The King Who Serves

The Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” –1 Samuel 8:7

Dear members and friends,

After watching the midterm elections and all that preceded them, a chapter in Tao Te Ching came to my mind. Following is the selection from an English translation titled, “The Invisible King”:

There are four different levels of ruler. The highest is the one who leads without words, allowing the people to follow their own natures and live in their own way. If you were to ask a person living under this type of rule about their king, they would reply, “King? Do we have a king?”

The next highest is the ruler who uses goodness to transform the people and benevolence and righteousness to govern them. If you were to ask a person about this type of ruler, they would proudly reply, “We have a wonderful king. He’s done many things for us!”

Next is the ruler who controls his people with political teachings and scares them into submission through stringent laws and severe punishments. If you were to ask someone about this ruler, they would reply with a shaky voice, “Our king is very strict, very harsh, very terrifying!”

The worst kind of ruler uses all of his power to toy with the people and cheat them through devious schemes. If you were to question someone living under this regime, the angry reply would be, “We’re being oppressed! It’s time to revolt!”

The best way to govern is through “non-action”; allowing the people to follow their natures and live in their own way. When everything is accomplished without the people even knowing anything was attempted, that is when we can say that it was naturally so!

Throughout the human history, it has been accepted as a norm that politicians (rulers) are motivated by their own self-centered ambition and desire for power with strong support from parties whose interests they protect. Some philosophers including Plato and Confucius tried their best to provide a model of government that could work for the good of the people, because it is governed by rulers whose inner qualities are free from selfishness and hunger for power and control. However, it did not work as they envisioned and was only abused to glorify those who were already in positions of power.

Non-action by Lao Tzu does not mean doing nothing, but means acting without selfish or self-centered desire. The Chinese word for action is 爲. 爲 could mean to do, to make, or to acknowledge. If you add 爲 with another Chinese word for human 人, what you have is 僞, which means to deceive or to be false. To me, there is a certain ancient wisdom influenced by Taoism in making this work, 僞. To do or to make requires a human agent to be real, yet if you add the word, to do or to make to a human, it means to be false or to deceive! It shows how hard it is for a human to act or to make anything without selfish or self-centered desire.

I am not suggesting that our politicians should be the highest or even the next highest level of ruler as described in the Tao Te Ching. All I am hoping and praying for is that our politicians have at least an awareness that the lives of people depend on their decisions and actions, and that the very positions of power they wield over people are meant to serve the people so that they can live in security and comfort.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee