"All things depend on it with their existence."
Tao Te Ching 34
The Lao Tzu Taoist Classic
Translated and Explained
The great Way is all-pervading.
It reaches to the left and to the right.
All things depend on it with their existence.
Still it demands no obedience.
It demands no honor for what it accomplishes.
It clothes and feeds all things without ruling them.
It is eternally without desire.
So, it can be called small.
All things return to it,
Although it does not make itself their ruler.
So, it can be called great.
Therefore, the sage does not strive to be great.
Thereby he can accomplish the great.
It's Great to Be Small
Lao Tzu again describes the humble nature of Tao, the
Way. Its greatness lies exactly in its modesty. It has made
the world appear and keeps it from disappearing. Every
creature exists because of it. Yet, it's discreet with its
presence, as if hiding, and it allows us to follow it or not, as if we
had a choice to alter the very laws of existence.
The first cause of the universe is quiet about its feat.
This grand example is for everyone to follow. The
sage, knowing this, makes sure not to strive for greatness.
What would at all be great compared to Tao? One learns Tao
by imitating it, so the sage avoids greatness – not in order
to accomplish it, but to be in accordance with Tao, the
greatest of all. This imitation leads to great accomplishments.
It can also be described as behaving in accordance
with nature. When we learn the natural way, we find solutions
to problems no matter how big they are, and our actions
meet no resistance. We still have the freedom to counter
nature, and often we succeed. The question is what it costs us.
And we continue paying as long as we want to keep it up.
We can fly, although it's not within our own nature.
It took quite an effort to succeed, and it continues to be a
complicated endeavor. Lao Tzu would have preferred us to
remain on the ground. We change the courses of rivers,
drill tunnels through mountains, drain lakes, and tear down
forests. It's not for free.
That's Our Nature
On the other hand, this refusal to accept nature's order
is part of our nature. That's how we are, evidently. We
developed this big brain and need to use it. So, we replace
nature by culture. Cities expand and we hurry between them
at increasing speed.
It may pillage our planet, but we can't stop
ourselves. We are victims of our own capacity.
Lao Tzu was surely aware of this paradox. Already
in his days, this urge of ours had forced nature to retreat a
few steps. He could see civilization grow, and didn't expect
his fellow men to reverse the process.
Instead of restraining our urge to excel, maybe the
solution lies in developing how this urge is expressed. If
the brain is what causes it, why not turn the ambitions to it?
Instead of struggling with our outer world in efforts
to improve it, which is a quest that seems endless, we
might find greater satisfaction by working on our inner
worlds. Our minds. They are worlds just as complex as the one
we see around us.
Exploring the mind, cultivating our thoughts,
contemplating our awareness – that's where we are the most
likely to find the answers to the questions with the same
origin. That's also how to satisfy our longing, without ravaging
the world around us.
It could also lead to the discovery that there is not
so much we need from the outside world.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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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.
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.