What Others Teach, I Teach Too

The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.

All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.

Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

What Others Teach, I Teach Too

I don’t mind admitting, this, today. This is my least favorite chapter in the Tao Te Ching. And, it doesn’t help that I am typing this while sitting up in my bed, sick. If I get a little crazy with what I say, today, blame it on the fever. Of course, it isn’t that I am feeling a lot under the weather to make me not be too happy with today’s chapter. I have felt that way when I was feeling perfectly above the weather (whatever that is supposed to mean). It is simply because this particular chapter comes off as a bit esoteric in its wisdom. Just reading that first stanza I find myself asking what is this one, this two, and this three? And, why oh why, does Lao Tzu leave me in the dark? He has always been so good at explaining exactly what he means. I am sick, dammit! Don’t let me down now.

Thankfully, about a month ago, I did purchase Red Pine’s translation. If you have been reading my blog, recently, I have been referencing it a lot. Perhaps, Red Pine has some assistance to offer me.

“The Tao gives birth to one

one gives birth to two

two gives birth to three

three gives birth to ten thousand things”

Wait! Is this all a conspiracy?

I feel like even Lao Tzu is laughing at me right now.

Oh well, I got started with it, better continue…

“ten thousand things with yin at their backs

yang in their embrace

and breath between for harmony

what the world hates

to be orphaned widowed or destitute

kings use for their titles

thus some gain by losing

others lose by gaining

what others teach

I teach too

tyrants never choose their death

this becomes my teacher”

I guess it did get a little different from Stephen Mitchell’s translation. But, there is still no explanation for what is the one, the two, and the three. Thankfully, Red Pine also includes commentary from sages over the course of the last 2,000 years. I just know they won’t let me down.

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao gives birth to the beginning. One gives birth to yin and yang. Yin and yang give birth to the breath between them, the mixture of clear and turbid. These three breaths divide themselves into Heaven, Earth, and Humankind and together give birth to the ten thousand things. These elemental breaths are what keep the ten thousand things relaxed and balanced. The organs in our chest, the marrow in our bones, the hollow spaces inside plants all allow these breaths passage and make long life possible.”

This right here is just what I was talking about when I said its wisdom was too esoteric. Is there help here? Sure there is. But I am not feeling too keen on it. Maybe the next sage has something better to offer me.

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The yang we embrace is one. The yin we turn away from is two. Where yin and yang meet and merge is three.”

Okay, I am getting that yin and yang are important here. But, are they the two, or are they the one and the two. Or, both? And is this meeting and merging breath?

LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Dark and unfathomable is yin. Bright and perceptible is yang. As soon as we are born, we all turn our back on the dark and unfathomable yin and turn toward the bright and perceptible yang. Fortunately, we keep ourselves in harmony with the breath between them.

Now, I am really beginning to get a sense for exactly why I don’t like this chapter, at all. It is all yin. And, while I generally have a profound love for yin, it most certainly is dark and unfathomable. I am still holding out for bright and perceptible, here. Give me some yang, already!

THE YUNCHI CHICHIEN says, “When breath is pure, it becomes Heaven. When it becomes turgid, it becomes Earth. And the mixture of the breath between them becomes Humankind.”

Okay, I don’t have the slightest idea who or what the Yunchi Chichien is or was, but this is just as dark and unfathomable as we have been having all along. Did you not hear me when I said to give me some yang, already? I am a sick guy on what is likely his death bed (just kidding, I feel way too awful to die from this). But, is asking for bright and perceptible really too much to ask?

TE-CH’ING says, “To call oneself ‘orphaned,’ ‘widowed,’ or ‘destitute’ is to use a title of self-effacement. Rulers who are not self-effacing are not looked up to by the world. Thus, by losing, they gain. Rulers who are only aware of themselves might possess the world, but the world rebels against them. Thus, by gaining, they lose. We all share this Tao, but we don’t know it except through instruction. What others teach, Lao-tzu also teaches. But Lao-tzu surpasses others in teaching us to reduce our desires and to be humble, to practice the virtue of harmony, and to let this be our teacher.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Te-Ch’ing. First of all, since I am wallowing in self-pity right now, calling myself an orphan, a widower, or destitute, resonates with me on a deep personal level. Second, I can make the obligatory reference to Donald Trump’s giant ego.

CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who love victory make enemies. The ancients taught this, and so does Lao-tzu. But Lao-tzu goes further and calls this his ‘teacher.’”

KAO HENG says, “According to the Shuoyuan (10.25), ‘Tyrants never choose their death’ was an ancient saying, which Confucius attributed to the Chinjenming. This is what Lao-tzu refers to when he says ‘what others teach.’”

WANG P’ANG says, “Whatever contains the truth can be our teacher. Although tyrants kill others and are the most hated of creatures, we can learn the principle of creation and destruction from them.”

Thus concludes the sages’ wisdom on today’s chapter. I am going to end this, right here. I need to lay back down before I try to tackle the next chapter.

It Isn’t What We Expect

When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh,
it wouldn’t be the Tao.

Thus it is said:
The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.

The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 41, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

It Isn’t What We Expect

Back in chapter 38, Lao Tzu contrasted the Master with the ordinary person. It is ordinary to always be reaching for more power and never have enough. It is ordinary to want to do something, and always be doing something, but always leave many more things not done. Today, Lao Tzu tells us flat out, it takes a superior person to hear of the Tao and immediately begin to embody it. The average person wants to believe it, but always gets tripped up by doubts.

Of course, we have doubts. I have had my own share of doubts. As TE-CH’ING says, “The Tao is not what people expect.” Which is probably why Lao Tzu warned us to free ourselves of expectations. As LI HSI-CHAI says, “When inferior people (Stephen Mitchell calls them fools) hear of the Tao, even the ancient sages can’t keep them from laughing. Everyone in the world thinks existence is real. Who wouldn’t shake their head and laugh if they were told that existence wasn’t real and that non-existence was?”

Our problem lies in our perception of reality.

The path seems dark. It seems to go back. It seems long. True power seems weak. True purity seems tarnished. True steadfastness seems changeable. And, true clarity seems obscure. Who can see what seems unsophisticated, and realize it is the greatest art? Or, that what seems like indifference is the greatest love? Or, that what seems childish is the greatest wisdom.

And, just exactly where is this Tao, anyway? When you look for it, there is nothing to see. When you listen for it, there is nothing to hear.

Why is there nothing to see, and nothing to hear? Because it is the Tao. Yet, it nourishes and completes all things.

They Don’t Realize Where Things Come From

Return is the movement of the Tao.
Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.
Being is born of non-being.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 40, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

They Don’t Realize Where Things Come From

Nestled half-way into the Tao Te Ching is this shortest chapter. Lao Tzu has been doing a lot of contrasting between yang and yin. And, today is no different. Today, he contrasts between yu and wu, being and non-being, something and nothing. The chapter is short, but it encapsulates what we have been talking about all week long. The chapter is short, so let’s also take a look at Red Pine’s translation of it.

The Tao moves the other way

the Tao works through weakness

the things of this world come from something

something comes from nothing”

For Stephen Mitchell’s “Return is the movement of the Tao,” Red Pine has “The Tao moves the other way;” and for Stephen Mitchell’s “Yielding is the way of the Tao,” Red Pine has “the Tao works through weakness”. Red Pine also substitutes “something” and “nothing” for “being” and “non-being”. Of course, they all mean the same things. But, sometimes using synonyms for words help us to understand them better. At least it does for me.

And, the various sages, whose commentaries Red Pine includes, also give us a different perspective. I, especially, appreciate that opportunity to see things from a different perspective. It keeps me grounded. Humble. Knowing I am not getting too far removed from what Lao Tzu is really saying.

LIU CH’EN-WENG says, “Once things reach their limit, they have to go back the other way.”

This highlights what Lao Tzu has been saying for sometime now. The need to know when to stop, to avoid danger. Know your limits. When you reach your limit, it is time to stop, and go back. Sadly, as our next commentator adds, this is contrary to how most people look at things.

WEI YUAN says, “The Tao moves contrary to how most people look at things.”

Most people just don’t know when to stop. They keep going in the same direction, full speed ahead. Or, as I paraphrased one of my followers in yesterday’s commentary, “We are on the Highway to Hell, and our foot is still on the accelerator.”

