Stop being Holy and Other Taoist Wisdom

I remember feeling particularly disgusted with myself one day, reprimanding myself for not fostering children, not volunteering at the school, not participating in the neighborhood association, not being charitable enough.  Serendipitously, this Taoist text showed up in my life that very day. It read: 


Stop being holy, forget being prudent

It’ll be a hundred times better for everyone.

Stop being altruistic, forget being righteous,

People will remember what family feeling is.  

Stop planning, forget making a profit, 

there won’t be any thieves and robbers.


But even these three rules 

Needn’t be followed: what works reliably

Is to know the raw silk,

Hold the uncut wood.

Need little,

Want less.

Forget the rules. 

Be untroubled. 

This quote metaphorically slapped me in the face.  Something about my struggle to be good and to do good seemed inauthentic and forced.  Either you go do some good, or you don’t, but don’t sit around feeling bad about your inaction. “Shit or get off the pot!”  

My spiritual director often asks me “who’s voice is it?”  Who is telling me that I’m not good enough or I’m not doing enough?  I think it’s Mother Teresa’s voice.  She often tells me to get off my ass and take up my cross.  And I think there is something to be said about doing some good and taking on some responsibility to make the world a better place. Yet, I tend to be an extremist.  So if I’m not out there ministering to the poorest of the poor or fostering five children, I’m not doing my part. 

Yet Taoist wisdom proclaims: 

Do nothing and everything gets done.

When I settle into this Tao Te Ching quote, I realize there are many simple actions I do that help.  I do nothing yet: my kids get a cuddle, my friend gets a small loan, the school gets a field trip volunteer, my husband gets a lunch, and my mom gets a phone call that makes her day.

All that comes from my righteous worrying about not doing enough is me pulling away from the present moment. and losing sight of all the good that already gets done. Taoist sage, Lao Tzu says to be more like the raw silk and the uncut wood, which I think means to be more natural.  Don’t try so hard to be this perfected, refined person.  Learn from the animals.  My dog isn’t worried about his contribution to society; he isn’t fretting over his life’s purpose.  He just lives his life, being present with what arises.

As I wrote this piece, I researched some interpretations of these quotes, but I found no satisfactory analysis.  So I took that as a message to stop looking for the precise understanding, stop trying to perfect my knowledge, stop waiting for the puzzle pieces to fall into place.  I’m sending out my raw and uncarved thoughts today, trusting that everything that needs to get done will. 


Featured Image by Ian Keefe