“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.
Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.
Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.
If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle,
And let all things take their course.”
~ Stephen Mitchell (trans.), Tao Te Ching: A New English Version (New York: Harper Perennial), 2006.
Here again we see conventionally valuable qualities cast as obstacles to human flourishing.
In one of his most potent and penetrating books, The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts claims that, paradoxically, we can only become secure by accepting that we will never be secure. Insecurity is not a problem to be solved, but a condition to be embraced. Put another way, we do not simply have problems, we are a problem to ourselves. The gnawing feeling of insecurity–that there are loose threads poking out the back of the carefully woven tapestry of our egos—is produced by denying and trying to cover up our natural insecurity.
It is only when we are “off center” that we feel the need to think and talk about what is good and true. Lao-tzu’s idea here is that often our attempts to restore balance often throw us even more off center. It is only when we stop struggling to “fix” ourselves, others, and the world—when we “let all things take their course”—and when we stop imagining that the center is somewhere else “out there”—that we can finally relax.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”