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"True words seem false."

Tao Te Ching - Chapter 78

Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu.

The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained


78

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water.

Yet, to attack the hard and strong,

Nothing surpasses it.

Nothing can take its place.


The weak overcomes the strong.

The soft overcomes the hard.

Everybody in the world knows this,

Still nobody makes use of it.


Therefore the sage says:

To bear the country's disgrace

Is to rule the shrines of soil and grain.

To bear the country's misfortunes

Is to be the king of the world.


True words seem false.



Water Surpasses All

Lao Tzu returns to what must be his favorite metaphor for the primary quality of Tao, the Way. Water is yielding, which is exactly what makes it superior. As the Roman poet Ovid pointed out: Dripping water hollows out the stone, not through force but through persistence.

       Water embraces instead of confronts, it caresses instead of beats, but it still subdues, eventually.

       Of course, water can sometimes be a mighty striking force, but Lao Tzu refers to its yielding quality and its nature to seek the lowest place. That's what he admires in it, and that's what he wants us to learn, in just about everything we do.

       Not only water is soft and weak in its behavior towards its surroundings, and still overcomes resistance. Many things in nature show the same traits and get the same results. The air even surpasses water in softness and weakness, but it tends to travel upwards, aiming for the sky. Otherwise it would surely become Lao Tzu's ideal example.

       Anyway, nature tells us repeatedly to trust the soft and the weak, but we don't learn. As soon as we are eager to accomplish something, we go for the hard and strong. We lack the persistence that Ovid mentioned.

       Persistence is a recurring theme in another Chinese classic, I Ching, the Book of Change. It states several times that persistence in a righteous course brings reward.

       Ancient China was a country cherishing tradition and values of old, so the patience to persist was highly appreciated and recommended. We may not have the same ideal today, it seems.


Yielding

Lao Tzu doesn't state that persistence is the essence of what he advocates. Instead, he points out the yielding. If we can accept instead of oppose, and let go instead of confront, we can accomplish anything.

       There are few obstacles that need to be destroyed. Most of them can simply be circumvented. Often when we choose the path of confrontation, we do so because of irrelevant factors, such as our pride and our impatience. Although we regard ourselves as the reasoning species, Homo sapiens, many of our actions are induced by our bad temper.

       We would all gain by yielding and humbling ourselves. Thereby we would overcome our pride, which feeds our temper, which triggers our impatience. This is even more necessary in a ruler. So, the sage begins by lowering himself and accepting the suffering that may be inevitable.

       He expects disgrace rather than praise, which is why he is apt to rule the old shrines of offerings to soil and grain. Those were places for important agricultural rituals in ancient China, so their ruler would be the ruler of the whole country.

       The sage is also willing to share the misfortunes of the country, instead of using his power to isolate himself from them. That makes him fit to rule the whole world.

       There are far too many rulers who use their power first and foremost to get personal benefits, and who blame everyone and everything for what might go wrong. That's just as true now as it was in the time of Lao Tzu.

       He knew in what way they needed to change, but it seems neither he nor we have found out how to make them go through with that change. Nor have we learned how to avoid such rulers getting into power. Our problem might be that people who would as rulers live up to Lao Tzu's ideal are so rare.

© Stefan Stenudd.

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Tao Te Ching Explained


Preface


Introduction


Literature


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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.

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