Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taoism Is Not Namby Pamby

I usually don't address statements left in the comments section in a separate blog post. However, I'm going to make an exception. In the previous post, "Ill-Gotten Gains," a fellow by the moniker Mark M left the following:
I have been following your blog for a month or so because I wanted read your views on the Tao. Your anti-christian post do not seem in the spirit of the Tao. We do not increase light, truth, or peace in teh world by attacking others' beliefs. I am not saying I disagree with your reasons; I just don't think it is the Way.
I've run into this sentiment before when people take exception to a critical comment or statement lodged by a philosophical Taoist, Buddhist or follower of Zen. I'm not sure why, but many people view eastern philosophies or religions as feel good, always look on the bright side streams of thought.

Taoism, in particular, emphasizes balance. While I will certainly agree that too much emphasis on yin or yang will lead to disharmony, neglecting one altogether will lead down the same path. I guess what I'm trying to say is that philosophical Taoism is not a namby pamby belief system.

Just take a look at the Tao Te Ching itself. Most scholars now posit it was authored during the Warring States period of Chinese history. This was a time of much ruthless bloodshed as different clans and families fought each other for control of vast swaths of land. Lao Tzu and his followers were speaking out against the character and mores of their time. In advancing the Taoist philosophy, they were concurrently criticizing the contemporary personal, ethical and political landscape.

In a manner of speaking, the TTC can be viewed as a protest document like the Communist Manifesto or the Declaration of Independence. It set forth a vision of how the world might be different under a certain set of beliefs.

Now, anyone who reads this blog for any length of time knows that I am openly critical of religion, in general, and Christianity, in specific. I believe that a good deal of the problems US society, in particular, faces is the result of our religious legacy. So, while I spend a lot of words promoting a belief system -- philosophical Taoism -- that I believe would transform society in a positive and beneficial direction, I also spend many words criticizing the system we're under now. It's next too impossible to promote an alternative to the status quo without showing why one thinks the status quo is flawed.

By and large, I think I'm presenting a balanced approach.

Ill-Gotten Gains

If we look at the history of the American empire, it seems that ill-gotten gains are nothing to be ashamed of. If you're unfamiliar with the term, ill-gotten means "obtained in an evil manner or by dishonest means". In other words, your gains were garnered in an unscrupulous or immoral way and, if justice is to be served, said gains should be taken away from you so that you cannot benefit from them. Yet, time and time again, it doesn't appear to work that way.

It's a well-known fact -- both then AND now -- that many of the captains of American industry arose to their place on the throne through less than ethical means. Many of these titans stole, lied, killed, bribed, extorted, embezzled and intimidated their way to the top. Despite engaging in all these no-nos, such people were feted and hailed as "successful businessmen". Today, their progeny continue to reap innumerable benefits from these past (and ongoing) ill-gotten gains.

One of the odd aspects of the general American character is the lionization of crooks and robbers. Folks such as Jesse James, William Bonney (Billy the Kid), Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger and Al Capone became heroes in the eyes of millions of Americans for stealing from and killing people. Their lifestyles -- some opulent, others not -- were almost exclusively from ill-gotten gains, yet this fact didn't dim their stature at all in the eyes of a large portion of the public.

A third example of the celebration of ill-gotten gains concerns the conservative viewpoint on torture of "enemy combatants" and the unethical acts or behavior of law enforcement when interrogating suspects. In the conservative (often, Christian fundamentalist) mind, any information extracted is a-ok under these suspect circumstances.

It just strikes me as decidedly odd that, in a nation whose ethos reflects that of the Judeo-Christian perspective, ill-gotten gains would be treated in such a celebrated fashion. Remember, we non-believers are constantly being reminded of the divine importance of the 10 Commandments which state that, among other things, it is a blasphemy against the hallowed father to lie, steal, covet and kill. Yet, ill-gotten gains are built upon this very edifice!

I've been pondering how people who hold the 10 Cs as their supreme law can turn around to embrace reaping benefits from unscrupulous means. And then it hit me. The model for such behavior is highlighted in their own holy writ!

It's all contained in the story of King David. As the bible tells us, this David dude was a fine looking man. He became the right hand man of King Saul and was made commander of the kingdom's armies. In time, David ascends to the throne himself. So, we can easily surmise that Dav-o is a person of immense standing and stature.

One day King David was puttering around doing whatever royal people do when, all of a sudden, he saw the babe of babes. In the common vernacular, he wanted to get in her pants in the worst way possible. But there was a slight problem: the object of his lust, Bathsheba, was already married. Curses!!!

A lot of kings wouldn't have been troubled by this kind of insignificant fact; they would have simply summoned the woman and bedded her down. But King David was SUPPOSEDLY a righteous man and committing outright adultery was a big no-no. So, what to do?

Then he hatched a plan. As King, he retained the role as commander of the army. So he saw to it that Bathsheba's husband was killed in battle. With the unfortunate bloke now out of the picture, he could marry the object of his lust and get to know her in the most carnal of ways (if you catch my drift).

He was damn pleased that his subterfuge had worked out so brilliantly. Now he could Leave It to Beaver to cheer him up whenever he felt down or bored. Things seemed smashingly good until he learned that God was displeased at David's breaking of the four aforementioned commandments. David immediately begged for forgiveness and got off with a slap on the wrist (the couple's first child died).

However, here's the kicker: He still got to keep his trophy wife, the ill-gotten gain. Not only that, but it is supposedly HIS bloodline that leads to the man-god, Jesus. So, it seems to me that he ended up reaping quite a few benefits from his little escapade and, eventually, became a very celebrated figure in Jewish & Christian lore.

Now I realize that the apologists will argue that poor David repented of his initial sin and this means that God let him off virtually scot-free. The problem with this line of argument is that each time he engaged in his carnal lusts with this woman he was repeating the original sin -- the lusting for the bodily possession of a woman he could neither legally nor morally possess. Of course, maybe the way this works is that he beds her down each night and then repents every morning?

If the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition truly was a just being, the ill-gotten gain -- Bathsheba -- would have been taken away from David. Instead, he got to reap the benefit of the utter enjoyment of her company for the rest of his long life.

So, for me, this goes a long way toward explaining why so many Jews and Christians aren't bothered in the least about the rewards of ill-gotten gains. If David can reap the benefits, why not any other believer? (Needless to say, this dictum does NOT apply to non-believers. If we happen to receive an ill-gotten gain, then our eyes should be plucked out and we should be thrown into the fiery furnace for ever and ever. Amen.)


Each of us finds certain things annoying and one of my great annoyances is getting into a discussion with someone and having them hurl bible verses at me. I don't believe in the divine authorship principle, so the person would have just as much impact on me if they were quoting from Peter Pan or an Archie comic book!