CH’AO CHIH-CHIEN says, “To go back the other way means to return to the root. Those who cultivate the Tao ignore the twigs and seek the root. This is the movement of the Tao: to return to where the mind is still and empty and actions soft and weak. The Tao, however, does not actually come or go. It never leaves. Hence, it cannot return. Only what has form returns. ‘Something’ refers to breath. Before things have form they have breath. Heaven and Earth and the ten thousand things are born from breath. Hence, they all come from something. ‘Nothing’ refers to the Tao. Breath comes from the Tao. Hence, it comes from nothing. This is the movement of the Tao.”

Ignore the twigs, and seek the root. Wow! Let that one sink in. Too often, we spend all of our time with the broken and dead twigs, and fail to get back to the root. That is the root of our problem.

WANG AN-SHIH says, “The reason the Tao works through weakness is because it is empty. We see it in Heaven blowing through the great void. We see it in Earth sinking into the deepest depths.”

I particularly appreciate the word “weakness”, in Red Pine’s translation, because strength and weakness have been so much in the news of late. Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” is built around the relationship of strength with weakness. He values strength. And he does not like weakness. But, of course, I think he is seeing things mostly wrong. Weakness is the root of strength, just as emptiness is the root of fullness, and nothing is the root of something. More on that in just a bit.

TE-CH’ING says, “People only know the work of working. They don’t know that the work of not working is the greatest work of all. They only know that everything comes from something. They don’t know that something comes from nothing. If they knew that something came from nothing, they would no longer enslave themselves to things. They would turn, instead, to the Tao and concentrate on their spirit.”

Another of Donald Trump’s promises is to “Get America Working Again” by restoring all the manufacturing jobs previously exported abroad. I wonder what it will be like when we all have jobs, and are working, but we can’t afford goods and services, nor have the leisure time to enjoy them, if we could afford them, anymore. To be quite honest, I rather appreciate the fact I work without working, I can afford the goods and services I need, and I have the time to enjoy them, too. I stumbled upon this truism by accident. I was actually forced into it, when I found myself without work. After being conditioned to know everything comes from something, I discovered something comes from nothing. And, I am no longer a slave to things.

HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The ten thousand things all come from Heaven and Earth. Heaven and Earth have position and form. Hence, we say things come from something. The light and spirit of Heaven and Earth, the flight of insects, the movement of worms, these all come from the Tao. The Tao has no form. Hence, we say things come from nothing. This means the root comes before the flower, weakness comes before strength, humility comes before conceit.”

I just want to repeat that last line. “The root comes before the flower, weakness comes before strength, humility comes before conceit.” Can we please just stop getting the orders reversed?

LI JUNG says, “‘Something’ refers to Heaven and Earth. Through the protection of Heaven and the support of Earth, all things come into being. ‘Nothing’ refers to the Tao. The Tao is formless and empty, and yet it gives birth to Heaven and Earth. Thus, it is said, ‘Emptiness is the root of Heaven and Earth. Nothingness is the source of all things.’ Those who lose the Tao don’t realize where things come from.”

I chose, “They Don’t Realize Where Things Come From” as the working title of my commentary, today. We need to realize where things come from.

SU CH’E says, “As for ‘the things of this world,’ I have heard of a mother giving birth to a child. But I have never heard of a child giving birth to its mother.”

Aphorisms are best left without additional commentary. Just keep re-reading it.

WANG PI says, “Everything in the world comes from being, and being comes from non-being. If you would reach perfect being, you have to go back to non-being.”

Turn back, turn back!

HUANG YUAN-CHI says, “Those who cultivate the Way should act with humility and harmony. The slightest carelessness, any action at all, can destroy everything. Those who cultivate Virtue look to themselves for the truth, not to the words of others. For those who understand that what moves them is also the source of their lives, the pill of immortality is not somewhere outside.”

The slightest carelessness, any action at all, can destroy everything. Inaction is carefulness. Hence, I value non-intervention, not interfering. Not forcing. Not trying to control.

And, finally, Red Pine, who believes Lao Tzu saw the Tao as represented by the New Moon, says, “The moon can’t keep up with the sun, but as it gets farther and farther behind, the darkness of nothing gives rise to the light of something.”

This is something we have talked about previously. The New Moon can only wax. It is out of that emptiness, fullness comes.

Leave it to me to take the shortest chapter in the Tao Te Ching, and turn it into the longest commentary. Do you see how out of that smallness came greatness?

The View From My Backyard

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 they 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 a stone.

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

The View From My Backyard

Yesterday, it was illusions versus reality; today, it is harmony with the Tao (not interfering) versus interfering.

