"See others as yourself."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 54
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
What is well planted will not be uprooted.
What is well held will not escape.
Children and grandchildren will not cease to praise it.
Cultivate virtue in yourself,
And it will be true.
Cultivate virtue in the family,
And it will be overflowing.
Cultivate virtue in the town,
And it will be lasting.
Cultivate virtue in the country,
And it will be abundant.
Cultivate virtue in the world,
And it will be universal.
See others as yourself.
See families as your family.
See towns as your town.
See countries as your country.
See worlds as your world.
How do I know that the world is such?
The last line of this chapter is almost a riddle: "By this."
The two words are not very explanatory. By what? The
scholars have different ideas about it. The most likely answer is
that Lao Tzu simply refers to what he has stated in the
preceding lines of the chapter.
Chapter 21 ends with the same words.
The world is like this, because the virtue of it connects
all parts of it in the manner described. The chain from the
individual through family, town, country, to the whole
world, is quite Confucian.
Kung Tzu, Confucius, was according to legend
contemporary with Lao Tzu, even slightly his junior. But it's at
least as likely that it was the other way around. Taoism can
be seen as a reaction to Confucianism. Whatever the case,
there are some similarities among the many contradictions.
Confucianism stresses heavily the links of
obligations one has towards family members and country.
But Lao Tzu is no friend of obligations. He prefers
such bonds to be voluntary. They should be consequences
of one's virtue, and one's sense of what's natural, and
not some laws to which we are forced to surrender.
Virtue should be cultivated, and not preached.
One needs to find it within oneself, in one's search for the
Way. Otherwise, the virtue is ill planted and ill held, so it will
be uprooted and escape.
Virtue only remains if it's reached by personal
conviction. If it's demanded of us, we have no way of knowing
if it's true, and then surely it will not be lasting.
Others as Yourself
When Lao Tzu says that you should see others as
yourself, other families as your own, and so on, he doesn't
necessarily mean that you must treat strangers with the same
care you show the near and dear ones. It's possible that he
says so, but it can also be a way of saying that other people,
their needs and actions, can be understood by comparing to
If you want to understand others, you must start by
understanding yourself. If you want to understand other
countries, start by examining your own country.
It works the opposite way as well. If you want to
understand yourself, compare with what you learn from
watching others. It leads to the conclusion that you should treat
others like you need to be treated. Again something that
Jesus would agree with.
Lao Tzu might be slightly different from Jesus in how
he motivates the principle. Although he wants us to be
good, that's not the foremost issue in this chapter. Instead, he
focuses on understanding the people involved and what
virtue would apply.
It's a process of learning, more than one of
compassion. It will lead to compassion, but without reaching it by
learning, our compassion will be superfluous and
misguided, just like our virtue will be if not firmly established
according to Tao.
It's all a matter of cultivation. Virtue is no simple rule
to memorize, but an endeavor of growing insight. It's a
time consuming quest.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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