"The female always surpasses the male with stillness."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 61
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
A great country is like the lower outlet of a river.
It is the world's meeting ground, the world's female.
The female always surpasses the male with stillness.
In her stillness she is yielding.
If a great country yields to a small country,
It will conquer the small country.
If a small country yields to a great country,
It will be conquered by the great country.
So, some who yield become conquerors,
And some who yield get conquered.
A great country needs more people to serve it.
A small country needs more people to serve.
So, if both shall get what they need,
The great country ought to yield.
Conquer by Yielding
Water flows to the river's outlet, because it's low,
because it's the point that yields the most. To Lao Tzu, yielding
is foremost a female quality, alike the mother of all, which
is Tao. What yields the most attracts the rest of the world.
Another symbol for it would be the sea or lake at
which the river ends. The water that flowed so eagerly to get
there is absorbed and becomes as still as that great body of
water it joined.
So is a big country. It attracts and absorbs its
surroundings, without being stirred by this. And so is the
female quality, the mother, who in her yielding stillness
overcomes the male nature. Movement is calmed by stillness, and
force is useless against the yielding.
Now, a great country should not need aggression
and force to conquer smaller countries. A yielding stillness
is enough. Its size will make smaller countries succumb to
it, like the river water flows into the sea. We have seen it a
lot through history. Great kingdoms devour small ones,
without even trying. They do it by their size alone, as if the
force at work were gravity.
Even if a small country momentarily succeeds in
conquering a great one, it can only lead to the latter taking
over the former. If they are joined, no matter how, it cannot
end any other way than with the small country becoming
part of the great country.
So, there's never cause for the great country to do
other than yield.
Small countries yielding, on the other hand, will
quickly be overtaken by great ones. To withstand the natural
pull and growth of the great country, they would need to
resist actively and constantly. It's not easy, and it's not
without dire costs. Of course, trying to conquer the great country
by force is equally futile. The only thing a small country can
do, when neighboring a great one, is to isolate itself, which
also takes its toll.
We have seen it recently in our world, and see it
still. Small countries bordering to great ones close those
borders firmly, not to be overcome in one way or other. These
borders are not only the walls built between the countries
and guarded by soldiers. There are cultural borders as well,
locking out all possible influence from the great country,
also trade walls and diplomatic ones.
Such small countries become isolated islands
where progress is halted, and people are stuck to life as it was
in the past. It's doomed not to last, but if the leadership is
fanatic about this isolation, reform will take time and the
road to it will be painful.
What small countries really need, is to participate
in both the flow towards the great country and the
influence that comes the other way. A country that is lost by doing
so, was not much of a country to begin with.
Participation leads to gain, for the small as well as
the great country. Small countries will grow if they get
more people to serve, whether that's inside our outside their
borders. Great countries need lots of people to keep them
When people are allowed to comply, wherever they
live, things solve themselves. Small countries prosper,
because they get more tasks to perform. Great countries
prosper, because they get more resources by which to prevail.
So, the only thing that benefits both countries is for
the great one to do what is natural for it, which is to yield. If
the great country refuses to yield, but conquers with force,
it cannot keep at length what it seized. When yielding,
the great country still conquers, but because this benefits
also the conquered, a lasting harmony will ensue.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
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