The Tao Theme of Moderation
The Themes of the Tao Te Ching
One of the qualities that the great classic of Taoism, Tao Te Ching, stresses the most is moderation. Lao Tzu, the legendary author of the text, speaks with anger about those who are unable of it, and returns again and again to the importance of modesty and moderation in all things.
Below are those chapters, out of the 81 in Tao Te Ching, which deal mainly with the theme of moderation, and the utter necessity of it.
8 GoodSupreme good is like water.
Water greatly benefits all things, without conflict.
It flows through places that people loathe.
Thereby it is close to the Way.
A good mind is deep.
A good gift is kind.
A good word is sincere.
A good ruler is just.
A good worker is able.
A good deed is timely.
9 Moderation in AllFilling all the way to the brim
Is not as good as halting in time.
Pounding an edge to sharpness
Will not make it last.
Keeping plenty of gold and jade in the palace
Makes no one able to defend it.
Displaying riches and titles with pride
Brings about one's downfall.
24 Banned If You BoastThose who stand on their toes are not steady.
Those who take long steps cannot keep the pace.
Those who show off do not shine.
Those who are self-righteous are not prominent.
Those who boast are not respected.
Those who praise themselves do not prevail.
Such people are surplus provisions and useless actions.
They are rejected by many.
Those who follow the Way do not remain with them.
36 One Postulates the OtherWhat should be shrunken must first be stretched.
What should be weakened must first be strengthened.
What should be abolished must first be cherished.
What should be deprived must first be enriched.
The soft and weak overcome the hard and strong.
The state's weaponry should not be displayed.
44 Life Is the TreasureYour name or your body,
What is dearer?
Your body or your wealth,
What is worthier?
Gain or loss,
What is worse?
Assembled fortunes are lost.
Those who are content suffer no disgrace.
Those who know when to halt are unharmed.
They last long.
45 AppearancesThe most complete seems lacking.
Yet in use it is not exhausted.
The most abundant seems empty.
Yet in use it is not drained.
The most able seems clumsy.
The most eloquent seems to stutter.
Stillness overcomes heat.
Peace and quiet govern the world.
46 Enough Is EnoughWhen the Way governs the world,
The proud stallions drag dung carriages.
When the Way is lost to the world,
War horses are bred outside the city.
There is no greater disaster than discontent.
There is no greater misfortune than greed.
To have enough of enough is always enough.
50 How to SurviveWe go from birth to death.
Three out of ten follow life.
Three out of ten follow death.
People who rush from birth to death
Are also three out of ten.
Why is that so?
Because they want to make too much of life.
Can wander through the land
Without encountering the rhinoceros or the tiger.
He passes the battlefield
Without being struck by weapons.
In him, the rhinoceros finds no opening for its horn.
The tiger finds no opening for its claws.
The soldiers find no opening for their blades.
Death has no place in him.
52 Return to ClarityThe world's beginning is its mother.
To have found the mother
Is also to know the children.
Although you know the children,
Cling to the mother.
Until your last day you will not be harmed.
And until your last day you will not be exhausted.
Widen the openings, interfere,
And until your last day you will not be safe.
Holding on to the weak is called strength.
Use the light to return to clarity.
Then you will not cause yourself misery.
This is called following the eternal.
53 RobberyIf I have just an ounce of sense,
I follow the great Way,
And fear only to stray from it.
The great Way is very straight,
But people prefer to deviate.
The fields are filled with weeds,
And the granaries are empty.
Some have lavish garments,
Carry sharp swords,
And feast on food and drink.
They possess more than they can spend.
This is called the vanity of robbers.
56 IntegrityThose who know it do not speak about it.
Those who speak about it do not know it.
Shut the doors.
Dull the sharpness.
Untie the knots.
Dim the light.
Become one with the dust.
This is called the profound union.
Can neither be seduced nor abandoned.
Those who obtain it
Can neither be favored nor neglected.
Those who obtain it
Can neither be honored nor humiliated.
Therefore, they are the most esteemed in the world.
73 Heaven's WayThose who have the courage to dare will perish.
Those who have the courage not to dare will live.
Of those two, one is beneficial and one is harmful.
What Heaven detests, who knows why?
Even the sage considers it difficult.
Yet it certainly triumphs.
It does not speak,
Yet it certainly answers.
It does not summon,
Yet things come by themselves.
It seems to be at rest,
Yet it certainly has a plan.
It is sparsely meshed, yet nothing slips through.
76 Life Is Soft and WeakPeople are born soft and weak.
They die hard and stiff.
All things such as grass and trees
Are soft and supple in life.
At their death they are withered and dry.
The soft and weak are life's companions.
The unyielding army will not win.
The rigid tree will be felled.
The rigid and big belong below.
The soft and weak belong above.
77 Raise the LowHeaven's Way is like stretching a bow.
The high is lowered and the low is raised.
Excess is reduced and deficiency is replenished.
People's Way is not so.
They reduce the deficient and supply the excessive.
Who has excess and supplies the world?
Only the one who follows the Way.
He accomplishes without dwelling on it.
He does not want to display his worth.
78 Water Surpasses AllNothing 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 soft overcomes the hard.
Everybody in the world knows this,
Still nobody makes use of it.
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.
80 Simple UtopiaLet the country be small,
And the inhabitants few.
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 clothes will be comfortable.
Their homes will be tranquil.
They will rejoice in their daily life.
Roosters and dogs can be heard from there.
Still, they will age and die
Without visiting one another.
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About meI'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.