I just cannot understand how any rational person could read the bible and believe that it was written by some supernatural being. (Yes, there was a period in my life when I was such a person and all I can say is that I was then a very irrational bloke.) Besides all the factual errors, inconsistencies and contradictions contained in this work, it makes no sense to me that, if a God exists, he or she wouldn't simply write the book his/herself and then disseminate it.

From a Christian standpoint, every person (with the exception of the man-god Jesus) is flawed and unworthy. We're all miserable wretches who can only find salvation through the mercy of the big guy upstairs. So, why would this supreme being trust imperfect humans to transmit his holy writ accurately? Wouldn't he worry that some ignoramus would botch the transmission and garble the heavenly message?

Have you ever tried the experiment of having one person tell a brief story and then person after person repeats the story to members of an assembled group? I have (with a peace group in Oregon). There were ten of us and the facilitator had a pre-written story of about three paragraphs. He quietly told the person sitting to his left. That person then tried as best he could to repeat what he had just heard to the person on his left. This process continued until each attendee had heard the story.

The last person was instructed to write down the story as she heard it. We then compared the two. Needless to say, the tenth rendition of the story barely resembled the initial version. Major facts had been added and just as many major facts had been omitted. The setting had changed, the number of people involved had changed and the moral of the story had changed too.

With this anecdote in mind, let's return to the bible. Most of the books in the Old Testament (we won't discuss the NT because most of those books are letters) are far longer than three short paragraphs. This god would necessarily have needed to dictate for hours on end, yet we're too believe that nary a word was out of place?

Not only that, but the books of the OT were written in an archaic language and have been translated numerous time over. It defies credulity to believe that the context and meaning hasn't been disturbed throughout this process, particularly when we remember who is doing this translating -- human wretches that, but for the mercy of the almighty, deserve to burn in hell for all eternity.

Now, according to the biblical tale, God obviously didn't trust human authors enough to dictate to someone the ten commandments. He wrote them out himself on tablets of stone. After receiving the tablets, Moses was a very bad boy and broke them. So, he had to go back up the hill to ask god to make some new ones.

So, if this supreme entity couldn't trust we miserable humans to write out accurately 10 - 12 sentences, it's absolutely irrational to think he would turn around and trust humans to write tens of thousands of words spanning a multitude of pages and various books. The ONLY way I could see someone making any sense of this tact is if they believe their god is wholly irrational, but that would sort of undermine the whole deal.

It simply makes more sense that, if there is a god, he/she would have written out the whole thing at the appropriate time and disseminated it in a multitude of languages so that there wouldn't be any need for translations and no chance that any human could screw the thing up.

But that's not how we're told it happened and that's why many of us think the whole thing is laughable bunk.

Verse 76: Rigidity

Verse Seventy-Six
While a person is alive, he is soft and yielding;
When dead, in the end they become stretched out stiff and rigid.
All living things including trees and plants are flexible and fragile while alive;
When dead, they become dry, withered and rotten.
Therefore it is said that those who are stiff and rigid are companions of death; while those who are soft, yeilding, flexible and fragile are companions of life.

A rigid weapon thus will be defeated;
A rigid tree thus will break.
What is rigidly large dwells below;
What is soft, yielding, flexible and fragile dwells above.

~ Nina Correa translation ~
In reading the TTC, one might get the idea that rigidity is always a bad thing. This verse, in particular, suggests that being rigid is the path to death and flexibility is the path of life. But I think it's important to talk a bit about what flexibility entails before we completely cast rigidity aside.

To be flexible is not a static state. It's not one position or movement. When a tree or person is flexible, it means that each can move or react differently depending upon the situation. In some instances, we need to stand up straight and strong -- in a rigid position. At other times, we need to bend or step to the side in an easy and fluid manner.

The continual warnings in the TTC regarding rigidity concern how we make this our default reaction. If we react to every situation with a stiff resolve and refusal to budge an inch, this is where we will find ourselves in trouble. Every situation is different and every situation calls for a movement that flows with it, not against it.

While bending and pliability are great virtues in Taoism, we must remember that if anything is bent past it's breaking point, it may well snap in two. In other words, even when we are behaving in the most flexible way possible, there still is an essence of rigidity involved that keeps the person or the tree from breaking apart.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Tonight I was watching an installment of the History Channel series, The Universe. The specific episode was focused on "Alien Moons" throughout our solar system. At one point, when referring to one of Jupiter's moons, the narrator stated that some scientists believe there is a possibility that alien life forms may possibly exist on that moon.

I can't tell you way, but that term, alien life forms, sort of struck me as odd and it got me to ponder how ANY life form could be alien.

There are a lot of different definitions for the word, alien. It means not from around here; unnatural; different; strange and a few other things. From the most myopic perspective, anything that is not me (or for you, you) is alien. It doesn't originate with me, it's not natural to me, and it's strange and different. But people rarely use the word in that context.

So, if we move out away from ourselves, what are the precise parameters? When some speak of illegal aliens what they mean are citizens of a different country. (Would ET be classified as an illegal alien? He's not from around here.) Ideas can be termed as alien if they don't fit within the accepted context and mores of a given society.

But for those who hold to the idea that a god created the universe and for Taoists who believe the universe is an ongoing natural process, how can anything contained therein truly be alien? If it exists and we are able to perceive it, then it comes from this realm of existence. Put another way, it IS from here; it IS natural; and it IS normal.

So, what's alien about it?

Anonymously Yours

There seems to be no escape. Even when visiting some of my favorite atheist or non-believer blogs, they are there. It's like they are hidden in the woodwork. There we are having a nice friendly conversation when, all of a sudden, the anonymous Christian runs in waving his/her arms and screeching about something.

There are a lot of people who, for whatever reason, desire to keep their identity obscured while commenting on blogs. It's a free country and, if that's what people want to do, it's an available option on many blogs, including this one. That said, it just amazes me that anonymous is the chosen moniker for so many people arguing from the Christian perspective! Why are these people so afraid of having their beliefs associated with their good name?

Even more curious to me is that many, many Christian blogs don't even allow anonymous comments at all! If a non-believer desires to leave a comment, he or she must have some sort of account somewhere that provides a modicum of a person's virtual identity. So, if you visit their house, you're not allowed in until you announce yourself, yet they have no qualms whatsoever in coming into your house unannounced.

Of course, it can become very confusing when there appears to be more than one anonymous Christian leaving comments. I've run into this problem several times. We non-believers react to a particular pious and self-righteous comment only to see anonymous person #1 claim that there must be a second anonymous person because the comment in question isn't theirs. Of course, no one has any way of knowing if this assertion is indeed true because...well...that's the nature of anonymity.

