Lao Tzu, Thoughts From The Tao Te Ching
“The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws.” The quote from Tacitus, who was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD, reflects his experience with governments full of tyranny and decadence. Lao Tzu, who lived six centuries ahead of Tacitus, predicted such conditions and proposed his way of preventing it.
In his most famous writing Tao Te-Ching, which is considered to be a guide for “the way to live”, Lao Tzu asks to “Let go of fixed plans and concepts / and the world will govern itself”. It is clear that the “Old Master” Lao Tzu is optimistic about human nature and the nature of the Universe. Intuition is the best governor and we must listen to it. Our intuition may be able to translate what the Universe has to communicate to us about our place and destiny. Once we are individually in harmony with nature, everything in our life falls into place, thriving becomes effortless, and as a result society lives in balance. To stay in harmony with intuition and oneself Lao Tzu offers people to let go of the unnecessary and to understand the big picture: “I let go of all desire for common good, / and the good becomes common as grass”. Lao Tzu explains that everything people need naturally belongs to each of us, it is given to us when we are born. We only must learn to see the beauty of the nature, unite with the Universe and truly enjoy our existence. We must not give in to concepts that sway our attention away from the big picture, such as fame, ambition and material things.
The concept of being united with nature has been taken on by Feng Shui which is an art of placement and architecture. It teaches how to balance one’s surroundings based on the energies of any given space in the Universe, be it space in a room, location of a building in a city, or orientation of it on a street. It suggests that humans can only truly thrive when their environment reflects balance with nature. After all, the world is already perfect in every way: “The world is sacred. / It can’t be improved”. Another main principle of Feng Shui states that the balance between yin and yang, which are the two opposites, is necessary for successful life and successful governing. Lao Tzu’s teachings always reflect this belief not only through his ideas but through language as well. Speaking in opposites is one of Tao Te-Ching’s main tactics: “The more prohibitions you have, / the less virtuous people will be. / The more weapons you have, / the less secure people will be”. Writing in opposites also helps the author to focus on the fact that there is no need for power, force or cruelty for society to be content. “I let go of the law / and people will become honest”. In modern society it is difficult to imagine that it could work, but such a concept is practically applied in Chinese martial art called Tai Chi. Fighting is conceptually cruel, but Tai Chi deals with the force and cruelty in a gentle and peaceful way. Tai Chi is a defense training and it teaches to meet and follow the incoming force with softness. That allows for the exhaustion of the incoming force and then easy redirection of it. As a result, peace and harmony are achieved while no force is used.
The use of force, according to Lao Tzu, is unnecessary in most situations, but once the leader is in harmony with the nature, he or she will know when to step in and support the people. According to Tao-Te Ching the good leader is the one who treats his people gently and lets them move to their own understanding, only stepping in when absolutely necessary: “Governing a large country / is like frying a small fish. / You spoil it with too much poking”. There will be chaos and destruction if excessive control is used and the leader is being impatient. This powerful message applies not only to cooking dinner but to implementing governing policies. In year 2000 one of the most violent anti-capitalist protests arose in Prague. The participants clashed with the police when the World Bank and International Monetary Fund pushed for policies that directed power to multinational companies. The chaos, injuries and death were a result of impatience of global organizations who exerted the policies on the society. Moderation and patience must be practiced, and violence and chaos can be avoided.
Lao Tzu’s teachings still guide millions of people all over the world to unite with their true purpose in the Universe. We are born with natural good and intuition within us. We are naturally complete, and our thriving is effortless. The trouble arises when we lose our path and forget where we belong; it happens when we forget that we already have everything that is needed for a successful life. Such impatience leads to the use of unnecessary force against the path that the Universe guides us through, and it leads us away from balance and enjoyment in life. These principles are “the method” that applies to everything in life, even to governing societies. According to Lao Tzu, a good leader is the one who helps people stay true to their real selves, united with the nature and their intuition. A good leader does not use force, but instead practices patience and moderation in all his actions. This brings peace and happiness in people’s lives which in turn creates a happier society that can govern itself and only needs help of the leader on rare occasions.