All posts by libertariantaoist

Not An Archery Lesson

As it acts in the world,
the Tao is like the bending of a bow.
The top is bent downward;
the bottom is bent up.
It adjusts excess and deficiency
so that there is perfect balance.
It takes from what is too much
and gives to what isn’t enough.

Those who try to control,
who use force to protect their power,
go against the direction of the Tao.
They take from those who don’t have enough
and give to those who have far too much.

The Master can keep giving
because there is no end to her wealth.
She acts without expectation,
succeeds without taking credit,
and doesn’t think that she
is better than anyone else.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 77, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today we have another one of my favorite chapters from the Tao Te Ching. I could write pages on it; but hopefully, I won’t. Here are some things I want you to keep in mind as you think on today’s chapter.

First off, the Tao is the name Lao Tzu gives to the eternal reality behind all the workings of the Universe. Lao Tzu spends 81 chapters telling about it. Six days from now I will be back to chapter one, and we will read, once again, Lao Tzu’s warnings about naming and telling. I will go into more detail then, about those warnings. Today, I think it will suffice for us to keep in mind that the eternal reality is always a mystery. We can see its manifestations. And those manifestations help us to understand it better. But what we are speaking of, is always shrouded in darkness. Lao Tzu calls it darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.

The purpose of my blog posts each day is to peer into that darkness and invite you to peer into it, as well. What do we see? Not with our eyes. They aren’t going to be very helpful to us. We are talking about darkness here. That is the mystery. What I really accomplish with my blog posts, at least I hope I am accomplishing it, is to show how the Tao manifests itself in our world. Its manifestations are plain to see. If only we will look.

And, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu shows us how the Tao acts in the world. Well, not quite. He is limited to talking about what it is like. Lao Tzu likes using everyday things for us to picture in our minds. That is how he explains things. Today, we picture the bending of a bow. Lao Tzu says that is like how the Tao operates in our world. Hopefully, you have that mental image of a bending bow in your mind. Its top is bent down and its bottom is bent up.

This is like how the Tao adjusts excess and deficiency, so that there is perfect balance. The Tao manifests itself this way in the world. Always working to achieve balance. When things are out of balance, Lao Tzu identifies a twin problem, and the Tao addresses them both at once. When things are out of balance there is both a problem of excess and a problem of deficiency. The Tao could not address the one, without addressing the other. Otherwise, there couldn’t be balance. Excess is too much. Deficiency is not enough. The Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough.

This may seem so simple a concept you wonder why we are going on and on about it. But I would counter, if this is such a simple concept, why are things so out of balance? Oh, and one more thing, I am going to spend time today talking about those who have too much and those who have not enough. I want to go ahead and deal with the first objection that I can imagine is going to be raised, before I progress further. That objection is, who gets to decide what is too much and what is not enough. That is a fair objection. And one that I share. So, I want to say right now that this isn’t up for a vote. I loathe democracies. Majority rule is tyranny of minorities, with the individual being the smallest minority of them all. No one gets to decide that any person has too much. Not by getting a majority to go along with you. And not by establishing yourself as a dictator. What we are talking about today, in dealing with the problem of excess and deficiency, is not something that any human is supposed to be dealing with. That is really Lao Tzu’s point. The Tao deals with it. When humans put themselves in the place of the Tao, chaos ensues. More on that as we proceed.

The Tao is the eternal reality behind all the workings of the Universe. Yes, I am repeating myself, but this is important. We have to keep reminding ourselves of this reality. The Tao is the natural Law, the natural order which emerges out of chaos. Left to its own devices, the Tao will achieve order and balance, naturally. I, personally, identify this natural law, or order and balance emerging out of chaos, as free market anarchism. That is my label. Lao Tzu doesn’t use it. But I will; because I want to be clear that when I talk about free market anarchism, I am thinking of that bending of the bow, that Lao Tzu has us picture. I am not going to force you to accept my label. I only apply it so that you can better understand where I am coming from. I am a free market anarchist because I believe being at one with the Tao, instead of being at odds with it, is the way to maintain a certain equilibrium in my life that I call happiness. Leaving it to the Tao, simply makes me happy.

But often, there are those who aren’t quite satisfied with leaving it to the Tao. Objections to leaving it to the Tao come from two diametrically opposed groups of people. Both those who have not enough and those who have too much. Lao Tzu is going to strike at the root of the objection, but first I want to identify the two branches. That will help us to understand why it is that free market anarchism can be such a hard sale to the masses of people.

