"The more he does for others, the more he has."
Tao Te Ching — Chapter 81
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
True words are not pleasing.
Pleasing words are not true.
Those who are right do not argue.
Those who argue are not right.
Those who know are not learned.
Those who are learned do not know.
The sage does not hoard.
The more he does for others,
The more he has.
The more he thereby gives to others,
The ever more he gets.
Is to benefit and not to harm.
The sage's Way
Is to act and not to contend.
The final chapter of the Tao Te Ching sums up the most
important aspects of living up to the ideal of Tao, the Way,
and what signifies the sage who follows it. The similarities to
the Christian ideals, as expressed in the words of Jesus, are
obvious. This whole chapter could be summarized: "Do
unto others as you would have them do unto you."
This proximity to Christian ethics would raise
hesitation, since we have the tendency to interpret foreign
cultures and thoughts according to our own beliefs. Could
we be reading things into Lao Tzu that come from our
own minds and not his?
But this golden rule is far from unique to Christianity.
It can be found in numerous other traditions and
philosophies. It's not unlikely for Lao Tzu to share it. Also, the
Tao Te Ching contains many similar thoughts, as well as
several arguments that lead to the same conclusion.
The unselfish ideal is universal. Lao Tzu clearly
supports it, too.
One should not spend life gathering riches and
privileges that others lack, although they might need them
more. One should try to do good without forcing it upon
people, and without needing to take credit for it. We should all
try to help and care for one another. It's as simple as that.
If we could, we would swiftly reach Heaven on Earth.
Words, Words, Words
Also in his warnings against false speech and
preaching, Lao Tzu expresses thoughts very close to those of Jesus
and other thinkers through time. The truth is not always
pleasant to hear. Those, whose words are always pleasing,
probably avoid words that would upset us, whether they are
true or not.
There's a lot of that going on, nowadays. Flattery,
hypocrisy, and empty promises are poured over us constantly.
The truth is said to be relative, which is taken as an excuse
for bending it to one's liking and advantage.
It's also far too common for people in positions of
responsibility to hide their failures and shortcomings by
not telling us what they know. And in our everyday life
we claim to be kind, by serving each other numerous white
lies and flattery, but rarely sincerity.
This use of words has gone on so long and so much,
that we are ourselves confused about whether or not what
we say is true. We lie so much that we get lost in it, and we
say so much that we can't keep track of it. As Hamlet
says: "Words, words, words." We need to halt the flow and
examine its content, before continuing.
Arguments can be constructive when those involved
use them to investigate their thoughts, striving for
conclusions that all can agree upon. But there are lots of
arguments where that process doesn't take place, and they are
usually the most heated ones, going on the longest. Sadly, they
are also usually about the most important topics.
We listen the least when we talk the loudest. Many
arguments are not exchanges of views, but repeated
statements of the refusal to discuss.
Those who are right and know it, don't feel
protective about it. Mistakes and lies are short-lived, but the truth
will most certainly prevail without battle. It's what
remains when lies have been revealed and mistakes have been
Truth wins without a fight, so there's no need to
start one over it. The only thing needed is some patience. If
we impatiently insist on the truth, we will be less
convincing and it will just take longer for the truth to win.
When truth is fought for, it seems to be untrue. Why
else fight for it? Countless times, we have experienced how
lies and deceptions were forced on us, so we have good
reason to suspect whatever is aggressively propagated.
The sage just lowers his voice and waits for
sincere questions. They will come.
Wisdom, Not Learning
There is much good to say about learning, but it
doesn't necessarily bring wisdom. Knowing the facts is not the
same as understanding what they represent or prove. Good
learning is gathered in order to have substantial material
for reaching conclusions. But learning without concluding is
as meaningless as amassing riches that one cannot ever
spend in a lifetime. It's excessive baggage.
Our time is one of rapidly growing knowledge. The
total of human knowledge is said to be doubled every
few years. But most of this knowledge is in need of
processing. It has yet to be used for conclusions. We number things
and name them, but that's not to understand them. We're
just expanding our catalogs.
Sadly, this rapidly increased knowledge and the
widening gap to our understanding of it, leave most people in
bewilderment. Not only is there more and more we have
no chance of getting to know, but we also gasp at all we
need to learn in order to introduce ourselves to any specific
subject. Reaching knowledge about even the smallest
thing seems like a gargantuan feat.
So, the more human knowledge is gathered, the less
we know and the farther we get from understanding.
There is less and less that we dare to believe we comprehend,
without being experts on it.
That way, our society is quickly moving towards
a world ruled by experts, as if there are always facts
demanding this or that solution, and neither priorities nor
ideals have anything to do with it. As if society is merely a
machine and we are its fuel.
But facts are often inconclusive and experts are
rarely infallible. Any social situation is so complex that
several options are present. When we make our choices, we need
to consider what future we want to reach.
We cannot surrender our responsibilities to facts that
are yet uncertain or ambiguous. Nor can we allow those
who claim to be the most learned to make all our choices for
us. That ends in a world nobody wanted.
Knowledge without true understanding is blind. If
we follow the blind we are sure to leave the Way.
Tao, the Way, is to benefit and not to harm. Therefore
we know that what doesn't benefit us is not according to
Tao, and it will probably harm us. A simple rule. When we
are considering what path to follow and how to act, we can
simply choose what's the most beneficial and the least harmful.
All through our history, we have far too many
examples of this simple rule being neglected, and the costly
It's not easy to follow Tao, the Way, but the result is
certainly worth the effort.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
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