Taoism III - Tao Te Ching Part Two.

               By Dr. Tan Kheng Khoo         

Reciting Tao Te Ching Chapter 81 ---- 乐诵 ( 道德经 ) 第八十一章


Tao Te Ching Part Two

This is the continuation of the last article, Tao Te Ching Part One. The last article depicts Verses 1 to 37, which is the Tao Ching. These 37 verses describe the essence of Tao. This article is the Te Ching comprising of verses 38 to 81. And here it explores the Tao of Power and Virtue. This power is latent in every individual, and the Te will emerge if the individual is aware and is aligned with the forces of nature. The last article, Tao Ching, explored the conditions by which one can be receptive to one’s own Tao. Once one has let go enough of one’s assets, status, honour and position and is living frugally in accordance with nature, there are no grounds for fear and desires for that individual. One has now a vision and a sense of psychic integration with nature that one has a power to wield a force that is neither aggressive nor punitive to others.


The realized sage never shows his strength, yet others listen to him because of his charisma and he seems to know. He radiates knowledge, which is an intuitive knowing that comes from a direct understanding and experience with the ways of nature. One is compassionate and generous because he instinctively realizes that power continues to flow through him only when he passes on that power.


While living a simple life, the sage influences others by his example and attitude. That means the realized person possesses intellectual independence and simplicity in living. He understands the universe based on experience and not on faith. Relying on concepts composing of doctrines and dogma created by others will not cultivate his own mind. Nothing new or fresh can arise. One must have simplicity in conduct and beliefs in its environment in order to realize the truth of reality. In this way, freedom will be attracted by his simple life, and his personal power is enhanced. It is the letting go of unnecessary desires and superfluous possessions that brings on that freedom. Although an individual life contains the whole universe, when we develop fixations about certain things in life the individual becomes unfocused, narrow and shallow. Thus, a crisis in the mind is developed. With letting go, freedom, security, power and independence will increase.


I will now continue with the second part of the (Tao) Te Ching. The verses here are that of 38 to 81.

 Tao Te Ching Part Two

38.       High TE? No TE!

That’s what TE is.

Low TE doesn’t lack TE;

That’s what TE is not.


Those highest in TE take no action

                        And don’t need to act

Those lowest in TE take action

And do need to act.


Those highest in benevolence take action

                        But don’t need to act.

Those highest in righteousness take action

                        And do need to act.

Those highest in propriety take action

                        An if people don’t reciprocate

Roll up their sleeves and throw them out.



Lose TAO

                        And TE follows.

Lose TE

                        And benevolence follows

Lose benevolence

                        And righteousness follows.

Lose righteousness

                        And propriety follows.


Propriety dilutes loyalty and sincerity

                        Confusion begins.

Foreknowledge glorifies the TAO:

                        Stupidity sets in.


And so the ideal person dwells

                        In substance, not dilution,

In reality, not glory,

Accepts one, rejects the other.


39.       Of old, these attained the One:


Heaven attaining the One

                                    Became clear.

Earth attaining the One

Became stable.

Spirits attaining the One

                                    Became sacred.

Valleys attaining the One

                                    Became bountiful.

Myriad beings attaining the One

                                    Became fertile.

Lords and kings attaining the One

                                    Purified the world.


If heaven were not clear

                        It might split.

If earth were not stable,

                        It might erupt.

If spirits were not sacred

They might fade.

If valleys were not bountiful,

                        They might wither.

If myriad beings were not fertile,

They might perish.

If rulers and lords were not noble,

                        They might stumble.



                        Noble has humble as its root,

                        High has low as its foundation.

Rulers and lords call themselves

                        Poorly lonely orphans.

Isn’t this using humility as a root?


They use many carriages

                        But have no carriage;

They do not desire to glisten like jade

                        But drop like a stone.



The use of ‘the One’ as a synonym for the Tao indicates the unifying character of the Tao. This poem is an assertion that the Tao is immanent everywhere.


40.              Reversal is TAO’s movement.

Yielding is TAO’s practice.


All things originate from being.


Being originates from non-being.



The word “return” means to go back into one’s self, where the ultimate mystery of being can eventually be confronted. Yielding is like Jesus’ trial where a religion is born. “What is” is the ‘mother’. Non-being means beyond the categories of being and non-being.