You know, creating a web identity is not that big of a deal. On blogger, none of your personal information has to be shared publicly. All you need is to have a moniker, maybe an avatar, and all other display information is voluntary. It floors me that so many Christians seem unwilling to put forth so little effort to establish a meager basis of a virtual identity.

What are these people so afraid of? We live in a nation that, much to my chagrin, is still predominantly Christian. Christianity represents the majority opinion. Those of us who are non-believers are in the minority and, if anyone should be afraid of being hunted down or discriminated against, it's us, not them. Yet, most non-believers that I know have virtual identities and many of us, me included, share a good amount of personal information in our profiles.

If you believe your Christian ideals represent the ultimate truth, why are so many of you so frightened to have your name (or even a made-up virtual name) attached to your beliefs?

Verse 75: The Good Leader

Verse Seventy-Five
The group will not prosper if the leader grabs the
lion's share of the credit for the good work that has been done.

The group will rebel and resist if the leader relies on
strict controls in an effort to make things come out a
certain way.

The group members will become deadened and
unresponsive if the leader is critical and harsh.

The wise leader is not greedy, selfish, defensive, or
demanding. That is why the leader can be trusted
to allow any event to unfold naturally.

~ John Heider rendition ~
Someone else once said that the best leaders are those willing to serve others. As Heider makes clear in his rendition, such individuals do their best "leading" by getting out of the way and allowing the group to unfold naturally. When we try to orchestrate things toward a preconceived objective or solution, it's almost always not the best objective or solution simply because it is predetermined and we have not allowed new information or ideas to alter the course.

For me, I think the best leaders are those who serve as humble role models. It is those individuals who lead lives of simplicity, compassion and contentment. When we encounter people like this, most of us are in awe. We want to learn from and work with them because they make us feel good about ourselves and the community at large.

In essence, the humble leader/role model motivates us to try to replicate those aspects that make such leaders/role models beloved. A leader who is beloved can expect the greatest devotion and zeal from their constituents or disciples. People will go to the ends of the earth or give their lives to meet the objectives the leader and the group promote.

If you look at today's world, few of those kinds of leaders exist anymore. There don't seem to be any Dorothy Days, Martin Luther King Juniors or Gandhis out there. Today's so-called leaders are NOT humble and, thus, they aren't beloved. They lead by force and coercion. They try to orchestrate all movements of the group or nation. And then they wonder why they are not beloved?!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Taoist Manifesto

The more I look at the problems this nation faces, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that this me-first mentality is the root cause. It is the view that we are each a separate actor -- islands unto ourselves -- that seems to fuel much of the negativity, racism, hate and division we see played out at town halls, on talk radio and in letters to the editor. And this worldview largely is legitimized by the major religions that dominate the American ethos.

So, it seems to me, that we Taoists need to commit more time and energy to expose to the masses the idea of the interconnection of all things. I'm not suggesting we create an army to shove this idea down people's throats; it's more that we need to speak out louder in the political arena. We need to work harder to wrest control away from those who approach every issue from the perspective of: What's in it for me?

When we get right down to it, this question under-girds most of the opposition to health care reform. The groups who oppose the "public option" or a single payer system do so because they aren't sure how they -- individuals and companies -- will profit from it. Their underlying focus is on their singular pocketbooks.

But, under an ethos infused with a community vision, the question of individual profit takes a back seat. People who understand the interconnection of all things are far more apt to believe that the more healthful a society is, the more productive it is. So, the focus is shifted to insuring that the needs of all are met because, if one or more segments of the population are less healthful, it diminishes the productivity of the whole (the profits of the community).

The environment is another dogged issue that could be revolutionized. The individuals and corporations most opposed to environmental regulations are so opposed because, again, the main question on their minds is: How will I profit from this? By moving the question to "How do we as a society profit from this?" it changes the whole debate.

Here's an example of how the community vision approach so differs from the individualistic one. My wife & I do not have children. We haven't had any in the past nor will we have any in the future. Yet, despite our dearth of children, we strongly support the use of our tax dollars to fund public education.

Our reason for this support is that, while it does not provide either of us with individual benefits, it benefits the community as a whole! The more learned the members of society are, the better decisions they can render in their personal and collective lives. Unfortunately, this benefit currently is muted a good deal because of the overriding "me-first" mentality that pervades this country.

Think how much better it would be for all concerned if we had not only a strong cradle-to-grave public education system but one fused with communitarian values. We would be teaching people to be as concerned about all of creation with as much fervor as today they care for themselves.

Such a revolutionary change in our society would in no way mean that everyone would mindlessly agree on the solutions to our myriad of problems. This manifesto is not meant to create a singular path -- the antithesis of Taoist principles -- for all to follow. It's not about creating mindless zombies who are brainwashed to view issues in the same way.

All it would do is shift the focus in people's mind away from how each will profit individually to how will our world profit collectively.

So, I'm calling on all philosophical Taoist to unite to help our nation cast off its individualistic fetters!!

Verse 74: An Empty Threat

Verse Seventy-Four
If people's lives suck,
and they look forward to death,
what good does it do
to threaten to kill them?

If people are afraid to die,
and the wicked are condemned to death,
then who would dare to commit evil?

But that doesn't mean you or I
can just take life and death
into our own hands.
That'd be like walking up
to an industrial buzzsaw
and trying to use it
without any training.
We'd only end up hurting ourselves.

~ Ron Hogan rendition ~
Again, I'm going to step out of the way to share Nina Correa's commentary on this verse.
When society tries to mandate people's behavior, there has to be not only a threat of punishment, but actually carrying out the threats in order to get people to comply with the laws. If someone who breaks the law sees others being punished for their crimes, wouldn't that seem to be sufficient to prevent them from doing anything wrong? Throughout history, those forms of threats and punishments haven't prevented people from breaking laws, have they?

In an effort to cast blame on others rather than themselves, people set up a judicial system which is supposed to fairly determine who are the criminals and who are the law-abiding citizens.

The judicial system is given ultimate authority. A skilled carpenter determines what it is he's going to carve, then hacks away the parts that don't fit into his design. If the judicial system takes over the authority for running the world, determining who's to live and who's to die, then those who don't fit into the mold society has designed will be cast off like sawdust or wood shavings.

When people are fearful of their own deaths or receiving punishments from others for what they might have inadvertently done, then give control of the world over to a few people who promise to protect them, they might suddenly find themselves on the sharp end of the executioner's ax. People who side with the executioner, trying to rid the world of those who don't follow society's rules, will eventually end up receiving punishments and retribution themselves.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


As I now lead the life of a virtual recluse, I don't get out much anymore. While staying put certainly has lessened my anxiety over social situations, I have missed out on meeting some names. In the past 2 years, I had the opportunities to meet Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney, Alexander Cockburn and Angela Davis, but passed each time because it would have meant leaving my cocoon and traveling north to the big cities of Western Washington.

