BY STEFAN STENUDD
I'm a Swedish writer, and instructor of the peaceful martial art aikido. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism as well as other Chinese and Japanese traditions. I'm also a historian of ideas, researching the thought patterns in creation myths. My personal website: stenudd.com
Tao Te Ching 67
The Lao Tzu Taoist Classic Translated and Explained
The whole world says that my Way is great like nothing else.
It is great because it is like nothing else.
If it were like everything else,
It would long ago have become insignificant.
I have three treasures that I cherish.
The first is compassion.
The second is moderation.
The third is not claiming to be first in the world.
By compassion one can be brave.
By moderation one can be generous.
By not claiming to be first in the world one can rule.
But to be brave without compassion,
Generous without moderation,
And rule without refraining from being first in the world
Are certain deaths.
So, those who have compassion when they do battle
Will be victorious.
Those who likewise defend themselves
Will be safe.
Heaven will rescue and protect them with compassion.
Battle with Compassion
In the beginning of this chapter, Lao Tzu plays with the word hsiao, which means both `like' and `small.' The latter I dared to translate as `insignificant,' to clarify what kind of small Lao Tzu refers to here. The two words have different pictograms, but they are pronounced the same.
With his little joke, he implies that something bearing a likeness to other things has to be small. It certainly makes sense in relation to significance. What looks like a lot of other things loses its significance. But size is not affected in the same manner.
What is true regarding size, though, is that the smaller things are, the more difficult it is for our eyes to tell them apart. Who can separate one mosquito from another? Who even cares? Our eyes prefer to focus on big things, and we tend to regard them as important, judging just by their size.
The lines about size and significance are very likely to be a separate chapter in the eyes of the author. They have little to do with what follows, or for that matter how the previous chapter ends.
Next, Lao Tzu talks about the three qualities he regards as the most important: compassion, moderation, and reluctance to be first in the world. The last we can describe as modesty. Compassion leads to bravery, moderation to generosity, and modesty to the ability to rule. They contain the seeds to what are practically their opposites.
Of far greater importance is that these opposites are in dire need of the three qualities, or they lead to disaster.
Bravery without compassion is what can be seen in soldiers with no care for the lives they take, or self-appointed heroes who bully people around them for no other reason than that they can. Inconsiderate bravery is indeed disastrous, sooner or later also to the ones expressing it.
Generosity without moderation leads to meaningless waste. It's gluttony, and no fortune is so great that it will not be spent, eventually. It's also provocative. Even those who benefit from such generosity are offended by it. Whatever they get from it, they are at the same time reminded of their own lack of resources.
Generosity without moderation is flaunting one's fortune. It's perceived as vulgar, almost obscene. Such gifts are bitterly received, not only because they seem to mean nothing to the donor. They are insults to the receiver.
Worst by far is to rule without modesty. The ruler who wants to be first in the world might cause widespread destruction. Through history, we have had the misfortune of experiencing plenty of them. There are some such rulers today, as well.
We must beware, because those who have the desire to be first in the world will spare no efforts to get there. Once they do, it's extremely difficult and costly to get rid of them. So, we have to consider very carefully what persons we allow to be our leaders.
A golden rule is to avoid giving power to people who want it, or loudly claim to be best fit for it. The best leaders we can find are usually those who are reluctant to shoulder the responsibility. They take it seriously. Those we need to convince to take the job are the ones we should get for it. But those who jump at the opportunity should be stopped at the entrance.
We must learn this. The survival of the world depends on it, now that we have such enormous resources and so terrible weapons at the disposal of our leaders.
Those who remain compassionate, on the other hand, will be successful and avoid blame. Even when they must go to war, if they still remain compassionate they will be victorious and the enemy will not grieve it. That's a mighty power, surpassing most weaponry.
When they defend themselves, remaining compassionate, they will not be conquered, because they have something so fine to protect. The enemy will congratulate them, out of respect for their nobility.
In a sharp conflict, it's necessary to see the adversary as evil and oneself as good. Otherwise it's very difficult to muster up the necessary resolve to fight until winning. The one who remains compassionate is certainly good, and therefore has the most splendid advantage. The enemy will find it hard to hate him.
Even Heaven agrees on this. So, fate seems to work in favor of those who remain compassionate. That's because compassion is a trait of Tao, the Way. The compassionate is treated the same by Tao. Compassion breeds compassion. So, there's no reason to deviate from it.
Lao Tzu (Lao Zi), the legendary writer of Tao Te Ching (Dao De Jing), left the Chinese emperor's court on a water buffalo, after growing tired of politics. He wrote the Tao Te Ching on the request of a border guard. Here is my translation and explanation, chapter by chapter. From the book:
Translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81
Tao Te Ching - the Book