The Tao Theme of Ruling

Wang, king.

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 Ruler

The 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 show no trust will not be trusted.

Those who are quiet value the words.

When their task is completed, people will say:

We did it ourselves.

18 Pretense

When 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 Still

Heavy 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.

Why would a ruler with ten thousand chariots

Look lightly on himself or his domain?

In lightness the root is lost.

In haste the ruler is lost.

57 People Can Govern Themselves

Use justice to rule a country.

Use surprise to wage war.

Use non-action to govern the world.

How do I know it is so?

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.

Therefore the sage says:

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.

Misery is what happiness rests upon.

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.

Therefore the sage is sharp but does not cut,

Pointed but does not pierce,

Forthright but does not offend,

Bright but does not dazzle.

59 Rule with Moderation

When leading people and serving Heaven,

Nothing exceeds moderation.

Truly, moderation means prevention.

Prevention means achieving much virtue.

When much virtue is achieved,

Nothing is not overcome.

Nothing not overcome means

Nobody knows the limits.

When nobody knows the limits,

One can rule the country.

The one who rules like the mother lasts long.

This is called deep roots and a solid base,

the Way to long life and clarity.

60 The Ghosts Approve

Ruling a great country is like cooking a small fish.

When the world is ruled according to the Way,

The ghosts lose their power.

The ghosts do not really lose their power,

But it is not used to harm people.

Not only will their power not harm people,

Nor will the sage harm people.

Since neither of them causes harm,

Unified virtue is restored.

62 The Greatest Gift

The Way is the source of all things,

Good people's treasure and bad people's refuge.

Fine words are traded.

Noble deeds gain respect.

But people who are not good,

Why abandon them?

So, when the emperor is crowned

Or the three dukes are appointed,

Rather than sending a gift of jade

Carried by four horses,

Remain still and offer the Way.

Why did the ancients praise 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 Knowledge

In 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 by knowledge ravages the country.

To rule not by knowledge blesses the country.

To understand these two is to have precept.

To always have precept is called profound virtue.

Profound virtue is indeed deep and wide.

It leads all things back to the great order.

72 Don't Make Them Weary

When people do not dread authorities,

Then a greater dread descends.

Do not crowd their dwellings.

Do not make them weary at their work.

If you do not make them weary,

They will not be weary of you.

Therefore, the sage knows himself,

But does not parade.

He cherishes himself,

But does not praise himself.

He discards the one,

And chooses the other.

74 The Supreme Executioner

If 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?

There is one appointed supreme executioner.

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 Rulers

People starve.

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.

Tao Themes

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