Harmony sure looks and sounds great, doesn’t it?

Today (I am writing this on Tuesday, though it won’t post until Thursday morning), I went outside after getting home from tutoring, kicked off my shoes, and sat out in my back yard, barefoot. In February. In the northern hemisphere. I don’t live in Florida, folks. I live where we really do have winter weather. The weatherman assures me winter weather will return, tomorrow, and probably with a vengeance. But, in my back yard, today, the sky is clear and spacious, the earth is solid and full, and all creatures are flourishing, me, the birds, and the squirrels, together. And, you know what? We are all content with the way we are. I could take days like this one, endless repeating itself, endlessly renewed, always. This is my testament to living my life in harmony with the Tao.

However, outside of my own backyard, things are not quite so wonderful. Why? Lack of harmony with the Tao. Sorry, I just call it like I see it.

What is the result when we interfere with the Tao?

The sky becomes filthy. The earth becomes depleted. The equilibrium crumbles. Creatures become extinct. No, it is not a pretty picture.

I posted my morning links to the news, as I always do; and, at least one of my followers nailed it with this description, “We are on the Highway to Hell, and our foot is on the accelerator, even now.”

I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how anyone could take delight in the slaughter of men, women, and children, the world over. But, apparently, that is exactly what the so-called powerful among us must feel. Because the killing never ceases. Nope! Instead, it has accelerated.

I just want to go back out to my own backyard. It isn’t that I don’t feel compassion. I actually feel a great deal of compassion. That is why I post about it. That is why I oppose our continued interference, on a daily basis.

But, I am only able to view the parts with compassion, because I understand the whole. Sitting out in my backyard, my constant practice is humility. That is what is lacking, when it comes to those who have assumed power over us. You have to be willing to humble yourself, to understand the whole. And, until they understand the whole, you won’t see them practicing compassion.

They would rather glitter like a jewel. Me? Well, I won’t glitter like a jewel, until the sun really warms things up, and I start shedding a few more clothes. Then, the sun bouncing off my white skin might blind you.

Until then, look for me to continue to let myself be shaped by the Tao, as rugged, and as common, as a stone.

Illusions Versus Reality

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 many 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 goodness 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)

Illusions Versus Reality

Today, Lao Tzu takes the next logical step, since the Tao never does nothing, yet through it all things are done (see yesterday’s chapter). In today’s chapter he tells us the Master also does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone. This is the result of the Master’s practice of nameless simplicity. We talked about that, yesterday, too.

Nameless simplicity is choosing not to take sides, and rejecting complexity. Thus, we aren’t bound by the illusions we create in our own minds, and the illusions those around us create for us. Once we let go of all illusions, we can then dwell in reality.

What are some of those illusions?

The first one, Lao Tzu talks about today, is the illusion that power is something to be reached for, outside of ourselves. The “mass of men” (borrowing Thoreau’s phrase) keep reaching for power, yet they never have enough. The Master, on the other hand, and through the practice of nameless simplicity, doesn’t try to be powerful, and finds the source of true power within.

The second illusion is the one we have been talking about for a few days, now. It is the illusion that something must be done. We must intervene. We must interfere. We must try to control. We must force things. And, violence is never taken off the table of options. It is an illusion simply because the more things are done, the more things are left to be done.

I point out these illusions all of the time, and my friends just shake their heads at me. It is like they have succumbed to a “Hollywood” spell. Their full-time practice is suspending disbelief. They want to believe the illusions. They are desperate to believe them.

This may sound a bit rude; but, Lao Tzu says it, so blame him, not me. Do you only want to be merely ordinary? Because you have it within you to transcend that, and be extraordinary. But, you are going to have to stop suspending disbelief.

The Master doesn’t have to try to be powerful. The Master doesn’t have to do something.

I really don’t intend to be rude. Some of the most ordinary people I encounter are also the kindest, the most just, the most moral people… But, when they don’t get what they want,

watch out! They will roll up their sleeves and use force. It happens every time.

So ordinary.

Goodness is also an illusion; which appears for a time, because the Tao has been forgotten. How is it an illusion? I call goodness, force of habit. It isn’t something which flows naturally. Therefore it isn’t reality. It is against nature. It is forced.

Morality is an illusion; which appears for a time to enforce goodness. How many times have you heard this: “People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. They must be forced.” Well, we all know how that illusion breaks down.

