"They will rejoice in their daily life."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 80
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Let the country be small,
And the inhabitants few.
Although there are weapons
For tens and hundreds of soldiers,
They will not be used.
Let people take death seriously,
And not travel far.
Although they have boats and carriages,
There's no occasion to use them.
Although they have armor and weapons,
There's no occasion to wear them.
Let people return to making knots on ropes,
Instead of writing.
Their food will be tasty.
Their clothes will be comfortable.
Their homes will be tranquil.
They will rejoice in their daily life.
They can see their neighbors.
Roosters and dogs can be heard from there.
Still, they will age and die
Without visiting one another.
Making knots on ropes was believed to be a forerunner
to the sophisticated Chinese pictogram writing. Lao Tzu
expresses a longing back to previous times, when things
I have some problems with this chapter. It
describes what Lao Tzu regards as a dream society, but I find it
kind of boring. No travel, no visions, no aspirations, and no
curiosity. Nothing but the routine of everyday life. It's
certainly peaceful and secure, but isn't it also dull?
Not to Lao Tzu, evidently. He praises this life,
which could be described with his favorite image of the
uncarved wood. We would call it rustic.
People have boats and carriages, but no longing to
use them for exploring other parts of the world. They see
the neighboring village and hear sounds from there, but
don't bother walking the short distance to visit and get to
know its inhabitants.
What kind of life is that? What kind of peace and
security? To me, it seems like sleep, and a dreamless one at that.
Prison or Sanctuary
Lao Tzu is tired of the spectacular and the grand. He
longs back to the basic qualities of life. That's possible for
someone who has experienced the world, and gotten enough
of it. For those who are yet to explore it, the simple village
life might be closer to a prison than a sanctuary.
Of course, what he describes has a lasting charm.
No war. No frustrated longing for a greener pasture
elsewhere. People are content with what they have, so they know
how to enjoy it fully.
The food they make may be simple, but it's tasty and
filling. Their clothes may be colorless and coarse, without
any fancy decorations, but they are comfortable and
therefore pretty, too. Their homes are no palaces, but they find
security in them. A house doesn't need to be big to be a home.
People who enjoy the simple everyday life are free
from anguished longings for what very few can get. They will
not be tempted by things they can't reach, and they will not
suffer because they have less luxury than the emperor,
his dukes and generals. Only by not longing for something
else, you can truly enjoy what you have.
Many people have this ability. There is reason to
envy them. If we are pleased with a life of simplicity, nothing
can surpass it. Still, I'm not sure I would be satisfied.
I also doubt that Lao Tzu, that splendid mind
pondering the hidden workings of the universe, would have settled
for it, if he didn't first go out into the world to explore and
What he describes is not a perfect life for everyone,
but a perfect retirement plan. The human being is not able
to settle for steady peace and quiet, until after having
experienced at least one adventure.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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