41.              The great scholar hearing the TAO

Tries to practice it.


The middling scholar hearing the TAO,

Sometimes has it, sometimes not.


The lesser scholar hearing the TAO

                        Has a good laugh,

Without the laughter

                        It wouldn’t be TAO.


Therefore, these sayings:


The bright road seems dark,

The road forward seems to retreat,

The level road seems rough.


Great TE seems hollow.

Great purity seems sullied.

Pervasive TE seems deficient.

Established TE seems furtive.

Simple truths seem to change.


The great square has no corners.

The great vessel is finished late.

The great sound is scarcely voiced.

The great image has no form.


TAO hides, no name.

Yet TAO alone gets things done.


42.              TAO engenders ONE,

One engenders Two,

Two engenders Three,

Three engenders the ten thousand things.


The ten thousand things carry shade

And embrace sunlight.

            Shade and sunlight, yin and yang,

Breathe blending into harmony.


Humans hate

To be alone, poor, and hungry.

Yet kings and princes

Use these words as titles.

                        We gain by losing,

                        Losing by gaining.


What others teach, I also teach:

A violent man does not die a natural death.

This is the basis of my teaching.



When it is called One, it is no longer the Tao. The ten thousand things carry the yin and yang; through the blending of the energy (chi) of these two, they achieve harmony. Although people hate to be orphans, widowers, and starvelings, these names are used as titles by kings and princes.


43.              The softest thing in the world

Rides roughshod over the strongest.


No-thing enters no-space.


This teaches me the benefit of no-action.


Teaching without words,

Benefit without action-----


Few in this world can attain this.



On the analogy of water, the softest stuff, penetrating rocks, the insubstantial Tao gets into everything, even when it seems that there is no place for it. Yet neither water nor the Tao attempt this penetration; it happens without effort, without doing on the part of the Tao or resistance on the part of whatever is penetrated. The creature simply gives up to its Creator.


44.              Name or body: which is closer?

Body or possessions: which means more?

Gains or loss: which one hurts?


Extreme love exacts a great price.

Many possessions entail heavy loss.


Know what is enough----

                        Abuse nothing.

Know when to stop---

                        Harm nothing.


This is how to last a long time.



Name (fame) or integrity, body or possessions, what value does one place on each of them? Having been imbued by the Tao, the sage accepts whatever comes to him. Extreme love is costly, many possessions may incur great losses. He uses fame with integrity and money as pure energy. Success or failure is irrelevant, because his heart rests in the Tao.


45.              Great accomplishment seems unfinished

But its use is continuous.


Great fullness seems empty

                        But in use is inexhaustible.


Great straightness seems bent,

Great skills seems clumsy,

Great eloquence seems mute.


Exertion overcomes cold.

Calm overcomes heat.


Pure calm is the norm under heaven.



The Tao, unnamed, though ideal for every good purpose, seems to ordinary observers both defective and stupid. Nevertheless, by means of it, the king can bring order and probity to the world.


46.              With TAO under heaven

Stray horses fertilize the field.

Without Tao under heaven

                        Warhorses are bred at the frontier.


There is no greater calamity

                        Than not knowing what is enough.

There is no greater fault

                        Than desire for success.



Knowing that enough is enough

Is always




When the Tao prevails, nobody wants to go anywhere and the coach horses are turned out to pastures; when the Tao does not prevail, cavalry horses are bred in the city parks. The king should be contented with that of nature. It is contented to be contented.

47.       Without going out the door,

Know the world.

Without peeping through the windows,

                        See heaven’s TAO.


The further you travel,

                        The less you know.


This is why the Sage

                        Knows without budging,

                        Identifies without looking,

                        Does without trying.




The inner world of a man reflects the world around him; the principles of both worlds are the same. Certainty is to be found only in the heart; confusion is bred in the outer world.

48.              Pure knowledge, gain daily.

Pursue TAO, lose daily.

Lose and again lose,

Arrive at non-doing.


Non-doing-----and nothing not done.


Take the entire world as nothing.

Make the least effort,

And the world escapes you.



A student adds each day to his stock of knowledge or experience; but the attainment of the Tao is not like that. Each one sheds a selfish impulse or desire and continues to do so until his will is at rest in the Tao and is undistracted. One can let go of everything except the Tao; but having the Tao, one has the whole world with it. The world can be mine if I do not try to own it or run it, according to my ideas. When I try to run it, then I lose it altogether. Let the king be well advised that he can have everything if he does not try to possess it selfishly.


49.       The Sage has no set heart.


Ordinary people’s hearts

Become the Sage’s heart.


People who are good

                        I treat well.

People who are not good

                        I also treat well:

TE is goodness.


Trustworthy people

                        I trust

Untrustworthy people

                        I also trust


Sages create harmony under heaven

                        Blending their hearts with the world.

Other people fix their eyes and ears on them,

                        But the sages become the world’s children.



This verse says that a sage is disinterested and objective in his view of people. He is not a judge or divider over them. He knows that the sun will rise on the evil and the good, and it will rain on the just and unjust. The sage is not morally indifferent: his virtue is more than social convention, as the Tao is essentially moral.

50.              Emerge into life, enter death.


Life is only the thirteen body parts,

Death is only the thirteen body parts.


Human life, moving towards death,

Is the same thirteen.


Why is this?


Because life gives life to substance.


You have heard of people

                        Good at holding on to life.

Walking overland they don’t avoid

                        Rhinos and tigers.

In battle they don’t arm themselves.

The rhino’s horn finds nothing to gore,

The tiger’s claws find nothing to flay,

Weapons find nothing to pierce.


Why is this?


They have no mortal spot.



A man has thirteen vital organs through which death may come to him. By ancient lore, there are “the four limbs and the nine external cavities”. These spots of danger circumvent his will to live. The sage, however, is in no danger. His thirteen organs have nothing to do with his life or death. He lives by the Tao.

51.              TAO bears them

TE nurses them

Events form them

Energy completes them.


Therefore the ten thousand beings

Honour TAO and respect TE.


TAO is honoured

TE is respected

Because they do not give orders

But endure in their own nature.



            TAO bears them and TE nurses them

                        Rears them,

                        Raises them,

                        Shelters them,

                        Nurtures them,

                        Supports them,

                        Protects them.


Bears them without owning them,

            Helps them without coddling them,

Rears them without ruling them.


This is called original TE.



This poem emphasises that one must respect things as they are.

52.              The world has a source: the world’s mother.


Once you have the mother,

                        You know the children.

Once you know the children,

Return to the mother.


Your body dies.

There is no danger.


Block the passage,

Bolt the gate:

            No strain

Until your life ends.


Open the passage,

            Take charge of things:

            No relief

Until your life ends.


Seeing the small is called brightness.

Maintaining gentleness is called strength.

Use this brightness to return to brightness.


Don’t cling to your body’s woes.

Then you can learn endurance.



The closer you keep to the ‘mother’ or the source, begotten by the Tao, the safer you will be. Live within yourself, but not to exhaust yourself in the world. As wisdom comes in small bits at a time, you must trust the light of the Tao so that intelligence will come to you.

53.       Having some knowledge

When walking the Great TAO

Only brings fear.


The Great TAO is very smooth,

But people like rough trails.


The government is divided,

Fields are overgrown,

Granaries are empty,

But the nobles’ clothes are gorgeous,

The belts show off swords,

And they are glutted with food and drink.

Personal wealth is excessive.


This is called thieves’ endowment,

            But it is not TAO.



No matter how ignorant I may be, at least I know better than to get off the Tao. It is a smooth Way and yet people prefer the bypaths of sensuality. Meanwhile the people fare badly; robed by the nobles, they have no strength left to tend their farms. The people are saying that the King is surrounded by loud bandits.

54.       Well planted, not uprooted.      

Well embraced, never lost.

                        Descendants will continue

The ancestral rituals.


Maintain oneself:

                        TE becomes real

Maintain the family:

                        TE becomes abundant.

Maintain the community:

                        TE becomes extensive.

Maintain the country:

TE becomes prolific.

Maintain the world:

TE becomes omnipresent.



Through self contemplating self,

Through family contemplating family,

Through community contemplating community,

Through country contemplating country,

Through world contemplating world.


