All posts by libertariantaoist

It Is All In How You Perceive Things

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

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

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

After several days in a row talking about the art of governing a country, today, Lao Tzu returns to the art of governing ourselves. It is the practice of Wu-wei, doing not-doing. How do we practice this? To act without doing and work without effort, begins with how we think about the tasks that confront us each and every day. It is all in how you perceive things.

I have tasks that I do every day. We all do. They’re nothing great. They are really quite small. But that isn’t how I think about them. How I perceive things is very different. I don’t think of these small tasks as small. I think of them as large. Though they may only require a few steps to accomplish, I think of that as many steps. Why do I do this?

The reason I do this is simple. These small tasks must be done. Each and every day. If I fail to attend to them, they start piling up. What would have been easy, becomes difficult. By thinking of them as difficult, from the beginning, I don’t wait around until they become great. Never underestimate difficulty. Never think any task is easy.

I never try to accomplish a great task. That would require effort I am loath to expend. But, by a series of small acts that require no effort, I end up accomplishing a great many things.

That is what the Master does. That is how she achieves greatness. We have it all wrong, when we think that the only way to achieve greatness is by reaching for the great. No! The only way to achieve greatness is to change what you think about the tasks before you. The great task is, but a series of small acts. Don’t try to do the great task. Do the series of small acts. Always, always see any task as too great. Always, always break it down into a series of small acts. Then do them. There are no small tasks. There are only great tasks. Break them down! Break them down! Then you can achieve them, effortlessly.

When you run into a difficulty, and we all do, stop. Stop? Yes, stop. Why have you encountered this difficulty? Did you not break the task before you into small enough pieces? How do I make the difficult, easy? Did I think that this is easy, when I should have treated it as difficult? That is how to confront the difficult. Confront it with your questions. That is giving yourself to it. The Master gives herself up to whatever the moment brings. Both, the easy moments, and the difficult moments. She gives herself to them.

Treating everything as if it were easy is clinging to your own comfort. We feel so very comfortable as we take on tasks as if they were easy. That is, until we encounter difficulty. Then we panic. Our comfort slips away. We start reaching and grabbing, trying to get our comfort back. But it is gone. Long gone. By treating all tasks as if they were difficult, you won’t cling to your own comfort. And, problems? Well, they are no problem.

The Good, The Bad, And The Tao

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

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

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

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

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

In the last few days, we have been talking a lot about the art of governing. Lao Tzu’s words have been directed mostly at those who want to be a great leader? And his advice for those who want to be leaders? Trust the Tao. Center yourself in it. Let go of your desire to control. Practice self-restraint. Mind your own business; don’t interfere in others’ affairs. Practice humility. This is sound advice that I wish our rulers would follow.

But what of the rest of us? We are not all called on to be leaders. Many of us would be content to follow, if only we had great leaders. Today, Lao Tzu reminds us that his words about the Tao are for all of us. Not just those who wish to rule us. In talking about the art of governing, one thing that stands out to me about today’s chapter is that new leaders are supposed to be chosen.

I am a little bit ignorant when it comes to ancient Chinese history. But I believe Lao Tzu served in the royal courts of a Chinese dynasty. There was an emperor. Were emperors chosen? Or were they self-appointed? Usually they gained their power through conquest, I think. That hardly seems like the masses of people had much of any say in who their new leader would be. Lao Tzu seems to have recognized that was not in keeping with the Tao. Leaders should be chosen.

We have the illusion of choice, now. We hold elections all over the world on a pretty regular basis. They just had one in the UK. And all that I was hearing in the run up to that election, led me to believe that a good number of the people of the UK have begun to realize what a fraud the whole electoral process is. I think the feeling is much the same here in the United States, where our own presidential election in 2016 is already in full swing. Yet, none of the candidates are endearing themselves to followers. With these as our choices, do we really have a choice? What difference is it really going to make who wins? The names may change, the policies remain the same. And you can bet they won’t be following Lao Tzu’s sage advice.

When I read through this chapter, I can’t help but envision a time in our future when maybe, just maybe, new leaders will be chosen. And having been chosen, they might just listen to Lao Tzu’s sage advice.

And that is what today’s chapter is really about. Lao Tzu wants us all to understand about the Tao. So that we can teach our new leaders about the Tao.

And what about the Tao does Lao Tzu want to impress upon us, today? The Tao is the center of the Universe. He isn’t talking about physical locations, here. He is talking about the Tao being central, as in, integral. It is everything. Find the Tao and you have found it all. There is nothing more important in all the Universe than that.

We place high value on plenty of other things. Things like honors. And respect. But Lao Tzu tells us that honors can be bought with nothing more than fine words. And respect can be won with only a few good deeds. As valuable as we may think they are, they pale in comparison with the Tao.

The Tao is beyond all value. That is the takeaway from today’s chapter. When you are talking about the art of governing, Lao Tzu can’t stress enough just how valuable the Tao should be to all of us. You can’t achieve it. No one can. It is beyond all value. Your wealth, your expertise, they would seem to be important to any would be leader. But Lao Tzu says they are nothing, when compared to learning about the Tao.

And I only have one question to ask now. Why did the ancient Masters esteem the Tao so? I mean, Lao Tzu, obviously, is obsessed with getting us to understand just how invaluable it is. But why?

That brings me to the title of today’s post. The Good, The Bad, and the Tao. A couple chapters back, Lao Tzu addressed the problem of evil. When he is talking about good and bad, today, he isn’t referring to that.

Today he is talking about being one with the Tao. And being one with the Tao seems to be the ultimate. Something that only few can achieve. But that isn’t how Lao Tzu sees it, at all. To Lao Tzu, we should all expect to be one with the Tao. We ARE all one with it. It is our source. It has been there for us all along, like a mother taking care of her children. It is with us always, taking us back to itself.

So, get rid of the silly notion that only an enlightened few can ever achieve oneness with the Tao. All of us, each and every one of us, is one with the Tao. But…. Yes, there had to be a but. We may not be very good at being one with the Tao. Sometimes, perhaps, even often, we may be very bad at being one with the Tao. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t one with the Tao.

When we are good at being one with the Tao, the Tao is a treasure for us. When we seek it, we find it. It is a treasure to be sought. And being good at it, it isn’t very hard to find.

But what of those who are bad? Those who make mistake after mistake after mistake. Sometimes I find myself right here, my friends. For me, and for you, when you are bad, it is a refuge. You made a mistake. The Tao is just as much there for you. You are forgiven. Unconditionally.

Treasure? Refuge? The Tao is both of those things at the same time. It is very good news. And that is why everyone loves it. That is why it is beyond all value.

Learn From The Sea

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

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

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

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

In yesterday’s chapter it was a fish fry. Today, Lao Tzu is back to the metaphor of water to illustrate for us the importance of humility. Whether we are talking of a great nation or a great leader the metaphor is apt. The greater the power, the greater the need for humility. There is no other way to exercise the virtue of self-restraint in governing. The sea knows its place. It takes the humble lower place beneath the streams. Otherwise, the streams wouldn’t flow downward into it. Humbly, it trusts the Tao. Never needing to be defensive.

What folly it is that great nations forget their humble beginnings! And even greater folly that they don’t stay humble. That will be their downfall. It always is. As it is with great nations, so it is with great leaders. The truly great ones realize their folly. They realize it and readily admit it. Then, they make amends.

Where are the truly great leaders, though? Where is the man or woman who surround themselves with those who will point out their faults? Who consider those, their most benevolent teachers? Who thinks of their enemy as the shadow they alone cast?