For those that have not enough, the objection to leaving it to the Tao is that the pace of nature is just too damn slow. And that is how the Tao manifests itself in the world, through nature. I can understand this objection, on both an intellectual and an emotional level. When I don’t have enough for something I want right now, it is hard to accept that the thing that I want will have to wait; or that, perhaps, I will just have to do without. Postponing fulfilling desires is not pleasant. It requires discipline. And who likes discipline?

Even the most disciplined can be moved to welcome any promise that we can have what we desire sooner, rather than later. This attitude will play right into the hands of the other group that objects to leaving it to the Tao; so I am going to leave the motives of those who don’t have enough right here for now, as we consider the motives (the objection) of those who have too much.

For those who have too much, that would be those at the top of the bow, they don’t like this taking from them, and giving it to someone else; not one little bit. Their motivation, like those on the bottom of the bow, is purely selfish. I am not knocking selfishness here. It is human nature to be selfish. You might as well accept right now that humans are going to act according to their nature. They always do. They always act in a way that they believe will benefit themselves. Yes, I understand that we don’t always have perfect knowledge of what will best benefit us, and sometimes what we do causes ourselves great harm. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is in our nature to act in such a way that we believe we are going to receive benefit. This is, by the way how I interpret Ayn Rand’s virtue of selfishness. I understand why denying (or sacrificing) our humanity to serve others (altruism) is despicable… But that is a whole other topic better saved for another day.

Still, selfishness is a very natural trait for us humans. And, it is a powerful motivator; both for those who have too much and not enough. But that isn’t the root of the problem. So, Lao Tzu isn’t going to strike down selfishness. Yay! If he did that we would have to deny our humanity, and I am not about to advocate that. No, Lao Tzu understands human nature very well. And the Tao knows how to work with our human nature. Selfishness is what motivates us. But once again, that isn’t the root of the problem.

The root is power.

We are all selfish. That is a given. It is like saying water is wet. But it doesn’t matter that we are selfish, if we don’t have power.

The problem that Lao Tzu is addressing today is when those who try to control, who use force to protect their power, go against the direction of the Tao. Remember, the Tao is always working to achieve balance and cause order to emerge from chaos. In order to achieve balance the Tao takes from what is too much and gives to what isn’t enough. But the powers that be, we have already established, don’t want that. They will take from those who don’t have enough and give to those who have far too much.

Power is the problem. That is the root that we must strike. Here are some thoughts on that. First, that power is all an illusion. That doesn’t stop it from being effective, if enough people fall for the illusion. But it is something to keep in mind. It is all an illusion. The eternal reality is something far greater. But, in order for that illusory power to even exist it needs people to believe it exists.

When we are talking about those that have too much vs. those who don’t have enough, the latter group far outnumbers the former. If the latter group understands the motivation of the former group is protecting their supposed power, then they won’t knowingly go along with the ruse. That is why those with too much, feign altruism. They can’t have all those people actually believing that their intentions are anything but altruistic. They will make grandiose promises about taking from those that have too much and giving it to those who don’t have enough. But they always take away from those who don’t have enough and give to those who already have plenty. We have been playing this game for a very long time now. And sadly, a whole lot of people continue to fall for the ruse. The powers that be are very good at masking their true intentions. They even have most of the world convinced that a free market, unregulated by the powers that be, would do the very opposite of what Lao Tzu has told us the Tao does, left to its own devices.

Some people think they understand this, but they don’t understand the real root of the problem. They just think that the wrong people are in power. If the people who don’t have enough were only in power, then things would change. This is what motivates people to go to the polls and vote every new election. If we can just get the right people in power, things will finally change. You guys did register to vote yesterday?

No, Lao Tzu says that supposed power is the root of the problem; and that is what we have to strike. The Tao, left alone and not interfered with, will achieve balance and order. It is our incessant desire to interfere that is causing the imbalance. We never feel we have enough.

How very different is the Master. She is one with the Tao. And being in perfect harmony with it, is our example of how balance and order is achieved. She can keep giving and giving and giving. There is no end to her wealth. She acts without expectation. Succeeds without taking credit. And perhaps most amazing of them all, she doesn’t think she is better than anyone else.

Looks like my initial warning about being able to write page after page has proven true. Sorry.