How do I know the world?


Like this!



Everything depends on man’s relation to the Tao, especially the form of virtue appropriate to each field of interest and endeavour. This leads to the consideration of the ideal person, home, village, realm or world. The actual man is the avenue through which the ideal man is contemplated. But once a man is set firm in the Tao, he becomes the ideal and the standard by which all actual men are judged.

55.              Be filled with TE,

Like a baby:


Wasps, scorpions and vipers                                                         

Do not sting it.

Fierce tigers do not stalk it.

Bird of preys do not attack it.


Bones weak, muscle soft,

But its grasp is tight.


It does not yet know

Union of male and female,

But its sex is formed,

Its vital essence complete.


IT can scream all day and not get hoarse,

Its harmony is complete.


Knowing harmony is called endurance.

Knowing endurance is called illumination.

Increasing life is called fortune.

Mind controlling energy is called power.


When beings prosper and grow old,

Call them not-TAO

            Not-TAO soon ends.



The sage is immune to evil. This is due to his childlikeness, which is to say, that there is complete harmony in his person. No dissipation has wasted his powers. He shares the constancy of nature and is therefore enlightened. He is not exuberant or aggressive. So may the king be. If he continues with the Tao there will be no decline in his strength or virtue. If he departs from the Tao, he is doomed.

56.              Those who know don’t talk.

Those who talk don’t know.


Block the passage

Bolt the gate

Blunt the sharp

Untie the knot

Blend with the light

Become one with the dust----

This is called original unity.


                        It can’t be embraced

                        It can’t be escaped,

                        It can’t be helped

                        It can’t be harmed,

                        It can’t be exalted

                        It can’t be despised,


Therefore it is revered under Heaven.



“Those who know don’t talk” means they don’t talk for the sake of talking, or to prove something, or to display themselves. They talk only if it’s appropriate. “Those who talk don’t know”: This is ignorance, not the openness of not-knowing.

57.              Use the expected to govern the country,

Use surprise to wage war.

Use non-action to win the world.

How do I know?


Like This!


The more prohibitions and rules,

                        The poorer people become.

The sharper people’s weapons,

The more they riot.

The more skilled their techniques,

                        The more grotesque their works.

The elaborate the laws,

                        The more they commit crimes.


Therefore the Sage says:


I do nothing

And people transform themselves

            I enjoy serenity

And people govern themselves.

            I cultivate emptiness

And people become prosperous.

            I have no desires

And people simplify themselves.



The government of the realm must be based on justice and righteousness; trickery is for warfare. The world is to be won by letting it alone; then only will the Tao take over. This is indicated by the fact that the more a government acts, the more it has to act. With all our ruling and doing, the world goes badly; it would be better if we were to let it alone altogether. If we did that, the people would be free and naturally, they would return to the simplicity and honesty of primitive times, to the qualities of the Virginal Block. This is what the king should desire.


58.       The government is muted and muffled

People are cool and refreshed.

If government investigates and intrudes,

People are worn down and hopeless.


Bad fortune rests upon good fortune.

Good luck hides within bad luck.


Who knows how it will end?


If there is no principle

Principle reverts to disorder,

Good reverts to calamity,

People’s confusion hardens and lingers on.


Therefore the Sage

Squares without cutting,

Corners without dividing,

Straightens without extending,

Shines without dazzling.



To be “square” is to be honest. That good fortune begets the bad and it requires magic to make it so. Since everything that happens is governed by the Tao, magic is to be ruled out.

59.              Governing people and serving heaven

Is like living off the land.

Living sparingly and responding quickly

Means accumulating TE.


There is nothing that cannot be overcome.

            There is no limit.


You can become the country

And the country’s mother,

And nourish and extend it.


This is called deep roots, from base.


This is the TAO if living long and seeing far.



In governing people and serving heaven, nothing is better than moderation. This means preparing in advance, which is actually accumulating Te (virtue or power). He who accumulates Te overcomes all obstacles, which means he has no limits. With no limits he can possess a country. He who possesses the mother of a country can keep it for a long time. This means having long life and enduring vision.

60.              Govern big countries

Like you cook little fish.


When TAO harmonizes the world,

Demons lose their power.


