"If he acts without action,
order will prevail."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 3
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Not praising the deserving
Not valuing wealth
Not displaying what's desirable
Prevents confusion of the senses.
The sage governs by emptying senses and filling bellies,
Curbing strife and strengthening backs,
Keeping the people ignorant and without desire,
Making the learned afraid to act.
If he acts without action, order will prevail.
As Little as Possible
Society is obsessed with the eagerness to change. Change
for the better, we would like to believe. Today we call
it progress, as if that's automatically the case. We
encourage impatience and hurry onward, convinced that letting go
of the past will bring an increasingly splendid future.
This mentality is doomed to escalate and
accelerate, until we have no time at all to compare our
innovations with what they replace. We don't know if they are
improvements. We don't even know what they lead to at length.
One day, we might destroy our world without
even realizing it.
Lao Tzu is wary of change, of interfering with the
present state of things. He sees the world as one of precious
balance, where action that is not carefully considered might
easily lead to an avalanche of unwanted effects, before balance
is restored. So he praises non-action,
. Do as little as possible, and only when you absolutely have to.
Minimum interference ensures maximum stability.
The more power you have, the more important it is
to stick to non-action. A good ruler has the patience to
refrain from action before knowing exactly what to do, and then
to do as little as possible. Even for great problems, small
solutions are usually the safest – and the most efficient. Big
solutions cause new problems of equal size.
There are those who claim to know what is needed,
but they seldom know what needs may arise out of their
solutions. So, they don't know enough. Knowledge is
also power and should be treated with the same concern.
The ones who know the most should be the
most humble about the certainty of their knowledge. If they
are aware of the risk of being proven wrong by a future in
the direction of their suggestion, they will be hesitant to
propagate it. That's how they can make their responsibility
equal to their knowledge.
Mankind is a longing species. Each of us knows that we
are mortal, so we are desperate to live our lives to the
fullest. This makes us easy victims of greed and envy. We
guard each other with envy, suffering to the extent that
others seem to enjoy themselves, struggling for a surplus
surpassed by none, losing any sense of what is enough.
Greed makes it impossible to delight in what we
have, since there will always be more to get. This cannot last.
Lao Tzu's cure for such galloping madness is
moderation in all. Only if we cease to crave for what we don't
possess, we can appreciate what we have. If so, we will
find that we don't need much at all. Anything beyond food
to keep us from getting hungry is a luxury that we can
do without. Any other power than the strength to endure is
We live in a society of mass consumption. All of us
are both producers and consumers, but we tend to forebear
the former just for the reason of being able to indulge in the
latter. Should we not be happier about what we are able to
create than what we hurry to waste? At least, we should
be able to ask ourselves if we really want everything that
we set our eyes on.
The joy of giving in to greed is quickly replaced by
the disappointment of its minute reward. That's the trap
of longing. Few things are as pleasing when we get them,
as they were tempting when we longed for them.
We must learn the deep and lasting pleasure of
discovering how much it is that we do not need. Thereby we
also learn how much we already have, and how precious that is.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
My Taoism Books:
The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained.
The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
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The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.
389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
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I'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.