The Tao Theme of Ruling
The Themes of the Tao Te Ching
Tao Te Ching, the great Taoist classic, has lots of explicit advice for the ruler of a country. Legend has it that its author, Lao Tzu, served at the emperor's court before leaving in disgust, so he knew what he was talking about and didn't hesitate to be frank about it.
Below are those chapters, out of the 81 in Tao Te Ching, which deal mainly with the theme of proper rulership, and how it benefits a country.
17 Unnoticed RulerThe supreme rulers are hardly known by their subjects.
The lesser are loved and praised.
The even lesser are feared.
The least are despised.
Those who are quiet value the words.
When their task is completed, people will say:
We did it ourselves.
18 PretenseWhen the great Way is abandoned,
Benevolence and righteousness arise.
When wisdom and knowledge appear,
Great pretense arises.
When family ties are disturbed,
Devoted children arise.
When people are unsettled,
Loyal ministers arise.
26 Be StillHeavy 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.
Look lightly on himself or his domain?
In lightness the root is lost.
In haste the ruler is lost.
57 People Can Govern ThemselvesUse justice to rule a country.
Use surprise to wage war.
Use non-action to govern the world.
As for the world,
The more restrictions and prohibitions there are,
The poorer the people will be.
The more sharp weapons people have in a country,
The bigger the disorder will be.
The more clever and cunning people are,
The stranger the events will be.
The more laws and commands there are,
The more thieves and robbers there will be.
I do not act,
And people become reformed by themselves.
I am at peace,
And people become fair by themselves.
I do not interfere,
And people become rich by themselves.
I have no desire to desire,
And people become like the uncarved wood by themselves.
58 What to Trust?When the government is quite unobtrusive,
People are indeed pure.
When the government is quite prying,
People are indeed conniving.
Happiness is what misery lurks beneath.
Who knows where it ends?
Is there nothing correct?
Correct becomes defect.
Good becomes ominous.
People's delusions have certainly lasted long.
Pointed but does not pierce,
Forthright but does not offend,
Bright but does not dazzle.
59 Rule with ModerationWhen leading people and serving Heaven,
Nothing exceeds moderation.
Truly, moderation means prevention.
Prevention means achieving much virtue.
Nothing is not overcome.
Nothing not overcome means
Nobody knows the limits.
When nobody knows the limits,
One can rule the country.
This is called deep roots and a solid base,
the Way to long life and clarity.
60 The Ghosts ApproveRuling a great country is like cooking a small fish.
The ghosts lose their power.
The ghosts do not really lose their power,
But it is not used to harm people.
Nor will the sage harm people.
Since neither of them causes harm,
Unified virtue is restored.
62 The Greatest GiftThe Way is the source of all things,
Good people's treasure and bad people's refuge.
Noble deeds gain respect.
But people who are not good,
Why abandon them?
Or the three dukes are appointed,
Rather than sending a gift of jade
Carried by four horses,
Remain still and offer the Way.
Did they not say it was because you find what you seek
And are saved from your wrongdoings?
That is why the world praises it.
65 No Rule by KnowledgeIn ancient times,
Those who followed the Way
Did not try to give people knowledge thereof,
But kept them ignorant.
People are difficult to rule
Because of their knowledge.
To rule not by knowledge blesses the country.
To understand these two is to have precept.
To always have precept is called profound virtue.
It leads all things back to the great order.
72 Don't Make Them WearyWhen people do not dread authorities,
Then a greater dread descends.
Do not make them weary at their work.
If you do not make them weary,
They will not be weary of you.
But does not parade.
He cherishes himself,
But does not praise himself.
He discards the one,
And chooses the other.
74 The Supreme ExecutionerIf people are not afraid of dying,
Why threaten them with death?
If people live in constant fear of death,
And if breaking the law is punished by death,
Then who would dare?
Truly, trying to take the place of the supreme executioner
Is like trying to carve wood like a master carpenter.
Of those who try to carve wood like a master carpenter,
There are few who do not injure their hands.
75 People versus RulersPeople starve.
The rulers consume too much with their taxes.
That is why people starve.
The rulers interfere with too much.
That is why people are hard to govern.
They expect too much of life.
That is why people take death lightly.
Is superior to valuing one's life.
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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.