Chapter 5: Renounce the Past, Not the World
Lao Tzu, an authentic rebel - more authentic than Gautam Buddha and Mahavira, because he remained in the world and fought in the world - lived according to his own light, struggling, not escaping. He became so wise that the emperor invited him to become his prime minister. He simply refused. He said, “It won’t work because it is improbable that we can come to the same conclusions about things. You live according to the ideals your forefathers have given to you; I live according to my own conscience.” But the emperor was insistent; he could not see that there was any problem.
The very first day in his court a thief was brought in; he had been caught red-handed, stealing from the richest man in the capital - and he confessed that he was stealing. Lao Tzu gave six months in jail to both the rich man and the thief. The rich man said, “What? I have been robbed, I am a victim and I am being punished? Are you mad or something? There is no precedent in history that a man whose money has been stolen should be punished.”
Lao Tzu said, “In fact, you should be given a longer term in jail than the thief - I am being much too compassionate - because you have gathered all the money of the city. Do you think money showers from the sky? Who has made these people so poor that they have to become thieves? You are responsible.”
“And this will be my judgment in every case of stealing; both persons will go to jail. Your crime is far deeper, his crime is nothing. He is poor and you are responsible for it. And if he was stealing a little bit of money from your treasures, it was not much of a crime. That money belongs to many of the poor people from whom you got it. You went on becoming richer and richer and many more people went on becoming poorer and poorer.”
The rich man thought, “This man seems to be crazy, utterly crazy.” He said, “I want one chance to see the emperor.” He was so rich that even the emperor used to borrow money from him. He told the emperor what had happened. He said to him, “If you don’t remove this man from the court you will be behind bars just like me - because from where have you got all your treasures? If I am a criminal, you are a far bigger criminal.”
The emperor saw the logic of the situation. He told Lao Tzu, “Perhaps you were right that it will be difficult for us to come to the same conclusions. You are relieved from your services.”
This man was a rebel; he lived in the society, he struggled in the society. A rebellious mind can only think the way he thought. He was not reacting - otherwise there were precedents and law books. He was not looking in the law books and the precedents; he was looking inside his own self, watching the situation. Why are so many people poor? Who is responsible for it? Certainly those who have become too rich are the real criminals.
A rebel will renounce ideals, morals, religions, philosophies, rituals and superstitions of the society, but not the society itself. He is not a coward, he is a warrior. He has to fight his way and he has to make paths for other rebels to follow.