Soon, the only illusion which we are left holding on to is the illusion of ritual. It is only the husk of true faith, but we hold on to it tenaciously. There will be those who will challenge the narrative. Still questioning authority. I am one of those non-conformists. Why are we still doing things the way we are doing them? Nobody can even give a logical explanation for it. It is just the way we have always done things. So, do it! Still, we are forced; but, what force is there in ritual? It is like the last gasps of a dying animal. Weaker and weaker. The result is chaos.

It is the lasts gasps of those who ever reach for the illusion of power. Everyone is conditioned to fear chaos. But, it is out of that chaos, that spontaneous order will emerge – – if we will only let it.

Stop suspending disbelief. See the illusions for what they are. Let go of them. Dwell in reality.


By looking beyond the surface to the depths. By looking past the flower to the fruit. Let go of your will, what you want. Let all illusions go.

Nameless Simplicity

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)

Nameless Simplicity

Yesterday, I said the doing without doing, Lao Tzu teaches, is non-intervention.

Our problem, which Lao Tzu identified right away in the first chapter, is desire. Why do we intervene, interfere, try to control, force things, and resort to violence? It is desire.

But, the Tao has no desire, so it never does anything. It never does anything, yet through it all things are done.

This is why I want powerful men and women to center themselves in the Tao.

But, did you notice that? What I want is a desire, too. It took me a long, long time to figure things out. For the longest of times I desired peace. Then, I came to desire not to desire. Finally, I let go of all desire. A very long journey, but it was all quite simple.

The whole world transformed by itself, in its natural rhythms. People content with their simple everyday lives, in harmony, and free of desire.

Freedom. At last. The goal has been freedom, all along. But, waiting on the powerful to center themselves, and desiring that they do so, isn’t the answer.

What did Lao Tzu say yesterday? If you want to shrink something, let it expand; if you want to get rid of something, let it flourish. Let go of your desire. Don’t intervene. Don’t try to take it; let it be given. What we allow to expand will contract of its own accord. What flourishes for a time will soon wither. Can you simply wait for it?

Be content with nameless simplicity. That is what Red Pine calls it in his translation. He goes on to say, it is nameless because names take sides. And the Tao doesn’t take sides. It is simplicity because complexity limits options. And the Tao is limitless; both infinite and eternal. By centering ourselves in that, by having as our root, nameless simplicity, we also don’t take sides and keep our options open.

People want me to do something, too. They push and they pull. But, I am rooted. I won’t be plucked up. I will go on doing without doing. Not intervening. Not interfering. Not forcing things. Not trying to control. Always mindful of how violence rebounds on the violent. I don’t desire that. There is no peace in that.

But non-intervention is the last thing anyone wants to consider. No, actually, it isn’t even on the list of things they want to consider. They desire to do something. And that desire is what shatters the peace.

There can be no peace, when there is still desire. This is what I took so long to figure out. What we all must figure out, however long it takes. When there is no desire, the whole world will know peace.

Non-intervention: Doing Without Doing

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)

Non-intervention: Doing Without Doing

Last week, Lao Tzu was teaching us we need to know when to stop, in order to be able to go wherever we wish, without danger. We have to know when to stop, to avoid danger. Some people, maybe most people, don’t know when to stop.

I encounter these people all of the time. I am talking about family and friends. They don’t know when to stop. But, I am also talking about those outside my own personal sphere of influence. And, some of those are the most powerful men and women on the planet.

Within my own personal sphere of influence, maybe I make a difference. I’d like to think I do, anyway. But, when it comes to those on the outside-the powerful-what can I do? What can any of us do?

The killing of that little eight year old girl in Yemen a couple weekends ago still has me really bothered. Nora. An American citizen. Not that that makes a whole lot of difference to me. But, maybe it should matter to others. I have said it before, but why not say it again? I have my own little eight year old, who could have been Nora. My eight year old is the little girl I teach throughout the week. Her parents immigrated from Pakistan years ago, and met each other, and got married, here. Aliza is a first generation American citizen, born in the United States, along with her little brother. Each year, for two or three months, Aliza’s mother takes her and her brother to Pakistan to visit relatives still living there. They just got back home two weeks ago. And, because of my own country’s government’s insane foreign policy, I hold my breath every time they are gone.

Pakistan isn’t Yemen. Oh? Is that so? We have done plenty of raids in Pakistan over the years. It could have been Aliza. It could have been.

