Living Without Rules

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 30, 2012

Could this post be about doing whatever you please?

Actually no, this post is about coming to terms with rules; it’s about what they imply with the Tao in mind and it’s about how to view them with heart and treat them with wisdom.

Quite simply, it’s about living mindfully from the heart of your soul.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 18

We are born to be free, and yet, as we grow up, we fall headlong into conformity.

Some get tangled by it, others get trapped by it, and still others grow beyond it.

When the greatness
of the Tao is present,
action arises from
the heart of the soul.

When the greatness
of the Tao is absent,
action is generated
from the rules of
kindness and justice.

If you need rules
to be kind and just,
if you act virtuous,
this is a sure sign
that virtue is absent.
Thus we see the
great hypocrisy.

When kinship falls
into discord,
piety and rites
of devotion arise.
When a country falls
into chaos and confusion,
official loyalists appear;
patriotism is born.

Emphasis in the original; edited slightly to enhance the flow of text

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

The verse is clear: to act virtuous is hypocritical; the implication is also clear: to be virtuous is authentic.

My Impressions of the Verse

Verse 18 expects the reader to understand and appreciate virtue with respect to the Tao.

In all of my studies of morality and spirituality, however, I cannot think of a term more ambiguously loaded, positively and negatively, than ‘virtue’.

This ancient verse invites you to find it within the heart of your soul to cease and desist from performances as practiced actors of virtue, to expose and release any strict adherence to virtue.

In essence, it says “if you can’t be virtuous, don’t even bother trying”.

When the greatness
of the Tao is present,
action arises from
the heart of the soul.

When the greatness
of the Tao is absent,
action is generated
from the rules of
kindness and justice.

In my mind and heart, tapping into the presence, promise, and power of the Tao is akin to tapping into the Source of life and love. With the temptation of indulging and perverting natural passions, abiding in the Tao is the greater challenge for the heart and soul.

This portion of the verse reminds us just how important it is to be heart-centered by staying tapped into the Tao; it also serves as a warning: if you sully or sever your connection with the Tao, be prepared to conform, to deal with rules imposed from without.

If you need rules
to be kind and just,
if you act virtuous,
this is a sure sign
that virtue is absent.
Thus we see the
great hypocrisy.

Here, there’s no room for the rule, “fake it ’til you make it”, without being (and appearing) hypocritical.

Also, by this account, the Golden Rule – ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ – becomes an affront to the heart of your soul when you impose this rule on yourself without due consideration for what the heart of your soul is guiding you to do.

This portion of the verse would have you assume that it is wiser to be in harmony with ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’, when this accords with what feels right to the heart of your soul, than to impose it on yourself or others at every turn.

Being honest ranks highly for many people; they’re honest because they want others to be honest. But if someone demands that I reveal the location of someone who I suspect is just minutes away from being murdered, I’m going to point a misdirecting finger.

When kinship falls
into discord,
piety and rites
of devotion arise.

When a country falls
into chaos and confusion,
official loyalists appear;
patriotism is born.

Here, we see two rather obvious sources of social dysfunction, along with their compensatory consequences.

When minds replace souls and heads rule hearts, the compensations sought only make matters worse. Looking outside themselves for validating answers and solutions, people lose touch with their inner guidance.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

If I be virtuous, if I be kind and just, if I be harmonious through heart and mind, soul and spirit, naturally and spontaneously, easily and effortlessly, I am so for the sake of my life and my love of life, first and foremost.

How to be virtuous in the sense given by verse 18?

With rules?

With rules that punish initiative and smother creativity, with rules that dictate conformity and deny individuality?

Obviously not.

How then?

Good question.

Here are my suggestions, which are meant to be read as guidelines not rules …

Start by reading, contemplating, and sharing (perhaps even writing about) spiritual wisdom. For myself, I prefer but never restrict myself to the wisdom expressed in the Tao Te Ching.

Make it your intention to be informed and inspired with a genuine love of self, loving others without condition as you would yourself (at least as far as this feels good, right, appropriate, or comfortable for you).

Make it your intention to align yourself with the inspiration to serve with dignity, to follow your bliss as and when this feels good and right for you, with a wholesome purpose or passion, whatever the circumstances; this is central to the embodiment and expression of virtue.

Make it your intention to beware and respect the presence and power of vice by foregoing, or abstaining from, that which you know in your heart is injurious or pernicious to your person.

Make it your intention to respond skillfully, mindfully, artfully to those events or situations that cause or compel you to lose your calm, clarity, composure, confidence, buoyancy, serenity, or vitality.

Make it your intention to distinguish between desires and passions that serve to cultivate and desires and passions that seek to compensate, even as you favor and nurture the former.

If cultivating reason satisfies the mind, then cultivating intuition satisfies the heart. Cultivating a mindful, heartfelt presence with ready access to both reason and intuition serves to harmonize both mind and soul, head and heart.

Bottom line: if love equals pure positive focus and appreciation, then the key to love – to being virtuous – is to realize you control your focus much if not most of the time.

Next up: On Being Individual

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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