Who has the wisdom to practice this humility? Those who will trust the Tao? I have pondered these questions much over the last few years. Yesterday, we were talking about how to deal with the problem of evil. Lao Tzu told us how to deal with it: Center your country in the Tao. Then, evil will have no power. And maybe you were thinking, “Okay, well how exactly do we do that?”

How does a nation center itself in the Tao? Lao Tzu never leaves a question long-unanswered. And it isn’t so very hard. First, you nourish your own people. Second, you don’t meddle in the affairs of others. Simple really. And the only reason it seems so difficult is because no one has the humility, the self-restraint, to do it. They don’t trust the Tao. But it is more than just that. They prefer the side paths. Pride is so much more to their liking than humility. And the corrupting influence of power, so very tempting. They really must meddle. Our own people? They can be taken care of later. We have big plans. Plans to expand our power. Everybody’s affairs must be our affairs. For we want to end up on top.

That is a far cry from the lowly position of the sea. But then again, the sea will remain long after those great nations are in ruins. And to think, that great nation could have been a light to all the nations of the world. My own country used to fancy itself just that. Some still suffer from the delusion that we remain a light to all the nations of the world.

We aren’t now, if ever we were. But we could be. If we would learn from the sea.

The Problem Of Evil

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

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

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

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

We have been talking a lot the last few days about the art of governing, of how to be a great leader. Yesterday, we talked about the virtue of self-restraint when governing. The reason self-restraint is such a virtue is because it is so very tempting to interfere. Few are those that would let the world govern itself. Though that is precisely what would happen if our rulers could restrain themselves.

Lao Tzu thinks there is a lesson they could learn by simply frying a small fish. Anyone who has ever fried a small fish knows this lesson well. You must restrain yourself. Oh, but that frying fish is screaming out to be poked at. And so we do. We poke and poke and poke. And dinner gets ruined. Governing a large country is just like this. Don’t poke! Don’t interfere! Don’t meddle! Restrain yourself! Why won’t we learn?

Long before I ever had read anything about philosophical Taoism. Before I ever heard of Lao Tzu, I came home from college having been introduced to the likes of Milton Friedman and his book “Free To Choose.” My econ professor introduced me to Austrian economics. I was reading scandalous articles about limited government. Why we needed to have a free market. One that wasn’t interfered with. I told my father that we needed to decriminalize all victimless crimes. That drug prohibition didn’t actually solve the problems associated with drug use. That it only produced more and more problems. We needed to decriminalize not just marijuana but all drugs. Get rid of the FDA. We don’t need the government telling us what is good and bad. Let people be free to choose for themselves what they wanted to do with their own bodies. That prostitution should be decriminalized. If consenting adults wanted to trade sex for money or money for sex, that was their own business. As long as one person wasn’t harming another, it wasn’t any concern of the government. My father wasn’t pleased. He tried to assure me that there was just one flaw with my reasoning: That people have to be protected from themselves. People just couldn’t be trusted with the kind of freedom I was envisioning. I listened to my wise father. But I couldn’t agree with him. Freedom was too important. If some people couldn’t be trusted that was just too bad for them. The rest of us shouldn’t suffer for the foolishness of others. My father, wise as he was, was a slave to fear. He was especially fearful of the problem of evil. We needed to have a strong government to deal with the problem of evil.

I wish I had had a copy of the Tao Te Ching for my father to read in those days. But that was many years ago. Before Stephen Mitchell’s translation, which really changed my life. My father was long gone before I came across it. But Lao Tzu understood something, more than two thousand years ago. He understood how to deal with the problem of evil. A problem which has plagued all generations for as long as recorded history.

The problem of evil. Read through history books and you will be told that if it is left alone it gets stronger and stronger. Read all of the great works of fiction and you will see a common theme. Evil must be confronted and dealt with. Good will win out in the end. But only after a mighty struggle.

How naive Lao Tzu must be! Here he tells us that all we need to do to deal with the problem of evil is center our country in the Tao. That will deprive it of its power. Lao Tzu doesn’t deny its existence. He doesn’t even promise that it will ever go away. He merely tells us how to render it powerless. How we can step out of its way.

