"Those who have the courage not to dare will live."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 73
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Those who have the courage to dare will perish.
Those who have the courage not to dare will live.
Of those two, one is beneficial and one is harmful.
What Heaven detests, who knows why?
Even the sage considers it difficult.
Heaven's Way does not contend,
Yet it certainly triumphs.
It does not speak,
Yet it certainly answers.
It does not summon,
Yet things come by themselves.
It seems to be at rest,
Yet it certainly has a plan.
Heaven's net is very vast.
It is sparsely meshed, yet nothing slips through.
Heaven's Way, T'ien chih Tao, is a concept that was old
and established already at the time of Lao Tzu. Mankind has
always observed and awed at the many movements in
the sky. Clouds of different shades and shapes sail through
it, occasional rain or snow falls from it, the sun and
moon travel it in fixed cycles, and the stars appear in millions
at clear skied nights.
It's a marvel, indeed, with significant importance
to earthly life.
Heaven has been studied for at least as long as we
have historical records of human thought, probably much
longer than that. People searched to explain these events and
to foresee them. Although the sky was way out of reach,
or maybe just because of this, mankind feared it and
struggled to understand its dynamics. Astrology is just one of
The search for the way in which the sky behaves is
what once formed the concept of Heaven's Way.
In Chinese tradition, and many others around the
world, Heaven was regarded as the ruling force of the
whole world, shaping everything else to conform to its ways.
This power of Heaven was not necessarily seen as
belonging to some kind of divinity. It could be described as
divine in itself, but just as impersonal as the Tao of which
Lao Tzu speaks. It was regarded as a sovereign power,
indeed, but more of a natural law than an entity with its
own thoughts and wishes.
That's why even the sage has problems
understanding some of its traits. Why would a natural law have
preferences that seem to be moral ones? Still, when Lao Tzu
observes the world around him, he comes to the
conclusion that Heaven's Way clearly prefers some directions,
and avoids other ones as if with disgust.
He draws the conclusion that the laws of Tao are for
the best, not because they benefit the most, although they
do, but just because the laws of Tao have formed the world.
One could say that the laws of Tao are for the best,
simply because there is nothing else.
The expression Heaven's Way in this chapter is
most likely to stand for Tao, the Way. It's cause for thought
that Lao Tzu would use this expression instead of just calling
it Tao, as usual. This appears in the chapters 9, 47, 73, 77,
79, and 81. There might be an influence from other sources
involved, maybe an addition in a later copy of the text.
In other Chinese traditions, Heaven's Way was
supreme to any other Way. In Lao Tzu's universe, Tao is the
first cause and the master of all. Already in the first chapter,
he has established that Tao is the beginning of Heaven
and Earth, so Heaven's Way must be something later and
Therefore, I would not be surprised if future findings
of older manuscripts show that Heaven is a later addition
to this chapter, or the whole chapter might be a later
The oldest manuscript of the Tao Te
Ching found so far is that from Guodian, which dates back to around 300
BC. There, none of the chapters 67 to 81 can be found.
The manuscript is far from complete, so nothing is certain,
but the absence of this big chunk of the text suggests later
additions. That would also explain why many of the
thoughts in the Tao Te Ching are repeated in several chapters of
its present form.
On the other hand, it might simply mean that this
chunk somehow got lost from the rest of the Guodian manuscript.
Chapter 9, which also uses the expression
Heaven's Way, is included in the Guodian manuscript, and so is
this expression at the proper place. The other chapters where
the expression occurs are absent from the Guodian manuscript.
We need additional findings to make any solid
conclusions about the matter. Still, in the following I assume
that Heaven and its Way in this chapter is synonymous to Tao.
The chapter begins with an observation to which we can
all easily relate. The daring ones who jump into danger
are likely to meet with disaster.
Refusing those dares is another kind of courage,
which might be despised by some. It's not an inferior kind of
courage, but it reduces the risk of harm.
Strangely, society seems to praise the attitude that
seeks danger, as if welcoming disaster. It's as if society as a
whole, similar to many of its members, nourishes some kind
of death wish.
In traditional Christianity, suicide was a serious
sin. Such corpses were buried outside the cemeteries, and in
his Divine Comedy, Dante placed them in the very worst part
of Hell. Suicide was despised because it was seen as
throwing away the gift from God, who was the source of all life.
Committing suicide was ungrateful. Also, it was a kind of
sabotage of God's plan, which applied to each and every
Tao's disapproval of people risking their lives may
be something similar. It goes against the plan, the pattern
and direction constituting the Way. People should try to
stay alive, as a way of conforming to their nature.
The more we cling to life, the less we are inclined to
act irresponsibly and put ourselves at risk. The world would
be a much more peaceful place if we learned this. Some
would say boring, but that remains to be seen.
Tao Is Hiding
What triumphs without contending, answers
without speaking, attracts without summoning, and pursues a
plan although resting, is definitely Tao, the Way. It's the
hidden ruler, the truth written on everything in the world, the
center of all, and the process that everything adapts to by itself.
It's the Way nature is.
Its structure covers all, but not tightly like the peel
encloses the orange. Tao is hiding in the background and in
the minute. It's better described as a net connecting all things
in the world, but still allowing them to move rather freely.
Its meshes are so sparse that it seems to consist only of
holes, but nothing escapes it, since it's the fabric of which the
universe is made.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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