Not that demons lose their power,

But their power does not harm people.


Not that their power does not harm people,

But the Sage does not harm people.


If neither does harm,

Then TE flows and returns.



According to the Tao, the less you do about governing people the better your government will proceed. As the Tao comes into its own, the old superstitions lose their hold: the people take the evil spirits less seriously. When it is conceded that the evil spirits can no longer harm the people, it must appear that at least the Sage is harmless. In which case, the king’s special virtue should converge to a common purpose.

61                A great nation flows down

 To be the world’s pool,

The female under heaven.


In stillness

The female constantly overcomes the male,

                        In stillness

Takes the low place.


Therefore a great nation

                        Lowers itself

                        And wins over a small one.


A small nation

                        Keeps itself low

                        And wins over a great one.


Sometimes becoming low wins,

Sometimes staying low wins.


A great nation desires nothing more

Then to unite and protect people.

A small nation desires nothing more

Than to enter the service of people.


When both get what they wish

The great one should be low.



A large land has room for many people and so they come to it like rivers to the ocean. It is passive, receptive like a woman who first desires and then overcomes a man. Passivity is here proposed as a principle of international relations. Beyond passivity, there is humility and this is the ultimate principle of world dominance. Let the king consider this well before he embarks on a war. The psychology of nations great and small is one; let both the humble and serve each other’s need from their respective resources; one has room while the other has people to give. Then there will peace, which always lies at the end of the Tao.


62.              TAO is the mysterious centre of all things,

A treasure for those who are good,

A refuge for those who are not.


Beautiful words can be traded,

Noble deeds can enhance reputations,

But if people lack them,

Why should they be rejected?


When the Son of Heaven is enthroned

And the Three Ministers installed,

Presenting jade discs

And four-horse chariots

Cannot compare to sitting still

And offering the TAO


The ancients honoured this TAO.

            Didn’t they say:

Through it seekers find,

Through it the guilty escape?

This is why TAO is honoured under Heaven.



It is important to forgive sinners. It is a waste to punish bad men. Let them be forgiven as befits the Wise Man, the king who does great business on a special day. The Tao requires forgiveness of sin and the Tao is truly honoured when the sinners are forgiven. Incidentally, the king’s subjects will at once acknowledge that this is the Tao.


63.              Act without acting

Serve without serving

Taste without tasting

             Big, little,

             Many, few---

Repay hatred with TE.


Map difficult through easy

Approach great through narrow.


The most difficult things in the world

Must be accomplished through the easiest.

The greatest things in the world

Must be accomplished through the smallest.


Therefore the Sage

Never attempts great things

And so accomplishes them.


Quick promises

            Mean little trust.

Everything easy

            Means great difficulty.

Thus for the Sage

            Everything is difficult

And so in the end

            Nothing is difficult.




The paradox of “acting without doing anything,” or of simultaneous work and rest, or of relishing the flavourless, is resolved by the miracle of the Tao.

The Sage is always serious because he knows how small troubles grow great and he deals with them while they are easy to handle. The King achieves greatness by choosing hard things before they choose him.

64.              At rest is easy to hold.

Not yet impossible is easy to plan.

Brittle is easy to break.

Fine is easy to scatter.


Create before it exists.

Lead before it goes astray.


A tree too big to embrace

            Is born from a slender shoot.

A nine-storey tower

            Rises from a pile of earth

            A thousand-mile journey

                        Begins with a single step.


Act and ruin it.

Grasp and you lose it.

Therefore the Sage

            Does not act

            And so does not ruin

            Does not grasp

            And so does not lose.


People commonly ruin their work

            When they are near success.

Proceed at the end as at the beginning

            And your work won’t be ruined.


Therefore the Sage

            Desires no desires

            Prizes no prizes

             Studies no Studies

                        And returns

            To what others pass by.


The Sage

            Helps all beings find their nature,

But does not presumes to act.


65.              Taoist rulers of old

Did not enlighten people

But left them dull.


People are difficult to govern

Because they are very clever.



Ruling through cleverness

            Leads to rebellion

Not ruling through cleverness

            Brings good fortune

Know these two things

            And understand the enduring pattern.


Understand the enduring pattern

             This is called original TE


Original TE goes deep and far.