I got something started on my own personal Facebook page last week. I have way too many friends who see nothing wrong with our so-called war on terror. And, I just can’t remain silent. Not when my fellow human beings, my brothers and sisters, are being slaughtered. Did my little attempt at dialog make any difference? Who knows. Maybe I planted some seeds. Maybe. But, that is only within my own personal sphere of influence. There are still the powerful, like President Trump, who I can only wish would know when to stop.

We are still intervening. We are still interfering. We are still trying to control. We are still trying to force things. And using violence. It is way past time to stop.

But no one seems to want to stop, let alone know when it is time to. In my Facebook battle I was accused, of course, of being isolationist. God! I hate that characterization. No! I am not an isolationist. Non-intervention is not isolationist. Isolationist is what we are doing right now with our foreign policy. It is dropping bombs on several countries, and banning refugees, and anyone else from those countries, from coming here. Isolationist is building walls, and trying to establish “Fortress America”. Isolationist is imposing restrictions on trade. I want the bombing stopped, and people, goods, and services flowing freely.

“Oh, but then the terrorists will come in. We need to be secure.”

Why are you afraid? And, what exactly is your government doing to allay your fears? Can’t you see that it is your government’s policies which are creating the very things you fear?

I need to know when to stop, too. I haven’t even gotten to today’s chapter.

But, it isn’t like today’s chapter is far from what I have been talking about.

Non-intervention. Doing without doing. If you want to shrink something, first allow it to expand. If you want to get rid of something, first allow it to flourish. If you want to take something, first allow it to be given.

Those are two-edged swords, and I know it. I have to be willing to let what I want to shrink, what I want to get rid of, and what I want to take, to expand, flourish, and be given, too.

It is the subtle, so very subtle, perception of the way things are. The soft overcomes the hard. The slow overcomes the fast. We can’t overcome the hard and the fast by trying to be harder and faster. That isn’t how things work in our universe. That isn’t the way things are. For every force there is a counter force. Violence always rebounds.

We may not always like it. We may think that the way things are sucks, sometimes. But, like it or not, it is the way things are. So, doing without doing is always the way to be.

Let your workings remain a mystery. Do without doing. Just show people the results.

Nothing to See, 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)

Nothing to See, Nothing to Hear

In chapter 32, Lao Tzu taught us, if we know when to stop we can avoid any danger. Today, he teaches us, to be centered in the Tao is to be able to go wherever we wish, without danger. Knowing when to stop, and knowing when to go, this is the essence of being centered in the Tao. You perceive the universal harmony, the way things are; and even in the midst of great pain, you always find peace, the only place it can be found – in your heart.

It’s a heart thing! That pain you are experiencing right now, the convulsions going on all over the world, are all of them outside, external, to what you are, what you know, in the core of your being. It is powerful men and women, who are not centered in the Tao, using the tools of violence and fear, shattering the peace, and making us not content.

And, music or the smell of good cooking may make people stop and enjoy. But, that doesn’t last. It never lasts. The music comes to an end; the food is enjoyed, and then, it is no more.

While, words that point to the Tao? Well, they seem monotonous and without flavor. Why stop to enjoy this? What is there to enjoy? There is nothing to see, here. Nothing to hear.


But, just like that bowl from chapter four, or the bellows from chapter five, when you use it, it is inexhaustible.

We have come to the end of another week. On, Monday, we will begin to explore how to use it, the subtle perception of the way things are.

It Has No Borders

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 on to 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)

It Has No Borders

Yet again, I think Red Pine’s translation, along with the commentaries from Chinese sages over the last two thousand years, offer us something worth talking about in my commentary today.

“The Tao drifts

it can go left or right

everything lives by its grace

but it doesn’t speak

when its work succeeds

it makes no claim

it has no desires

shall we call it small

everything turns to it

but it wields no control

shall we call it great

its because sages never act great

they can thus achieve great things”

HSUAN-TSUNG says, “To drift means to be unrestrained. The Tao is neither yin nor yang, weak nor strong. Unrestrained, it can respond to all things and in any direction. As Chuang-tzu says, ‘The Tao has no borders’ [Chuangtzu: 2.5].”

CHUANG-TZU says, “Those who are skilled toil, and those who are clever worry. Meanwhile, those who do not possess such abilities seek nothing and yet eat their fill. They drift through life like unmoored boats” (Chuangtzu: 32.1).