However, back in my former life, I did have the opportunity to meet some noted names. I tended to be very uncomfortable in many of these situations, but I always managed to muddle through it...somehow.

When I was in junior high school, my family traveled to Washington D.C. for a family vacation. One day while walking around the Capitol Building, our family bumped into a former Vice President, one Hubert Humphrey, the senior senator from Minnesota. I don't remember much of anything about the conversation, but my parents came away very impressed with the man.

At some point in my life -- it escapes me as to precisely when -- I got to meet John "Jack Danforth who served as US Senator for the State of Missouri and later as US Ambassador to the United Nations. Actually, I'm related to this conservative Republican. My late mother was his 3rd or 4th cousin once or twice removed.

However, my best opportunity to meet famous people occurred in the 1990s when I was an activist and leader of several progressive groups. The first one of my heroes I had the opportunity to meet was Ralph Nader. While I still like him as a public icon, I was less than impressed with him in person. He seemed very egotistical and used to people catering to his every whim.

Nader served as the Green Party's presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000. He made several appearances in Oregon during this time. It just amazed me how he could send an audience into a frenzy, yet be such a cold fish in person.

However, his running mate for both campaigns, environmental and Native rights activist Winona LaDuke was not a cold fish in the least. She could whip up a crowd just as much as Nader, but behind the scenes, she exuded warmth, sincerity and kindness. I had the opportunity on three different occasions to spend some quality time with her. I got to meet her husband, one child and even her mother. All I can say is that she is really cool lady.

Another cool lady I had the opportunity to meet was Sister Helen Prejean, author of the book Dead Man Walking. (Susan Sarandon portrayed Prejean in the movie of the same name.) Prejean, an ardent opponent of the death penalty, was in Salem, OR to give a speech on the subject at Willamette University.

I was tabling at the event for one of the sponsoring groups. As the event was sold out and there were hundreds of people milling about after the speech, it just got to be too much for me. I ended up going down the hall to sit on a bench away from the milling hoard. As I'm sitting there munching on a bagel, someone sat down next to me. When I looked to see who it was, I almost dropped my bagel. It was the guest of honor, Helen Prejean.

She had been keeping to a nonstop schedule and admitted being a bit tired. So, Helen, me and a close friend, Donna, sat and talked quietly for around 20 minutes. I had a copy of Prejean's book and she graciously autographed it to my wife (who wasn't able to meet her idol that night because of the flu).

I also got to meet Noam Chomsky in a similar sort of way. Chomsky, another one of my heroes, has written such books as Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media and Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance. He gave a speech at Oregon State University and later there was a private confab at the area's one ritzy country club.

To be quite candid, I was greatly underwhelmed by his speech. Maybe I had been expecting too much, but it sounded like too many previous speeches. Afterwords I and a few others had received special invitations to meet Chomsky at the country club affair. Good thing we didn't have to pay for it because it cost far more than I could dream of paying -- several hundred dollars per person!

My comrades and I were a bit annoyed that this champion of the people would even agree to participate in this really exclusive and snobbish affair. However, once I got to meet him -- and actually got to talk to him for over 15 minutes -- I found out that he almost pulled out of the contract when he learned of this after party thing. He only agreed to it ON THE CONDITION that the money raised be given to charity! His stature rose even further in my eyes.

I had always imagined that Chomsky would be a rather dry fellow, but he turned out to be quite a funny man. He kept my friends and I cracked up while we had our 15 minute talk on politics.

However, of all the named people I've had the opportunity to spend some time with, the one who I got to spend almost 2 hours with was none other than academy award winner Michael Moore. He came to Salem to give a speech and hold a book signing for one of his many books (I don't remember which one.)

After the event he and his entourage along with a bunch of my comrades descended on a now-defunct coffeehouse in downtown Salem for dinner. We sat around the table laughing and talking like old friends. My wife & I sat next to his wife who is just as much an activist as he is. And let me tell ya, the Michael Moore you see on camera is the real Michael Moore. He doesn't put on any airs. He's just a good 'ol boy who has made it big and sometimes is amazed at his own popularity.

So, there's the short list of my brushes with the quasi-rich and/or famous. While each of these meetings is a special memory, most of my special memories involve ordinary people like you and me. In the end, whether a person is a known quantity or not, we each put our pants on in the same way.

Verse 73: A Wide Net

Verse Seventy-Three
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.

~ Stephen Mitchell translation ~
For me, this verse underscores a major difference between the Abrahamic religions and the Taoist philosophy. The former hold that all existence was created and is overseen by a sometime benevolent and sometime angry being -- Yahweh, God or Allah -- which humanity should worship. Taoism, on the other hand, sees no being or entity at all. We view the underlining of life to be a process and we call that process Tao.

And the most remarkable thing, from a Taoist perspective, is that each of us is part of this process. There is no and can be no separation or estrangement from it. While a Christian can say that a person has turned away from God, a Taoist would never suggest it is even possible to turn away from Tao because Tao incorporates everything and everything is incorporated in it. It would be like saying that a person could hide from their own shadow!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Verse 72: Restrictions

Verse Seventy-Two
When people no longer fear force
They bring about greater force

Do not limit their place
Do not reject their livelihood
Because the ruler does not reject them
Therefore they do not reject the ruler

Therefore the sages:
Know themselves but do not glorify themselves
Respect themselves but do not praise themselves
Thus they discard that and take this

~ Derek Lin translation ~
The observation has been made by many that, if we wanted to aligned Taoist philosophy with a political philosophy, we would end up with a form of libertarianism. Carl Abbott of Center Tao writes,
The political right seeks to control our personal behavior while the political left wants to control economic behavior. The libertarian ideal seems to reflect this Taoist view of not pressing down on either. Alas, we are too insecure to trust ourselves enough with such freedom.
As a socialist, you might think I would disagree with this assessment. However, you would be wrong. If the basic ethos of our society was more Taoist-based, I would probably consider myself a libertarian. The prime reason I favor leftist political ideals in the here and now is borne by the fact that our society is NOT Taoist-based in the least and so I believe the underdog needs to be protected from the leviathan of the powerful.

Our world is one in which SELF-interest is considered the prime virtue. Whatever brings each individual the greatest profit, power and enjoyment is deemed the goal of each life. The most ruthless and aggressive amongst the community are able to scratch and claw their way to the top, casting aside the needs and dreams of anyone who might get in their way. Once on top, they become divorced from the lives of the rabble and exert tremendous force upon the community itself.