The Difference Between The Living And The Dead

Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.

Thus, whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today Lao Tzu talks about life and death. The living are soft and supple, tender, and pliant. While the dead are stiff and hard, brittle and dry. This is a metaphor, not for the dead, but for the living. At least we should be living. But are we?

We, the living, may in fact be disciples of death. Are we stiff and inflexible? When the winds of change are upon us, do we try to stand fast against the wind, and hold on to the past. Things that always were only transient things; but we got comfortable with them. We have grown accustomed to them. We aren’t ready to let go.

Lao Tzu is hearkening back to a couple chapters ago when he was talking about the nothing that we try to hold on to. All things change; but disciples of death, will fight it to the bitter end. But what is it they are holding on to? A wisp. A phantom. Nothing. They may be living; but they are already among the dead and decaying.

How very different are disciples of life. They are soft and yielding. They are ready for the inevitable changing winds. They are ready. And, there is nothing they can’t achieve.

First, there was a little l. Then, along came a little t. They belong together.

When taxes are too high,
people go hungry.
When the government is too intrusive,
people lose their spirit.

Act for the people’s benefit.
Trust them; leave them alone.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 75, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Just the other day, I had someone anonymously message me on tumblr. I am always delighted to get messages on tumblr. I don’t actually get very many of them. I guess I don’t encourage it enough. While I allow people to anonymously message me, I never quite have figured out what is the point. If you don’t want anyone to know that it was you that asked me a question, you can ask and I will reply privately. But if you are actually wanting to carry on a conversation, I need to know who you are so we can talk.

“Anonymous” messages can be really out there, though. I don’t think I have gotten any “hate”, but sometimes the messages just leave me scratching my head. I am kind of dense. You send me a short message with no way of asking what you mean. I am just clueless that way. Anyway, the anonymous message was: “wait, are you a taoist??” Yep, that was the question. How do I respond? I have been on tumblr for over two years now. My url on tumblr has been libertariantaoist for all this time. I have been cycling through Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, with quotes and commentary, for ever so long. Of course I am a taoist!

But I do have to give props to Anonymous. Whoever you are, you did use taoist with a lowercase t, and I appreciate that. Taoists and I have an unwritten agreement. I don’t claim to be a Taoist with a capital T and they don’t hate on me for not being a proper Taoist.

Anonymous, if you are still out there, it might interest you to know that I am also a libertarian with a lower case l. Not to be confused with a Libertarian with a capital L. Unlike the Taoists, who pretty much keep to themselves and don’t try to recruit me to their cause, the big L Libertarians are all the time sending me enlistment info. They really want me to be a big L Libertarian. I am not hating on you big L Libertarians, I just want to remain unaffiliated.

I call myself libertariantaoist because that is who I am. I find Lao Tzu’s writings are both taoist and libertarian. I even used the lower case t for taoist there, because I don’t know that Lao Tzu would have called himself either one.

I was a libertarian before I started reading Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, so I put the libertarian first. And, what first attracted me to the Tao Te Ching was how very libertarian his writing was. I mean, just look again at today’s chapter.

When taxes are too high, people go hungry.When the government is too intrusive, people lose their spirit. Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them; leave them alone.

If I was going to write four sentences to describe what a libertarian believes, that would be my four sentences. Statists are going to wail. But this is just common sense. You know the kind. The kind that, sadly, isn’t at all common.

I am really delighted with what Lao Tzu said today. He was like the Ron Paul of his generation.


Ouch! Maybe I Will Let The Future Be

If you realize that all things change,
there is nothing you will try to hold on to.
If you aren’t afraid of dying,
there is nothing you can’t achieve.

Trying to control the future is like trying
to take the master carpenter’s place.
When you handle the master carpenter’s tools,
chances are that you’ll cut your hand.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 74, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

As I am sitting here typing this, the calendar informs me that the most wonderful time of the year has begun. I am meaning the beginning of Autumn. Apologies to my readers down under in the Southern Hemisphere. I know Spring has sprung for you. But Fall kind of snuck up on me this year. In my part of the world, south central Missouri, and regardless of the calendar, we have been having Fall like weather for a couple weeks now. I had actually kind of forgotten that Autumn hadn’t officially arrived. And, while I call it the most wonderful time of the year, I really must admit that I enjoy all four seasons of the year, pretty equally. They all have a little something to offer. So, whatever season of the year it happens to be at the moment just happens to be my favorite.