WANG PI says, “The Tao drifts everywhere. It can go left or right. It can go up or down. Wherever we turn, it’s there for us to use.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “The Great Way is a watery expanse that extends to the eight horizons. But when we use it, it’s as close as our left or right hand. There is nothing that doesn’t depend on it for life, and yet it never speaks of its power. There is nothing that doesn’t happen without its help, and yet it never mentions its achievements.”

SUNG CH’ANG-SHING says, “Outside of the Tao there are no things. Outside of things there is no Tao. The Tao gives birth to things, just as wind creates movement or water creates waves.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “Although living things might be infinite in number, the Tao creates them all through the mystery of doing nothing. It doesn’t mind making so many. And it creates them without thinking about its power.”

WANG P’ANG says, “When the Tao becomes small, it doesn’t stop being great. And when it becomes great, it doesn’t stop being small. But all we see are its traces. In reality, it is neither small nor great. It can’t be described. It can only be known.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “The Tao produces all things, and all things turn to it. It’s like the sea. All streams empty into it, and yet it doesn’t control them.”

Commenting on lines eight and eleven, WU CH’ENG says, “Even though there are no question indicators, these are questions and not statements, just as in verse 10. If we can call something great, it isn’t the Tao.”

SU CH’E says, “Those who are great and think themselves great are small.”

LU HUI’CH’ING says, “The Tao hides in what has no name, and sages embody it through what has no name. They don’t consider themselves great, and yet no one is greater, for they can go left or right. Hence, they are neither small nor great. And because they are neither small nor great, they can do great things.”

Wow! So much wisdom contained in so few words. What Red Pine did, in taking what Stephen Mitchell translates, “The great Tao flows everywhere” and rendering it, “The Tao drifts it can go left or right” really struck me, as I was reading it. It isn’t that the imagery of flowing water isn’t beautiful and wonderful imagery. It is. But, something about “drifting”, the aimlessness of it, perhaps; it can go left or right, up or down; it is unrestrained. I also appreciated what the various commentators had to say about the Tao being neither yin nor yang, weak nor strong, small nor great. I think we tend to insist on wanting things to be one or the other. But, the Tao doesn’t take sides. As Chuang-Tzu says, it has no borders. And, we shouldn’t either.

True Wisdom, True Strength, True Wealth

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)

True Wisdom, True Strength, True Wealth

Once again, I find myself drawn to Red Pine’s translation of today’s chapter.

“Those who know others are perceptive

those who know themselves are wise

those who conquer others are forceful

those who conquer themselves are strong

those who know contentment are wealthy

those who strive hard are resolved

those who don’t lose their place endure

those who aren’t affected by death live long”

What Lao Tzu is doing, here, is telling us to value what is internal over what is external. If we were to be yin to what is outside, we would be yang on the inside. This is a theme which Lao Tzu first introduced back in chapter three. There, he was talking about what happens when we over-esteem great men, when we overvalue possessions. Both of these things are too much focus on what is external. And, he said, the Master leads by emptying people’s minds and weakening their ambition (that is being yin, teaching us to let go of those external thoughts and plans), and filling their cores and strengthening their resolve (that is yang, it is all focused on the inside of us, the core of our being).

Oh, you know others, do you? How very perceptive you are And, you can conquer others? That just shows how adept you are with the use of force. But, what have you really gained?

If you were truly wise, you would focus on the one thing which is important. I believe it was Socrates, who is acknowledged as saying it first, “Know thyself.”

There is no end to conquering others. Take Alexander. History books call him, “the Great”, for conquering the whole world when he was still a very young man. But, what was his end? He died a heart-broken young man. Having lost the only thing that mattered to him. He never reaped anything from all of his conquering of others. Alexander didn’t have true strength. True strength is conquering yourself. Your hopes, your fears, your will, your ambitions.

Knowing yourself, conquering yourself, Lao Tzu tells us exactly what he means by that. It is realizing you have enough, right now. There is nothing to be gained on the outside which is going to enrich what you are on the inside. Let that go. Empty yourself, weaken those ambitions. Let the core of your being be filled. Strengthen your inner resolve. Everything you need is inside of you. And the true measure of wealth is realizing it. Be content! Stay centered! And, nothing can touch you. Nothing can affect you.