I’ve said many times that the Tao te Ching is my favorite book of wisdom. Its words, written by Lao Tzu 2,500 years ago, are timeless.

It’s no wonder that I’ve written so many articles about it. I’ve written separate articles about each of these three quotes:

If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”(Article link here.)

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”(Article link here.)

Practice not-doing, and everything will fall into place.”(Article link here.)

But it struck me recently, in re-reading the Tao for the umpteenth time, that Lao Tzu waits until chapter 67 (of 81) to state: “I have just three things to teach.” I leaned in like never before upon reading that sentence.

Why? Put it this way. It would be like reading a golf instruction book by Tiger Woods where he gives all kinds of great tips. Then towards the end, he writes, “Now here are the only three things I teach in golf.” Time to laser in.

Lao Tzu’s three teachings

Same here with Lao Tzu. Those three things he lists are: simplicity, patience and compassion. Today’s piece is about that first one, simplicity. (I’ll write about the other two at a later date.)

I love that Lao Tzu puts simplicity first. Why? Because simplicity is so central to the well-being of we mere mortals.

How does Lao Tzu express what he means by simplicity? Like this:

Simple in actions and in thoughts, you return to the source of being.”

Did your head just explode? Mine did. Doesn’t get much deeper than that.

So what does Lao Tzu mean here? I interpret it as simplicity is our original, natural state.

The ego drove us out of the Garden

It’s only when our minds develop egos in our developmental years and beyond that we stray from simplicity to its opposite, complexity. Boiled down to its essence, complexity means developing lots of ‘likes’ and ‘not likes.’

We like sushi (but nothing with roe, tempura or cucumber in it), vodka drinks (but only with Tito’s), Kiehl’s moisturizer and filet mignon steak (never NY strip or ribeye).

We don’t like redheads (first girlfriend had red hair and broke your heart), red wine or any whites other than Albarino and southern Rhone blends of Rousanne, Marsanne and Viognier, or the color teal.

Mickey Singer has called this move from simplicity to complexity in like and not likes the fall from the Garden of Eden. And I think he’s right.

Simplicity in today’s world

What’s the modern version of simplicity? It’s deriving the pleasures of life from things like taking walks in nature, drinking a cup of tea every afternoon while watching and listening to the birds in your backyard, having a fried egg on top of a piece of toast for breakfast (my mom’s favorite).

Speaking of my mom, she was the queen of the simple life. She helped her six kids in myriad ways, ate simply, read books, went on walks and drank cheap, jug wine with my dad.

Which was doubly impressive given that my dad was a Fortune 500 CEO, so my mom could’ve drunk Montrachet chardonnays, worn Chanel dresses and driven a Rolls-Royce.

But lucky for her she didn’t want any of that. She came from the lower middle-class section of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where simplicity wasn’t a choice, it was a necessity. And I said lucky for her because that simple, frugal life she chose to lead was the cornerstone for her bountiful happiness.

My experience has been that those with simple needs, like my mom, are invariably the happiest people. Conversely, those who can only drink Grey Goose vodka and eat Beluga caviar or no caviar at all, always seem dissatisfied. Off. Like nothing is ever enough.

The great beings were all simple

And look at the spiritual giants now and in the past. Eckhart Tolle says he does very little. He takes walks in the woods of Vancouver, has a cup of tea, reads some books. Not much. And he oozes contentment.

Ditto with Mickey Singer who for years has worn the same outfit: a navy blue long-sleeve knit shirt and khaki pants. I ate a couple meals with him at his Temple of the Universe in Florida and I can tell you that the vegan food he ate was tasty but far from gourmet. And the guy is a billionaire through creating the leading medical office billing software.

The same holds for Ram Dass, Yogananda, Ramana Maharshi, Neem Karoli Baba and other high beings. The simplicity with which these spiritual icons lived their lives enhanced their ability to transcend their humanness and realize the deep being within them.

As Lao Tzu so beautifully wrote, it was simplicity that allowed these great saints to,

‘…return to the source of being.’

Which is another way of saying becoming one with God, the Tao, Jesus, nature, the Universe or whatever your belief system dictates. It’s the realization of the true self within us all.

Which is impossible to pull off if we spend our lives constantly trying to satisfy our wants and avoid our ‘not wants.’

The takeaway

We can only reach the highest places life has to offer when we keep things as simple as possible.

Kudos to Lao Tzu for realizing that 2,500 years ago.