The seasons come and the seasons go. If there is one constant we can really count on, it seems that change is it. Sometimes we really like the idea of change. And other times, we really can’t stand the thought. But change is inevitable. That is one aspect of the eternal reality. When we are wanting change, it seems slow to come. And when we don’t want things to change, it has a way of acting swiftly.

I’d like to promise those of you that are trying to hang in there until your needed change arrives, to keep hanging in there, your change is going to happen. But today’s chapter isn’t really written for those who are holding out for a change. Today’s chapter is written to those who are holding onto things that you don’t want to change. Lao Tzu is wanting us to learn to let go.

No matter how firmly we hold on, change is going to happen. And it would be best if we let go of all those things that are going to change. We need to realize this, and hold onto nothing. Funny phrase, hold onto nothing. I typed that and then I stopped and looked back at it. That isn’t what Lao Tzu said. Hold onto nothing. He said, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. That is what all these transient things are. Nothings. They come, they go. They are nothing. Let them go.

And that was just the first line of today’s verse. Lao Tzu follows it by saying the same thing, a different way. We have covered before that Lao Tzu likes to write these couplets. What are you afraid of? Most of us are afraid of dying. At least a little. Perhaps we fear it more, the closer it seems to approach. But there is something exhilarating about experiencing the fear of death. We like to watch daredevils, even if we wouldn’t be daring enough to do those death-defying stunts, ourselves. I don’t think it is death-defying stunts that Lao Tzu has in mind when he talks about the nothing you can’t achieve if you aren’t afraid of dying. What jumps out at me is there is that word “nothing” again. There is nothing you can’t achieve. If there is nothing you will try to hold on to, there is nothing you can’t achieve. Now, that is poetry. I am sure I could spend a great deal of time talking about that.

But not today. Today is fleeting. And I am going to leave it to my readers to imagine the endless possibilities.

No, I want to get back to the concern that Lao Tzu is addressing in today’s chapter. And that is our need to be in control. That is what makes us resistant to change. That is why we hold on to things that are transient. That is why we are afraid of dying. Not content with the present, which, alas, is transient, we want to try and control the future. And Lao Tzu offers a painful illustration of just what we are trying to achieve.

At least it seems like a painful illustration to me. I am not a carpenter by trade. Far from it. And I look like a fool when I try to handle a master carpenter’s tools. So, generally, I have no problem leaving it to someone who is better suited for the task. And that is exactly why Lao Tzu’s warning makes such good sense to me. Trying to control the future? That is like taking the master carpenter’s place. When you handle those tools, you are likely to cut your hand.

Preexisting Conditions? No Worries. You’re Covered.

The Tao is always at ease.
It overcomes without competing,
answers without speaking a word,
arrives without being summoned,
accomplishes without a plan.

Its net covers the whole universe.
And though its meshes are wide,
it doesn’t let a thing slip through.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 73, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Yesterday, we talked about losing our sense of awe. That sense of awe, I identified as the eternal reality, the Tao. The Master’s solution when the people lose touch with the Tao was to take a step back. That might not seem like much of a solution. Our mindset is for us to do something. And taking a step back seems like a pretty passive approach.

So today, Lao Tzu explains why it is that passive approach is just what the doctor ordered. He talks about the Tao. Talk about passive. It is always at ease. It overcomes without competing. It answers without saying a word. It arrives without being summoned, and accomplishes without a plan. That is passive.

It is almost as if Lao Tzu is telling each of us, “Don’t worry, be happy.” Or, “Chill, dude!” The Tao is certainly always chilling. The Tao is always at ease. We need to be more like the leisurely Tao.

These are supposed to be comforting words to those who have lost their way. So why do we get in a panic when we have lost our way? Turning to some external authority that doesn’t know its way either.

We need to relax. We need to chill out. The Tao has the whole universe covered with its net. No matter how lost you are feeling right about now. No matter how dark it has been. The Tao has got you covered. And nothing, not you, not anybody, not anything, is ever going to slip through those meshes.

Time To Take A Step Back

When they lose their sense of awe,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend on authority.