I will admit to you, my friends, that when I first read these words, I thought much the same of Lao Tzu. How naive! For I had read the history books. I had read many of the great works of fiction. I knew better. The problem of evil wasn’t something we could simply ignore.

But I kept reading Lao Tzu’s words. And slowly they began to work their way into my heart. Then I started to do some critical thinking while I read the histories. Who was writing these accounts? The victors. Could I really trust their accounting of history? What was it that had caused evil to rear its ugly head? Had it happened because countries were centered in the Tao? That they just sat back and did nothing? And evil, left alone, just grew and grew? That didn’t seem to be the way things were. No, it seemed to me that what caused wars of aggression, were people, on both sides, that wanted to be aggressive.
I began to realize that works of fiction thrived on a grand battle between good and evil. Lao Tzu, as a fiction writer, wouldn’t have sold many copies.

And my libertarian leanings were finally leading me to an understanding of the State. The State doesn’t want to do away with evil. It delights in it. Our rulers thrive on it. Where there is no enemy they will manufacture one or more out of thin air. War is the health of the State. Our rulers want us to be afraid. Just like my father was afraid. They want us afraid and dependent on them to “rid” the Earth of this problem. Though they never do get rid of the problem either. They just make it spread. So their own health grows, by leaps and bounds. I realized who our real enemy is: Leviathan.

Still, I wish that there were people who were truly great leaders. We need them now more than ever before. People who understand that if you give evil nothing to oppose, it will disappear all by itself. Call me naive. Go ahead, I can take it. But I have looked in my own heart, and I know it is true.

What Moderation Really Means

For governing a country well
there is nothing better than moderation.

The mark of a moderate man
is freedom from his own ideas.
Tolerant like the sky,
all-pervading like sunlight,
firm like a mountain,
supple like a tree in the wind,
he has no destination in view
and makes use of anything
life happens to bring his way.

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

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

Today, Lao Tzu continues talking about how to be a great leader. In Stephen Mitchell’s translation, Lao Tzu says that for governing a country well there is nothing better than moderation. And then he begins talking about the marks of a moderate person. In order to get a proper understanding of what Lao Tzu is teaching us, I think it helps to understand what is meant by that term, moderation. Having reviewed a few other translations I think the word self-restraint does a better job of conveying what Lao Tzu is talking about.

What Lao Tzu is asking from a great leader is that they practice self-restraint. For governing a country well, nothing beats self-restraint. What Lao Tzu has been saying all along is that to be a great leader, you must give up your need to control. That is a very high virtue. For, your position as leader comes with all sorts of temptations to try and control others. But can you control yourself? That is the mark of a great leader.

You have such high ideals. Obviously you want to see those implemented. They are, after all, for the people’s welfare. But you understand how the Universe operates. You understand that the will to power must not be in charge in your administration. All your plans will only come to naught if you try to force things. Instead, you content yourself with serving as an example.

That is freedom from your own ideas. It isn’t that you don’t have any ideas. No, you have very well-intentioned ideas. But you aren’t a slave to them. You aren’t going to try and force your ideas on anyone else. Or use control to implement them. You are able to practice the utmost self-restraint.

So what limits can there be put on this freedom? For you, the sky is the limit on your tolerance. You understand that it takes tolerance to produce comfortable and honest people. Just like sunlight, it pervades everything in its path. You are firm as a mountain, yet supple as a tree in the wind. Nothing can thwart your self-restraint.

It is as if you don’t have any destination in view. That sounds nothing like any politician we have ever known. But you understand. You trust the Tao. You aren’t looking ahead to some future end that may or may not happen. Nor are you bogged down in the past. You are living in the present moment. Letting things come and go as they will. Making use of anything life happens to bring your way. Because, after all, life has a way of throwing you a curve ball when you were “expecting” a fast ball. But you aren’t expecting anything. You just go with the flow.