It is this utter lack of community-interest that necessitates the need for restrictions. Under a libertarian system, there are few, if any, controls placed on people in their individual lives. While it sounds worthwhile, in principle, it means that the already powerful would be granted a green light to amass as much control and power as they can snatch up.

Some might say that resembles the system in place right now! What differs is that government still exerts a modicum of control -- through rather weak laws and regulations -- to limit the amount of power obtained by any one individual or group. It is this rather weak power of restriction that angers the Glen Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world.

In my mind's eye, the only way in which libertarianism would be practical is if the me-first mentality was replaced with an us-first mentality and the "us" would be inclusive of everything. As has been noted in this series again and again, it is the view of separation -- each of us as an island unto ourselves -- that causes so much of our individual and collective problems.

It is only when my needs are synonymous with your needs and your needs are synonymous with your neighbor's needs that a libertarian system would serve society well.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

In Harmony

A common theme in Taoist thought concerns the concept of balance or harmony. From my perspective, I think it would serve Taoist bloggers better to utilize the latter term more than the former. The problem with the word balance is that, too often, westerners take it to mean the midpoint between two points or extremes. In terms of the overarching principles in our society, being a middler sounds like a person who would be drab, not ambitiousness and not a lot of fun.

Harmony, on the other hand, can be more easily grasped. I think most folks understand this word in the context of music. When singers blend their voices in specific ways, it produces a new sound that is more than the sum of each individual part. This blending can transform a song in dramatic ways.

Harmony can also be achieved any time the individuals of any group (e.g., singers, soldiers, athletes, actors, etc.) put their individual desires aside to work for the objective that benefits the group as a whole. It is in these ephemeral moments when people are more able to see the interconnection of all members of the group and to understand that, if one person doesn't keep to their part of the bargain, the whole group suffers.

The key facet, of course, for any group to succeed is to ensure that everybody is on the same page and understands the objective in mind. Harmony will never be achieved if each person solely follows their own agenda. Here's a video of the song "I'd Like to Teach the World To Sing (in Perfect Harmony)" that underscores this point in a hilarious fashion:

It was kinda hard to recognize the song, don't ya think?

From my humble perspective, the above example is an apt description of the way our world operates today. People spend most of their waking hours focusing almost exclusively on themselves -- needs, desires and dreams -- and only pay lip service to the needs of other individuals and the community at large. It's no wonder we are so disharmonious!

The second example of this famous song illustrates the dramatic difference when everyone is on the same page and working to achieve the same objective.

Which version do you want our world to sing?

Verse 71: Knowing Not Knowing

Verse Seventy-One
Knowing you don't know is wholeness.
Thinking you know is a disease.
Only by recognizing that you have an illness
can you move to seek a cure.

The Master is whole because
she sees her illnesses and treats them,
and thus is able to remain whole.

~ John McDonald translation ~
If you've never visited the Dao Is Open website, you're missing out on a real treasure!! Operated by Nina Correa, it provides a myriad of insights and things to ponder from a Taoist perspective. In fact, her analysis of today's verse is, in my opinion, so spot on, that I'm going to step out of the way completely!!
This is one of the shortest chapters of the Dao De Jing, yet it's filled with insights.

I don't think Laozi is talking about Knowledge in the sense of knowing the musical scale or how to build shelves. He's talking about a deeper Knowledge which forms a basis for beliefs and how we choose to approach the Road of Life.

It's so easy to determine we've found a Knowledge that can't be disproved, no matter what we've base our opinions on. It can be like a raft on the ocean that offers a sense of security. No matter how many things might happen that show us our Knowledge might be flawed, we have a hard time admitting that we might be wrong. We might be wrong about so many things, and that mis-Knowledge can make us both emotionally and physically ill. It sure takes a lot of energy trying to convince ourselves and others of how "right" we are.

Just think of how emancipating it would feel if there was no need to cling to anything as being The Truth. All of a sudden, it's like a great weight has been lifted. You no longer have to cling to that life raft for dear life - the ocean just naturally buoys you and carries you along ..... To what? Maybe to realizing that what you thought was keeping you floating was actually like an anchor around your neck.

Those who think they Know will always have to prove their theories. Those who accept the fact that there are always things they can't Know become uplifted by all the incredibly fascinating and diverse aspects of life. Pretending you don't Know doesn't get at it, if you still hold onto the idea that something out there will eventually give you the ability to Know. It's only when you let go of the idea of Knowing anything that your spirit can soar.
This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Game Hunter

For the most part, I have a live and let live philosophy. As a devout vegetarian, I don't eat animals and I'm not a big fan of hunters. But, toward the efforts of full disclosure, I've been doing a bit of hunting lately and, I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but I've really gotten caught up in the thrill of it all.

I've been very successful at it too. While a lot of novices go tromping about only to come home empty-handed, I've snagged quite a few critters. I even thought about mounting a few trophies on my wall, but I'm not sure how well this would standout:

Of course, I hope you realize that the picture is of a flea!! We thought we had the situation under control this summer, but it has become very problematic over the past three weeks. I suppose that's to be expected in a house with 3 cats and 2 dogs.

Since we try to live a non-toxic lifestyle, getting rid of the vermin with poison is not an option. We've employed some Diatomaceous Earth on the carpets, lemon juice and vinegar on the dogs, and frequent combing of the cats with a small flea brush. I've also set up a trap in my bedroom (a small pan of water with soap in it and a bright light shined on it). All of these strategies have had some success.

However, the method that has proven the most successful concurrently is the most labor-intensive -- duct tape! Utilizing small strips of the tape, I crawl around on the carpet looking for my next victim. When it's spotted, I quickly press the tape down hard and the flea sticks to it. I can keep this up for an hour or two and wind up with several dozen trophies.

While most humans would find such activity to be drab and boring, as an aspie with OCD, I've found the whole endeavor to be interesting and entertaining. Each time I nab one of the little boogers, I let out a yell, "Gotcha!" Every now and then, one of 'em will outsmart me, but I usually win in the end. HA HA.

With autumn now upon us, both the flea and mosquito problems will start to ebb. Good thing because, if not, I would need to buy another large roll of duct tape.

Woohoo! Just nabbed another one.

An Example of Selfishness

One of our* 3 cats is very sick and close to death. He's over 17 years old and his organs have begun to shut down. I've been trying to nurse him as best I can -- including spoon-feeding him -- but he's gotten to the point in which he's refusing food -- in itself this is amazing as he has always been a big pig.

So, I'm contemplating his death and thinking about how to explain it to two young neighbor kids. As I was rolling the whole situation over in my mind, a weird thought intruded: heaven is a prime example of selfishness!