Therefore the Master steps back,
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without a teaching,
so that people will have nothing to learn.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 72, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

A couple of days ago I entitled my blog post, No More Obfuscating. I was referring to my own tendency to want to change the obvious meaning of words to something more palatable to my readers. As Lao Tzu said yesterday, you have to realize you are sick before you can move toward health. I recognized I wasn’t serving my readers by obfuscating. Lao Tzu may use mysterious language a lot, at least to our Western mindset, but he always makes very clear what he is saying. And he is blunt, sometimes more blunt than my delicate sensitivities would like. So, I tend to want to soften the blow. But I need to stop doing that.

So today, when Lao Tzu comes on strong. I am not going to pull his punches. The whole emphasis of the Tao Te Ching is that there is an eternal reality; which Lao Tzu, for lack of a better word, refers to as the Tao. Often, perhaps because we find them more palatable, we prefer side paths to that eternal reality. Or maybe, we simply lose our way.

When people lose their sense of awe, and that sense of awe is our connection with the eternal reality, people turn to religion. This is where my delicate sensitivities kick in. For I don’t want to offend my family and friends who are religious. But, I also realize that I am not serving them by obfuscating. So, instead of obfuscating, I ask that those of you whose delicate sensitivities are injured by what Lao Tzu has to say, take a step back and wonder why exactly that is.

It might help to understand that Lao Tzu tends to write the same thing in two different ways together to make his point. First he says, “When they lose their sense of awe, people turn to religion.” Then he says, “When they no longer trust themselves, they begin to depend on authority.” Okay, no obfuscating here, but I find I can work with the second sentence better. Yet, they mean the same thing.

When we have lost our way, when our connection to the Tao, the eternal reality, is lost, we start doubting ourselves. As well we might. It really makes perfect sense. When we no longer believe that we can trust ourselves, we begin to depend on some authority. That authority could be religion. Or it could be the government. It could be any variety of authority. But the root cause of our state of dependence is that we have lost touch with the eternal reality. The Tao is inside each of us. We need to be trusting ourselves. Our inward intuition. But having lost that connection, we start putting our trust in something external to ourselves.

That is the problem that Lao Tzu is addressing in today’s chapter. Lao Tzu understands human nature. He understands our tendency to “panic” when we lose our way. That is why he brings in the Master to show how best to deal with the situation.

And how does the Master deal with it? By taking a step back. This is such simple advice that I think we often fail to consider how very helpful it would be. If, instead of stopping and taking a step back, thus getting our bearings, we forge on ahead, we only get more desperate. People are easily confused. No one likes admitting it. But it is, nevertheless, true. We get confused, easily. Taking a step back is the first and right move, if we are going to ward off confusion.

Next, let us remember what Lao Tzu said a couple chapters ago, his teachings are easy to understand and to put into practice; but our intellect can’t grasp them, and trying to put them into practice is a sure way to fail. The Master teaches without a teaching, thus there is nothing you have to learn.

Like Lao Tzu said yesterday, we don’t need some external authority, we can be our own physician. Physician, heal yourself.

It Is Time To Be Your Own Physician

Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First, realize that you are sick;
Then you can move toward health.

The Master is her own physician.
She has healed herself of all knowing.
Thus, she is truly whole.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 71, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

One of the things that Lao Tzu keeps coming back to is our need to not-know. Today, Lao Tzu calls not-knowing the only true knowledge. But what exactly is not-knowing? Is Lao Tzu wanting us all to be ignorant? Is ignorance really bliss? If not-knowing is true knowledge, then ignorance can’t be what Lao Tzu is really promoting.

Not-knowing isn’t actually remaining in a state of ignorance. It is coming out of a state of ignorance. Lao Tzu illustrates this using a metaphor that kind of sounds like the beginning of a 12-step plan. Not-knowing isn’t the opposite of knowing, at all. It is presuming to know which Lao Tzu is concerned with. That is the disease. And not-knowing, or coming to realize that we don’t really know what we presume to know, is the cure.

But, as long as we continue to remain in our state of ignorance. As long as we presume that we know, we are sorely afflicted. Lao Tzu tells us that first you have to realize that you are sick. That is not-knowing. We will remain in this state of ignorance until we realize that we are sick. But then, and only then, we can move toward health.

Once someone realizes that they are sick, that is when they start looking for the services of a physician. The majority of us don’t have money to spend on physicians when we think there is nothing wrong with us. But we do now realize that we are sick. Now what? Lao Tzu says that the Master is her own physician. This is good news for those of us that also don’t have money to spend on physicians when we know we aren’t well. And what is that the good physician does? Heal yourself of all knowing. That is the path to wholeness.

