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Taoism and tai chi have no interest whatsoever in politics. They both advocate personal responsibility for your actions and express an indifference to authority.
Politics is a good example of 'information culture'. The mass media provides all manner of facts, figures, gossip and speculation concerning politics.
By observing the state of world/national affairs, people can feel to be part of what is 'going on' in the world. They feel to be well informed. There is a fear of looking ignorant.
News is irrelevant. In the
past twelve months you have probably consumed about 10,000 news snippets -
perhaps as many as 30 per day. Be very honest: name one of them, just one,
that helped you make a better decision - for your life, your career or your
business - compared with not having this piece of news. No one I have asked
has been able to name more than two useful news stories - out of 10,000. A
Information is not wisdom. It requires no depth of understanding. To know anything thoroughly necessitates a great commitment of time and effort.
Following politics sidesteps this: it allows people to identify with an image of themselves as being somebody who knows what is going on. This image becomes the focus rather than action.
Politics always feels to be bigger than oneself, bigger than our individual lives. This promotes a sense of impotence. People are encouraged to worry, to fret.
Newscasters speak is terse, urgent voices: they sell importance.
There is a stress-inducing quality to 'the news': it encourages people to watch it for assurance whilst simultaneously amplifying their fears.
Conflict of interests
Political issues often involve somewhat thorny matters e.g. alcohol. Alcohol abuse results in an increase in crime and a considerable number of health problems.
Conversely, the taxation of alcohol produces revenue for the government.
On the one hand curtailing alcohol consumption would reduce stress on the health service, but on the other hand cause a reduction of government income.
A conflict of interests? How many other matters are just the same? Catch-22?
Life is happening around us all the time. Whilst you are reading this, a billion other things are happening at the exact same time.
Someone is being born. Someone else is dying. Someone is falling in love. Someone is happy. Someone is sad. All the time.
Politics is the news provider's idea of what matters. If you read books from thousands of years ago, versions of the very same events are unfolding.
They always were. They always will be. Things change. Things stay the same.
By looking outside of our lives we get to ignore the problems we are facing as individuals. Our families. Our jobs. Our fitness. Losing weight. Stopping smoking. Clearing debt. Our future.
A Punch & Judy show?
Politics allows people to lose themselves in something. It is far easier to talk about politics than to examine your own life.
Dealing with tangible, concrete problems requires commitment, resolve and effort.
our leaders, political or spiritual, out of our own confusion, and
so they also are confused. We demand to be coaxed and comforted, to be
encouraged and gratified, so we choose a teacher who will give us what we
crave for. We do not search out reality, but go after gratification and
The nature of existence is too complex to be comprehended. No single human can completely understand their own body (doctors included):
and so on...
Do we actually understand every miniscule relationship, function and
purpose - and how it all works together?
Lacking so little knowledge of ourselves,
how can we possibly grasp the complexity of society or the world?
Our own body is too vast to be known and too intricate to be fathomed.
In the UK alone there are 58 million people (1996). How can they be managed responsibly? The very question is unfathomable. Yet, people like to play God.
Taoism is unique in that it
is probably the only major religion in the world whose practitioners as a
rule have not sought great secular power. In the past, Taoists took on such
power only out of necessity to correct specific abuses. After these excesses
had been corrected, they were always ready to relinquish the power and fade
away, or "leave no footprints" as they put it.
Politics is like taking a headache tablet instead of addressing the root of the pain. People have no real interest in the wellbeing of others. If they did, no one would be hungry, cold and without shelter tonight...
Snake oil salesman?
If we see that existence is too vast and complicated to be understood, let alone managed, why would you trust a person who claims that they are capable of acting in your best interests?
A politician is claiming (in principle) to have the ability to comprehend the complexity of reality and the insight to organise matters in such a way as to serve you. This is positively ludicrous.
How clear headed are we?
People are asked to choose which politician they entrust with running the country. Consider our own suitability:
We are fundamentally incapable of understanding the complexity of reality
We cannot fully understand our own body
We are not in full control of our own brain
We do not have complete emotional awareness/control
We may have biases, opinions, hang-ups, an agenda
Our lives are not always running to plan
We may be overweight
We may be stressed
We may be physically unfit
Our minds may not be working to their full potential
How well do we know ourselves?
How much do we really care about other people?
How distracted are we? How present are we?
How honest are we?
When making any political decision, we cannot possibly allow for all human relationships in the UK, the natural world, the environment, animals, political/ideological/religious differences, distribution of resources, interaction with other countries... etc.
How can we possibly choose which politician might best undertake the task of managing things on our behalf?
