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Confucius, Tzu, Willie? Wisdom of a music icon

From his days as a country outlaw to Zen-like figure, the legendary Nelson shares his life lessons in “The Tao of Willie.” Read an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In this autobiographical collection of life advice, “The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart,” Willie Nelson reveals the spiritual and practical lessons learned from decades of hard knocks and good bounces. This collection of “Willie wisdom” includes his days as a young boy in Texas where he learns to respect his elders, to his roadhouse days when he united redneck rockers, long-haired hippies and straight-laced country music fans, to the mega-sized benefit concerts and environmentalism that define his boundless heart. Here's an excerpt:

Hello. I’m Willie Nelson
A Way can be a guide, but not a fixed path.
— The Tao Te Ching

Hi. I’m Willie Nelson, and it’s a pleasure to meet you. I’ve met many of you before, of course, out on the road as I’ve traveled across America and around the world playing my music.

I’ve seen you at concerts and in honky-tonks. I’ve seen you in little country churches, at gigantic music festivals, and at countless fund-raisers for causes that we believe in. We may have traded smiles in a café. I might have laughed at a joke you told me, or I may have told you one of mine.

Here’s one now:

What did the Minnesotan say to the Pillsbury Doughboy?

“Nice tan.”

If we both get a laugh out of a quick one like that, then we’re ahead of the game. You may even find some deeper meaning in that joke — some analogy to the greater lessons or mysteries of life. (If you do, let me know immediately. As far as I know, it’s just a joke ... but I could be wrong.)

Whether we’ve been eye to eye, or you’ve just heard me singing my songs, I’d like to think that we’re old friends, new friends, or just friends in the making.

The Texas golf master Harvey Penick said, “If you play golf, you are my friend.” So what I say is, “If you love music, you are my friend.”

It’s good to have a lot of friends.

This book is my way of sharing a little of what I’ve learned in seventy-two years of making music and friends on this beautiful planet. I don’t know if the things I write here will change your life, but they sure changed mine.

The ways my life has changed seem pretty amazing to me, for somewhere along the way, the freckle-faced, dirt-eating kid from Abbott, Texas, ended up being a father, grandfather, and great-grandfather with a family, friends, and work I wouldn’t trade for anything on earth. By hook or by crook, I seem to have stumbled onto something all of us search for in this great mystery of life.

Some would call it happiness, but I like to think that what I found is me. That sounds simple enough, but the truth is, it took quite a while to do it. Among other things, it took me learning that I had to quit trying to be someone else.

Trying to be someone else is the hardest road there is.

I thought I’d tell you a little about how I got here, and maybe by getting to know me and a little about the path I’ve taken, you’ll find a path of your own. Along the way, you’ll get to know both of us a little better.

That’s what we’re talking about — me and you.

So welcome to The Tao of Willie, my little guide to the happiness in your own heart. From the get-go, we need to get one thing straight. If you’re looking for a scholarly work about the ancient Eastern philosophy found in the Tao Te Ching, this may not be what you had in mind.

On the other hand, if you don’t know beans about the ancient Chinese philosophy called the Tao, there’s no reason to fret.

You don’t have to know the Tao for the Tao to know you.

Whatever you think of the Tao, if my thoughts strike that bell of truth in your heart, it will also be ringing in mine.

That’s the way it is between friends.

What Is It?
What is gooder than God?
More evil than the devil?
The rich need it
The poor have it
And if you eat it you will die?
— A riddle

Before I give you the answer to that “gooder than God” riddle, we need to consider one important question: What the *#*@! is a Tao?

I thought you’d never ask.

The Tao — pronounced “tao” or “dao” depending on how hip you want to sound — is a philosophy of life based on a Chinese text called the Tao Te Ching, or “The Way and Its Power.”

The Tao Te Ching is the work of several writers who were inspired by the teachings of a guy named Lao Tzu, who lived about six hundred years before Christ. But the ideas behind the Tao are older still, and were very likely derived from some of man’s oldest teachings.

Like all of life, the Tao is an eternal mystery, and has so much meaning that it may be easier to say what it is not.

The Tao is NOT a religion.

It has no gods, and could be as helpful to a Christian or a Jew as to a druid who worships trees, a narcissist who worships himself, or a record executive who worships money. Truthfully, the record exec is probably the person who most needs the Tao.

Once you know what the Tao is not, then everything else is the Tao.

The Tao is the biggest thing there is.

The Tao connects the personal with the universal. It is the link between you and other people. It is the link between you and the natural world, the link between you and the universe. The Tao is the link between you and yourself.

And that ain’t all. The Tao is a way of life, a science and an art. It is the natural order, and it is a path that leads to peace and freedom. The Tao is the deepest well of the purest water, but you cannot see it or hear it, touch it or taste it. You also cannot use it up.

The general idea is that if you live your life in accordance with your own essential nature, then your life will be empowered by the Tao.

When Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true,” he was dipping into the Tao ... or into some really good snuff.

The opposite of the Tao would be to live your life in defiance of your original nature, in which case your chances of finding tranquility are pretty much shot to shit.

If you live according to the Tao, you live in accordance with the natural world, with other people, and yourself.

If you live in opposition to the Tao, your life will unfold in opposition to the natural world, to other people, and to yourself.

The choice is up to you.

If you read this guide distilled from my view of life, love, and laughter, then find yourself wanting more, you will have missed the essence of the Tao, which relies not in wanting more, but in needing less.

“To know you have enough,” says the Tao, “is to be truly rich.”

Like any good philosophy, the Tao is a search for knowledge.

Where do you get this knowledge? When I was a kid, sometimes a feller would be reluctant to say where he’d gotten something — like, say, a “borrowed” horse — so he’d say he got it “from the getting place.”

But before we get to the getting place, what about my riddle? What is gooder than God and more evil than the devil, that the rich need and the poor have, and if you eat it you will die?

The answer, of course, is “nothing.”

Excerpted from “The Tao of Willie: A Guide to the Happiness in Your Heart,” by Willie Nelson. Copyright © 2006, Willie Nelson. All rights reserved. Published by No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.