"When nothing is done, nothing is left undone."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 48
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Those who seek knowledge,
Collect something every day.
Those who seek the Way,
Let go of something every day.
They let go and let go,
Until reaching no action.
When nothing is done,
Nothing is left undone.
Never take over the world to tamper with it.
Those who want to tamper with it
Are not fit to take over the world.
Letting go is a recurring theme in the Tao Te
Ching. It's brought up in several chapters, for example the
19th, where I mention the similarity to Zen in this respect. In Zen,
you let go to reach empty mind, a mental state of clarity,
where nothing disturbs you or pulls you way from the
soundness of the simple thought. There are many similarities
between Zen and what Lao Tzu argues for.
Knowledge is a risky thing. It clogs the mind and
makes it prejudiced. Those who seek it carry a load that
gets heavier every day, and the chance of processing it to
come to any conclusions diminishes. It's hard to be wise
when you have too much to think about.
Following Tao, the Way, you learn to trust that it
will reveal the true workings of the world and everything in
it. By leaning back and opening yourself to it, you watch
Tao unfold in front of you, revealing itself from behind
everything that happens. The chains of events have patterns,
and these patterns show the fabric of Tao.
Letting go is also to become detached. It's not the
same as indifference. You care and you have wishes, but you
don't hurry to act before you are certain about the
consequences of your actions. Otherwise you are very likely to do
more harm than good.
Only do something when you really have to, and
then only do that something. It will suffice.
Lao Tzu has so much fate in the perfection of Tao that
he expects the occasions to be few, when action is
needed. Mostly, things correct themselves, because they are
governed by Tao. In Lao Tzu's mind, only people can at all
deviate from the Way. Neither plants nor animals or any
other things in our universe can.
Our Odd Nature
Actually, that's pretty much how modern science sees it,
too. Dead things behave according to the laws of physics,
plants and animals according to biology. They follow their
nature. Only mankind has the nature that makes it possible for
us to deviate from it. We shouldn't.
We are odd creatures, indeed. Not only can we
deviate from nature, but we have a tendency to believe that we
can improve it. That's absurd, especially since we are far
from understanding it completely. Still, we want to take over
the whole world and change it to our liking.
It's not only an ambition among the self-appointed
dictators of which we've had far too many. It's almost a
reflex of ours, existing in all of us. It starts as soon as we
settle somewhere. In our children, it starts as soon as they
can move their arms and hands at will. We want to make
our marks, and we want to control the world down to
every little detail.
That's exactly why we are not fit to rule the world,
but that's also why we keep trying.
Even when we set out to correct our own mistakes
and the misfortunes they created, we start again by seizing
control of our surroundings and forcing changes on them. If
we have damaged the world when taking power over it,
we should not try to fix it with that same power, but lean
back and let the world repair itself.
It will if we let it. Tao is the Way by which that
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Tao Te Ching Explained
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