            All things reverse


And reach the great headwaters.



There are ways but the Tao is uncharted; there are names but not nature in words. The skilled governors of ancient times would never pretend to say what really was going on in the government of the realm. Any statement would only confuse the people and make governing them more difficult. When good times are had, it is because the Tao has taken its own free course. The secret of the Tao is not for interested parties or those who are bound by desire.

The Tao is its own standard and producer of good government on earth. It is the mystic’s virtue to know it and to use it. When it is found and applied, all things will return to that primitive harmony, which was once disturbed, and being disturbed, gave rise to mankind’s ineluctable problems.


66.              Rivers and seas

Can rule the hundred valleys.

Because they are good at lying low

They are lords of the valleys.


Therefore those who would be above

Must speak as if they are below.

Those who would lead

Must speak as if they are behind.


In this way the Sage dwells above

And the people are not burdened.

Dwells in front

And they are not hindered.


Therefore the whole world

Is delighted and unwearied.


Since the Sage does not contend

No one can contend the Sage.



The king can attain his true character as a king only by humility and disinterestedness, both of which virtues must be real and apparent.


67.              Everyone under heaven calls my TAO great,

And unlike anything else.


It is great only because

            It is unlike anything else

                        If it were like anything else

It would stretch and become thin.


I have three treasures

To maintain and conserve:

            The first is compassion.

            The second is frugality

            The third is not presuming

                        To be first under heaven.


Compassion leads to courage.

Frugality allows generosity.

Not presuming to be first

            Creates a lasting instrument.



People reject compassion

            But want to be brave,

Reject frugality

            But want to be generous,

Reject humility

            And want to come first.


                        This is death.



            Attack with it and win.

            Defend with it and stand firm.


Heaven aids and projects

            Through compassion.




The doctrine of the Tao has been generally attacked, presumably by orthodox Confucianists, as heterodox, “detestable folly.” It has not been understood by people satisfied with a petty orthodoxy. Presumably the king will understand so great a doctrine where others have failed.


The failure to understand it is moral rather than intellectual. Compassion, frugality and humility: these three great virtues are absent from political life. Their absence can be fatal to the nation. It is, however, chiefly compassion that connects the people to the will of God.

68.              The accomplished person is not aggressive.

The good soldier is not hot-tempered.

The best conqueror does not engage the enemy.

The most effective leader takes the lowest place.


This is called the TE of not contending.

This is called the power of the leader.

This is called matching Heaven’s ancient ideal.



The man of Tao is no doctrinaire pacifist; he may be a soldier, a fighter, a conqueror, or one who commands and is obeyed. He is not, however, a man of violence; the imponderables are essence of his art. Let the king take note.

This view leads to peace, and as the king is able to keep peace with honour, he rises to God’s measure or compares favourably with the worthies of ancient times who followed the Tao.


69.              There is a saying in the army:

I do not presume to be master,

            But become the guest.

I do not dare advance an inch,

            But retreat a foot.


This is called moving without moving,

Rolling up sleeves without baring your arms,

Repelling without opposing,

Wielding without a weapon.


There is no disaster greater than

Contempt for the army.

            Contempt for the enemy----

What a treasure is lost!



When the fighting gets hot,

Those who grieve will conquer.



The strategists are absurd. Little bankrupt feudal states, like sleeves with no arms in them, marching and going nowhere, arming without weapons, plotting moves and countermoves as the empire sink into chaos, each hoping to conquer the rest: this is the picture the king must contemplate.

Actually, he must have realized that nothing could be worse than that all the little states around his should be helpless before his attack. He would then succumb to temptation and his treasures (verse 67) would be lost. It is the one who loses the war that really wins it!

The first saying quoted above means: if I cannot take care of an enemy on my own ground, let me invade his.


70.              My words are very easy to understand,

Very easy to practice.


No one under heaven can understand them,

No one practice them.


Words have ancestors.

Deeds have masters.

If  people don’t understand this,

They don’t understand me.


Few understand me,

And that is my value.


Therefore the Sage wears rough clothing

And carries jade inside.