By ridding yourself of all presumption, through the practice of not-knowing, you make yourself whole.

No More Obfuscating

My teachings are easy to understand
and easy to put into practice.
Yet your intellect will never grasp them,
and if you try to practice them, you’ll fail.

My teachings are older than the world.
How can you grasp their meaning?

If you want to know me, look inside your heart.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 70, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

How soon I forget these things… I want to talk more about what Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday. How thinking our enemies are evil will result in destroying our three greatest treasures. And, how to avoid that very thing by knowing how to yield. The reason I want to talk more about it is because only after that post went from my queue to the dashboard did I remember something that Lao Tzu had said back in chapter 60.

This is important because I was having a very difficult time yesterday with dealing with the problem of evil. Lao Tzu kept telling us that the problem wasn’t with evil; it was with our thinking. And while I tried to accept that, I still kept thinking that evil was something that really had to be dealt with. There is a reason that those videos of people getting beheaded is so powerful. Our enemies want us to think that they are evil.

That is how they win. If we think they are evil, then our greatest treasures are destroyed. That is what they want. And that is what Lao Tzu is warning us about. This, of course, ties in with today’s chapter; just in case you were thinking I was just going to skip what Lao Tzu was saying today.

Lao Tzu’s teachings are both easy to understand and to put into practice. But our intellect can’t grasp them and trying to put them into practice is not how to put them into practice. I am going to talk about this more, but first I want to look back again at what Lao Tzu said in chapter 60 concerning the problem of evil.

Please forgive me this indulgence on my part. If I had remembered this yesterday, I would have dealt with it better then, and wouldn’t have to do this today. In chapter 60, Lao Tzu told us exactly how to deal with the problem of evil. He said if we give evil nothing to oppose, it won’t have anything to oppose. This is about yielding. Which I should have said yesterday, but tried to dance around because I forgot. See, Lao Tzu’s teachings are too simple for our intellect to grasp. And too easy to put into practice. I tried. How I tried. When will I learn?

Or maybe I am just obfuscating. I knew yesterday that I was getting into murky waters when I tried to manipulate the word “yield” to mean what I wanted it to mean, rather than what Lao Tzu actually intended for it to mean. When dealing with evil, Lao Tzu means just what he says when he says to yield to it. And I don’t like it. So, I try to make it more palatable. But he isn’t really going to let me get away with that.

I fear that yielding to the enemy, especially one that seems evil, is giving up ground that I dare not give up. But Lao Tzu counters that it is better to retreat a yard than to advance an inch. We are concerned with the evil that is external to us. While, Lao Tzu is concerned with the evil that we allow to grow in our own hearts.

Lao Tzu sums it up quite well in the conclusion of today’s chapter. He has said that his teachings are older than the world, so how can we grasp their meaning? But, if you really want to know, you will find the answers in your own heart.

Knowing How To Yield

The generals have a saying:
‘Rather than make the first move
it is better to wait and see.
Rather than advance an inch
it is better to retreat a yard.’

This is called going forward without advancing,
pushing back without using weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means thinking that he is evil.
Thus, you destroy your three treasures
and become an enemy yourself.

When two great forces oppose each other,
the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 69, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Two days ago, Lao Tzu was teaching us about what he considered our three greatest treasures. If you have already forgotten them, don’t worry, we will list them again today. Yesterday, he was talking about how to embody the virtue of non-competition. One of the examples he used to illustrate it, was how the best general enters the mind of his enemy. Today, he continues what he has been talking about the last few days, now talking wars and rumors of wars.

It does seem appropriate that Lao Tzu would expand on what he said about generals yesterday. Let’s just not forget what he has said before. Lao Tzu is wanting us to embody the virtue of non-competition, and to be careful to guard our three greatest treasures: Simplicity in actions and thoughts. Patience with friends and enemies. And, compassionate toward ourselves.

He says of the generals that they have a saying. This saying is the embodiment of the virtue of non-competition. Remember, the best generals are able to enter the mind of their enemy. They say that it is better to wait and see, than to make the first move. It is better to retreat a yard, than to advance an inch.

As I was reading this “saying” today, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the warmongers all over the world are really taking the time to try to enter their enemies’ minds. We can see and hear the drumbeats of war. They are beating loud and strong. And with a persistence that seems like anything but waiting and seeing. No one seems to want to wait and see anymore. They want to act and fast. Rushing in, and I worry are setting us all up for great misfortune.

