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"Ruling a great country is like cooking a small fish."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 60

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


60

Ruling a great country is like cooking a small fish.


When the world is ruled according to the Way,

The ghosts lose their power.

The ghosts do not really lose their power,

But it is not used to harm people.


Not only will their power not harm people,

Nor will the sage harm people.

Since neither of them causes harm,

Unified virtue is restored.



The Ghosts Approve

The ghosts, kuei, were the restless spirits of deceased ancestors, according to beliefs at the time of Lao Tzu. That's quite the same as what we mean by ghosts. And just like this chapter says, we foster the idea that the ghosts are only harmful if they are displeased. If the country is ruled wisely, in accordance with the Way, the ghosts will not be upset.

       Lao Tzu is probably not indicating that a country ruled according to Tao becomes invulnerable to the power of the ghosts, and they definitely don't lose it. They just cease to bring harm to people. If the country should go back to deviating from the Way, the ghosts will surely bring harm again.

       The sage, too, will bring no harm to people if the country is ruled according to Tao. That seems self-evident. When the country is on the right path, there is no need for interference of any kind, whether it would be harmful or beneficial. The sage knows this well.

       What Lao Tzu implies with these words is that the sage might very well bring harm to people, if the country is heading the wrong way. Even if the sage again were to do nothing, the situation would be harmful.

       People suffer in a country with a bad ruler. They will suffer more, during the process of correcting things. Such suffering is unavoidable.

       Sadly, it's also necessary. That's the harm the sage might bring: the need for costly reform and painful action, like the pruning of twigs and branches in order to keep a tree healthy.

       This is avoided if the country is ruled wisely, in accordance with Tao. Then the ghosts will not be upset, so they will do no harm, and the sage doesn't need to promote dire measures. The virtue of the ghosts and that of the sage are united, working for a common good.

       The idea of the ghosts being pleased or upset doesn't need to be taken literally, for us to find it relevant. We don't have to believe in ghosts. But just as we consider what future is in store for our children and theirs, we should contemplate what our ancestors expected from us, and what they would have thought about how we handle the greatest of gifts – the world they handed over to us.

© 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





My Taoism Books:


Tao Te Ching - The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Te Ching

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.

       More about the book here.


Tao Quotes - the Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Tao Quotes

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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Stefan Stenudd, Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction. Stefan Stenudd


About me

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.

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