Have you noticed, in newspapers
and magazines, the amount of space given to politics, to the sayings of
politicians and their activities? Of course, other news is given, but
political news predominates; the economic and political life has become
all-important. It is so much easier to throw oneself into social and
political activity than to understand life as a whole; to be associated with
any organized thought, with political or religious activity, offers a
respectable escape from the pettiness and drudgery of everyday life.
With a small heart you can talk of big things and of the popular leaders; you can hide your shallowness with the easy phrases of world affairs; your restless mind can happily and with popular encouragement settle down to propagate the ideology of a new or of an old religion.
Many people spout earnest opinions about how to run the country.
OK... so what exactly qualifies them to venture their insights? Are they a lawyer, a banker, an expert on international trade? Do they know how to coordinate relations between countries? Run a local council? Operate the health service? The welfare state? The military? The police? The fire service? Are they a specialist in business, stocks and shares?
Probably not. If they are, why not present their political manifesto... Most likely, they're just a talker.
Why so confident?
What is the basis of people's confidence when they talk about politics? What makes them so politically astute? What is the source of their self-confidence, their surety? Who says that they are right, that they know, that they are certain? On what basis? By what measurement? Where is the proof?
If we begin with a conclusion, there is no investigation, no discovery, no learning. To think that you have all the answers is to operate within the field of the known, the past, the old.
This is not 'open' to new ideas, insights, perspectives or perceptions. It is not even intelligent. It is simplistic, arrogant and self-serving.
Zen and Taoism teach us to recognise that we really don't know the answers. That all solutions are fractional, fragmentary and incomplete.
We learn to acknowledge our ignorance, our limitations and have true humility. We deal with facts, not opinions.
Politics as religion
Some people embrace politics as though it were a new religion - they listen avidly to the news, and read magazines and newspapers.
But politics is not a religion. It is a game. It is entertainment. A distraction.
Politics will not save us
Politics will not bring peace on earth, happiness or spiritual fulfilment. It will make you feel frustrated and helpless.
There is a saying:
If you wish to drown, do not
torture yourself with shallow water.
There is a myth that voting enables the individual to have some say over what happens in the world. Government is about commerce.
Business runs the country, not the individual. If you want to make a difference, do it in your relationships with everyone and everything around you.
Empowering politicians is simply a ritual. Nobody trusts these people, and no one believes what they have to say. It is a social custom.
Care for real
Make a change by caring about things that matter. Give money to charity, spend time helping the homeless, the needy, the weak and the helpless.
Be kind and warm to everyone you have dealings with; pass on your strength and your consideration.
Know the world by being part of it, by doing something constructive. Don't abdicate responsibility.
If you do not want to give cash, just clear out stuff you don't use.
Whenever you buy something new, take something old to the charity shop - it makes more space in your house and the sale of the goods will profit somebody else.
It is quite difficult for modern people to go 'cold turkey'.
They are so accustomed to watching other people doing things with their lives that they have completely forgotten about living their own.
Try cutting out politics entirely? Leave the TV off and don't buy a newspaper or watch the news on-line.
Don't talk about politics with friends or acquaintances. You will find yourself with a lot of free time. Start living instead of watching/browsing/commentating/updating.
There is an excellent Buddhist story about politics, possessions and life:
Some children were playing beside a river.
They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said,
"This one is mine."
They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose.
When the castles were finished, one child kicked over someone else's castle and completely destroyed it.
The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child's hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, "He has spoiled my castle! Come along all of you and help me to punish him as he deserves."
The others all came to his help.
They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground...
Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, "This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away! Don't touch my castle!"
But evening came; it was
getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home. No one now
cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed
his over with both hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his
If you like to talk politics and watch the news, you probably shouldn't consider martial arts. It is not for you.
Tai chi is all about tangible, concrete action. Putting your money where you mouth is: training hard, integrity, resolve, commitment, sacrifice, dedication, focus, earnestness, clarity, proof, results.
There's no room for talkers. You cannot defeat a punch with hot air...Talk truly is worthless.
Most people's arms are extremely tense and they don't even realise it. Why? Why are people's arms tense?
Your hand is the primary tool employed by the mind for the exploration of reality. You touch, you hold, you press, you pull, you manipulate most things using your hands.
Jacob Bronowski wrote "The hand is the cutting edge of the mind." There's your answer. A tense arm is the by-product of a mind that is not in any way relaxed and at ease.
There is a direct correlation between mental tension - over-thinking, anxiety, frustration, worrying, anger, stress - and physical tension in the body.
Indeed, students who are actively sharing news snippets and regurgitating political views on Facebook are inevitably the most tense in class, have the most trouble concentrating and subsequently make little or no progress through the syllabus. Their brains have been hijacked by the mass media. If you want to stop being tense, you need to switch it all off.
Only when your mind is clean
are you in a suitable state to read books and study the ancients
11 May 1996
Last updated 16 June 2023