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"I am at peace, and people become fair by themselves."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 57

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


57

Use justice to rule a country.

Use surprise to wage war.

Use non-action to govern the world.


How do I know it is so?

As for the world,

The more restrictions and prohibitions there are,

The poorer the people will be.

The more sharp weapons people have in a country,

The bigger the disorder will be.

The more clever and cunning people are,

The stranger the events will be.

The more laws and commands there are,

The more thieves and robbers there will be.


Therefore the sage says:

I do not act,

And people become reformed by themselves.

I am at peace,

And people become fair by themselves.

I do not interfere,

And people become rich by themselves.

I have no desire to desire,

And people become like the uncarved wood by themselves.



People Can Govern Themselves

Some translators of the Tao Te Ching presume that the first three lines of this chapter say what not to do and what to do. Justice and surprise are inferior, and only non-action, wu-wei, is in accordance with Tao. I think that's too harsh a judgment.

       Lao Tzu is not unrealistic, nor is he impractical. For ruling the country, justice is a reasonable ideal. For winning wars, surprise is a commendable strategy. That's all fine, considering the limited perspectives involved. But for governing the world, only non-action will do.

       He is not dismissing the two former methods, since they are relevant in connection to their objects. He just reminds us that on a larger scale, and for truly lasting purposes, we need to return to Tao and its principles.

       In the following, he specifies what terms apply to the grand perspective. In the world as a whole, and in a government that wishes to last, restrictions and prohibitions just lead to poverty. That will have its recoils. That's where justice fails. An armed population and preparations for war will cause calamity. Weapons have that consequence. So much for military strategy.

       Furthermore, when people are clever and scheming, there's no way of telling what will happen. The surprises will be far greater than any warlord might come up with. And for each new law there will be many more people committing crimes, both such that had not been illegal beforehand and such that always were. The smaller the pasture, the more of the livestock will jump the fence.

       So, the sage leans back and avoids doing the least bit more than what is absolutely called for. That's much less than most leaders ever imagine. People search for norms and make their own decent rules, when not cornered by laws. A multitude of laws mostly triggers disobedience and the search for loopholes.

       The uncarved wood is a frequently used metaphor for a pure and simple mind. For people to conform to it, their leaders have to do the same. It starts by the leaders admitting that they are not different from the ones to be led.

       Lao Tzu also points out, playing with words as is his habit, that a leader must be free of desire. He stresses it by doubling it. Desire, if just restrained, is still desire. One must be free of the desire to desire.

       Many versions of the Tao Te Ching only have one occurrence of the word in the last sentence of this chapter, but the oldest manuscripts, that from Guodian and those from Mawangdui, use the double. The pun was probably present in the original version.

       Truth also needs a laugh. Remember what Lao Tzu says in chapter 41. Without the laughter it would not be Tao.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
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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