"What has no substance can penetrate what has no opening."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 43
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The softest in the world
Surpasses the hardest in the world.
What has no substance
Can penetrate what has no opening.
Thereby I know the value of non-action.
The value of teaching without words
And accomplishing without action
Is understood by few in the world.
The principle of non-action, wu-wei, is frequently
propagated in the Tao Te Ching. Often, the best solution is not
to act at all, and when action is needed, to do as little as
possible. Most things in the world correct themselves,
given time. When impatience makes us hurry to solve them,
we may make things worse.
The passivity Lao Tzu speaks of is no surrender, but
the patience to wait for the outcome. One should show trust
in Tao, the Way, and how it governs the universe towards
harmony. In many cases, what we perceive as problems
demanding our attention are merely phases on the way to
a good outcome, in no need of our meddling. How can we
be sure of contributing, when we don't even know what
will happen by itself?
Certainly, there can be situations when we do need
to take action, and quickly, for example to save lives or
to avoid disaster. Lao Tzu doesn't deny it, but he doubts
that such occasions should excuse our interference when
not necessary or called for.
We human beings have a tendency to regard
ourselves as motors of the world, as if nothing would happen – at
least nothing good – without our initiative. It's a kind of
hubris of our species. The other creatures on the planet do what is
in their nature, fulfilling their natural needs, and leave it
at that. We repeatedly take on the roles of the gods we
believe in, imagining that we can do their job or correct it. That's
not likely to end well.
As for words, when we express in words what should
be taught from one generation to the next, we might be like
the priest imploring his congregation to live as he speaks,
not as he lives. Words are necessary when action is flawed.
We teach what our own behavior doesn't display. If we
could act correctly, we would not need words to transmit it.
Because we act incorrectly, and far too much, we
need words to convey what we should have done or
refrained from doing.
That which is the softest in the world is Tao, and it
surpasses everything, no matter how hard. Also that, which
has no substance and therefore penetrates all things, is Tao.
Tao is everywhere, and behind everything, since before
the dawn of time and beyond its final hour.
Those who follow Tao live in accordance with the
world, so they make sure to be soft. In addition, although they
are unable to lose substance, they put little value to it.
They know that what is truly important is what seems not to
exist at all.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
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