Because of all this, nothing is impossible for you. You have let go of all desires. All expectations. All your need for control. And, because you have let go, now, in this present moment, you can begin to care for the people’s welfare. All those good intentions can come to fruition in this moment. This present moment. Not through force, but as a mother cares for her child.

Because We’ve Had Enough Of The Faux Coolness

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

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

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

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

Yesterday’s “An Open Letter To All The Presidential Candidates” was done tongue-in-cheek. I wish I could trust that the next president would take my advice. But I don’t seriously expect that to happen. How unfortunate for the whole world!

For, if a country is governed with tolerance, the people will be comfortable and honest. That is the kind of legacy I would like to see the next president have. Follow the Tao. Don’t interfere with it. Let the world govern itself. Let go of all desires to control.

Now, understand, I am not looking for the candidate that merely says they would do these things. Promises are cheap. I remember, well, what candidate Obama promised back in 2007 and 2008. What we got in policies, has more resembled Nixon. Though Nixon couldn’t get away with what Obama is getting away with. Nixon didn’t have Obama’s ability to charm the mainstream media. Our current wars are just as unpopular as the war in Vietnam. But Nixon wasn’t cool. And the body bags are conveniently not our own. If we had had our current technology back in Vietnam, we’d still be bombing the hell out of Vietnam. It is so cool to be able to kill our “enemies” from thousands of miles away.

No, I sadly must inform you that what we will get from the next president, regardless of party, and regardless the lies, I mean, good intentions, is just more of the same. Only the next president is going to turn up the pressure against dissent. We can’t have people in cities rioting. The next president will deal with that. Expect the level of repression to increase substantially. We no longer have any reason to expect differently.

But the Tao is still the Tao. You can’t change the nature of the way things are. When a country is governed with repression, the people are going to only become more depressed and crafty. Count on it. The next president will keep tightening the screws, and people will only get more depressed and crafty. That is just the way things are.

Sound gloomy? Sorry about that. I just wish they could understand. They have such high ideals. But they just don’t get it. When the will to power is in charge, the higher the ideals, the lower the results. You can’t make people happy. When you try to, you only lay the groundwork for misery. You can’t make people moral. When you try to, you only lay the groundwork for vice.

What we need is someone who will be content to serve as an example. That right there is the model leader. Someone that won’t be hellbent on imposing her own will. We need someone like the Master: Pointed, without piercing; straightforward, yet supple; radiant, but easy on the eyes. Yeah, I admit it, I want a really cool president. Not like the faux coolness that we currently have.

An Open Letter To All The Presidential Candidates

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

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

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

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

Today’s chapter gives me an opportunity to write an open letter to all those who have announced their plans to run for President in 2016. This is only a partial list, and it is sure to grow: On the Democrat side, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jim Webb, and Lincoln Chafee. On the Republican side, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, and Bobby Jindal.

So, you want to become the so-called “Leader of the Free World”? I am not going to offer any campaign advice. But, let’s just say that we skip ahead to January 2017 and you have been sworn into office as the next President of the United States of America. Here is what I wish you could understand.

If you want to be a great leader – we are talking your legacy here, if that helps to pique your interest – you really need to learn to follow the Tao. I know that isn’t go to be easy for you. Not that the great way isn’t easy. It’s just that I know how much you prefer the side paths. And then, there is that issue you have with wanting to try and control people and things. You really need to stop that. That isn’t in accordance with the Tao. I know, I know, you think to yourself that now that you are the freaking president of the United States that every thing is all about you. You have such great and noble plans. Why, the only reason these plans of yours have never worked before is because they didn’t have you implementing them. You are going to be different. Hey, I am trying to help you out here. Let go of them. Seriously. That isn’t how the Universe operates. It doesn’t revolve around you. And, I know that you probably won’t want to hear this; but, if you let go of all your desire to control, with all your fixed plans and concepts, the world will govern itself. The world will get along just fine without your meddling. So, I really wish you wouldn’t meddle. Just get out of the way. Hey, you can still enjoy all the pomp and circumstance of having the highest office in the land. Just don’t actually do anything. Except, step out of the way. Yeah, that would be perfect.

