"That so few understand me is why I am treasured."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 70
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
My words are very easy to understand
And very easy to practice.
Still, no one in the world
Can understand or practice them.
My words have an origin.
My deeds have a sovereign.
Truly, because people do not understand this,
They do not understand me.
That so few understand me is why I am treasured.
Therefore, the sage wears coarse clothes, concealing jade.
Easy to Understand
The origin and sovereign of Lao Tzu's words and deeds
is obviously one and the same: Tao, the Way. People who
don't understand Tao have little chance of understanding
what Lao Tzu says, or why he acts the way he does, which
is mostly by non-action.
Reading his book, we can understand the
difficulty people might have to grasp its content. That difficulty
must have been as great in his own time, among his own
people. Although they were familiar with the language and the
context in which he spoke, his ideas and conclusions must
have seemed odd, even mysterious. We still struggle with
his words, although science and learning have in some
ways taken us closer to his worldview.
So, Lao Tzu remains a treasure.
His text is straightforward. One might even call
his words simple. But there's jade inside. The words reveal
the treasure of Tao to those who can read them properly.
They may be few, even fewer if we just count those who are
certain of understanding the text correctly. That would be
only those who are already familiar with Tao. Anyone else is
not likely to figure it out.
So, we must wonder: For whom was the Tao Te
Ching written, if those who can understand it already know
what it says, and the others are unlikely to learn it by reading
the book? Lao Tzu cannot have been very optimistic about
the reception of his book. He probably didn't care too
much, since he is supposed to have written it when leaving
China for good.
He may have written it as a gesture to the ancients,
since he thought of them as so much wiser than his
contemporaries. A tribute to the wisdom of old.
It's not unique among authors to write for their
predecessors instead of the present audience. Maybe they
also hope that the future will hold at least a few kindred
spirits, appreciating their text properly.
Lao Tzu wrote primarily for his kindred spirits,
wherever and whenever they might appear. He probably had
not met too many of them in his life.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
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