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"When people are unsettled, loyal ministers arise."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 18

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


18

When the great Tao is abandoned,

Benevolence and righteousness arise.

When wisdom and knowledge appear,

Great pretense arises.

When family ties are disturbed,

Devoted children arise.

When people are unsettled,

Loyal ministers arise.



Pretense

Tao is the Way of the universe. If we just follow it, there is no risk of going wrong. But when we deviate from it, we are sure to make mistakes, no matter how noble our intentions are. Following Tao is doing what is natural. Anything else is a mistake, leading to complications, shortcomings, and confusion.

       Benevolence and righteousness are fine qualities, but they are no guarantee of doing the right thing. If our loss of the Way is substituted by ever so good intentions, they are still just substitutes. Using them as compasses for our actions is bound to lead us even more astray. Our good deeds turn out to have bad consequences, because they lack the understanding of how things work at length in this world.

       Lao Tzu was no friend of knowledge and wisdom. He saw them as meager substitutes for a true understanding of Tao and sincere acceptance of its terms. At the Chinese emperor's court, he had seen wise men use their wisdom for their own advancement. They played their roles with cunning and cleverness, but rarely used their mental resources for the benefit of all.

       Even when used with the best intentions, knowledge is a poor guide, compared to awareness of Tao. It creates a false understanding of the world. Therefore it leads to false conclusions. Anyone wise enough to recognize this has the choice of either throwing it all away in search of Tao, or insisting on knowledge being a perfectly reliable substitute. The latter takes some folly to trust.

       There is pretense in claiming that wisdom finds the Way, and there is pretense in claiming that knowledge penetrates Tao. They are insufficient substitutes, no matter how pompously they present themselves.

       The family ties are sacred in China, as well as in most societies around the world. The Confucian tradition describes those ties as duties. Lao Tzu implies that they are natural, as is shown among animals. There is no debate involved in it, nor should rules be at all necessary. But when Tao is lost, so are the natural family ties.

       If the children still remain devoted to their parents, there seems to be no need for complaint. But this devotion is odd and flawed. There are conditions, from the children towards the parents as well as the other way around, even when the bonds seem unreserved. Parents have expectations on their children, and children have demands on their parents. Devotion is a contract that usually contains a lot of fine print.

       In that way, devotion can be compared to pretense.


Fragile Loyalty

Another kind of pretense is that of loyal ministers. Their loyalty is always conditional, mainly in the sense that it's given to the one in power at the moment. A ruler who loses power will instantly lose the loyalty of the ministers, who move on to praise whoever sits on the throne next.

       When people are unsettled, changes in government are more likely to take place. That makes the ministers more eager to demonstrate their loyalty, in order to keep their own positions in the turmoil, but their loyalty is actually less trustworthy in such a situation. The ministers who proclaim their loyalty the loudest, are the most likely to shift at the moment it's to their benefit.

       If the people is unsettled, it means that the country is in some kind of turmoil. The former order of things is no longer the case, at least not to the extent that people can rely on it. This is indeed a country far from Tao, the natural order of things.

       When Tao rules, there's no struggle over leadership. That starts at the moment the country loses its calm. Then, ministers and other officials will suddenly appear all over the palace, assuring the ruler how loyal they are. This is nothing but a sign of unrest, and the ruler who doesn't regard such loyalty with the utmost suspicion and wariness will not stay in power for long.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


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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





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

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