What Lao Tzu is trying to show us today is a way for us to go forward without advancing. There is a way to push back without using weapons.

I already know that those who profit from war are going to dismiss Lao Tzu’s sayings as idealistic pacifism. My blog isn’t really addressed to those who profit from war. It is to the other 99 percent of us. The ones that are actually called upon to make the sacrifices for the war profiteers.

I see Lao Tzu, a lonely man, standing on a mountain crying out to anyone with the guts to listen to him: “There is no greater misfortune than underestimating your enemy.”

Will we listen? What is underestimating our enemy? And, how can we avoid it?

Lao Tzu says that underestimating our enemies is thinking they are evil. I can already hear the naysayers. “But they are beheading people! If that isn’t evil, then I don’t know what evil is.” Yes, I understand. Our “enemies” have released some videos that appear to show some beheadings. Our media has gone into a frenzy to make sure that just about everyone is all stirred up and ready to do something. And this has all served the interests of those who have been beating the drums of war for many years now. How easily the people are manipulated.

But I want to hold on for just a moment here and take a look at what Lao Tzu has said, again. Lao Tzu didn’t say that the greatest misfortune is having enemies who are evil. The greatest misfortune is thinking that they are evil. When you think your enemies are evil you are underestimating them. There is a difference. You may think it is too subtle to matter, but you might just be wrong. Don’t underestimate Lao Tzu’s understanding of human nature. And don’t underestimate your enemies. When you underestimate your enemies you destroy your three greatest treasures. And, this is more important than all the supposed evil you may find in the world.

When we fail to enter the mind of our enemy, we underestimate them. We think they are one thing, and consider no other possibilities. You may think the videos we have seen, reveal their minds quite enough. But don’t underestimate how our “friends”, who profit from warmongering, might be manipulating us into thinking the way we are thinking about our “enemies”, either.

But Lao Tzu isn’t concerned with any of that. He is wanting us to guard our three greatest treasures. That is what should be our top priority. And it shouldn’t matter how much we are being manipulated into war. If our three treasures are destroyed, we become the enemy.

When two great forces oppose each other, the victory won’t go to the one who fails to know the mind of their enemy. It won’t go to the one who underestimates their enemy. It will go to the one who knows how to yield. That is how we safeguard our treasures. By yielding. Not yielding to evil. No, that is not what I am saying at all.

Yielding is not just about staying back and letting others go on ahead. It is also producing a bountiful harvest of good. What are we thinking? What are we doing? Are we keeping it simple, or making things complicated? Are we being patient with both our friends and our enemies? And maybe most importantly, are we being compassionate with ourselves? Compassion means valuing our three greatest treasures above all else.

The Virtue Of Non-Competition

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best.
The best general enters the mind of his enemy.
The best businessman serves the communal good.
The best leader follows the will of the people.

All of them embody the virtue of non-competition.
Not that they don’t love to compete,
but they do it in the spirit of play.
In this, they are like children
and in harmony with the Tao.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 68, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Today, Lao Tzu talks about the virtue of non-competition. At first, as I was reading through the chapter I thought this was some new thing that he was talking about. But then I thought back a couple of chapters earlier when he was talking about the Master who is the embodiment of humility in governing (leading) the people. He said of her that she competes with no one and no one can compete with her. That is the context that I want to keep in mind as I talk about the virtue of non-competition today.

It always seems to me that Lao Tzu comes at things in a completely different way from the prevailing wisdom. That is what sets philosophical Taoism apart. Today he is talking about being the very best you can be. And he says you do it by embodying the virtue of non-competition. That immediately seems strange to me. Does it to you, as well? Isn’t it in competition that we find who is the very best?

But as we read through the chapter we find that the embodiment of the virtue of non-competition doesn’t mean not competing. It isn’t about what we are doing. It is about who we are. What are our attitudes as we go about our daily lives?

The best athlete wants his opponent at his best. The best general enters the mind of his enemy. The best businessman serves the communal good. The best leader follows the will of the people.

Lao Tzu tells us that they embody the virtue of non-competition, not by not competing, but by doing it in the spirit of play. I think, for most of us, that being the best we can be at what we do would seem to be serious business. But Lao Tzu invites us to not take things quite so seriously. Compete in the spirit of play. Be like children. This is how to be in harmony with the Tao.