"Until your last day, you are free from peril."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 16
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Attain utmost emptiness.
Abide in steadfast stillness.
All things arise in unison.
Thereby we see their return.
All things flourish,
And each returns to its source.
Returning to the source is stillness.
It is returning to one's fate.
Returning to one's fate is eternal.
Knowledge of the eternal is realization.
Not knowing of the eternal leads to unfortunate errors.
Knowledge of the eternal is all-embracing.
To be all-embracing leads to righteousness,
Which is majestic.
To be majestic leads to the Heavenly.
To be Heavenly leads to the Way.
The Way is eternal.
Until your last day, you are free from peril.
The Cycle of Life
The universe is cyclic. Celestial bodies move in their
strict orbits. On Earth we see the four seasons repeated
endlessly. Other repetitions are the moon's monthly phases and
the daily shift from sunrise to sunset. All living things are
born, grow to maturity, and then pass away. This is the nature
of things, whether we approve or not.
Lao Tzu has no doubt that we should appreciate
this, not only to be able to come to peace with it, but also so
that we understand it. When we accept the cycle of life, we
learn something about its patterns and the law that rules it
all. That law is Tao, the Way. So, by recognizing the
inevitable cycle of existence we are able to perceive and
The empty stillness, of which Lao Tzu speaks in the
first lines of this chapter, reminds us again of Zen. No doubt,
he thinks of some kind of meditation, a pensive mood in
which the cycles of life become clear. When you relax from
your daily strife, you can notice the patterns of the world
around you. You become aware of it all, because you reduce
your own inner noise.
Only when we see the cyclic nature of the whole
world and all its living things, can we come to terms with the
fact that this is inevitably true for ourselves as well. Each of
us is bound by the cycle. None can escape it. Solace lies in
the fact that we all share this basic fate, and that it goes on
infinitely. So, although every single creature in the world
has a limited life span, the world as a whole does not. In
that sense we are all eternal, because we are part of it all.
When we are aware of this, we learn to appreciate
the time we have, and we don't embark on futile attempts
to become immortal in one way or other. We should not
strive to be glorified by posterity, since that's an illusion of
little meaning, making no difference to us at present. Instead,
our contribution should simply aim at the present – the
world we are in, instead of the world yet to come.
It's also the only way of serving the future properly.
Living in the present, indifferent to what imprint
it might make on the future, is to remain with Tao. That
calms the mind and invigorates the body. Also, it keeps us out
of unnecessary trouble or hardship.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
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translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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