"By moderation one can be generous."
Tao Te Ching — Chapter 67
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The whole world says that my Way is great like nothing else.
It is great because it is like nothing else.
If it were like everything else,
It would long ago have become insignificant.
I have three treasures that I cherish.
The first is compassion.
The second is moderation.
The third is not claiming to be first in the world.
By compassion one can be brave.
By moderation one can be generous.
By not claiming to be first in the world one can rule.
But to be brave without compassion,
Generous without moderation,
And rule without refraining from being first in the world
Are certain deaths.
So, those who have compassion when they do battle
Will be victorious.
Those who likewise defend themselves
Will be safe.
Heaven will rescue and protect them with compassion.
Battle with Compassion
In the beginning of this chapter, Lao Tzu plays with
the word hsiao, which means both `like' and `small.' The
latter I dared to translate as `insignificant,' to clarify what kind
of small Lao Tzu refers to here. The two words have
different pictograms, but they are pronounced the same.
With his little joke, he implies that something bearing
a likeness to other things has to be small. It certainly
makes sense in relation to significance. What looks like a lot
of other things loses its significance. But size is not affected
in the same manner.
What is true regarding size, though, is that the
smaller things are, the more difficult it is for our eyes to tell
them apart. Who can separate one mosquito from another?
Who even cares? Our eyes prefer to focus on big things, and
we tend to regard them as important, judging just by their size.
The lines about size and significance are very likely to
be a separate chapter in the eyes of the author. They have
little to do with what follows, or for that matter how the
previous chapter ends.
Next, Lao Tzu talks about the three qualities he regards
as the most important: compassion, moderation, and
reluctance to be first in the world. The last we can describe
as modesty. Compassion leads to bravery, moderation to
generosity, and modesty to the ability to rule. They contain
the seeds to what are practically their opposites.
Of far greater importance is that these opposites are
in dire need of the three qualities, or they lead to disaster.
Bravery without compassion is what can be seen in
soldiers with no care for the lives they take, or
self-appointed heroes who bully people around them for no other
reason than that they can. Inconsiderate bravery is indeed
disastrous, sooner or later also to the ones expressing it.
Generosity without moderation leads to
meaningless waste. It's gluttony, and no fortune is so great that it will
not be spent, eventually. It's also provocative. Even those
who benefit from such generosity are offended by it.
Whatever they get from it, they are at the same time reminded of
their own lack of resources.
Generosity without moderation is flaunting one's
fortune. It's perceived as vulgar, almost obscene. Such gifts
are bitterly received, not only because they seem to mean
nothing to the donor. They are insults to the receiver.
Worst by far is to rule without modesty. The ruler
who wants to be first in the world might cause widespread
destruction. Through history, we have had the misfortune
of experiencing plenty of them. There are some such rulers
today, as well.
We must beware, because those who have the desire
to be first in the world will spare no efforts to get there.
Once they do, it's extremely difficult and costly to get rid of
them. So, we have to consider very carefully what persons we
allow to be our leaders.
A golden rule is to avoid giving power to people
who want it, or loudly claim to be best fit for it. The best
leaders we can find are usually those who are reluctant to
shoulder the responsibility. They take it seriously. Those we need
to convince to take the job are the ones we should get for it.
But those who jump at the opportunity should be stopped at
We must learn this. The survival of the world
depends on it, now that we have such enormous resources and
so terrible weapons at the disposal of our leaders.
Those who remain compassionate, on the other
hand, will be successful and avoid blame. Even when they
must go to war, if they still remain compassionate they will
be victorious and the enemy will not grieve it. That's a
mighty power, surpassing most weaponry.
When they defend themselves, remaining
compassionate, they will not be conquered, because they have
something so fine to protect. The enemy will congratulate
them, out of respect for their nobility.
In a sharp conflict, it's necessary to see the adversary
as evil and oneself as good. Otherwise it's very difficult
to muster up the necessary resolve to fight until winning.
The one who remains compassionate is certainly good,
and therefore has the most splendid advantage. The enemy
will find it hard to hate him.
Even Heaven agrees on this. So, fate seems to work
in favor of those who remain compassionate. That's
because compassion is a trait of Tao, the Way. The compassionate
is treated the same by Tao. Compassion breeds
compassion. So, there's no reason to deviate from it.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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