When they lose their sense of wonder,
people turn to religion.
When they no longer trust themselves,
they begin to depend upon authority.
Do not limit the view of yourself.
Do not resist the natural course of your life.
In this way you will never weary of this world.
The Master knows himself
but makes no show of himself;
but does not exalt himself.
The Master steps back
so that people won’t be confused.
He teaches without teaching
so that people will have nothing to learn.
Lao Tzu advises us to avoid turning to outside authority for answers. To do so is to exhibit a lack of trust in oneself and in one’s true nature.
The best that any authentic spiritual teacher can do is to point us back inward, to look within our own heart for that which we seek. The focus of the seeker’s attention is almost like a game of ping-pong; first it bounces outward (into the world and onto the teacher or teaching) and then, if the teacher hits his or her mark, it’s directed back inward.
If we really ‘get it’, the focus of our attention then settles inwardly. But this isn’t easy for most people, for our minds are trained to remain focussed outside of ourselves in the world of form and objects. If we are unable to fully grasp the enormity of our true nature, our attention again gravitates outward into some other teacher, resource or authority. And so the game continues, back-and-forth.
All we really need to do is just stop and just be. As one translation of this verse states: “the Master prefers what is within to what is without.”