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.
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.
(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.