Words, precepts and doctrines, like people, must have pedigrees and high authority to gain respect and fame. Mine have precedents and principle but this does not get them recognition and so I too am ignored. In this respect, at least, I share the honours of all those prophets who have borne priceless truth in their hearts but have looked like beggars all their lives. It would be better for all concerned if the king had a jewel in his breast. The shoddy clothes could be optional.


71.              Know not-knowing: supreme.


Not know knowing: faulty.


Only faulting faults is faultless.

The Sage is faultless

By faulting faults,

And so is without fault.



Knowledge of one’s real ignorance is indispensable to mental health. No one is in danger, says the writer, so long as he can be critical of his own mental states. The king should develop this power.

72.  When we are not in awe of power,

Power becomes great.


Do not intrude into their homes,

Do not make their lives weary.

            If you do not weary them,

They will not become weary of you.


Therefore the Sage

            Has self-knowledge without self-display,

            Self-love without personal pride,

Rejects one, accept the other.



When people no longer stand in awe of their king, divine wrath will overtake them. So the king will do well not to imprison them or oppress them in their homes. He should not take revenge by killing their children or confiscate their livestock. He must not make them resentful by his resentment of them.

According to verse 71, the king should know his own attitudes and impulses for what they are, but he should never show them to the people. Let him respect himself but not to be conceited. Then he can be discriminating in the proper sense of the word, choosing benevolence and rejecting compulsive force.


73.              Courage to dare kills,

Courage not to dare saves.


One brings profit, one brings harm.


Heaven hates what it hates---

            Who knows why?

Even the Sage finds it difficult.


Heaven’s TAO does not contend

            But prevails,

Does not speak

            But responds,

Is not summoned

            But arrives,

Is utterly still

            But plans all actions.


Heaven’s net is wide, wide,


            But nothing slips through.



It also takes brave men to dare not to kill others, when the king wants killing done. Perhaps the king is as well served by one as the other. Who knows what part God plays in war or punishment? The king must hesitate before he puts himself in place of God. All one knows is that God’s will is done and that his will is not strife.

God gets what he wants in his own way, the Tao; he does not issue words, but his master plan is to be seen unfolding like a great net which encloses all and from which no one escapes.


74.              If people do not fear death,

How can you threaten them with death?

But if people with a normal fear of death

Are about to do something vicious,

And I could seize and execute them,

Who would dare?


There is always an official executioner.

Trying to take the executioner’s place,

Is like trying to replace a master woodworker---

Few would not slice their own hands.



Capital punishment is no deterrent to crime because death is commonplace and people do not fear it. If, however, the king goes in for mass executions to the extent that they become remarkable, he will need many soldiers, who are, in effect, executioners. Who would dare to be candidates for this job when it might lead to their own execution, as frequently, in such cases, it does?


75.              People are hungry.


When rulers tax grain

People are hungry.


People are rebellious.


            When rulers are active

            People are rebellious.


People ignore death.


            When searching only for life’s bounty

            People ignore death.


Only those who don’t strive after life

Truly respect life.



In the last century but one before the end of the Chou dynasty, the ruling classes of China are demoralised. They feel frightened at the prospect of growing disorder. They attempt to secure themselves at the expense of the people.

The people, who are familiar with death, are not intimidated by it. Their will to live is greater than their fear of death. In this, they are superior to the nobility whose fear of death is greater than their will to live.


76.              Humans are born soft and weak.

They die stiff and strong.

The ten thousand plants and trees

Are born soft and tender,

And die withered and sere.


The stiff and strong

            Are Death’s companions

The soft and weak

            Are Life’s companions.



            The strongest armies do not conquer,

            The greatest trees are cut down.


            The strong and great sink down.

            The soft and weak rise up.



Contrary to tradition, the female principle, as softness and flexibility, is to be associated with life and survival. Because he can yield, a man can survive. In contrast, the male principle, which is assumed to be rigorous and hard, makes a break under pressure.


77.       Heaven’s TAO

Is a stretched bow,

Pulling down the top,

Pulling up the bottom.

If it’s too much, cut.

If it’s not enough,

Add on to it:




The Human Route

Is not like this,

Depriving the poor,

Offering to the rich.


Who has a surplus

And still offers it to the world?

Only those with TAO.


