"Happiness is what misery lurks beneath."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 58
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
When the government is quite unobtrusive,
People are indeed pure.
When the government is quite prying,
People are indeed conniving.
Misery is what happiness rests upon.
Happiness is what misery lurks beneath.
Who knows where it ends?
Is there nothing correct?
Correct becomes defect.
Good becomes ominous.
People's delusions have certainly lasted long.
Therefore the sage is sharp but does not cut,
Pointed but does not pierce,
Forthright but does not offend,
Bright but does not dazzle.
What to Trust?
We are never closer to misery than when we are happy.
The one so easily turns into the other. They are strongly
linked, and mutually dependent. Were it not for happiness,
misery would not exist, and the other way around. So, it's not
always evident which is which.
What was correct can suddenly prove to be
completely wrong. It happens all the time in science. It's not rare
in politics and philosophy either. The same uncertainty can
be found in ethics. What's right today may be dead wrong
tomorrow. What seems to be good can threaten to do a lot
The future is as vague as the true state of the present.
We don't know where we are going, because we don't
really know where we are.
Since mankind stands on such shaky ground, it
would be rude and obtrusive of the sage to shout commands,
declare conclusions, and point in an exact direction.
People don't follow willingly when they feel forced, and they
can't understand what they are not allowed to examine by
The sage can gently give clues and appropriate
suggestions, without demanding compliance. No more.
Governments should do the same. Even if they are
certain of knowing what's best for everybody, it will not
be accomplished if done by force. People will react and resist.
That might seem almost self-destructive, but the
damage would be more severe and profound if people
allowed themselves to be led on the Way, as if they were sheep.
They are not, so they need to find their own way, even if
that should lead them away from Tao. Otherwise they can
never know when they happen to step on the right track.
We don't walk on the Way with our feet only. We
must be there with our whole beings, including our minds
and hearts. So, it has to be voluntary, and the progress must
be felt inside, instead of just proclaimed from above. We
simply have to do it ourselves, each and every one of us.
This is explained in chapters 18 and 38. Force is
the worst, then rituals, then righteousness, then
benevolence, then virtue, and above them all is Tao. It's impossible to
lead people to Tao by force, almost as impossible to do it
with rituals, and just slightly more possible with righteousness.
Benevolence could almost do the trick, but not if
it's turned into one of the others. It usually is. Benevolence
is often used as an excuse for force, although force can
never be benevolent.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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