"The rulers consume too much with their taxes. That is why people starve."
Tao Te Ching — Chapter 75
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
The rulers consume too much with their taxes.
That is why people starve.
People are hard to govern.
The rulers interfere with too much.
That is why people are hard to govern.
People take death lightly.
They expect too much of life.
That is why people take death lightly.
Truly, only acting without thought of one's life
Is superior to valuing one's life.
People versus Rulers
There are people and there are rulers. Their relation is
a complicated one, to say the least. People often have
great difficulties suffering the demands of the rulers, and the
rulers can have great problems making people obey their
commands. Lao Tzu gives some hints to why this is so.
He blames the rulers, because they have the
responsibility and the power to make changes. Common people
High taxes were a problem then, as they are now.
Governments are insatiable. Taxes are their means,
without which they would not be able to do anything.
Power is money and money is power. Those who
have the one get the other, and the more they have, the more
they can get.
Suddenly, they get too much, and people starve. In
the case of ancient China, some taxes could very well be in
rice, so over-consumption at one end led directly to starvation
at the other end. But the effect is the same when the tax is
paid in the form of money.
Sadly, governments are tempted to take all but
exactly what people need to survive, and sometimes they do it
so narrowly that this crucial limit is exceeded. The
excuses vary through time, but the greed is the same.
Of course, people who are pushed to starvation will
be difficult to govern, but this can happen for many other
reasons. The common denominator is exaggerated
interference, which can be said about excess taxation, too.
When governments interfere too much with the lives
of the people, there are bound to be reactions, protests, and
a general unwillingness to comply. People can cause
problems for their leaders in so many ways, only some of
them obvious enough to counteract. When pressured, they
will swiftly find all these possibilities.
In the former chapter, Lao Tzu talked about
threatening people with the death penalty, to make them obedient,
and how complicated that can be. He returns to the subject
here, explaining why people are not so afraid of dying.
They expect too much of life, which means that
they hurry to experience this or that sensation, not bothering
to consider risks that may be involved. Their appetite for
life is so big that they become forgetful of hazards, and have
no time for reflection.
It's like children playing wildly, forgetting to
consider their own safety. When we are drunk on life, we feel
invulnerable, and like the young we believe death to be as far
off as if we were immortal.
If we don't get as much out of life as we wished, then
it loses its charm. That way, too, we cease to fear death,
even if we don't exactly want it at the very next moment.
Expecting too much of life must lead to disappointment.
Death loses its horror to the extent that life loses its charm.
To the same extent, the rulers lose their power over
us, since they no longer have the ultimate threat at their
disposal. Any other threat would also lose its bite, when
we don't shudder at the thought of being killed. It brings a
kind of freedom to the people, but in a risky fashion.
Lao Tzu recommends that we take life seriously
and hold on to it. That's in accordance with our nature.
We should do our best to survive as long as possible. But
he doesn't regard it as the most ideal relation to life.
One attitude surpasses it. That's to act without
being concerned about one's own survival, which is utter
unselfishness. For the greatest good, we should be able to
sacrifice ourselves without hesitation. Also, we should willingly
risk our lives to help avoid the greatest evil.
So, we should strive to stay alive as long as that can
be done without deviating from Tao, the Way. But we
should follow the Way without worrying about how we
personally might suffer along it. Lao Tzu assures us that no
harm comes to us if we follow Tao, but to do so we must dare
risking even our lives.
In other words, to live life properly, we can't be
obsessed by the fear of death.
© Stefan Stenudd.
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