"A bad person is the good person's task."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 27
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
A good wanderer leaves no trace.
A good speaker does not stutter.
A good counter needs no calculator.
A good door needs no lock,
Still it can't be opened.
A good mooring needs no knot,
Still no one can untie it.
Therefore the sage takes care of all people,
Forsaking no one.
He takes care of all things,
This is called following the light.
So, a good person is the bad person's teacher.
A bad person is the good person's task.
The one who does not honor the teacher
And the one who does not honor the task,
Although ever so knowledgeable,
They are confused.
This is called the subtle essence.
Teacher and Student
The Eastern tradition is essentially focused on
transmitting the wisdom of old to the coming generations. Everybody
is primarily a student and a teacher, passing on
knowledge and understanding in a chain without beginning or
end. What we learn from our parents, we pass on to our children.
Nothing is more important.
In this chapter, Lao Tzu stresses this basic duty
shared by all. The teacher must teach all he or she knows, the
student must be devoted to learning what is taught.
Whatever reason they might have for neglecting this duty, they
Teaching is not the same as indoctrination. That
would be intellectual molestation. True wisdom doesn't need
force. It convinces by its own merit. Learning is no passive
memorizing of the thoughts of others. It has to be done by
active thinking, questioning, and coming to one's own
But if nothing is taught, then there is no basis for
conclusions, and if nothing is learned there is nothing to conclude.
When Lao Tzu begins with a list of what good skills
accomplish, he explains what can be reached by proper
teaching. What we learn in the process is far from useless.
Although teaching might be done mainly in theory, the benefits
are practical as well.
We excel if we pay attention to just about
everything, and we progress from generation to generation by
passing on our knowledge and our experiences.
Thereby, we follow the light of every new dawn,
when days follow one another in the same cyclic progression
that generations do.
The good and bad used in this chapter are not
necessarily moral judgments on character, like we mostly use
the words in the Western tradition.
The Chinese word for good, shan, relates to skill,
excellence, and being in accordance with nature, but also
kindness. The expression for bad is simply a negation of
good, pu shan, which is somebody lacking these qualities. No
ill will is assumed.
So, teaching is to help the student gain what was
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