In nature, when a plant or animal dies, it slowly decomposes which provides food for other creatures and microbes. One it is fully decomposed, it becomes soil which brings forth new life. In other words, what we have here is a perpetual cycle of life into death into life into death into life...

Each being gives up itself for the betterment of the whole. If a spirit or essence is involved, it returns to the source to generate new energy or whatever.

Now compare this process with the religious beliefs of humans, particularly those that envision a heaven or heaven-like place. First off, when each person dies (except in extreme cases), we go out of our way to ensure that our physical body doesn't benefit the whole. For the last few centuries, we've tended to pump the corpse full of embalming fluid, place it in a box (wood for the poor, harder substances for the rich), bury it in a hole and, sometimes, build a concrete cathedral all around it. (Note: I'm going to be cremated.)

Beyond that, from most religious standpoints, our soul or spirit will remain intact and the good among us will fly off to heaven. This means that even our energy, essence or whatever it is will not be allowed to enrich the whole. It's reserved solely for "ourselves" and nothing else.

That is downright selfish, if you ask me. It's an absolute "me first" mentality. Whether in life or death, my essence seems completely disinterested in anyone else.

I'm sorry, but I just don't accept that kind of thinking. Why should every other life form -- except humans -- be involved in a continuous cycle of interconnection? Since we're part of this thing called life, it defies credulity that we would merit a special dispensation.

*Note: The cat, in question, Mookie, is our next door neighbor's cat. Before we moved to South Bend, he lived with them for 15 years. However, HE decided to adopt us. He has basically lived in and at our house for the last 2 years. We feed him, bathe him and take care of him.

I thought our neighbors might harbor ill will towards us for this interesting arrangement. However, Brenda (the wife & mom) told me the other day that Mookie was lucky that we moved next door and she was thankful we had decided to take him under our wing. Consequently, Mookie both is our cat AND their cat.

Oh Soooo Clean

There's not a lot to do in the bathtub. Aside from examining the grout at eye level -- this can be highly interesting for an aspie -- I sometimes grab one of my wife's many hair products to read the witches' brew of ingredients. Mind you, I can't pronounce half of them and I haven't the foggiest notion of what most of them are.

I was reading such a label last night and here's a portion of one such mysterious list:
And the list just keeps going on and on and on!!

If a person didn't know I was listing ingredients from a certain shampoo product, he or she might guess these were all prohibited toxic substances. Of course, maybe they should be anyway!

Since Samson & Delilah, members of the human species have seemed totally preoccupied with the appearance of the hair on one's head.

Not moi. I sport a buzz cut. I don't ever have to comb it. I don't need to "brush it out". I don't spend hours in front of a mirror preening myself. And, when I wash all these little hairs, I use toxin-free castile soap.

How about you? Should your hair and scalp be labeled an environmental Superfund site?

Verse 70: Look Inside

Verse Seventy
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.

~ Stephen Mitchell translation ~
Humans are social creatures. Not a one of us could survive without being nurtured by others. We need our families and friends to draw strength from and to provide a shoulder to cry on when times are tough.

In order to live together in society, we need rules, parameters and, in some cases, a "social contract". We need to obtain the skills of socialization and we're instructed in these ways by our families, religions, schools and even the government. Yet, despite all these many facets of external learning, the most basic lessons of being a person in this universe come from no other place that inside ourselves.

There is no book, blog, video or teacher that can uncover the secrets written inside our own hearts. To be certain, there is no issue with seeking the counsel of others, but, at the end of the day, we have all we need already. It's there in its utter simplicity.

I think the simplicity factor goes a long way toward explaining way we so often overlook it! We live in a complex society that revels in its own complexity. Simplicity is too often viewed as ignorance or ineptness, but, as Nina Correa sees it:
We try to make life so complicated, don't we? It seems like we're always looking for some problem to solve. Maybe that's because we've been told all our lives that we're only valuable human beings if we can solve a problem? So, we create problems that aren't even there? Laozi suggests how simple life can really be if we don't go around looking for ways to complicate it.
And how do we complicate things again and again? By letting our egos occupy the driver's seat! We allow our wants and desires to control our thoughts and movements. Instead of living effortlessly, we try to manipulate and force life to match our wills and this creates untold amounts of friction, conflict and stress wherever we go.

In a manner of speaking, our egos are the part of us most influenced by outside forces. It is the part of our being that soaks up all the information that's shared with us through the socialization process. But, as Nina Correa cautions,
Do you look to parents, teachers and Masters to tell you what you should do in order to have a happier and more fulfilling life? All those people have done is listen to those who preached to them, and then pass on the rules that were told to them. Do you think they have any greater understanding of what life's about than you do?
If you want to know the way to live your life in touch with Tao, look inside. The message has always been there waiting for you.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Fragile Art

Over at Superstition Free, we often get into interesting debates about what the Christian Bible might or might not say. It's not that host Robert Madewell generally posts about such a topic, but many Christian apologists frequent his blog and this type of conversation is instigated by them. Of course, I find it quite hilarious that even the apologists themselves can't seem to agree on which parts of their holy book are literal and which parts are figurative or symbolic!

I think many of these individuals simply do not recognize that the work of translating documents from one language to another is as much an art form as it is scientific.

Each culture views the world in unique ways and this perspective has a lot to do with how each language is constructed. Things that are viewed as a primary importance in one culture may be nothing more than a glib afterthought in another. Points of reference may be altogether different. Some languages place a central importance on gender and number, while others do not.

All these differences -- both large and small -- make it extremely difficult to capture the true essence of a thought when translated from one tongue to another. Yes, the general gist may be understood, but the layered meaning is lost. This is just as true for the Tao Te Ching as it is for the Bible.

To provide some examples, I found this site that illustrates the problem with trying to translate Spanish idioms into English.
SP: Comer frijoles y repetir pollo
TR: To eat beans and belch chicken
ENG: His bark is mightier than his bite.

SP: Después de atole
TR: After the atole (corn meal drink)
ENG: Hindsight is better that foresight.

SP: El campo fértil no descansado, tórnase estéril.
TR: The unrested fertile field turns sterile.
ENG: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

SP: Prietitos del mismo arroz.
TR: The little black one's of the same rice.
ENG: It's all in a day's work.
I have no way of knowing if the translations shown here are true (since my Spanish has grown very rusty with the years), but I think the point is made nonetheless: Translation is an art form and, while it attempts to convey the most understandable meaning possible, it almost always loses a bit in translation!