Are any of you still reading? Look, this is how the Universe operates. It is the way things are. I am just trying to help you to understand how things work. So you won’t be working counter to the Tao and mucking everything up. That is something all your predecessors have really done. Muck things up. Some legacy. And I want yours to be something better. Seriously, I am rooting for you. Follow this advice. The whole world will be glad you did.

We don’t need any more prohibitions. We already have far too many. I really hope that you will understand this. The more prohibitions you have, the less virtuous people will be. Prohibitions don’t make people virtuous. Get it? How many times do you have to be told that morality cannot be legislated? Consider this for one of your legacies: President (insert your name) eliminated all the prohibitions on victimless crimes; and, not only was there not an upsurge in the number of victims, but people, in general, became more virtuous.

And while we are talking about your legacy, you know, I am sure, how much benefit there is to the ruling elite when people feel less secure. You guys and gals really know how to milk that one. We are constantly being told that we have to give up essential freedoms in exchange for some level of security. I know I am asking an awful lot of you. But seriously, people are onto you. It has taken them long enough. Some say too long. But regardless, we know what you have been doing. The U.S. military budget dwarfs all the rest of the world. And no one feels any more secure. We feel much less secure. If you want a really powerful legacy, I’d recommend cutting our defense budget by, say, 85%. Get rid of our standing armies. Stop all the drone strikes. Close all our military bases all over the world. Bring all our troops home. Wage no more wars for the corporate establishment. Get out and stay out of the Middle East. And everywhere else we have been meddling. Watch as the rest of the world breathes a collective sigh of relief. And, because we are no longer making enemies, we will all be secure again.

Still thinking of your legacy now. Consider, if you will, what you really reap by all the subsidies that the government doles out. I am not talking just about subsidies for the poor. I am also talking about all the corporate subsidies. You wouldn’t be thinking that you want people to be more dependent on you, now would you? Wouldn’t it be much, much better if they were self-reliant? See what you can do about that. Now, I don’t mean for you to be cruel. Some people have become way too dependent on those handouts. Still weaning off the public teat, is a process that we all must endure. You can start by eliminating all the corporate subsidies. Seriously, the marriage of business and government needs to end. It is time for a very nasty divorce.

Those right there are three solid ideas for a great legacy of a great leader. I hope you will consider them. I know it isn’t going to be easy for you to do that. After all, you didn’t get into the oval office by following the Tao. You are going to be different. Like no one who has ever occupied the office, prior. And that is a good thing.

If you think about this, what I am asking isn’t counter-intuitive, at all. Oh, I know it flies in the face of conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom is what has gotten us into the mess we are in. I was hoping maybe you would consider not doing the same things expecting different results.

Finally, follow the example of the Master. Let go of the law; don’t worry, people will become honest. Let go of economics; don’t worry, people will prosper. Let go of religion; don’t worry, people will become serene. Just let go of all desire for the common good. Seriously, it is amazing how the Tao takes care of everything when we don’t interfere. No matter how good our intentions, they don’t accomplish good. So let them go. And you’ll see; just wait, you’ll see. The good will become as common as grass.

Those That Know Don’t Talk

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

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

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

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

In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu challenged us to be like a newborn child. That would seem to be a pretty tall order, since we are all, now, fully grown. We can’t very well re-enter our mother’s womb and be reborn. If it seems impossible, good. At least you won’t be trying to make it happen. Lao Tzu doesn’t want us trying to do anything. Lao Tzu doesn’t tell us to become a newborn child again. He tells us to be like a newborn child. He covered a few of the attributes of a newborn child yesterday. Those that point out what being in harmony with the Tao is.

