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"Can you care for the people and rule the country, and not be cunning?"

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 10

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


10

Can you make your soul embrace the One

And not lose it?

Can you gather your vital breath

And yet be tender like a newborn baby?

Can you clean your inner reflection

And keep it spotless?

Can you care for the people and rule the country

And not be cunning?

Can you open and close the gate of Heaven

And act like a woman?

Can you comprehend everything in the four directions

And still do nothing?


To give birth to them and nourish them,

Carry them without taking possession of them,

Care for them without subduing them,

Raise them without steering them.

That is the greatest virtue.



Modest Omnipotence

There is great power in attaining the wisdom Lao Tzu describes in his book, but anyone reaching that wisdom first and foremost learns the importance of modesty. This is a contradiction, almost a paradox.

       It can be compared to what Jesus said about the meek: They are blessed, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

       Not that modesty is the moral obligation of somebody enlightened and elevated. Lao Tzu makes few arguments of that kind in the Tao Te Ching. Instead, modesty is the conclusion, the key to how the world works according to Tao. Without modesty, neither Tao nor the world can be properly understood.

       "The One" in the first line of this chapter is no doubt Tao, the Way. If your soul grasps it, how can you keep your soul from escaping you? How can you remain sound and in control of your senses?

       Modesty is the solution. You observe the inner workings of the universe, but you understand that there is little to do about it. Nothing has changed as a result of your understanding. So you remain grounded in yourself, although you have grasped the secret of the universe.

       The secret lies in the calm primordial law that arranged all according to the principle of effortlessness. The greater the power, the less its effort is. So, modesty surpasses pride and keeps you sane in the middle of the cosmic spectacle.

       It's the same with the power so grand that it allows you to open and close the very gates of heaven, as if you were a god. Still, you should have no ambition, but be caring like a mother and accept the yielding position which was traditionally that of the woman.

       You should have no wish to rule, or to make use of the powers you have at hand. Then you understand when to do nothing, which is usually the best.

       To Lao Tzu, this attitude is the female one, and he definitely prefers it – for men as well. Traditionally, men have sought power and were eager to use it in abundance, while women preferred to leave things be, in order to do the least damage. That's the wisdom of doing nothing.


The Vital Breath

The vital breath that Lao Tzu mentions is ch'i (also transcribed qi). He uses the term in chapter 42 and 55, too. This is a fundamental concept in the cosmology of ancient China. It's a life energy filling the cosmos as well as mankind, an essence without which there is no life. It flows through us and around us, similar but not identical to the air we breathe. It's what is treated in acupuncture, by stimulating its meridians inside the body. It's also essential in the practice of qigong, the martial arts, and many other traditions.

       The idea of such a life force is present in many other cultures. In India it's called prana, in old Greece pneuma, in Israel and the Arab world ruach. The Latin word is spiritus, the spirit, as in the biblical concept of the Holy Spirit.

       The Chinese concept is mainly, at least in Lao Tzu's perspective, a nourishing power at man's disposal, of which we can have more or less, according to how we exercise it. Its nourishing quality is evident in the components of its pictogram.

       Ch'i consists of two parts. One is the sign for rice, and the other that for steam or air. This suggests boiling rice, the way to make the basic food of the East edible. Indeed, the boiled rice is what has kept the Chinese alive for thousands of years. So, the sign suggests essential nourishment without which one cannot live.

       Lao Tzu seems to have had an uncomplicated and straightforward view on ch'i as a vital essence in man, stronger in some than in others. What he asks in the tenth chapter is whether you are able to remain soft and gentle, even if this spirit of yours is strong.

       Power tempts us to express it, and this ambition hardens us. When we are eager to show our strength, our muscles stiffen and our movements get clumsy. Our behavior becomes rude, and we easily damage our surroundings as well as ourselves.

       The flow of ch'i through one's body may be weak like rain or strong like a waterfall, but our attitude should remain the same. Strength is no reason to use force.


Virtuous Caring

The last few lines of the chapter speak about "them," meaning people, from the perspective of a parent, a leader, an elder, or a ruler. It's all the same. Whatever your role, you must treat people as gently as if you had no power at all over them. Even if you are in the position to give orders, you should ask. Even though you are sure that you know what's right for them, you must allow them to choose for themselves.

       You can suggest and assist, but not command. That will only lead to opposition and conflict. Also, it robs people of the chance to come to their own sound conclusions. You should treat people around you like loving parents treat their children.

       Parents, too, must understand not to use force on the children in their care. Gentle guidance should be enough, preferably so that they are unaware of being guided. Children as well as adults need to feel that they have their future in their own hands. Only then are they able to listen to advice wholeheartedly, and follow them without frustration or remorse.

       The greatest virtue of such a respectful attitude is its gentleness, its refusal to use the power at hand. This is in accordance with Tao, the Way, which acts in the same discreet manner. No virtue is greater than to be like Tao.

       In chapter 51, Lao Tzu describes this very gentleness of Tao, ending it with the exact same phrase about the greatest virtue. Of course, Tao is nothing but the greatest virtue.

       The Chinese word translated to virtue is te, which is also in the title of the book. I will return to it in coming chapters.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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Tao Te Ching Explained


James Legge's Tao Te Ching


Aleister Crowley's Tao Te Ching


The 1st Chapter of Tao Te Ching in 76 Versions


Lao Tzu - Legendary Author of Tao Te Ching





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

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.

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

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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Creation Myths

Creation stories from around the world, and the ancient cosmology they reveal.


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Other Books by Stefan Stenudd:


Cosmos of the Ancients. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Cosmos of the Ancients

The Greek philosophers and what they thought about cosmology, myth, and the gods. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


QI - increase your life energy. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Qi - Increase Your Life Energy

The life energy qi (also chi or ki) explained, with exercises on how to awaken, increase and use it. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.


Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles

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Sunday Brunch with the World Maker. Novel by Stefan Stenudd. Sunday Brunch with the World Maker

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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

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.

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