"In haste the ruler is lost."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 26
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
Heavy is the root of light.
Stillness is the ruler of haste.
Although he travels all day,
The sage never loses sight of his luggage carts.
Only when he rests securely inside the walls,
He relaxes his attention.
Why would a ruler with ten thousand chariots
Look lightly on himself or his domain?
In lightness the root is lost.
In haste the ruler is lost.
In his stream of wisdom, Lao Tzu also occasionally
enjoys playing with words. He does so in the very first lines of
the Tao Te Ching, where Tao is used as both a noun and a
verb. In this chapter, the joke is the ruler in the second line
compared to the last line.
In the former, the principle of stillness is the ruler
of haste, whereas in the last line the ruler who is lost in
haste is a human one, neglecting himself and his domain.
It's a high-brow kind of humor, one would say, but
Lao Tzu might have giggled putting it together. The book
has several examples of the same kind of humor, a play
with words that creates double meanings – both of them
profound. That's what many poets can't resist doing.
To be heavy is shouldering one's responsibilities
and holding one's ground. Stillness is acting with caution
and well prepared. This is important for anyone to
understand, but particularly for a ruler, since the consequences of
neglect would be much direr.
We have just learned, in chapter 25, that the king is
one of the four greats, so he has to behave like one.
Power means responsibility and responsibility means care.
The ruler has the most in his care, so he has to be the most
Being heavy and still, a ruler does not eagerly
spring into action, but waits until it is time, and then does just
what is called for. Nothing more.
Eagerness to act tends to create more problems than
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