Today, he adds one more: Newborns don’t talk. I was a parent for two newborns. I was fascinated with them. Their very existence was a miracle to me. So small. So dependent. And when they weren’t screaming their heads off all day, so quiet. They didn’t talk. But I was convinced that they knew something of which I was completely ignorant. I so very wanted them to be able to communicate to me what they knew. Why are you screaming? You have been fed. Your diaper has been changed. You don’t seem to have any reason to not be perfectly content. Why are you screaming? Maybe they were perfectly content. Perfectly content to scream. I didn’t know. And they either couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me. The life of a newborn child, our primal identity. They know, but they don’t talk. Oh, but once they start talking? But by then, they aren’t newborns any longer. They can talk now. But they don’t seem to have any knowledge to impart to me now. Is the primal identity so fleeting. From birth to the age when they first can speak? I don’t know. I have been talking now for fifty years, give or take a few months. I don’t know anything.

We can’t be a newborn child again; but we can return to our primal identity, which is to be, like a newborn child. And not talking is an important first step. Close your mouth. In fact, while you are at it, block off all your senses. Newborns don’t have the full use of any of those, either. Blunt your sharpness, untie your knots, soften your glare, settle your dust. What Lao Tzu is getting at, shouldn’t be taken too literally; but, in a figurative sense, we have added a whole lot of baggage to our lives since we were newborns. What we can’t do literally, we can do figuratively. Let go of all that baggage. All the things we think we know. Those things that have us talking so much.

What we want is to regain the spirit of a newborn, our primal identity, a spirit that never grows old. We need to be like the Tao. Why is it that it endures? It can’t be approached or withdrawn from. It can’t be benefited or harmed. It can’t be honored or brought into disgrace. Yes, I know I am just repeating those words from the chapter. But what I really want you to do with them is let them wash over you. Let them soak into the core of your being. The Tao, which we are to be like, just gives itself up continually. That is what it means to return to our primal identity. To just keep giving ourselves up. Continually. That is the spirit that never grows old.

But how? If I am giving myself up continually, how will I endure? How does the Tao do it? Those who know don’t talk.

A Spirit That Never Grows Old

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

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

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

When Lao Tzu isn’t telling us to be like water, he is telling us to be like a newborn child. Both are apt metaphors for being in harmony with the Tao. Their weakness is their strength. When Lao Tzu talks about water he talks about its humility. That is the source of its power. He talks about how it always yields, that is the source of its strength. And then there are newborn children. Why, when you can talk about water, do you resort to talking about a newborn child, Lao Tzu? I think the reason is really obvious, once we start to think about it. We can be like water. But we have never been water. Water is great as far as metaphors can go; but the example of a newborn child is one that more easily resonates with us. It reminds us of how we began, our primal identity. Though none of us can recall what it was like to be a newborn child – our memories never go back quite that far – still, we have reason to encounter newborn children again and again in our lives. Reminding us, by giving us a present example, what it is that newborn children are. This is our beginning. A beginning in perfect harmony with the Tao.

Every time we encounter a newborn child, especially when our encounter with them is intimate, like that of a caregiver, we have before us something that makes us think of beginnings. Of where we have come from. I know how much I benefited from caring for my own two children.

And Lao Tzu was so obviously acquainted with newborns. His description of them, so precise. They seem the very picture of weakness. Their bones still soft, their muscles weak. Yet, look at how powerful their grip is. They hold onto my finger so tightly. And listen to their screams. When you hear a little one scream, you think the whole world must be able to hear it. It isn’t like any other scream you will ever hear. That scream can go on all day and all night. When does it stop? Why don’t they ever get hoarse from all that screaming? I could certainly not scream that loud or that long without long ago losing my voice. That, Lao Tzu says, is a sign of its complete harmony with the Tao. And then there is that erect penis. We can’t overlook that. Why is his penis erect? He is a newborn. He doesn’t know anything about sex! He is just a baby! Once again, Lao Tzu has a ready explanation. That erect penis is a symbol of the intensity of its vital power. No, none of this is anything scientific. Lao Tzu doesn’t view the Universe as a scientist. He is not an observer, in that sense. He is one with it.

