Throw away holiness and wisdom

We walk on a roadway in the Great Dismal Swamp (Southeast Virginia).

I read Chapter 19 of the Tao te Ching by Lao tsu (trans. By Steven Mitchell):

“Throw away holiness and wisdom,
and people will be a hundred times happier.”

Lao tsu implies that letting go of “holiness and wisdom” brings happiness. Should you let go of holiness and wisdom?

Let’s think about this. We are walking in a place that is somewhat featureless — a good area for thinking.

There is no scientific evidence indicating that non-religious or non-wise people are happier than religious or wise people. Some studies find that religious people are happier than non-religious people.

Here is what I say: Lao tsu’s text can best be understood within the framework of meditation — the pathway to the Tao.

Meditators focuses on the breath. When thoughts of holiness or wisdom arise, they let these thoughts go. This meditation is a path to happiness.

We do not need to accept Lao tsu’s word literally. He may not even have existed. Some scholars believe his text is merely a transcription of Chinese folk traditions during the 3-5th century BCE.

Be skeptical.

I am interested in the Tao te Ching because it captures universal features associated with shamanic traditions and because it is useful for mindfulness therapy. A growing body of research indicates that meditation based on mindfulness can help people.

Lao tsu writes:

“Throw away morality and justice,
and people will do the right thing.”

There is no sociological evidence indicating that “throwing away morality and justice” will reduce the crime rate — but sociological theories point out that crime and laws have a symbiotic relationship. Without labeling crime, there would be no crime. Morality and the justice system label crime.

These verses are best understood within the framework of meditation. The person meditating “throws away morality and justice” (along with all other thoughts) when they arise. An empty mind allows “doing the right thing.”


The Tao te Ching is not suitable as a guide for social change. It is a guide for meditators.

Karen and I look at an exibition: an alcohol still. People made their own alcohol in the swamp.

Like meditation, alcohol affects the brain — but alcohol has unwanted side effects.

About 10% of those reading these words have a drinking problem. Drinking affects their relationships with others. I believe that most people accept, on some level, the Buddhist notion that life is suffering. They feel suffering inside themselves. Something does not feel right, at times, and alcohol can cover that feeling. Street drugs also prove useful for blotting out the feeling.


We look at the still.

As a result of the “life is suffering” situation, alcohol or drugs can be addicting. They are a way of dealing with suffering — except that they bring more suffering — they have cumulative physiological side effects and hence the need for recovery programs.

Meditation can help with this because the meditator is forced to face that inner suffering. There is a cycle — You sit meditating…Focus on the breath — but the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering comes up — return to focusing on the breath — the suffering come up.

This is the case for many people. Anxiety, depression, fear, loneliness — come up.

With practice, you recognize the suffering and see how it changes over time. You come to terms with it. The Buddhist “noble truths” set forth a path toward enlightenment — but I am mainly concerned with how you are doing — can you accept that feeling inside yourself without drinking too much alcohol? Can you sit in stillness until the sadness goes away and you are left with only the silence?


We see an exhibit for a canal boat – taking lumber down the canal in the 1800s.

Lao tsu writes:

“Throw away industry and profit,
and there won’t be any thieves.”

If we look at this literally, it seems flawed. There are thieves in areas that lack industry and profit. But on the individual level, the meditator who gives up thinking about industry or profit also gives up the need to acquire material goods. No industry, no profit, no thieves, no alcohol, no thought, no suffering.


Canal boat — used to transport material down the canal.

To say that industry leads to crime is simplistic — but let us not worry about this. Return your awareness to the breath.

Here is what I say: Some people say the glass is half full. Some say the glass is half empty. I say, “Drink up!”

Lao tsu writes:
“If these three aren’t enough,
just stay at the center of the circle
and let all things take their course.”

Practice sitting still. Stay in the center of the circle.

I watch the birds.


We walk down the road.
“What a deep subject,” Karen says.
“Foolishness,” I reply.

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