Strained Muscle

Now, if you want to find an intelligent solution to a problem, your brain can do the work. You have all the necessary intelligence inside the bone in your skull. However, most people never use their brains; they use their minds instead, and they use their minds the same way they use their muscles. You can strain your head just as if it were a muscle, and work very hard trying to arrive at an answer, but it doesn't really work that way.
~ Alan Watts in Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking ~
What is this bloke talking about? Brain? Mind? Two words that mean the exact same thing, right? He's making a distinction where none exist!
When you really want to find an answer to something, what you need to do is contemplate the problem. Visualize your question as well as you can, and then simply wait. If you don't, and if you instead try to find the solution through brute mental strength, you may be disappointed, because any solution that comes in that way is likely to be wrong. But when you have waited for a while, the solution will come of itself.
~ more from Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking ~
The man's crazy! In our highly competitive world, you gotta strike first, while the iron is hot. Ya know, the early bird catches the worm. Those who tarry often fail. Hurry. Hurry. Hurry.
That is how to use your brain, and it will work for you in the same way your stomach will digest your food for you without your having to supervise it consciously. Our attempts to supervise everything consciously have all led to consequences that aren't too good for our stomach, and the reason for that is quite simple. Conscious attention, which employs words, cannot think of very much. We are forced, therefore, to ignore almost everything while we are thinking. We think along a single track, but the world doesn't proceed along a single track. The world is everything happening altogether everywhere, and you just can't take all that into consideration because there isn't time. However, your brain can take it all into consideration because it is capable of handling innumerable variables at once, even though your conscious attention cannot.
~ more from Taoism: Way Beyond Seeking ~
Me thinks Alan Watts was a very wise man indeed! Like with Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu before him, he said and wrote things that, on the surface, sounded nonsensical. However, if you do not allow your prejudices to interfere and listen to the whole thought, it makes a lot of sense! If you pay attention with your mind, but allow your brain to process the information, then it rings oh so true.


About three months ago, I learned that I would need to have all of my teeth pulled and then join the world of denture wearers. It's not the best news a person wants to hear, but I could deal with it. So, I had to go to Olympia (approximately 70 miles northeast) to see a denturist and an oral surgeon.

I've been to the denturist a total of three times and the oral surgeon once. That's 4 trips to Olympia over a 3 month period. My dentures are now ready for pickup. There was one last step for me to complete -- I needed to schedule the oral surgery.

That's when the bombshell was dropped. As I'm talking via phone with the scheduler, she asks me in an offhanded manner, "When you were here last, did they tell you that you need to have a $350 check for us on the day of the surgery?" In a word, no. No one mentioned anything of the kind!

I asked what the $350 was for. She explained that it had something to do with the procedure to remove the excess tissue from having all the teeth pulled. I asked if this procedure was mandatory and she said it was. She also told me that Medicaid discontinued paying for this procedure as of July 1, no doubt because of the state's budgetary crisis.

I think you can guess my dilemma. As a poor person, I'm on Medicaid. Because I'm poor, I don't have $350 just sitting around and it's a definite budget breaker in our household. If I had that kind of money, I probably wouldn't qualify for Medicaid anyway. So, I didn't schedule the surgery, but I do have a brand new pair of dentures!

Here's the part that has me completely perplexed. Upon learning I would need dentures and oral surgery, the denturist took the lead in filling out the authorization request and it took nearly 3 months for the state to give a thumbs up. No one from the state ever contacted me to see if I had $350 sitting around to pay for the one procedure not covered. So, they made their decision to pay the denturist without knowing if the patient -- me -- could afford the extra cost! This may mean paying the denturist thousands of dollars to make something I can't use at this point.

Talk about government waste!

Verse 69: Deployment

Verse Sixty-Nine
There is a saying about using the military:
I would not think of taking the offensive
But only of defending my ground;
I would not think of taking an inch
But only of giving up a foot.

That is what is called
Deploying forward without bringing the troops,
Throwing a punch without raising a hand,
Grasping tightly without having a weapon in hand,
Launching an assault without confronting an enemy.

There is no calamity greater than underestimating the enemy,
For underestimating the enemy is tantamount to losing your treasures.
Hence, when two armies, evenly matched, cross swords in combat,
It is the side that laments the need to do so that wins the day.

~ Roger Ames and David Hall translation ~
In preparation for writing the post for today's verse, I read the commentary by John Lash in The Spirit of Tai Chi: Essential Principles. His comments centered around the martial arts aspect of it. He talks about "yielding to aggression," withdrawing so that the opponent will "lose his balance as he finds no resistance," and viewing Tai Chi as the art of self-defense.

Amidst the wonderful discussion, I found this gem of a comment:
If you know absolutely nothing about self-defence and you are attacked by someone, your only recourse is to use a weapon. The less you know, the more violent you have to be.
While Lash is speaking of a physical attack, I think this thought applies well to all facets of our lives!

For starters, it would seem to run against another theme that Lao Tzu visits again and again, namely that we need to unlearn much of what we already know. But Lash isn't talking about book learning or ego-based information. When he refers to "know", he's talking about understanding the situation -- the flow of what's taking place before us. If one can't see the lay of the land, then our actions will tend to be more aggressive.

Think back to a recent argument or fight you had with a family member, loved one, friend or co-worker. In my experience, I tend to lash out more when I'm feeling uncertain or not in balance with the situation. So, to makeup for my feelings of uncertainty or inadequacy, I grab hold of some powerful or ugly words and swing them around with tremendous force. My anger -- too be candid, I don't get upset very often, but, when I do, you DON'T want to be around -- turns into an uncontrollable fury and I'm prone to use any weapon (words, again) I can get my hands on.

In my life, then, I can certainly say that Lash's words ring true. When I am more in tune with what's going on around me and I feel more centered, I state my case in a truly self-defensive manner. The little tempest rarely flares up into something more. Though the other person involved may resort to the use of weapons, I yield to their thrusts and sidestep their parries so that they meet little resistance.

In Verse 69, the military can be viewed as a metaphor for our lives in the social world. How do you deploy your forces and why? The answer to this question will provide you with an apt definition of the real measure of your character.

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Win At All Costs

As a follow-up to today's verse (#68), I wanted to share a personal observation as to why I think the message contained therein is so on target.

For years, I used to be a mega-competitive person. It wasn't enough that I tried to do my best in all things undertaken; I HAD TO win and, as I've written here before, I had to trounce my opponent into the ground! Barely winning seemed like losing to me. No, I had to show absolute dominance and superiority.

This was just as true for board games as it was for political debates. While I've never been much of an athlete, the few athletic endeavors I participated in (e.g., bowling, table tennis, free throw shooting, miniature golf or croquet) fit the same bill.

When I claimed victory -- which was frequent -- I would prance around like a prima donna, rubbing your nose in my abject superiority. When I lost, I would throw adult temper tantrums. Needless to say, I soon found that no one wanted to play games with me. My behavior -- whether winning or losing -- was more than most people wished to handle. Looking back, I don't blame a one of them.