He is one with it. That is what being in harmony with the Tao is all about. Being one with it. That is what the Master’s power is like. Letting things come and go. We said yesterday we simply need to let it be. Letting things come and go, effortlessly. That is what water does. That is what a newborn does. Having no desires.

For it is desire that causes us to exert effort. When we desire something, we work for it. We work, expecting results. And when our efforts don’t yield the desired results, we are disappointed. And through disappointment after disappointment, our spirit grows old.

Not so the Master… He never expects results. Thus he never knows disappointment. And having never known disappointment, his spirit never grows old. He remains a newborn child, in spirit. He never leaves his primal identity. Oh, his body will grow old, and die, and decay… But not his spirit.

Let It Be

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

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

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

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

We have been talking about the need to center ourselves in the Tao, and stay centered. We have this tendency to prefer the side paths. When we meander those side paths, things get out of balance, pretty quickly. I talked yesterday about the kinds of people that prefer that we stay on the side paths. They benefit from things remaining out of balance. But I ended yesterday’s chapter with the understanding that things can’t always remain out of balance. The Tao, that which governs the Universe toward balance and equality, always achieves its ends.

We have talked about the consequences of preferring the side paths. But the good news is that there are consequences for staying centered in the Tao. And those consequences are the good kind.

When you let the Tao be present in your life, it has consequences. You become genuine. What? I wasn’t genuine while I was meandering along those side paths? Nope. No where near it, actually. I was so far removed from being the real me, because I was so far removed from what makes me genuinely human. Those side paths were swindling me. I was delusional. I actually saw myself as alone and separate, even while I was doing what every other delusional human was doing. I couldn’t see how connected I was, because I had lost my sense of connectedness to all things in the Tao. I was somehow less than real. Not genuine. I had to rediscover my roots. I needed to once again embrace our common Mother, the Source of all beings. What took me so long? It must have been I was making it much harder than it actually was. It is easy. Requiring no effort, at all. All I had to do, was let it happen.

You see, the Tao isn’t some place far away. No matter how far I roam down those side paths. The Tao is always, right here. Those roots were still there. I just forgot I had those roots. I needed reminding. Of who I have always been. The only active thing I had to do was embrace it. Once you embrace it, you will never slip away. Those roots? They will hold you, and never let you go. You are planted. Relax. You are safe. Secure. Planted. Welcome to the real and genuine, you.

All I had to do was let it be. Stop resisting it. Stop tugging away at those roots trying to escape their grasp. Just let it be. Now, I can be whatever the Tao wants me to be. That “letting it be” is really all there is to it. Master that, and you have it all. And mastering that is easy. You simply need to let it be.

I love it when I see individuals letting it be. When they let the Tao be present in their lives, they become genuine too. I see individual snowflakes at first. Just snowflakes, each one different from all the rest, but all having come from the same Source. But snowflakes can be turned into snowballs.

If we can let the Tao be present in our lives, we can let it be present in our families. And I have seen that too. Families who have let the Tao be present in their lives, flourish. And now I start to do a little imagining. If we can let the Tao be present in our lives and in our families, then we can let it be present in our countries as well. Those snowballs just keep getting bigger and bigger. It can happen. I know it can.

I know this is true. I want to hear the whole Universe sing. See, I have a very vivid imagination. Big snowballs can get bigger and bigger still. I want to hear the whole Universe sing. And I believe we can hear it. All we have to do is let it. Each and every one of us letting the Tao be present in our Universe is how it will happen. I just know it. And you will, too; just look inside your own self.