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The Art of Government

Part 57 of the Tao Teh King for Awakening

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Rule a kingdom by the Normal.
Fight a battle by (abnormal) tactics of surprise.
Win the world by doing nothing.
How do I know it is so?

Through this:
The more prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people become.
The more sharp weapons there are,
The greater the chaos in the state.
The more skills of technique,
The more cunning things are produced.
The greater the number of statutes,
The greater the number of thieves and brigands.

Therefore the sage says:
I do nothing and the people are reformed of themselves.
I love quietude and the people are righteous of themselves.
I deal in no business and the people grow rich by themselves.
I have no desires and the people are simple and honest by themselves.

(Tao Teh King 57)

Rule a kingdom by the Normal. “Normal” here means ordinary and natural, acting according to the nature of things, not making them more or less and not bending their innate purpose to accomplish something else. In Taoism nature is never to be violated, but rather evoked, appreciated and used to make things even more normal.

Whether the kingdom is a country or a single human being, the nature of both must be discerned and built upon, increased and evolved. Ruling is itself normal, but only when normal means produce normal ends. On the individual level the first step is to know what we really are and all the aspects or components that make up a human being. Yoga alone reveals this. So yogi-kings and yogi-adepts must follow the same laws.

For nearly twenty years I was fortunate to have the acquaintance and friendship of the Raja of Solan, who was usually called Yogi Bhai, Brother Yogi, because of his profound yet natural/normal piety and humility. He was wise and unassuming, yet possessing the qualities of a true king which he had transmuted into the personality of a spiritual potentate. He was a master of himself. Though he always discharged his political duties conscientiously, his heart dwelt increasingly in the inner kingdom of spirit. The older he grew the more venerable he became, the more worthy of honor. When he left this world it was a very sad thing for me, because he was an inspiration as an example of the yoga life. After his (seeming) passing from this world I was attending an annual spiritual conference, the Samyam Sapta, at the Anandamayi Ashram in Brindaban. Yogi Bhai had attended these conferences unfailingly for the last few decades of his life. In fact, I had first met him at such a conference in Dehra Dun many years before. As I was standing in the road outside the ashram, to my absolute astonishment Yogi Bhai came walking out of the gate! There was no mistaking him, his way of dressing, and his jaunty mode of walking with a cane that was a little too tall for him (a trait of later years). Briskly he walked across a small lane and into the gate of another ashram. That gate was made of plaster-covered bricks, and was about four feet thick. Yogi Bhai did not emerge on the other side. I realized that he was showing to me that those who live in the spirit while in the body will never die even when the body is dropped.

Fight a battle by (abnormal) tactics of surprise. Wu: “You fight a war by exceptional moves.” And by doing so you violate the nature of things, including human nature which, when it is purged of impurity and distortion, is incapable of initiating conflict much less the carnage of war. So Lao Tzu is warning his readers that “war” of any kind on any level is a mistake. If a goal cannot be attained by peaceful, natural means, by following our own higher nature, then it is a bad goal and bad for us if achieved. Therefore: “One acts according to one’s own prakriti [nature]–even the wise man does so” (Bhagavad Gita 3:33).

Win the world by doing nothing. Wu: “You win the world by letting it alone.” This means that by living in complete harmony with the world, integrating our true nature with its true nature, the world will be ours–not in the sense of a possession but in the sense of a helpful friend. We should never attempt to manipulate or control the world, though we can benefit the world if we adopt the principles that are in accordance with it. The prime purpose of the world is the evolution of the sentient beings living within it. So to seek our evolution and eventual liberation through yoga practice is to align ourselves with the fundamental nature of the world, to become a part of it in order to transcend it. For the world is a rung in the evolutionary ladder, a means for our growth if we will still our minds and hearts and open ourselves to understand what and why the world really is.

The more prohibitions there are, the poorer the people become. We are creatures of action, not inaction. Therefore it is detrimental to approach life with a Don’t Do This And Don’t Do That attitude. Our every resolve should be positive. For example, we should not determine: “I will not tell lies,” but: “I will always tell the truth.” It is not enough to never harm anyone or anything; instead we must always help others and foster the welfare of all things we encounter. Therefore we must always make positive resolves and live accordingly. People become weak by not doing, so prohibitions weaken them. But inspiration to act will make them strong. And it is so with our faculties and powers.

