempt to control. Oh, how you like to be in control. You manufacture enemies by your use of force and then seek to defeat those enemies with more force. The force of arms. And everybody who isn’t you, knows what is going to come of this. It is very elementary physics that we have learned from an early age. Where were you when you should have been learning this? For every force there is a counter force. Violence, even well intentioned, always rebounds upon itself. This is stuff our parents and teachers taught us when we were children dealing with others in the playground. What? Do you think you have outgrown the lessons of our childhood? That you are somehow more sophisticated than all that? That you are privy to some special knowledge that violates the laws of physics and gets away with the violation? Because, nothing could be further from the truth.

But you don’t let the truth get in your way. You are in a position of power. A position you craved from the first time you didn’t like being told “no” I am sure. And your so-called exalted position of power renders you immune to the laws that the rest of us must live with. You, and you alone, can control and dominate events. I would pity you if you weren’t wreaking such desolation in your wake.

And, how very different is the Master. This one relies on the Tao in everything that he does. He does his job and then stops. How very odd. To do your job and then stop. What? No grasping for something further? No, he does what he needs to do and then stops. And leaves the rest to the Tao. He understands. Something our faux leaders either can’t or won’t. He understands that the Universe is forever out of his control. This is the beginning of wisdom right here. Understanding first, that you can’t do anything about a whole lot of things.

He understands that trying to dominate events goes against the current of the Tao. The current of the Tao is an important concept for us to understand. We talk all the time about going with the flow. About wearing ourselves out trying to swim or paddle upstream. But, that metaphor doesn’t really convey what Lao Tzu is getting at with the current of the Tao. It is much more pervasive than trying to navigate a river. Sometimes, with a river, you very much need to get upstream. Going further downstream, even if it is going with the current is going to end with disaster.

It helps me to think of the Tao as being both ubiquitous and liquid. It is everywhere and comprises everyone and everything. You can’t escape it. Forget your hopes, your fears. They aren’t of any use to you. The current of the Tao is going to bring you through the cycle of life from the Source to the End (which incidentally, is a return to the Source). We have hopes and fears that make us resist that. Some have a will to power. They want to control, to dominate. But this simply cannot be. The way things are is the way things are.

So, what separates the Master from so many that aspire to govern us? It may come as a shock, but I think our so-called leaders, their rightful name is rulers, have a very little… Well let’s just say they are compensating for something. Okay, I am not really meaning some physical thing. I am talking about something a lot more internal than that. They don’t actually believe in themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t always be trying to convince others of how right they are. And even if they believe in themselves they are never content with themselves. Which is why they are always seeking others approval. They want the whole world to accept them. But don’t realize that because they can’t accept themselves no one can accept them.

I would despair if I thought that we were always only ever to have rulers like these. But I see something just round the next bend. I can’t fully describe it, it is still off a distance. But, it spells the end for our present system. And a chance to make things all right again. A return to the Source? Perhaps. But this advice from Lao Tzu is going to come in quite handy then, as it is now. Even if the so-called powers that be never change, their end draws near. Then, as now, we need to believe in ourselves. Be content with ourselves. And, accept ourselves; just the way the Tao has forged us.