Therefore the Sage

            Acts and expects nothing,

            Accomplishes and does not linger,

            Has no desire to seem worthy.



God’s Way is to “put down the mighty from their seats” and to exalt “them of low degree.” He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.” But this is not the way of men, who rob the poor for the rich.

So there is nothing to be hoped for from the rich; only the Sage, the king, who is with the Tao and has its virtue, can hope to put justice to work in society. Only he is independent enough to succeed in the effort and only he has sufficient humility to try.


78.              Nothing in the world is soft and weak as water.

But when attacking the hard and strong

Nothing can conquer so easily.


Weak overcomes strong,

Soft overcomes hard.


            Everyone knows this,

      No one attains it.


Therefore the Sage says:

      Accepts a country’s filth

      And become master of its sacred soil.

      Accepts a country’s ill fortune

      And become king under heaven.


True words resemble their opposites.



Again the power of water is mentioned. The paradox of weakness overcoming strength is well known in theory but no one seems to be able to make it work.

This leads to a thought of the king. He must be able to make it work if he is fit for his high office, as “lord of the altars of the soil and the grain.” Only the king is able to take upon himself the sins of the world can he be king. This is the paradox of the power of non-resistance, the accomplishment of those who, of themselves, do nothing but who allow the Tao to use them.

79.              Appease great hatred

And hatred will remain.


How can this be good?


Therefore the Sage

            Holds the tally

                        But does not judge people.

Those who have TE

            Control the tally.

Those who lack TE

             Collect their due.


Heaven’s TAO has no favourites

But endures in good people.



To settle a major cause of discontent so that other grievances are bound to ensue is poor administration.

Contracts are made by lines cut on bamboo tally slips, which are then split in two. The debtor, being considered the inferior, gets the left-handed portion. To show his humility, the Sage deliberately chooses the inferior section, assumes the guilt or the debt, and thus disarms the adversary. This is the way of the man of virtue. The vicious man, by contrast, tries to fix the blame or debt on others.

God’s Way is no respecter of persons but when a man is good, the Tao is on his side.


80.              Small country, few people----

Hundreds of devices,

But none are used.


People ponder on death

            And don’t travel far.

They have carriages and boats,

            But no one goes aboard;

Weapons and armour,

            But no one brandishes them.

They use knotted cords for counting.


            Sweet their food

Beautiful their clothes, 

Peaceful their homes,

Delightful their customs


Neighbouring countries are so close     

            You can hear their chickens and dogs.

But people grow old die

            Without needing to come and go.



This describes Utopia, the ideal country in contrast to the contemporary Republic of Plato. The knotted cords preceded the invention of writing in China. The Chinese abacus is descended from knotted cords but has sliding knots.


81.              Sincere words are not pretty.

Pretty words are not sincere.


Good people do not quarrel.

Quarrelsome people are not good.

The wise are not learned.

The learned are not wise.


The Sage is not acquisitive-----

            Has enough

By doing for others,

            Has even more

By giving to others.


Heaven’s TAO

            Benefits and does not harm.

The Sage’s TAO

            Acts and does not contend.



 The more he does for others, the happier he is, because he is doing for himself. The more he gives to others, the wealthier he is. The less he holds on to, the more he can give himself to others. When he can give himself completely, his wealth is infinite.


1. Tao Teh Ching By Lao Tzu. Translated by John. C.H. Wu. Shambhala Publicationa.Inc 1961.

2. Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu. Translated by D.C. Lau. Penguin Books Middlesex, England. 1963.

3. Tao Teh King by Lao Tzu. Translated by Dr. Isabella Mears. Theosophical Publishing House Ltd. 68 Great Russell Street, London. 1922.

4. Tao Te Ching. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. HarperPerenial (Harper and Row) 1988. HarperCollins Publishers, New York.

5. Way Of Life (Tao Te Ching) By Lao Tzu. Translated by R.B. Blakney. A Mentor Book from New American Library. New York and Scarborough, Ontario. 1955.

6. Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu. Translated by Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo. 1993 Harper Publishing Company, Inc.

7. Tao Te Ching By Lao Tzu. Translated by Jonathan Star. Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam. Penguin Group, new York.2003.

8. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Translated by Thomas Cleary. 1990. Shambhala Publications, Inc.