Originally published July 28, 2014
I have long appreciated an interpretation of Lao Tzu’s Tao teh King by Archie J Bahm, who was a professor of philosophy at the University of New Mexico in the 1950’s. He interpreted “tao teh king” as “nature and intelligence”, and so appreciated Lao Tzu the scholar, librarian, and a man who did not intend his writings as “religion”, but a handbook on living intelligently through observation of the natural order. In this essay, I have taken from Professor Bahm’s text, published by Frederick Ungar Publishing Company, New York; and cited where necessary integrating with my own philosophy – a philosophy that has in part developed in the light of Lao Tzu’s great book and Archie Bahm’s insightful words.
At the basis of all, it appears, that for peace to reign one must “accept what is as it is” and in doing so “teach by example” [p 12 II]. “All distinctions naturally appear as opposites” and “opposites get their meaning from each other (finding) their completion only through each other” [p 12, II]. It follows, then, that “in conflicts between opposites, the more one attacks his seeming opponent … the more he defeats himself (and thereby demonstrates that only Nature, and not any opposite abstracted from existence) is self-sufficient [p14 V].
Acting with acceptance, essentially, we move closer to this ideal of self-sufficiency, a state that is necessary for freedom and a condition for any long lasting peace. Essential to this process is a healthy respect for, and acceptance of oneself, first and foremost, outside of the opinions of others. As a consequence our hearts turn outward and can accept the differences and the natures of others, in turn, allowing a process of peace to occur through respect, fostering freedom for others to act according to their own true needs.
Once achieved, “acceptance makes no distinctions of superiority and inferiority [p13, III]” and then true devotion to tasks rather than rivalries will prevail; envy being unaroused, people will be satisfied with things as they are [paraphrased from p 13, III]; understanding that “Nature contains nothing but natures; and these natures are nothing over and above Nature” [p 14, IV] … each and every thing being an essential part of the whole.
While Nature treats opposites impartially, the “best way to conduct oneself may be observed in the behavior of water’. “Water is useful to every living thing, yet it does not demand pay in return for its services; it does not even require that it be recognized, esteemed, or appreciated for its benefits” [p 16, VIII]. And yet, there is no life without it.
“This illustrates how intelligent behaviors closely approximate the behavior of Nature itself” [p 16, VIII].
“If experience teaches that houses should be built close to the ground,
That friendship should be based upon sympathy and good will,
That good government employs peaceful means of regulation,
That business is more successful if it employs efficient methods,
That wise behavior adapts itself appropriately to the particular circumstances,
All of this is because these are the easiest ways.
If one proceeds naturally, without ambition or envy, everything works out for the best” [p16, VIII].
Entities based on money are not drawn toward the easiest means, but the most profitable. As an example, multi-national corporations ship materials to other countries for processing by poorly paid workers for markets at the source, wasting resources, energies so that a few can profit from the desperation of many. There is no efficiency or real intelligence in these means and these inefficiencies foresee their ends.
Troubled societies, as we are experiencing now, based on money, elevating paid services and profit confuse the means with the ends; and our end, according to the Tao, is to “realize the potentialities of (our) indescribable original nature(s)” [p17, X].
Nature “procreates all things and then devotes itself to caring for them … willingly gives life, without first asking whether creatures will repay for its services” and, so, it “provides a pattern to follow, without requiring anyone to follow it. This is the nature of intelligent activity” [p18, X]. Concerned with genuine needs we avoid being confused by the superficial and can distinguish one from the other.
In this troubled world, temptations based on what money can buy, on capital gains lead to extremes. The very thing Lao Tzu advised against. Envy, greed and aggressive behavior trump intelligent activity and our original natures are sacrificed to the cruel intentions of those who would force their wills on others – all to obtain more of what will never bring anyone true happiness, and therefore, peace. In the end, Nature will do as it always does, impartially allowing the inherent initiation and completion of all things, without prejudice … our actions spelling our fates.
This is why, now more than ever, we must concern ourselves with our own inner peace. It is, as the Tao explained, of primary importance. “The inner self is our true self” and “in order to realize our true self, we must be willing to live without being dependent upon the opinions of others” [p20, XIII]. As a consequence of this “self-sufficiency” we will then act accordingly and feel no need to force
others to our own will.
Assertions, envy, and actions out of sync with ourselves, in essence, upset the balance and provide endless opportunity for strife. We are all better served when individuals are given the opportunity to develop fully, truly. War is a sign that this is not happening.
Opposition, being inherent in Nature, as are the principles of initiation and completion, is eternal. As we start acting naturally, by being ourselves, this will be accepted and extreme measures avoided.
The nature of intelligence then, like water, finds the path of least resistance and avoids conflict. Inner peace augments the natural order. Accepting that there is a beginning and end to all things, that opposition is perpetual, a defining element and source of growth, we will take the middle ground in our disagreements.
Over two thousand years ago, Lao Tzu understood that the source of peace lies within. Wise individuals who had found this peace have spoken. Yet we continue to make distinctions, passing judgment and acting out of these misconceptions. When we understand as a society and act accordingly, allowing each thing to realize its true nature, more people are likely to find peace in their lives.