Banish “wisdom,” discard “knowledge,” and the people shall profit a hundredfold. Banish “humanity,” discard “justice,” and the people shall recover love of their kin. Banish cunning, discard “utility,” and the thieves and brigands shall disappear. As these three touch the externals and are inadequate, the people have need of what they can depend upon:
Reveal thy simple self,
Embrace thy original nature,
Check thy selfishness,
Curtail thy desires.
(Tao Teh King 19).
The Taoists were very outspoken in their opinion of Confucius and Confucianism as nothing more than busybodies that had ruined society by advocating veneer rather than solid substance. Jesus spoke of this as “the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20). Neither he nor the Taoists were listened to very much. He withdrew to India and the Taoists to solitary places in the countryside. It is wisdom to know when nobody really wants to hear or think about what you have to say, and greater wisdom when you consequently go away and keep silent.
So why did Lao Tzu say what he did in the Tao Teh King? Because he was literally leaving society forever, and when the gatekeeper asked him to write down his insights he did so, not with any intention that people would heed and reform society, but so the few that really had ears to hear and a brain to comprehend would reform themselves and be at peace. For this reason we must not think of Taoism as a rival of Confucianism, having the wish to reform others. Taoism is a marvelously solitary and independent approach to cultivation of inner worth.
Once a man came to Swami Keshabananda (written about in Autobiography of a Yogi) and begged him to cure his son who was dying. The great yogi told him: “I will tell you how to cure your son yourself, but you will not do it and he will die.” And so it was. In the same way Lao Tzu is explaining how society can be corrected, knowing full well that it will never be done. But wise and blessed is he who applies Lao Tzu’s words to himself and his own mode of life. So let us consider them in that context, for we are each one of us little “kingdoms” that need correction.
Banish ‘wisdom,’ discard ‘knowledge,’ and the people shall profit a hundredfold.
Lao Tzu is speaking of intellectual, spoon-fed “wisdom” and “knowledge” both social and religious that have been put into our heads from various sources that have in no way proved the validity of that which they have imposed on us. It is very difficult for us to sweep away all the things we have been told from childhood, because it means rejection of the authority or trustworthiness of those that crammed them into our heads. Moreover, it is much easier for the mentally and morally lazy to accept the clichés society and religion run on, and thus avoid any conflict or the pain of straining the brain to figure out what is really wisdom and knowledge. But those who do toss aside mere words and seek experience of reality shall “profit a hundredfold.”
Banish ‘humanity,’ discard ‘justice,’ and the people shall recover love of their kin.
Again, Lao Tzu is speaking of artificial rules of thought and behavior that are not rooted in sincere good will but in a desire to be thought humane and just. A great deal of inhumanity and injustice are perpetrated under the accepted clichés of society and religion, all “for the greater good” they say.
Banish cunning, discard ‘utility,’ and the thieves and brigands shall disappear.
“People are so skillful in their ignorance,” Yogananda used to say. People can be very creative in justifying their foolishness and in reasoning themselves out of good sense. They are equally skilled in demonstrating how “practical” and “beneficial” their desires and whims are. “It is all for the best” rarely is even good, much less best. This is used in conforming to wrong on many levels, especially social, rather than rejecting the false and holding to the real and consequently getting censured and even in trouble with “them.” It is sad but true that we are usually ourselves the thieves and brigands that plunder our spiritual treasure of divine potential.
As these three touch the externals and are inadequate, the people have need of what they can depend upon.
These three rules, though of great value, yet lack the supreme value because they deal with our response to external factors, leaving aside internal matters. Thus they are inadequate, because we must build our life structure on bedrock reality to be secure and at peace. So Lao Tzu gives us four rules to ensure this.
Reveal thy simple self.
We must put ourselves in touch with our essential being, really come to know our Self by removing the veils that hide it. The Self being interior in nature, this requires an interior life: in other words, meditation. And our meditation practice should be putting us in touch with the Self immediately, not in some far away time. It will not give us instant and total enlightenment, but it should certainly begin the process right away. We should come out of our first meditation having touched at least the periphery of our Self, and things should increase from there. We must not stop until the Self is fully revealed (realized). (I suggest you read Soham Yoga, the Yoga of the Self for information on meditation that does what I have just described.)
Embrace thy original nature.
We must not just experience the Self, we must “embrace” it by making it manifest in our entire life, by establishing ourselves in Self-knowledge outside meditation as well as in meditation. We must live out what we perceive inwardly, and if our inner experience is real, it will be natural and easy.
Check thy selfishness.
Do not pay attention to the ego; just forget it. Drop it and all egotism will vanish in the newly-revealed Self. Be intent on that eternal reality and the ego and its delusive realm will simply vanish.
Curtail thy desires.
Again, do this by being satisfied and fulfilled in the Self. Desire the Self: that will end all desires.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The World and I