As I began to study philosophical Taoism, I soon realized what a jerk I had become. I knew in my heart that, if I truly wanted to be a Tao person, some radical changes were in order. One of those changes was to realize that winning and losing are mere value judgments. In the overall scheme of things, it doesn't mean crap. Tao doesn't care who wins at Scrabble!

As I began to shed my "win at all costs" attitude, my overall personality softened and became less rigid. It's amazing how just one change can cause a ripple affect through one's whole being.

New Voices Along the Path VIII

Time for another episode of information on new links added recently to the Taoist Wanderers section in the right sidebar.

A Tao Girl
The way of a Tao woman, single homeschooling mom of three, animal rescuer, full-time graduate student, work-at-home writer, community volunteer, children's spiritual leader, nonprofit founder, and more.

I Ching Meditations
I’ve been working and re-working my personal Interpretation of I Ching in various forms for what feels like forever. Recently I started to post I Ching Meditations on a Blogger hosted site and got sidetracked when I began to learn how to do a self-hosted Blog on WordPress for my Yoga Babe Cafe. So now I will transfer what I have on Blogger to here and change my form of presentation somewhat by adding more posts about my creative process, dreams and stuff I’m not thinking about as I write this.

I want the reader to have some understanding of my purpose and goals for this I Ching blog. I first became obsessed with I Ching in 1970. This interest coincided with the feminist movement where I was frequently asked, “Why are you interested in that sexist book that talks about the superior man all the time?” I Ching developed as the Chinese language developed over three thousands years ago so that question was not something I could respond to in a sound bite.

Persephone's Box
Like Pandora's Box, but messier. A mixed bag of home-birthing breastfeeding mum stuff, rants on feminism, politics, religion, and the environment, and philosophical explorations of human nature. I've lost my virginity, but I've still got the box.

Tao Spiral
Bringing together people interested in all things Tao: healing, qigong, taichi, taoist sexual practices and more!

Tao Wizard grew out of Stuart Shaw's avid involvement (under the name "Stigweard") over at the Tao Bums.

As part of his service to the TaoBums, Stuart started a comprehensive FAQ and directory and, wanting to provide a clearer and easier to use format, was born. As such is intended to be a comprehensive resource providing the most reliable sources of online information on the various aspects of Daoism.

Taoist Philosophy For The 21st Century
This website is an introduction to this ancient wisdom in modern terms, a new interpretation. We believe that life is for us to enjoy, and joy resides in satisfaction with a simple life. Life should turn away from highly oriented goals which are institutionalized into modern society. Ancient primary society was genetically coded society, and modern secondary society was created by man to solve problems or achieve institutionalized goals.

Taoist Tai Chi Society
The ancient Taoists were renowned for their study of the arts of health and longevity. The Taoist Tai Chi Society™ internal art of taijiquan conveys the essence of this tradition to the modern world.

In more than 25 countries around the globe, people are enjoying the many benefits of practising these arts of holistic health in the friendly atmosphere of our volunteer, non-profit organization. We invite you to experience one of our classes for yourself and discover a genuine path for health and tranquility.

The Pure Mountain Path
From the Tao we can learn from nature and live in harmony with the world. We seek the balance of yin and yang which allows us to be one with the universe. It permits us to be in harmony and gives us liberation from suffering. We hope you enjoy our information and find it helpful along your path.

The Universe Next Door
Will (The Smiler's) latest disjointed chronicle of La Vida Literati, hopscotching the Tao, and the endless quest for sex or jazz or soup.

Verse 68: Not Striving

Verse Sixty-Eight
A good soldier is not violent.
A good fighter is not angry.
A good winner is not vengeful
A good employer is humble.
This is known as the Virtue of not striving.
This is known as ability to deal with people.
This since ancient times has been known as the ultimate unity with heaven.

~ Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English translation ~
At one time or another, all of us are in a hurry to get someplace. Maybe we piddled around for too long and now we realize we're in danger of being late for an important gathering, meeting or appointment. So, as we try to rush to where we need to go, we increase the stride of our step. Unfortunately, it's not infrequent that we end up stumbling or falling down. By overstepping, we lose our sense of balance and put ourselves in harm's way.

Over striving is the emotional counterpart to over striding. It is when we try too hard -- forcing our will on others -- that we lose our sense of balance and find ourselves involved in one conflict after another. I found an old blog, SpaceAgeSage, that speaks to this issue:
There is an old Yiddish phrase that goes, “If you are out to beat a dog, you are sure to find a stick.” If I live my life this way, I am always looking for the negative. It would be like having conflict as a default setting on my outlook on life. If that is the case, the world becomes them vs. me. All my viewpoints get filtered through the glasses of doubt, mistrust, and wariness.

Chapter 68 is about living a life free of conflict. Like a willow bending in the wind, a person moves with life instead of against it. Like water flowing in a river, a person travels with the current instead of fighting it. I have found that conflict or resistance or opposition causes an equal and opposite reaction in the other person. Chapter 68 is about neutralizing that reaction.
And why do we seem always to want to force our will on others? As Carl Abbott of Center Tao explains, it's all about fear!
The fear of loss lies at the heart of this dynamic. When I feel threatened with the loss of something I cherish, I either react in anger or dig in my heels and hang on. When I need to be SOMEBODY, or when I fear losing personal status, I’m unable to be humble. When I cling to my opinion as though it were life itself, I join issue—I argue. When I feel week and vulnerable I strive to appear strong and ‘cool’. By knowing this dynamic, I not only know myself better, but find the world much easier to deal with.

All actions seem to stem from a fear of loss—losing order, solitude, friends, health, wealth, and so on. When I reach out for something, it is because I LACK something I FEEL I need. I’ve lost contentment with what I have hear and now, or I fear losing what I have here and now.

The sublimity of heaven lies in the truth that the universe doesn’t care about anything in particular. It’s all embracing and yet neutral and shows no favoritism. Life, on the other hand, chooses ‘this’ over ‘that’. It is biased in its cares. While I can, as a life-form, never match this full sublimity of heaven, I can match it through my understanding, which broadens my circle of caring; the more universal this love, the greater peace I know.
A life built on conflict is one built on insatiable competition. It's a life of separation, one that does not embrace the connection of all things. Far worse, leading an adversarial life means there will always be winners and losers. As John Lash points out,
Winning causes resentment and bitterness in the loser. To be vengeful in victory always increases this resentment which, in turn, increases the chances that the conflict will be renewed at a later time.
As we examine the lives we lead, if those lives are embroiled in conflicts of every hue and at every turn, rather than blaming the world for being "out to get us", the Tao person will look in the mirror. More likely than not, that is where we will find the chief protagonist!

This post is part of a series. For an introduction, go here.