The more sharp weapons there are, the greater the chaos in the state. Cultivating the ability for conflict is to throw ourselves into confusion. For harmony alone is the way of the Tao and therefore of healthy life. Making provision for conflict and the injury of others is an act of intention whose inner impulses will eventually come about. The more means we create of defending ourselves, the more we will have to turn around in aggression on others, making them defend themselves against us. The more poison we accumulate, the more likely someone will die of poisoning. There is a personal form of disarmament that we must engage in thoroughly if we would be at peace. The more defenses we have the less peace will be ours. That is why Jesus counseled us to be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

The more skills of technique, the more cunning things are produced. Long ago I heard a comedian say: “When they invented pay telephones, my grandfather invented slugs.” The more clever or “slick” ways a culture or person has, for sure the more underhanded and dishonorable things will be done. One example is the constant use of loopholes or omissions in the laws to get what a person wants. The more laws there are, the more ways of evading them will be figured out. Again, it is a matter of a negative approach. Laying down a prohibition and prescribing a punishment is planting the seed of disobedience and transgression. Here, too, the law that whatever we sow we will reap applies. To try to block people from doing wrong is virtually an assurance that they will do wrong. The attempt to control is to guarantee anarchy. This is especially seen in the bringing up of children.

The greater the number of statutes, the greater the number of thieves and brigands. The more Don’ts we create, the more they will be done!

I do nothing and the people are reformed of themselves. If a ruler or administrator is exemplary, so will the people they rule or administer be. An example is better than talk any day. Often the perseverance and patient endurance of good and meek people has reformed wrongdoers who became ashamed of their mistreatment or disrespect shown toward the virtuous.

I love quietude and the people are righteous of themselves. Being what we should be is a positive force that can help others also “be” themselves. Being peaceful and harmonious ourselves is the way to foster peace and harmony around us.

I deal in no business and the people grow rich by themselves. Few things are more harmful than the constant drive and push to expand the economy and increase the GNP. The economy becomes like the arrogant frog who kept inhaling and making herself bigger and bigger until she burst. In many cases more is not better. The constant insistence on expansion brings about collapse. I knew one of the most successful investment advisors in the country. He told me that the government trying to manipulate the economy was a ticket to sure disaster. He said that the only way to fix an ailing economy was to let it alone and give people the chance to correct things unhindered. Meddling and coercing becomes an addiction to both individuals and governments. And suffering is the result.

I have no desires and the people are simple and honest by themselves. The bottom line of this entire section is that good is contagious; therefore if enough people cultivate personal goodness with wisdom it will certainly bring about an increase in the public welfare without an artificial program of some sort.

Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: Unobtrusive Government

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Introduction to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Chapters of The Tao Teh King for Awakening

Preface to The Tao Teh King for Awakening

  1. On the Absolute Tao
  2. The Rise of Relative Opposites
  3. Action Without Deeds
  4. The Character of Tao
  5. Nature
  6. The Spirit of the Valley
  7. Living for Others
  8. Water
  9. The Danger of Overweening Success
  10. Embracing the One
  11. The Utility of Not-Being
  12. The Senses
  13. Praise and Blame
  14. Prehistoric Origins
  15. The Wise Ones of Old
  16. Knowing the Eternal Law
  17. Rulers
  18. The Decline of Tao
  19. Realize the Simple Self
  20. The World and I
  21. Manifestations of Tao
  22. Futility of Contention
  23. Identification with Tao
  24. The Dregs and Tumors of Virtue
  25. The Four Eternal Models
  26. Heaviness and Lightness
  27. On Stealing the Light
  28. Keeping to the Female
  29. Warning Against Interference
  30. Warning Against the Use of Force
  31. Weapons of Evil
  32. Tao is Like the Sea
  33. Knowing Oneself
  34. The Great Tao Flows Everywhere
  35. The Peace of Tao
  36. The Rhythm of Life
  37. World Peace
  38. Degeneration
  39. Unity Through Complements
  40. The Principle of Reversion
  41. Qualities of the Taoist
  42. The Violent Man
  43. The Softest Substance
  44. Be Content
  45. Calm Quietude
  46. Racing Horses
  47. Pursuit of Knowledge
  48. Conquering the World by Inaction
  49. The People’s Hearts
  50. The Preserving of Life
  51. The Mystic Virtue
  52. Stealing the Absolute
  53. Brigandage
  54. The Individual and the State
  55. The Character of the Child
  56. Beyond Honor and Disgrace
  57. The Art of Government
  58. Unobtrusive Government
  59. Be Sparing
  60. Governing a Big Country
  61. Big and Small Countries
  62. The Good Man’s Treasure
  63. Difficult and Easy
  64. Beginning and End
  65. The Grand Harmony
  66. The Lords of the Ravines
  67. The Three Treasures
  68. The Virtue of Not-Contending
  69. Camouflage
  70. They Know Me Not
  71. Sick-Mindedness
  72. On Punishment (1)
  73. On Punishment (2)
  74. On Punishment (3)
  75. On Punishment (4)
  76. Hard and Soft
  77. Bending the Bow
  78. Nothing Weaker than Water
  79. Peace Settlements
  80. The Small Utopia
  81. The Way of Heaven

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